I journal about collecting one of each card from all English-language base sets and expansions (with a few exceptions/conditions). I keep it short and sweet, and concentrate on observations and tales of adventure, not lists of what cards I got on a given day.
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Getting To Know You (Understanding Holos)

Posted January 9th, 2011 at 9:20 AM by piecemeal

I learned a bunch about how sets are structured this week, thanks in large part to jennrummymeister (look him up on YouTube) and the good people here at PC (to whom the following may not be news, but I feel it would benefit the community to have this knowledge written down somewhere).

Specifically I'm referring to holographic cards. I started with these questions: "Which cards are available in several holo versions? Which versions are available? Is there a pattern to it or is it inconsistent?" Here's what I learned (this pertains to "base" sets, such as Base, Arceus, Triumphant, Ruby & Sapphire, Sandstorm, Diamond & Pearl, etc., not to promo cards or promo sets).

Think of each set as being composed of core and special cards. Core cards start from number 1 and encompass rares, uncommons, and commons in continuous numbering. Special cards usually "start" after the commons end (they have higher numbers), and are rare or ultra-rare cards such as Pokemon ex, Level X, or have funny numbering such as 183/182 or SH11. They may or may not be marked rare. With respect to "holo-ness" there are two versions of core cards and one version of special cards. It looks something like this:

I. Core (two versions)
a. Both versions foil (lowest numbered rares)
b. One foil, one non-foil (other continuously numbered rares, uncommons, commons)

II.Special (one version)
a. Either foil or non-foil (high numbers, "more rare than rare" even if not marked so)

The history is that before Legendary Collection there is only one version of each card in each set, be it core or special. Only specials and some rares are printed in holo ("holo" meaning that the illustration portion of the card has shiny foil). Put another way, there is one version of every card and it is either a holofoil or it isn't. Some sets contain two of the same Pokemon, one foil, one not, but they are numbered differently and therefore aren't truly versions of the same card.

From Legendary on there are two versions of core cards: a "regular" and a "reverse". The regular core cards follow the established pattern with respect to "holo-ness": low-numbered rares come in holo and the rest of the core cards don't. The "reverses" are foil versions (same numbering) of the core cards that use a different foil scheme than "regular" holos.* So the low-numbered rares have two foil versions and no plain versions, and the rest of the core cards have one foil version and one plain version. Special cards are usually holofoil.

Kinda crazy, but understandable. I started out thinking that there were 2 or 3 versions of each card in a given set, a plain and a couple variations of foil, but in fact, there are 1 or 2. The versions don't vary predictably, which makes it appear that there are more cards out there than there actually are. There's no easy way for the uninitiated to know whether a card has an alternate version, and if so, if there are more than one. It's a strategy to keep customers interested and to sell more cards. I wrote this because I had gone through over 8,000 cards and read tons of info online before I figured it out.

Please let me know if I've said something amiss, and happy collecting!

* Ususally for reverses the foil occupies the text portion of the card rather than the illustration, hence the term "reverse", but often this is not the case. In many sets the "reverse" has foil in the illustration and the name of the set is printed in the illustration as well. So "reverse" really means "alternate", since the alternate version of the card may not literally be the reverse of the standard version in terms of the space the foil occupies.
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