Pokémon fans around the internet have likely seen the photo by now: a table stacked with hundreds, maybe thousands, of rare cards from The Pokémon Trading Card Game, all sitting in tidy piles, alongside rumors of theft and conspiracy. The image emerged over the weekend in a private Facebook group, before rocketing to the top of Reddit.
The cards had been allegedly stolen directly from the printer — how else could one person get their hands on so many rare Pokémon cards? Some players believed that the theft resulted in those valuable rainbow-colored cards not making their way into legitimately sold packs of The Pokémon Trading Card Game’s Fusion Strike expansion.
Polygon spoke to the people who were involved in the attempted sale of those rare cards to find out what happened.
The story begins in November 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic had been raging for over a year, and The Pokémon TCG was still releasing new sets of cards for an eager fanbase. New and vintage Pokémon cards alike had suddenly skyrocketed in value, thanks in no small part to fans like the rapper Logic and influencer Logan Paul buying them up for astronomical prices. When the Fusion Strike set was released just before the holidays, fans were camped outside stores all across the country for their chance to crack a few packs before stocks sold out. In some locations, the police were even brought in to handle the crowds. The fracas would ultimately lead to one big box retailer, Target, temporarily banning the sale of Pokémon cards, citing safety concerns.
A few weeks after the frenzy, a call came in to Trading Card World, a small independent retailer in Dallas, Texas. Someone had Fusion Strike cards to sell — a hell of a lot of them. There were so many rare cards, in fact, that no one at the store could believe it. So they asked for a photo as proof.
“It took them a month or two [for the seller to] provide a picture,” said Scott Emer, co-founder of Trading Card World, in an interview with Polygon. “When they finally did, we were like, Well, this looks really weird.”
Emer had seen huge collections go up for sale before, but not all from the same set. But why was that such a big red flag?
Pokémon cards, much like Magic: The Gathering cards, Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, and cards from other trading card games, are sold in sealed, so-called blind packs. No one knows what cards are inside each pack, not even the manufacturer — that’s part of what makes opening them so much fun. But at least one card in every pack will be rare, and the rarest of these rare cards can be extremely valuable on the secondary market.
The seller that contacted Trading Card World had these rare and sought-after cards in massive quantities, all from this same set of cards. To get that many rares, the seller would have had to have opened tens of thousands of packs. A far more reasonable explanation was that these cards had been taken off the production line, prior to them being packed inside of blind packs. That meant someone was trying to sell Trading Card World stolen goods.
“I knew someone that worked at Pokémon,” Emer said. “I called her and explained what was going on, and all of a sudden we got another phone call. They gave us some options and said, This is what’s going to happen.”
Emer was instructed to convince the seller to send the cards to his shop to be evaluated. When the cards arrived, a private investigator from The Pokémon Company met them at the store. He was the first to open the box and, together, the staff and the PI inventoried the shipment. The PI left with the cards. Emer said he has no idea what happened to them after that, but Trading Card World said on Facebook that it was “asked to keep this information confidential while an active investigation was underway.”
During the process, Emer learned a bit more about what had been going on behind the scenes. The Pokémon Company knew that the cards were missing even before his call. It also knew, he said, who had stolen them. He was told that person was already in police custody. But until the cards were shipped to his store, no one knew where the cards had gone. Emer had helped to put to rest what must have been a very sensitive situation for the trading card publisher.
Just one question remains, however: Did the packs of cards from Fusion Strike that got sold in stores have the right mix of rare cards inside, or had a thief stolen them before they could be sent out to fans? While Emer doesn’t know the full story, he does know how publishers of trading card games do their work. He’s doubtful that fans were shortchanged on rare card hits.
“Pokémon says, Hey, we’re gonna print 50,000 of this card,” Emer said. “They know if they have all 50,000 or not. So when they go to put the packs together, they’re gonna go, Hey, we’re short 3,000 cards. Well, they’re going to call the printing press: Send us another 3,000. And they’re going to hit their number.
“They already knew they were short cards,” Emer continued. “They already found the person that took them. So you know that they must have printed more to replace what was missing. They’re not going to send you a pack that’s missing a card.”
Polygon reached out to The Pokémon Company for confirmation of this story, but the company has not responded to our request. Trading Card World has made its own statement on Facebook, albeit inside a private group. You can read a copy of it on Reddit.
Update (April 19): Following the publication of our article, The Pokémon Company International provided the following statement.
We take the protection of our IP and associated products very seriously. This matter remains under investigation and we cannot comment on details at this time. However, we can confirm that Sword & Shield booster packs and products were shipped to retail as intended and we have no indication that the integrity of the products were impacted by any confirmed or unconfirmed theft. Furthermore, we continue to significantly invest in both the production and security of our TCG business. We value the faith our fans put in us and our products, and these investments are intended to help us continue to maintain their trust.