Japan’s No.1
Sneaker Marketplace

12th June 2024 EDT FEATURES

Head Down Memory Lane With Top Pokémon TCG Expansion Sets by Generation

Every Pokémon TCG generation has a set that's clearly a cut above the rest.


Ever since bursting onto the scene with all the impact of the most powerful Z-Move way back in 1996, the Pokémon TCG has to this day retained its status as the world’s leading TCG franchise. The flagship creation of Creatures Inc., almost every Pokémon expansion set to date has been greeted with tremendous fanfare; it’s a near-certainty that the same will be true going forward.

That being said, certain Pokémon TCG expansion sets have, of course, been more impactful and memorable than others. While there are many ways to curate a list of the best Pokémon TCG expansion sets to date, one common way to do so—and the method we’ll be using here—is to select nine Pokémon TCG expansion sets: one for each generation.

Do note that for the sake of consistency, every set in this list will be one of the main expansion sets. Thus, no subsets will be included.

Now, here are our picks for the best main expansion set of each of the nine Pokémon TCG generations thus far:

Gen 1: Expansion Pack (1996) (English Name: Base Set)

Pokémon TCG Best Expansion Sets

We’re starting things off by going back to the beginning—and we mean all the way back to the beginning. The set that launched the Pokémon TCG is unsurprisingly the clear standout among the first generation’s main expansion sets.

While other Gen 1 sets may contain rarer cards, have greater gameplay viability, are more aesthetically appealing, or a combination thereof, none of them—or any other set that will ever be released—will have the sheer impact that Expansion Pack did. For that reason, the prices of the Expansion Pack’s most notable cards rank among the highest in the entire Pokémon TCG.

The cards from Expansion Pack that are most eagerly sought include the Holographic Rare trio of Mewtwo, Alakazam, and of course, Charizard—probably the single most iconic card in Pokémon TCG history. Even one Charizard card from the Expansion Pack can sell for immense prices.

In an ironic twist, two of the biggest pulls from Expansion Pack were overshadowed by that same Charizard card: Venusaur and Blastoise. Both Holographic Rares, the other two final evolutions of Gen 1 starters often end up overlooked in favor of their Fire-type counterpart. This, however, doesn’t change the fact that those two cards remain among the set’s major gets.

Gen 2: Mysterious Mountains (2002) (English Name: Skyridge)

Pokémon TCG Best Expansion Sets

Back in the second generation, two sets stood head and shoulders above the rest for the same reason. Cards from Split Earth and Mysterious Mountains are some of the rarest in Pokémon TCG history as those sets had just one print run. Between the two, Mysterious Mountains gets the nod as it just about wins out with regard to major pulls.

Easily the two standouts of Mysterious Mountains are the Holographic Rare Charizard and Celebi cards bearing the Crystal Type Poké-Body (the predecessor to today’s Abilities). Known as “Crystal Pokémon Cards”, their rarity and unique art style combined with this Poké-Body allowed them to change type when certain Energy card types were attached to form two of the most iconic cards of the entire generation.

Another trio of Holographic Rares also rank among the most valuable cards of the set. These are the Crystal Crobat, Moltres, and Gengar cards. Once again, the driving factor behind their value is their scarcity. Due to this scarcity, even cards from Mysterious Mountains which aren’t exceedingly rare might still “punch above their weight” as far as their price tags are concerned.

For these reasons, Mysterious Mountains is commonly cited as the best expansion set of the 2000s.

Gen 3: Holon Research Tower (2005) (English Name: EX Delta Species)

Pokémon TCG Best Expansion Sets

More than a decade and a half before the Pokémon Scarlet and Violet video games introduced the Terastallization mechanic, the Pokémon TCG tried something similar. Holon Research Tower introduced Delta Species cards featuring Pokémon bearing a type different from what they would normally have. The many cards with this novelty factor made this set the pick of the Gen 3 bunch.

However, none of the Delta Species cards figure at the very top of this set’s most prized pulls. That honor goes to its three Pokémon Star cards—Groudon, Kyogre, and Metagross. Each of these mega-rare and highly valuable cards depicts the Shiny form of the Pokémon mentioned as is the case with all Pokémon Star cards.

As for the Delta Species cards themselves, the Dragonite, Umbreon, and Espeon cards coming in Electric/Steel, Dark/Steel, and Psychic/Steel types respectively are Holon Research Tower’s highlights. In addition to their status as part of the first wave of Delta Species cards, all three featured Pokémon have also always ranked among the biggest favorites among the Pokémon fandom in general.

Gen 4: Beat of the Frontier [Pt3] (2009) (English Name: Supreme Victors)

Pokémon TCG Best Expansion Sets

Most Pokémon TCG experts regard the fourth generation as its nadir. Everything that could’ve gone wrong did—the global recession impacted product quality, many who had grown up with Gen 1 and 2 had abandoned the franchise, and most of the two new card variants—Prime and Lv. X cards—ended up being total flops relative to their predecessors and successors.

However, by no means does this mean that there weren’t any gems buried in Gen 4. The set that tops the generation’s chart? Beat of the Frontier [Pt3]. The set’s three Secret Rares which depict the Legendary bird trio of Moltres, Articuno, and Zapdos are the set’s flagship cards largely due to their backstory.

These three cards were first released in 1999 as promotional cards distributed via a campaign held by ANA. However, it wasn’t until the release of Beat of the Frontier [Pt3] a decade later that, after years of pleading by fans, they were finally added to a main expansion set. It wasn’t long before demand for the new versions dwarfed those for the original promotional cards.

Other cards to look out for from this set include Rayquaza C Lv. X as well as the Shiny versions of the Milotic and Relicanth cards.

Gen 5: Spiral Force / Thunder Knuckle [BW8] (2012) (English Name: Plasma Freeze)

While over the years there have been many Pokémon TCG expansion sets based on the villainous team of its generation, the two-part set containing Spiral Force and Thunder Knuckle [BW8] is generally regarded as the pick of the lot. And not only that—it’s the consensus choice as the best fifth-generation Pokémon TCG main expansion set.

As is the case with most sets centering a villainous team and their ‘mons, many Pokémon in the set are owned by members of Unova’s Team Plasma. On those cards, Team Plasma’s logo can be seen. Among all of the Team Plasma-owned Pokémon in Spiral Force and Thunder Knuckle [BW8], by far the most sought-after and valuable is the Super Rare (SR) version of the Deoxys ex card.

There were also several non-Plasma related cards which to this day are also among Gen 5’s rarest and most sought-after cards. These include Ultra Rare (UR) versions of Garchomp, Garbodor, Empoleon, and Ultra Ball as well as a Professor Juniper card of SR rarity.

Additionally, that Garbodor card was one of the greatest cards of all time from a gameplay perspective. A reprint of a card from Dragon Blast [BW5], its Ability of Garbotoxin nullified all other Abilities in play when Garbodor had a Pokémon Tool card attached, almost always swinging the balance of the game in the player’s favor.

Gen 6: Emerald Break [XY6] (2015) (English Name: Roaring Skies)

Pokémon TCG Best Expansion Sets

Mid-Gen 6, spanning from the end of 2014 through most of 2015, was the golden age of the Pokémon TCG. The folks at Creatures Inc. were in their bags, churning out three of the most critically-acclaimed and fan-adored sets of all time within a nine-month span: Gaia Volcano and Tidal Storm [XY5], Blue Shock and Red Flash [XY8], and the crown jewel: Emerald Break [XY6].

Upon its release, Emerald Break [XY6] truly pushed the boundaries of what “a great Pokémon TCG set” was thought to be. Highlighted by the iconic Shaymin ex card in its SR rarity version, other standouts included the VS Seeker card as well as UR rarity forms of Winona, Wally, and Mega Rayquaza ex—all cards which could easily have been the headliner of a great many other sets.

On top of its immense rarity and value, Shaymin ex was a card that ran rampant through the meta. The Mythical Pokémon was the ultimate draw engine—its Ability of Set Up allowed the player to draw cards until the player had six in hand after being placed on the Bench from the hand. As if that weren’t enough, Shaymin ex’s Sky Return attack brought it and all cards attached to it back to the player’s hand, allowing the cycle to repeat.

All things considered, it’s no surprise that Emerald Break [XY6] is almost unanimously regarded as the single best expansion set of the 2010s.

Gen 7: Forbidden Light [SM6] (2018)

Pokémon TCG Best Expansion Sets

Forbidden Light [SM6] was one of the few sets to feature some of the Ultra Beasts—a group of 11 mega-powerful Pokémon that originated from Ultra Space and arrived in the Alola region via Ultra Wormholes. However, none of the Ultra Beasts found themselves on any of the set’s standout cards.

That’s because Forbidden Light [SM6] contained three Prism Star cards and a remarkable 15 Pokémon-GX cards—including five Pokémon-GX cards with the HR rarity. The five cards in question were the Hyper Rare (HR) versions of Greninja GX, Yveltal GX, Xerneas GX, Ultra Necrozma GX, and Zygarde GX that all featured rainbow-colored illustrations of those Pokémon. These were far and away the set’s biggest pulls.

The typical “female character value boost” was at work in this set too—most notably with the SR versions of the Bonnie and Diantha cards. Mysterious Treasure deserves a mention as well. This card not only appealed to collectors via its UR form; it was also highly useful in gameplay, particularly among players who ran primarily Psychic-type or Dragon-type decks.

Gen 8: Sword [S1W] / Shield [S1H] (2019)

To say that the eighth generation of the Pokémon TCG arrived with a bang would be an understatement. One of just two generations for which our pick is the very first set of the era, the simultaneously-released Sword [S1W] and Shield [S1H] introduced Pokémon V and Pokémon VMAX—some of which are today still among its generation’s most coveted cards.

By a considerable margin, the card that’s the single biggest get in Sword [S1W] and Shield [S1H] is the Zacian V card from [S1W]. This card’s UR version is not only notable for its striking illustration, extremely high rarity, and status as one of the first-ever Pokémon V cards; Zacian V was also a metagame powerhouse and the cornerstone of many leading decks of the era.

Some of the other highlights from Sword [S1W] and Shield [S1H] include the HR version of Marnie as well as the UR versions of Quick Ball, Zamazenta, and Air Balloon.

Finally, we can’t conclude this section without mentioning Pokémon VMAX cards which depicted Dynamaxed and Gigantamaxed versions of Pokémon. Sword [S1W] and Shield [S1H] introduced Pokémon VMAX to the Pokémon TCG. Of these first-ever Pokémon VMAX, the most notable were Lapras VMAX from Sword [S1W] and Snorlax VMAX from Shield [S1H]—both of which featured rainbow-colored Full Art illustrations in their UR forms.

Gen 9: Ancient Roar [SV4K] / Future Flash [SV4M] (2023) (English Name: Paradox Rift)

Although the ninth generation is still ongoing as of this article, the leading main expansion set thus far is the dual set of Ancient Roar [SV4K] and Future Flash [SV4M]. Spotlighting Ancient and Future Paradox Pokémon respectively, many of the standout cards from Ancient Roar [SV4K] and Future Flash [SV4M] were indeed those featuring Paradox ‘mons.

Roaring Moon ex from Ancient Roar [SV4K] leads the pack largely thanks to a combination of its striking Full Art illustration, rarity of UR, and viability in gameplay. The Special Art Rare (SAR) version of Professor Sada’s Vitality comes a close second among Ancient Roar [SV4K] cards—after all, Full Art illustrations of female characters are always major hits. Professor Sada’s Vitality is also a key card in many decks built around Ancient Pokémon.

Future Paradox Pokémon do get a moment in the limelight too, with the SAR version of Iron Hands ex and the UR version of Iron Valiant ex, both from Future Flash [SV4M], among the most noteworthy attractions themselves. Finally, another Future Flash [SV4M] card which is a seriously impressive pickup is Altaria ex in its SAR form. Despite not being particularly powerful or featuring a stereotypical fan-favorite Pokémon, that card’s high rarity is more than enough to give it a major reputation and value boost.

And that wraps up our list of picks for each Pokémon TCG generation’s best expansion set. There’s no doubt that in the years and decades to come, future generations will have their own sets that go on to become iconic and forever enshrined in the Pokémon TCG fanbase’s pantheon. Whatever they may be, they’ll undoubtedly redefine the standards as far as Pokémon TCG expansion sets are concerned—just as the ones here already have.

For the latest releases, breaking news, and exclusive interviews, stay tuned to the SNKRDUNK Magazine and @snkrdunk on Instagram. Explore the SNKRDUNK App too and don’t forget to use our welcome code from the banner below before making your first purchase. Additionally, if you would like to try a pair out, visit our stores in Singapore and Japan!

More SNKRDUNK Features:
The Story of Pokémon Card 151 [SV2a]: How An Epic Pokémon TCG Set Came to Be
[TCG Throwback] Yu-Gi-Oh TCG Rising Rampage
Not “Just Another Pokémon TCG Set”: Why Pokémon Card 151 [SV2a] Matters
Better Than Heavy-Duty Boots: Top 8 Pokémon Collaborations Since 2016
[SNKRDUNK Selects] Best TCG Products To Buy Now (April 2024)