PSA Set Registry
Collecting the 2002 Pokémon Expedition Set
An "e-Xciting" and Overlooked Card Issue
by Kevin Glew
I t's a hobby "expedition" that no one has completed on the PSA Set Registry.
But Zack Browning is working towards changing that. He has amassed over 40 percent of the cards for the 2002 Pokémon Expedition set in PSA-graded form.
"I think it's the most underrated set from Wizards of the Coast (WOTC)," said Browning. "It's an exciting set. It has a lot of great features, but there are a few things that hold it back from mainstream popularity."
One of the things holding it back is the card design. The 2002 Pokémon Expedition issue is the first of three e-Card sets printed to be compatible with the Nintendo e-Reader, and in order to incorporate the Dot Code technology that was used with the e-Reader, the cards were manufactured with thicker left and bottom borders.
"The cards just always look off-center to me," said well-known Pokémon trading expert Scott Pratte. "You really have to look past those thick borders."
Browning says this is a common take on the Expedition cards.
"I think that when most people first see it [the design], they don't like it," he said. "Most people focus on the large left and bottom border initially. ... But as people get more involved in the hobby, learn about the [different] Pokémon, and start appreciating the artwork, people seem to drift to this set and value it more."
Pratte and Browning say another reason for this set's low profile is that unlike the two subsequent e-Card series (Aquapolis and Skyridge), the Expedition set does not offer Crystal cards. Crystal cards are the e-Card equivalents to the highly-coveted Shining cards unveiled in the Neo series.
"The problem with Expedition is that there are no Crystal cards," said Browning. "So a lot of people wrongly discount the set for not having that higher tier [of cards] when in reality you have some of the best artwork."
As Browning points out, this set certainly has its share of assets. At 165 cards, it was the largest Pokémon set to that date.
"This set has 32 holos, which is the most holos of any set so far," noted Browning.
The 2002 Expedition series also highlights many of the best-known Pokémon on multiple cards. For example, there are three Charizard singles - including one holographic card (#6) and two non-holographic singles (#39 and #40) - in the regular set.
The set offers four different levels of cards that are generally sequenced in order by rarity (see accompanying chart). This chart does not include the six Energy cards (#160 to #165) at the end of the set.
The 2002 Pokémon Expedition set was initially slated to be rolled out in May 2002, but the release date was pushed back to September to ensure that the Nintendo e-Reader was available for these cards.
Reportedly due to the licensing costs for the Dot Code technology on the cards, the number of cards in a pack was reduced from 11 to 9 for this series. Of the nine cards, one was a reverse holographic card, one a rare (either regular holographic or non-holographic card), two were uncommons, and five were commons. The regular holographic cards could be found in approximately one in every three packs.
There are four Expedition pack wrappers each highlighting a different Pokémon, either Charizard, Blastoise, Venusaur, or Feraligatr. There are 36 packs in each booster box.
One of four box topper singles - Alakazam, Tyranitar, Venusaur, and Feraligatr - could be found on the top of each booster box. These are the first four of a 12-card subset, with the final eight box toppers distributed in Aquapolis and Skyridge boxes.
Pratte believes that the production run of the 2002 Pokémon Expedition series was lower than many of the previous issues because the popularity of Pokémon had started to wane around 2002. This has helped drive up the value of unopened booster packs and boxes today.
"I remember picking up packs in large quantities for around $35 each, and today, on eBay, they're going for $70 to $80 each," said Browning. "Booster boxes are around $2,500 right now, which in my opinion seems kind of low."
Two theme decks - Echo and Electric Garden - were also released for this series.
Similar to previous Pokémon issues, these cards boast yellow borders (with the aforementioned left and bottom borders being distinctively wider) with the name and HP at the top above the artwork, followed by the Trading Card Game information. The Weakness, Resistance, and Retreat Cost information can be found at the bottom.
The set symbol, which is showcased on the bottom right of the card, is a Poké Ball drawn to look like a lower case "e" (as in e-Card series).
It should be noted that a reverse holographic foil card (simply referred to as "reverse foil" by PSA) was also manufactured of each of the first 159 singles in this set. The reverse foil pattern on the Expedition cards was a more standard refractor style than that used in the Legendary Collection series, which feature reverse foils with a unique "wheel" design.
"The reverse holo [foil] pattern with the Expedition set is more like a mirror. It's very plain," explained Browning. "There's not a lot texture or design in the reverse holo [foil] pattern. It's just sort of a reflection of the card color."
As a result, the reverse foils in the Expedition series have become less desirable than those in the Legendary Collection set.
"The reverse holos [foils] for Legendary are essentially what make the Legendary set," explained Pratte. "The style of the reverse holos [foils] is unique to that set. You didn't see that style in any subsequent set."
As with some previous Pokémon issues, there were both regular holographic and non-holographic cards with the same artwork in the Expedition series. Browning says one complaint about the Expedition issue was that the reverse foils of these cards (regular holographic and non-holographic cards) looked the same except for the card number. Some felt they were collecting the same card twice. Browning says this was remedied for future sets.
As noted earlier, this set boasts three regular Charizard cards (#6 (holographic card), #39, and #40).
"I think this set has the most Charizards of any Wizards of the Cost set," noted Browning. "It had six possible Charizards when you count the reverse holos [foils], which is an astounding number of Charizards for it being the most notorious card in Pokémon."
The regular holo (#6) is the most desirable. Of the 215 submitted, there have been 22 PSA GEM-MT 10s. A PSA 10 fetched $2,336 on eBay in February 2018.
Blastoise is also highlighted on three cards: one holo (#4) and two non-holos (#36 and #37). His regular holo (#4) is the most valuable.
"[The Blastoise] has really cool artwork because of its aggressiveness," said Browning "It's almost like the two cannons are staring right at you."
Of the 80 submitted, there have been 28 PSA 10s. One PSA 10 garnered $240 on eBay in January 2018.
Pratte says the Mew holographic card (#19) is another key single. Mew is a mythical first-generation Pokémon that in Pokémon lore will only show itself to a person who is pure of heart.
"The Mew card is a very popular one because there are a lot of Mew collectors," said Pratte.
Browning points out that this is the only WOTC Pokémon set in which you can pull a holographic Mew card from a pack. Of the 78 regular Mew holos submitted, there have been 14 PSA 10s and 38 PSA MINT 9s.
The Mewtwo holo, which follows the Mew in the set, is also highly coveted.
"I would say the best artwork in this set would be Mewtwo," said Browning. "It's just an intimidating card. It's one of the coolest Mewtwo artworks I've ever seen."
Of the 79 regular Mewtwo holos submitted, there have been 21 PSA 10s and 46 PSA 9s.
Browning says the regular Skarmory holo (#27) is one of the set's most condition sensitive cards.
"For whatever reason, every time I pull a Skarmory holo, it always has a big nick on the top left corner on the back. It's a factory nick," said Browning.
Of the 40 evaluated, there have been just three PSA 10s.
Browning says the production values were very high for this set and the cards are generally found in top grade. But the cards were sometimes damaged when they were swiped in the e-Reader.
"It would increase the probability of damage significantly," said Pratte of the cards being swiped in the e-Reader. "First of all, it's old technology. It's not like today when you just scan something. You had to really run it through there."
Fortunately, the valuable holographic cards do not have the Dot Code technology, so they were not swiped through the e-Reader.
As noted earlier, the 2002 Pokémon Expedition series enjoys a relatively low hobby profile.
"On the forums, we discuss what set is most underrated and more and more people are saying Expedition," said Browning. "But once people discover it, they really enjoy it. ... You've got to get over the hump with the e-Reader border, but once you get past that, you can just sit back and enjoy the set. It's a beautiful set."
Browning believes this set has a strong future.
"I think this set has a lot of potential," he said. "Everyone knows 1st Edition Base is a great set and they are aware of Jungle because it was the second set, but a lot of people just let Expedition fly under their radar. Once they find it and have a chance to sit down and play with it, however, people enjoy it. You don't hear a lot of negative feedback about it today; whereas when it first came out, there was a sort of push back. So I think the set has some of the greatest potential considering today's prices."
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Editor's Note: Collectors use the words "reverse holo" and "reverse foil" interchangeably when discussing this set. On the PSA Population Report, however, these cards are referred to as "reverse foil."
For more information on the 2002 Pokémon Expedition gaming card set, please visit https://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/non-sports-cards/2002-nintendo-pokemon-expedition/32745.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thank you to Zack Browning for providing cards for this article. Please note the PSA Population Report statistics and Set Registry rankings quoted are as of May 2018.