card gamer logo
Close this search box.

Every Pokemon Card Back Design [Complete List]

pokemon card backs

Think you know what the back of a Pokemon card looks like? Well, there’s more than one of them – which you’ll soon see, as we check out a complete list of every Pokemon card back design!

The Pokemon Trading Card Game was launched in Japan in 1996 – and it may surprise you to discover that the card back was incredibly different to the famous Pokemon logo and Pokeball design that has been the norm for the last few decades.

The Anglicised Japanese title of ‘Pocket Monsters’ (which Pokemon is a portmanteau of), the Pokeball design we know and love – and many annual World Championship deck card backs; those and more are all here.

So without further ado – let’s take a look at the complete list of every Pokemon card back design!

1. Pocket Monsters Card Game (1996)

Pocket Monsters - Pokemon Card Back

Not only was the Pokemon Trading Card Game (or TCG) known originally as Pocket Monsters Card Game upon launch in Japan in 1996, but it also featured a radically different card back to the design we’re familiar with these days – and even vastly different to the card back that Japanese gamers are now familiar with.

It might help to give you a bit of background as to why the card game started with this particular name.

When Pokemon was initially released in Japan – on the original Game Boy, no less – in 1996, two different cartridges were available.

The game’s two versions, Pocket Monsters Red and Pocket Monsters Green – with slightly different sets of creatures on each – were designed so that players couldn’t catch the entire Pokedex of 151 Pokemon on their own.

Linking up with friends to trade (and battle!) was seen as a large part of the game’s success – and this stellar success soon saw the game spun off into different areas: manga, anime, toys and of course, the Pocket Monsters Card Game!

This card back of course reflects the name of the game back then, which took a while to reach Western shores and adopt the more universal Pokemon moniker.

2. Pocket Monsters Card Game – Holofoil (1997)

Japanese Holofoil Card Back

Created as part of a mail-in promotion in Japan, fans of the card game were required to send in two of their cards – in order to receive two of these special promotional variants in return.

The holofoil back marks this version out as pretty unique – there’s only one other Pokemon Trading Card Game card back that has a holofoil treatment – but other than that, it’s essentially the very same design as the 1996 release of the Pocket Monsters Card Game cards.

3. Pocket Monsters Card Game – Vending Machine Series (1998)

Japanese Vending Series Pokemon Card

This unusual series of seven cards were only available from vending machines in, yes, Japan.

Not only are the card backs unique, but the front of the cards have an unusual, hand-drawn style to the art and even the text.

Naturally, these are extremely rare and highly desirable among collectors, but the Japanese text and unique card backs render them incredibly difficult to use in a game.

That said, if you have opaque sleeves and a grasp of Japanese, you may just get away with including these unique cards in a deck!

4. Pokemon Trading Card Game – English (1999)

Pokemon TCG Standard Card Back

Wizards of the Coast were responsible for the world’s first collectable card game (or CCG, which is the same thing as a Trading Card Game except for its name) – Magic: The Gathering was published in 1993 and created an entire subgenre, as well as an entirely new business model for tabletop gaming.

Arguably, without the enormous success and incredible innovations of Magic: The Gathering, the Pokemon Trading Card Game – certainly in its current form – may never have existed.

So it’s no surprise that Wizards of the Coast licensed and published the Pokemon Trading Card Game outside of Japan in 1999. 

It’s also no surprise that the experience that Wizards of the Coast brought to the table with several years of publishing Magic: The Gathering also helped to make the Pokemon Trading Card Game a huge success in its English language form.

One thing that Wizards of the Coast absolutely understood is that the design of a CCG/TCG’s card back should never be changed, so that – in theory – any cards from any set, no matter their age, can be used in casual play.

Of course, if all cards in a deck have exactly the same back, there’s no way of knowing what card is next.

Therefore, the iconic Pokeball design was the very first card back for the Pokemon Trading Card Game’s Western release – and it remains in use today, completely unchanged from the 1999 release!

Naturally, there are restrictions on card usage for tournament play, with sets rotating out of legality as they age. 

With the classic Pokemon card back in use no matter the set you pulled it from, however, if you wanted to build a deck comprising cards from across the rich, two plus decade history of Pokemon and take on your friends with it, there’s nothing stopping you!

5. Pokemon Trading Card Game – Trainer Decks (1999)

Pokemon Trainer Deck Card Back

Though Magic: The Gathering – and other collectable card games – had been around for six years before Pokemon hit Western shelves, Wizards of the Coast assumed, almost certainly correctly, that Pokemon fans wouldn’t have been exposed to CCGs or TCGs before.

So, for a way to learn the game by playing it, they released a pair of decks – Trainer Deck A and Trainer Deck B – which were designed to teach players the game, as they played against each other.

Other than the red border, along with the ‘Trainer Deck A’ and ‘Trainer Deck B’ text, the design is the same as the standard Wizards of the Coast Pokemon card backs.

These are extremely rare and valuable these days – with individual cards selling for hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds online!

6. Ancient Mew (2000)

Ancient Mew Pokemon Card

Despite this being a complete list of different Pokemon card backs, we were still in two minds regarding whether to include this card.

Yet there’s something really cool about this card’s faux-ancient text and general aesthetic (plus, it’s the only double-sided holofoil card in Pokemon TCG history!).

Even the back seems to be a clever attempt at making a Pokemon Trading Card game card that looks thousands of years old.

One of the reasons we weren’t sure whether or not to include it is that, even if you sleeved it, there’s no way this could be a functional card for the Pokemon Trading Card Game, right?

Surprisingly though, with a little bit of digging, you could use Ancient Mew in a game of the Pokemon TCG!

That’s because, astonishingly, translations of this card’s text do exist – and seem to point towards the card having 30 HP.

Translations also show that Mew has a Psychic attack that does 40 damage, costing two Psychic energy to use.

You’ll even find that the card has a retreat cost of two colorless energy – it’s an incredible level of detail for a card that seems like it was never really intended for proper use in the actual game.

It’s very cool as a collector’s item – and, thanks in part to the fact that these were given away as promotional cards with the release of the first Pokemon Movie, Mewtwo Strikes Back, they still seem to be pretty numerous, even in sealed form.

So they’re not expensive to pick up these days, despite their age. 

Even highly graded copies won’t break the bank as much as you may expect!

7. Pokemon Trading Card Game – Japanese (2002)

Pokemon Japanese Gold Card Back

It took a few years and revisions for this design philosophy to seep through to the Japanese version of the game, but once a standard card back was decided upon, it stuck!

So here we have the design that was first introduced in Japan in 2002; as with the 1999 Western release, this design has remained consistent to the present day.

It takes some cues from the Wizards of the Coast design, but its gold colour and slightly busier design elements do make it stand out as different.

Though the cards being in Japanese already restrict their usage for Western players, even if you’re bilingual there’s no chance of mixing the Western and Japanese cards to make a deck – due to the big differences in their card backs.

I mean, unless you use opaque backed card sleeves of course!

That said, there’s no reason why you can’t buy Japanese Pokemon cards if you’re a collector; the sets sometimes come with exclusive designs or even different Pokemon to the ones we receive in the West on occasion.

As for those gold card backs, well they’re now just as iconic to Japanese players – and collectors – as the Western Pokeball design. 

8. Pokemon World Championships – Various (2004-Present)

Though Wizards of the Coast had held four large scale Pokemon tournaments – known as Super Trainer Showdowns – between 2000-2001, the more widely known World Championships (where players compete in a variety of Pokemon games, including video games and the TCG) have been held by The Pokemon Company since 2004.

Usually held in North America, following two years where the tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was held in the UK for the first time in 2022. 

2023 marks the first time that the tournament will take place in the birthplace of Pokemon: Japan!

Each year, there are a number of winners in different categories for the Trading Card Game – and The Pokemon Company always release the winning decks as pre-constructed decks for purchase at retail.

The problem is that these decks are incredibly powerful – which is unsurprising, given that they were used to win tournaments with huge cash prizes – so there’s a danger that players will use the cards to enter local tournaments and dominate them with the very same decks.

Naturally, there’s nothing to stop players from finding out the deck lists online and purchasing cards individually, but it’s a lot harder and more expensive to do!

So to stop this happening with the World Championship pre-constructed decks, each deck features that year’s tournament logo design as its card back.

That means there’s a different card back every year that a set of these decks are released – from 2004-2019, then 2022; this makes it 17 different card backs so far.

In fact, if you also take into consideration the fact that the 2022 decks are in four different colours – one for each championship winning deck – that makes it 21 variations of World Championship card backs altogether!

9. Ultimate Premium Collection Metal Card Backs (2021)

Metal Pokemon Card Back

As part of Pokemon’s Celebrations sets in 2021, the Ultimate Premium Collection featured two special metal cards, reproducing two of the most popular cards from the very first Pokemon base set.

Though not legal even for casual play due to their weight and appearance – even sleeved, it’s very easy to tell when you’re going to draw a metal card – they’re fantastic for collectors.

You may find lots of unofficial metal Pokemon cards for sale online, so if you find one that isn’t one of the four officially released cards, unfortunately it does mean it’s a fake.

There are four official metal Pokemon cards: Pikachu, Charizard, Arceus V and Arceus V STAR.

You can find out more information in our Metal Pokemon Cards article!

This article may contain affiliate links. If you use these links to purchase an item we may earn a commission. Thank you for your support.

Join Our Exclusive Newsletter

We keep you up to date with the latest card game news, discounts and giveaways.

Handpicked content, just for you