Scarlet & Violet—151 finds new stars in the first generation of Pokémon

Scarlet & Violet—151 finds new stars in the first generation of Pokémon

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When I pulled open the crinkly plastic containing my first booster pack of 10 random Pokémon cards, I found a new kind of surprise waiting for me inside. Shuffling through the short stack, examining the retro art, my eye caught a shiny corner of foil peeking out. I wanted to see something grand — maybe a legendary bird with the power to change the climate or perhaps a roaring Charizard — but I didn’t. Instead, I found a lowly Caterpie, a tiny little bug sitting on a leaf all by itself. It was a quiet moment, but it embodies the vibe of Pokemon Scarlet & Violet—151.

Scarlet & Violet—151 is the latest expansion for the Pokémon Trading Card Game. Fans can find it for sale at retail starting Sept. 22 at several different price points, including the $59.99 151 Elite Trainer Box, $119.99 151 Ultra-Premium Collection, and the 151 Binder Collection for $24.99. Other products, like 151 ex Box—Alakazam ex and 151 ex Box—Zapdos ex, go on sale Oct. 6 for $21.99 each.

While new Pokémon TCG expansions come several times a year, this set brings something noteworthy for the casual collector: It revives and reboots the original 151 Pokémon from the Kanto region, the same collection of critters included when the TCG was first released in the United States at the end of 1998. It’s a major nostalgia play that has already drummed up a lot of hype, but it also comes with a uniquely difficult challenge as the set contends with the legacy of the first generation of Pokémon and the prized “base set” of original cards.

Flipping through these new cards, a lot of the art from Scarlet & Violet—151 seems markedly less inspired than the original cards released 25 years ago. I pulled a Charizard ex and a Kangaskhan ex, and both look like relatively standard poses meant to make the Pokémon look intense or powerful. And while nothing will ever pick at my heartstrings like the splotchy watercolor stains of Ken Sugimori’s original artwork, Scarlet & Violet—151’s secret weapon is the way it revisits previously overlooked Pokémon — like that Caterpie.

An photo of two pages of a three-ring binder open with Pokémon cards. It shows cards from the Scarlet & Violet—151 set alongside other older cards.

I put a page of Scarlet & Violet—151 cards in the binder of cards from my childhood.
Photo: Ana Diaz/Polygon

This set brings evocative moments to life for the first time, including full-card art of Pokemon like Caterpie and middle evolutions like Poliwhirl and Dragonair. Some of these cards are so lavish, they almost seem like stills from a Planet Earth-style nature documentary. Even Pokémon with less fantastical art, like Magikarp, bring a sense of whimsy to the set. Scarlet & Violet—151 reminded me that even though I’ve never played with Caterpie and would have traded it away in a heartbeat, it’s always been there with me all these years. Now, I finally get to truly see it as it should be seen.

Beyond the art, it seems like this set will be catnip for collectors. Its cards contain flourishes that make collecting this expansion just like filling out the Pokédex in the video games. The set is numbered by each Pokémon’s official number in the Pokédex. Some of the evolutionary lines, like Alakazam’s, contain art from the same artist, with complementary cards that are intentionally designed to look nice sitting lined up in a binder. Additionally, all three evolutionary lines for the starter Pokémon have matching full-card art so collectors can literally curate the perfect page in their three-ring binders.

We don’t get any special Tera Pokémon or other gimmicks of that sort this time around, but the set does have a few tricks up its sleeve. For example, if a player plays a Nidoqueen, they can use Nidoking to attack for free. Similarly, this set leans less on its Trainer cards but brings back items like the Snatch Arm, now renamed to Grabber, which can let you snatch an opponent’s Pokémon right from their hand and place it back into their deck. I’ll leave it to competitive players to vet the effectiveness of these new tricks, but overall this set seems to be catering more to the collecting type.

Ever since the Pokémon Trading Card Game came stateside, fans have seen these monsters time and time again. But while other sets seem content with putting ever more exotic varieties of Pikachu out into the wild, Scarlet & Violet—151 is for the real ones. Whether it’s full art for entire evolutionary lines or taking a closer look at the humble Caterpie, this new set adds ever more clarity to the original generation of Pokémon for those who grew up loving them.

Pokémon Trading Card Game: Scarlet & Violet—151 will be released Sept. 22. The new set of trading cards was previewed using pre-release products provided by The Pokémon Company. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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