Uncut Pokémon test sheet sells for record $375,000

Test cards were unknown to the public for decades, offer glimpse into Pokémon's earliest days

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An uncut test sheet, which was used to pitch the Pokémon trading card game to western audiences, sold for $375,000 at Heritage last week, marking a world record for the most expensive TCG uncut sheet ever sold.

Other uncut sheets from the early days of Pokémon have sold before, including one from the 1999 Unlimited set test print, which sold for $250,000 in April 2023. However, this sheet is somewhat mysterious considering it features Magic: The Gathering on its card backs rather than the expected Pokémon branding.

To understand how this sheet came to be — and why it’s so valuable — we need to go back to the height of Pokémania.

Quickly after its launch in 1996, marked by the release of hit Game Boy games (Pocket Monsters Red and Green) in Japan, Pocket Monsters (soon renamed Pokémon) saw stunning growth. Sales reached a million units by September 1996.

By October 1996, Pokémon founder Satoshi Tajiri had successfully negotiated a deal with Nintendo to manufacture a TCG and released the first set of cards to a Japanese audience. In its first six months, 87 million cards were shipped.

Capitalizing on the success of the franchise, Nintendo sought to bring the TCG to North America, inking a deal with manufacturer Wizards of the Coast (WotC) in August 1998.

WotC had established itself as the leading publisher of TCGs in the world, buoyed by its flagship Magic: The Gathering property, which originated and popularized collectible card games after its 1993 debut.

WotC began testing for Pokémon cards in 1998, utilizing its printing technology — responsible for the high-quality production of MTG, which was noticeably superior to the relatively flimsy Japanese Pokémon cards.

In the early stages of testing, the Washington-based company didn’t bother replacing the card backs, producing sheets of cards with Pokémon on the front and MTG branding on the back. It’s from this process that the record-setting test sheet emerged.

The uncut sheet also features notes from employees. (Credit: Heritage Auctions)
The uncut sheet also features notes from employees. (Credit: Heritage Auctions)

These mismatched cards — the first-ever English Pokémon cards printed on foil — were unknown (at least, unconfirmed) for more than 20 years, until a hobbyist’s 2016 Facebook post.

James Burton posted two copies of the cards in a Facebook group called “MTGRarities: Major Misprints, Test Prints, Oddities.” Burton frequently sold rare MTG cards, sometimes from the collection of a former WotC employee named Chel Beige, who he met while working at a Seattle gaming store nearby WotC headquarter, according to CGC.

The cards were met with confusion and intrigue, with members of the private Facebook group stunned at the newly uncovered piece of TCG history, though nobody was able to authenticate the cards.

In 2019, another example was discovered, having laid dormant in a Seattle storage unit for years. Then came another card, bringing the total number of test cards to four. This one was sent to CGC Trading Cards for authentication and grading.

In December 2020, CGC published a report detailing the history of the cards and the methodology used to authenticate the four test prints. All four featured Blastoise on the front and three included Magic: The Gathering on its backs, with one displaying a blank back.

“The cards have long been the subject of intense debate, but two things are certain: They are authentic test prints made by WotC, and they are among the hobby’s most intriguing rarities,” CGC wrote.

CGC examined the test prints with an astounding level of scientific rigor — bringing out all the stops, including high-powered microscopes, something called “Spot-Fluorescent lighting,” and X-ray scanning.

A crucial piece of the puzzle? The very same uncut sheet from the auction at Heritage, which a "high-level WotC employee" sent in to CGC to assist in the examination.

One of the Blastoise/MTG cards realized $216,000 in 2021. (Credit: Heritage Auctions)
One of the Blastoise/MTG cards realized $216,000 in 2021. (Credit: Heritage Auctions)

Since CGC’s authentication and grading of the cards, an additional two have been uncovered and certified, bringing the total to six.

In July 2021, one of the Blastoise/MTG cards sold for $216,000 at Heritage, establishing a record price for the incredibly rare cards.

The uncut sheet builds upon the fascinating history of the test cards due to its inclusion of foil test prints of “Lightning Dragon” and “Drifting Meadow,” the latter of the two wouldn’t make it into a retail release until 2023.

Additionally, notes on the sheet, scribbled by WotC employees, act as a glimpse into the earliest days of Pokémon’s North American release.

Will Stern is a reporter and editor for cllct.