What Are Alternate Art Or Special Art Cards In Pokémon TCG?

Alternate Art cards have returned to the Pokémon TCG in a big way… but what are they? Some collectors may have a hard time distinguishing between Full Arts and Alternate Arts, but there are simple ways to tell what you have pulled. Let's get into it.

Alternate Art Tyranitar. Credit: TPCI
Alternate Art Tyranitar. Credit: TPCI

First, understanding rarity. In every pack of Pokémon TCG cards, you get a rare after the reverse holo slot. There are several types of cards that can take up that slot, including:

  • A non-holo rare: the most common pull.
  • A holo rare: a bit better!
  • An Ultra Rare: This is a V or VMAX in the Sword & Shield era, a GX in the Sun & Moon era, and an EX in the XY and Black & White eras.
  • A Full Art: The best kind of card you can pull in the numbered set.
  • A Secret Rare: The rarest of all rares, these have a number outside of the numbered set.

In current sets, you are likely to see V and VMAX cards take various forms. Battle Styles reintroduced Alternate Arts, which are, to put it the most simply, Full Art and Secret Rare cards that deviate from the era's standard style of Full Art and Secret Rare. Take a look at these three Tyranitar V from Battle Styles.

Tyranitar V from Battle Styles. Credit: Pokémon TCG
Tyranitar V from Battle Styles. Credit: Pokémon TCG

First, the card on the left is the standard Tyranitar V. This is a glossy, foil card with no texture and is categorized with the other Pokémon of its typing in the set list.

Then, in the middle, is the Full Art Tyranitar V. A standard Full Art card has a higher set number and is ordered after the trainers. The visual markers here are noticeable: the linework itself is silvery foil (blue in Sun & Moon, gold in XY) and there is texture all over the card.

Finally, all the way to the right, is the Alternate Art Tyranitar which is considered the best pull of the three. It features an art style that deviates from the standard artwork of the Full Arts, leaving behind the silvery line arts and standard pose for a fun, dynamic image. It is distinguishable from a normal V because it retains the texture and is numbered after the trainers.

Alternate Arts were featured during the last few sets of Sun & Moon and came back this year in Battle Styles after being absent through the first year of the Sword & Shield era. They continue through Chilling Reign and August 2021's upcoming set Evolving Skies. What these sets will have that Sun & Moon era sets didn't is Alternate Art Secret Rares. Rather than being a variant of a Full Art, they are, as the name implies, a variant of a Secret Rare.

Previously, if a VMAX card got a Secret Rare, it was done in the Rainbow Rare style. Now, this is the new normal for the Pokémon TCG starting with Battle Styles:

Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX from Battle Styles. Credit: Pokémon TCG
Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX from Battle Styles. Credit: Pokémon TCG
  • Left: A standard Urshifu VMAX. These, unlike standard V cards, have texture. They are classified with the normal cards of its type and they will generally appear next to their V in the same set.
  • Middle: A Rainbow Rare Urshifu VMAX. As a Secret Rare, it has a number greater than the set number and the obvious color changes. These use the same lineart as the standard VMAX, though. Textured.
  • Right: Alternate Art Secret Rare Urshifu VMAX. The general gist here is that they feature non-Rainbow Rare artwork on a textured card featuring a number greater than the set… but these are actually oddly specific. What's interesting about these so far is that they often showcase the Gigantamax Pokémon interacting with either standard-sized objects or standard-sized Pokémon. This isn't always true, but is a fun motif currently running through these that is reaching new cute heights with the current Japanese set, Eevee Heroes.

Alternate Arts are also called "Special Arts" by some. This means the same thing. If these are cards you're hunting for, fellow Pokémon TCG hunters, I wish you the best of luck. It's a difficult but worthy endeavor!

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About Theo Dwyer

Theo Dwyer writes about comics, film, and games.
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