Ranking Every Pokémon TCG Expansion Released In 2021

2021 was a major year for the Pokémon TCG. This year saw the franchise celebrate its 25th Anniversary in the midst of a scalping crisis and more interest than what we could've imagined even just last year. During all of that, six major Pokémon TCG sets were released, and that's not even including the McDonald's promos. Let's take a look back at this wild year and rank the TCG's releases from worst to best.

Celebrations - Classic Collection Charizard. Credit: Pokémon TCG
Celebrations – Classic Collection Charizard. Credit: Pokémon TCG

6 – Celebrations

This may be a controversial pick for the start. Celebrations isn't in the lowest slot because it's a bad set. On the contrary, I think that the Pokémon TCG chose a terrific way to celebrate their franchise's 25th Anniversary. The main set had 25 cards, most of which were solid and one of which is an all-time great: the Shiny Mew Gold card. There was also a subset called the Classic Collection which featured major cards from every era, reprinted with the 25th Anniversary stamp and premium, Full Art-style texture rippling through the entire surface of the card. Best of all, the size and availability of the set made it a reasonable goal for collectors to complete. The reason that Celebrations falls in the final slot is that this may be the year of Pokémon TCG's greatest sets of all time.

Fusion Strike Mew. Credit: Pokémon TCG
Fusion Strike Mew. Credit: Pokémon TCG

5 – Sword & Shield – Fusion Strike

Fusion Strike is considered a lesser 2021 set, but let's pump the brakes a bit. This set has not one, two, three, four, or five, but six incredible Mew cards. It includes terrific Alt Arts featuring Mew, Celebi, Espeon, Gengar, Inteleon, and more. With the exception of Elesa's Sparkles, the selection of Full Art Trainers is rather weak, but this is a set that would've been the top pick of almost any other year than this year. The reason it falls below other sets in 2021 is that it's a bit of a mish-mash set, pulling some of its major hits from Japanese promos and earlier releases, which gives it a less than unified theme.

Battle Styles Tyranitar. Credit: TPCI
Battle Styles Tyranitar. Credit: TPCI

4 – Sword & Shield – Battle Styles

Battle Styles is another set that is looked down upon by many Pokémon TCG collectors as a bad set. That take is, to me, way off base. Much of the reason that the releases of 2021 are so strong is because of Battle Styles and what it brought to the Pokémon TCGBattle Styles reintroduced Alt Arts, a style of card that invites artists to break from the standard Full Art style to deliver a unique, illustrative piece that shows up as either a Full Art or Secret Rare. The only reason that Battle Styles isn't higher on the list is that it has only one real great Alt Art (but other good ones) with the sleeping Tyranitar V. Make no mistake, though. This is where the greatness began.

Shining Fates Ditto. Credit: Pokémon TCG
Shining Fates Ditto. Credit: Pokémon TCG

3 – Shining Fates

Shining Fates was released at the height of the scalping problem in the Pokémon TCG hobby, making it quite difficult to get at first. This led to a surge of hype and mystery around the set, which crashed a bit as interest fell. I think that people make a mistake, though, when they compare this set to Hidden Fates. This shouldn't be seen as a Hidden Fates 2, because it set out with a different goal. Hidden Fates showed Shiny Pokémon from early generations primarily, while Shining Fates focused largely on Galar with its biggest hits being VMAX versions of classic species. In that, it succeeds brilliantly. The Shiny Ditto VMAX, the Shiny Charizard VMAX, multiple Trainer Supporters, and many of the "Baby" Shinies are memorable in a year of sets that broke free from expectation and sought to blow the minds of collectors.

Chilling Reign Moltres. Credit: TPCI
Chilling Reign Moltres. Credit: TPCI

2 –Sword & Shield – Chilling Reign

This was a difficult pick. Battle StylesShining Fates, and Chilling Reign all could've claimed this spot for various reasons, but Chilling Reign wins out due to a unified theme, terrific artwork, and the fact that this is the first set to take the idea Alt Arts that Battle Styles reintroduced and go running full speed with it. The best Alt Arts feature the Galarian Birds, but the artwork on the Alts featuring Zeraora, Calyrex, and Blaziken are also stunning. Add to that a solid if overstuffed roster of Trainer Supporters and you've got what was, at the time of its release, the strongest set of the year. Then… this set arrived.

Evolving Skies Sylveon. Credit: Pokémon TCG
Evolving Skies Sylveon. Credit: Pokémon TCG

1 – Sword & Shield – Evolving Skies

I said it before and I'll say it again: Evolving Skies has the potential to be the greatest Pokémon TCG set of all time. Just what gives the set GOAT potential? Let's break it down.

Simply put, Evolving Skies fires on all cylinders. It is a stacked set, with different styles of amazing hits at every turn. Looking at even the standard Pokémon-V and VMAX cards, we have Eeveelutions and Dragons, with standouts being Rayquaza, Umbreon, and Sylveon. (And Espeon, and Glaceon, and — well, every Eeveelutions.)

When it comes to Alt Arts, we have multiple all-time great cards in one set. Any of these cards would make sense on someone's top 10 list as non-controversial picks. I'm talking the Rayquaza Alts, both the V and VMAX. I'm talking Alt VMAXes for Umbreon, Glaceon, Leafeon, and Sylveon. (The latter being my personal pick for card of the year.) Even outside of the Eeveelutions, Noivern gets a Batman-inspired Alt Art and Duraludon pairs with Raihan for an Alt Art that looks inspired by the Sun & Moon – Cosmic Eclipse character cards.

As if that we're enough, the set also has the best Trainer Supporter selection of the entire SWSH era thus far with Zinnia, Raihan, Copycat, Aroma Lady, and… well, Gordie, but that one wasn't so popular.

Evolving Skies takes the win for 2021 and, really, every year I can think of stretching back… with the possible exception of the Neo sets. Those were four flawless sets, weren't they?

What was your favorite Pokémon TCG set of the year? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Theo Dwyer

Theo Dwyer writes about comics, film, and games.
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