The first prototype English Pokemon cards featured Blastoise! Four of five known specimens were just graded by CGC Trading Cards, who provided us with the photos below. Most of the cards are printed on Magic: The Gathering card stock, as Wizards of the Coast produced both card games.
Before you ever pulled Blastoise from your Base Set pack, Wizards of the Coast (WoTC) was experimenting with the look of English Pokemon cards. Nintendo contacted the company in 1998 to ask if they would be interested in producing the English Pokemon TCG. WotC gladly accepted the partnership, as they rightfully feared Pokemon would become the biggest competitor to Magic. The rest is history — 1st edition Base Set packs rolled out in January 1999.
This isn’t the first time we at PokeBeach have seen these Blastoise cards. The first photos were posted to a Magic Facebook group in September 2016 by James Burton, a well-known fan in the Magic community. He acquired two copies from an ex-WotC employee, Chel Bieze. A third copy was found in the storage unit of an old gaming store and shared online by Zechariah Maples in July 2019. The storage unit was located in Seattle, which is where Wizards of the Coast is based.
A few months after his discovery, Maples took his card to a former WotC employee named Chris Nitz. He was the Lead Typesetter for WotC and worked for them from 1998 to 2004. Nitz instantly recognized the card and verified it was real. Furthermore, he still owned an uncut sheet of Magic and Pokemon cards containing a black-bordered version of the very same Blastoise — making it the fourth discovered specimen. He revealed his Blastoise was actually the first holographic Pokemon card ever printed.
In 2020, a fifth specimen was sent to CGC for grading by Heritage Auctions. This card featured the starry holofoil paper that was eventually used on cards from Base Set through Fossil. It’s a later version of the four other specimens. This card was owned at one point by a member of WotC’s PR team. The card was printed in 1998 to show in a media interview what Pokemon cards would look like. The interview has been lost to time, so this prototype Blastoise was technically first seen by the public in 1998.
As we can see, WotC went through several design iterations! The first prototype used a casual font and a blander holofoil paper. The second prototype used the starry holofoil and yellow border that was eventually used on the final versions. Who knows how many other versions were printed or created on the computer! And then of course the actual 1st edition versions in 1999 featured a “shadowless” card template, which was then updated for unlimited print runs to use the shadowed versions most fans now own. Oddly, the prototype versions have shadows on the borders that the 1st edition cards do not.
It’s unknown how many other prototypes are out there.
Thanks goes to Paul Sandler from CGC for helping us with this news story — be sure to check out his extensive article on these prototypes! Tavis King, who was one of the first Magic fans to verify the authenticity of the first two specimens, has also just posted several YouTube videos.