PSA Set Registry
2004 Pokémon EX Team Rocket Returns
The Quest for Pokémon Gold Begins
By Kevin Glew
It was a golden return for Team Rocket.
Not only did the 2004 EX Team Rocket Returns set feature numerous desirable holographic and EX cards, it was also the first set to offer Gold Star singles.
"I think the Gold Stars are the best chase card in all of Pokémon," said well-known Pokémon trading card expert Scott Pratte. "Gold Stars are basically the standard of what people expect today."
Three Gold Star cards - Mudkip (#107), Torchic (#108) and Treecko (#109) - are included in this set. They are distinguished by the gold stars next to their card names and rarity symbols. Pratte says the general hobby consensus is that one of these cards could be found in approximately every 72 packs.
"You could buy a sealed box of EX Team Rocket Returns and not pull a single Gold Star," noted veteran Pokémon trading card game (TCG) collector Zack Browning. "It created an extra level of desire. It was great to see Nintendo take the risk and start incorporating the collector's mentality within the set as it really drove demand."
The Gold Stars are definitely the highlight of this 111-card offering, which was a sequel to the Team Rocket 1st Edition set released by Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) in April 2000. That original Team Rocket issue shone the spotlight on the villains in Pokémon and marked the first time that Dark Pokémon had been highlighted in a TCG.
Four years and eight months later, the EX Team Rocket Returns set picked up where the Team Rocket issue left off, focusing on villainous first and second generation Pokémon.
"I think Team Rocket Returns is a callback to the original era," said Pratte. "I think they were basically looking at what they did before and I think the Team Rocket set had a strong identity, so it was a callback to the original era."
The EX Team Rocket Returns set is the seventh Pokémon issue produced by Nintendo after they landed the trading card license from WOTC. It offers eight different levels of cards that are generally grouped by rarity (see accompanying chart).
There were nine cards in each booster pack and 36 packs in a box.
Browning says collectors can expect to pull around three EX cards per box.
"You generally only pull 12 hits in a box," said Browning. "So, if you pull nine holos, three EXs and also get a Gold Star, it would likely replace the slot of a holo. Keeping that ratio, it would be about one in every three packs that you would get a premium card."
This series boasted four booster pack wrappers each highlighting a different Pokémon, either Gyarados, Mewtwo, Scyther or Tyranitar. The EX Team Rocket Returns cards were also available in nine-card blister packs that generally command a premium.
It's believed that far fewer of these cards were produced than 2000 Team Rocket cards. Browning and Pratte say that when the EX Team Rocket Returns cards were manufactured Pokémon's popularity had been on the decline. As a result, booster boxes are very scarce today.
An unopened booster box was being offered for $12,500 or Best Offer on eBay in February 2020.
"The last booster box sale I'm aware of is $7,500," said Browning in an interview in February. "And the people I've talked to say you need to offer at least $10,000 to get a serious seller to come to the table."
A regular sealed booster pack sold for $130 on eBay in February 2020, while four blister packs sold for $225 each in the same month.
Two theme decks - Jessie and James - were also released for this series.
The EX Team Rocket Returns cards showcase the Pokémon name and HP at the top above the artwork, while the trading card game information, the Weakness, Resistance and Retreat Cost can be found below the artwork. The artist's name is indicated at the bottom of the character window.
The set symbol, which is printed in the bottom right of the card, is the Team Rocket "R" in a shield.
The reverse holographic cards boast a design similar to the EX Fire Red Leaf Green cards, where the energy symbols line the back of the Pokémon artwork in the holo area. Also, for the first time the set logo is located in the bottom right of the character box. This design continued in ensuing sets.
When collectors open booster packs, they're hoping to pull one of the three aforementioned Gold Star cards - Mudkip (#107), Torchic (#108) or Treecko (#109).
Pratte and Browning say the Torchic card is the most valuable largely because it's difficult to find in top grade.
"The most valuable would be Torchic and that's purely due to demand," said Browning. "The card's population [in PSA GEM-MT 10] is less than half of the other two Gold Stars, Mudkip and Treecko. It doesn't grade as easily as the other two and finding that card is difficult in and of itself. You could buy a case and pull three Gold Stars out of it and not even get a Torchic."
Browning says this card is also a key single for those trying to collect a complete run of Gold Star cards from all the Pokémon sets.
"The Torchic is one of the lowest population cards of all of the Gold Star cards," said Browning.
Of the 227 Torchic cards submitted, there have been just 15 PSA 10s. One PSA MINT 9 sold for $755 on eBay in December 2019.
With a similar number of submissions, the Mudkip and Treecko have 35 and 38 PSA 10s respectively. A PSA 10 Treecko garnered $1,300 on eBay in January 2020.
On top of the Gold Star singles, there are 11 EX cards in this set.
"With this set, the previous chase cards got knocked down a peg, so now you have the EX cards [ranking] below the Gold Stars," noted Pratte. "But even within the EX cards, they're all just home runs. You have super popular Pokémon like Mewtwo. It's basically an all-star lineup."
The Rocket's Mewtwo EX single (#99) is the most submitted of the EX cards. Mewtwo is one of the most powerful Pokémon in the franchise. There have been 194 sent in to be graded and there are 54 PSA 10s, one of which sold for $500 on eBay in January 2020.
The Rocket's Snorlax EX single (#104) is also popular.
"You've got a Snorlax, who in a game you have to play a flute to wake it up, and here you get a Rocket's Snorlax," said Browning. "It's kind of cool to see the dark side of the Pokémon you love."
Of the 188 evaluated, there have been 57 PSA 10s. One PSA 10 sold for $450 on eBay in January 2020.
Browning and Pratte say the Suicune EX card (#105) is another coveted single. Suicune is a legendary beast and a popular water-type Pokémon that was introduced in Generation II. There are 47 PSA 10s and one fetched $300 on eBay in February 2020.
Pratte says that even the regular holos in this set are appealing because you get a dark variant of the Pokémon.
"The Dark Ampharos (#2) is the one that I remember the most," said Pratte. "The Dark Ampharos is striking because it's like a mixture of black and yellow and you don't really see that outside of this set."
Browning is also fond of this single.
"My favorite of all the different holos would be Dark Ampharos," he said. "You can see the lightning bolt shooting out of the back and it had phenomenal artwork."
There are 20 PSA 10s, one of which sold for $51 on eBay in December 2019.
Another notable card is the Here Comes Team Rocket! single (#111).
"Because you have the Gold Stars and the EX cards, I think people forget that you also have the Here Comes Team Rocket! card, which is a secret rare," said Pratte. "I think it gets a bit overshadowed by the Gold Stars."
Just 70 have been evaluated and there are 16 PSA 10s. One sold for $205 on eBay in October 2019.
Overall, the 2004 EX Team Rocket Returns set is one of the most desirable EX sets ever produced.
"I would say it's a top three EX set when it comes to popularity and value," said Browning. "This will always be known as the first set with the Gold Stars and it has the Team Rocket appeal. This set, collectively, is one of the most desired EX sets simply because of the additional tier of rarity and the dark theme throughout the set. It hits home with glimpses of the successful 2000 Team Rocket and 2002 Neo Destiny sets. The most valuable cards are not the most popular Pokémon; however, it's not just the Gold Stars that drive this set's edge. There are layers of nostalgia throughout the set."
Pratte shares a similar take.
"It's definitely known as the first set to have Gold Stars and it's just packed throughout," he said. "This set is probably first and foremost known as the Gold Stars set, but Team Rocket has a stronger identity in general even if you don't have the Gold Stars."
For more information on the 2004 Pokémon EX Team Rocket Returns trading card game set, please visit PSA CardFacts.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Please note the PSA Population Report statistics and Set Registry rankings quoted are as of May 2020.