PSA Set Registry
Collecting the 2002 Pokémon Legendary Collection Set
An Issue Finally Worthy of Its Name
by Kevin Glew
It's like a greatest hits compilation of early Pokémon cards.
But it was still pretty bold of Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) to include the word "legendary" in the title of a set that was released just three years into their run of Pokémon issues.
However, judging by the prices unopened packs and boxes from the 2002 Pokémon Legendary Collection series are now garnering, WOTC's confidence was well founded. Sure, this 110-card offering has its critics who bemoan its lack of originality, but there's also a large and passionate group of hobbyists who do, indeed, consider it "legendary."
"Some people really love the set - they're really into it - and then there are people that hate the set," noted Zack Browning, who owns the No. 1 Current Finest, 2002 Pokémon Legendary Collection set on the PSA Set Registry. "There aren't many people in between."
Well-known Pokémon trading card expert Scott Pratte agrees. "It is very much that cliché of love it or hate it," he says.
Both Pratte and Browning note that the 2002 Pokémon Legendary Collection set was not highly successful when it was initially released.
"Until the past couple of years, nobody really talked about Legendary Collection," noted Pratte.
The relatively newfound popularity of this set is hard to explain. But perhaps now that 16 years have passed since its release, a wider group of collectors have grown nostalgic about this "greatest hits" set. This 110-card issue features reprints of the top cards from Base, Jungle, Fossil, and Team Rocket. Many believe this set was designed to be Base Set 3, but due to the lack of demand for Base Set 2 (a reprint issue released in 2000 that highlighted cards from Base and Jungle), WOTC gave it a new and more exciting name.
WOTC also introduced significant improvements in the Legendary Collection set. If you think of it as a "greatest hits" compilation, you could say that some "bonus tracks" were added to make it more desirable.
"Wizards of the Coast definitely learned from Base Set 2," said Browning. "When they came up with the Legendary set, they realized that they had to have something unique, something different. They thought, 'We've got to give this set some flavor or else it is going to flop even worse than Base Set 2.'"
The biggest innovation unveiled in the Legendary Collection series were the reverse holographic foil singles (simply referred to as "reverse foil" by PSA) that were produced of each of the 110 cards. On these singles, the entire front is printed in shiny holographic material except for the artwork. One of these reverse foil cards was included in every booster pack and they generally command a premium.
"The reverse holos [foils] are the catalyst for collecting this set for most people," said Browning.
Another "bonus track" was the introduction of box toppers. When you opened a booster box, you would find one of four reverse foil box topper singles: Charizard (#S1), Dark Blastoise (#S2), Dark Raichu (#S3), and Mewtwo (#S4). These were slightly larger than the standard-sized cards, but they're not as coveted as the reverse foil cards.
"From what I've seen recently, a PSA [GEM-MT] 10 box topper Charizard sells for less than a reverse holo [foil] Charizard," explained Browning in a March 2018 interview. "I would say that the reverse holo [foil] Charizard is probably selling for three times the rate of the box topper."
Another first with the Legendary Collection set were exclusive theme deck cards. There were two theme decks - Lava and Turmoil - released, and there were three non-holographic cards - Charizard, Dark Blastoise, and Dark Raichu - that were only available in these decks.
"Lava contained the exclusive non-holo Charizard variant. Turmoil contained both the Dark Raichu and Dark Blastoise non-holo variants," noted Browning. "All other cards in both decks are identical to what could be pulled from sealed booster packs. This was the first time Wizards of the Coast included non-holo variations of a holographic set card in a theme deck."
With all of these "bonus tracks," it's no wonder that the Legendary Collection set enjoys a larger following than the Base 2 series. WOTC appears to have devoted significant time and effort to this reprint set which for many years was dismissed as a stopgap between the Neo and Expedition series.
Bulbapedia, a community-driven, online Pokémon encyclopedia, indicates that the Expedition Base series was slated to be released in May 2002, but it was delayed to September so it could be introduced at the same time as the Nintendo e-Reader. WOTC likely created the Legendary Collection series, which was released on May 24, 2002, to fill the void during that delay.
Despite being printed after the Neo sets, the design of the regular Legendary Collection cards reverted to that of the first-generation singles. The cards boast yellow borders with the Pokémon's name and HP at the top above the artwork. The Pokémon's vitals (type, length, weight) ensue, followed by the Trading Card Game information. A sentence describing the Pokémon's special abilities can be found on the lower portion above the copyright data.
The artwork is the same as what was used on the original first-generation cards. One way of distinguishing the Legendary Collection cards from the originals is the set symbol, which is a medallion located under the right part of the artwork.
Browning also notes that the background on the regular holographic Legendary Collection cards reverted to the galaxy design employed in the Base set.
"Wizards of the Coast used two different types of holo patterns [on these cards]," explained Browning. "You have the galaxy holo pattern and then you have the cosmos holo pattern. The cosmos pattern is the one with the circles in the background. And if you look at the Base set, it has a galaxy holo pattern which looks like stars out in the distance."
Similar to the first-generation singles, the Legendary Collection card backs flaunt the Pokémon name and branding and have blue borders.
It should be noted that there are no 1st Edition or Japanese versions of the Legendary Collection cards.
The regular Legendary Collection set offers four different levels of cards that are generally sequenced in order by rarity (see accompanying chart).
Of course, when collectors were opening booster boxes, they most coveted the holographic and reverse foil cards. Each booster pack offers 11 cards, including one reverse foil card, one rare single, three uncommon cards, and six commons. The regular holographic cards were inserted at a rate of one in every three packs.
Finding unopened material has become challenging, not to mention costly. Browning estimates that the fair market value of an unopened booster box (36 packs) is $4,500.
The price of individual unopened packs has also increased dramatically in recent years, and they regularly sell for $130 to $200 each.
Not surprisingly, the Charizard holo (#3) is the set's most sought-after card. If you count the box topper, there are actually four different Charizard singles related to this issue: the regular holo, the reverse foil, the box topper, and the non-holo version that was available only in the Lava theme deck. The 2002 Pokémon Legendary Collection set on the PSA Set Registry only requires you to obtain the regular holo.
"The holo and the reverse holo [foil] are wildly more popular than the non-holo [which can be found in the Lava theme deck]," said Browning. "The non-holo Charizard is just a cool variant for someone that collects all Charizard cards or maybe can't afford the holo, so they go with the non-holo. From a pricing perspective, the non-holo would probably be about a third of the price of the holo or possibly even less."
It used to be that the reverse foil Charizard would command a premium over the regular holo, but that's no longer the case for high-grade examples. According to the PSA Population Report, there are just six PSA 10s of the regular holo, while there are 55 of the reverse foil. One PSA 10 reverse foil fetched $1,550 on eBay in February 2018.
The Dark Blastoise holo (#4) is another desirable single. Similar to the Charizard, the regular holo is much more elusive in top condition than the reverse foil. There are just four PSA 10s of the regular holo and 26 of the reverse.
Another in-demand card is the Dark Raichu holo (#7). Once again, the regular holo is more evasive in Gem Mint form. There are just five PSA 10s of the regular holos and 22 of the reverse foils.
Browning says the Legendary Collection cards have been some of the toughest for him to uncover in top condition.
"There were a lot of issues getting high-quality holos right out of the packs, and that carries over to the reverse holos [foils] as well," he said. "But most of the holos are going to have silvering across the top and the right side of the border."
In terms of the common issues found on these cards, Browning notes that it's mostly "surface condition versus edge wear and factory nicks." For example, besides the aforementioned silvering, he often sees print lines on the cards as well.
For ambitious collectors like Browning, the challenge of tracking down these cards in pristine form adds to the appeal of the 2002 Legendary Collection set, which until recently would not have been widely recognized as "legendary."
"It's kind of an ode to the early sets," said Browning. "Wizards of the Coast really learned from what went wrong with Base 2 and this has become one of the most exciting reprint sets. When reprint sets come out, they generally aren't that great; they don't do as well as the originals. But this is one of those reprint sets where 16 years later, a lot of people like it, are [actively] collecting it, and paying high 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 Legendary Collection gaming card set, please visit https://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/non-sports-cards/2002-nintendo-pokemon-legendary-collection/32746.
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.