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Prerelease Raichu: The Story of the Pokémon Card So Rare, It Probably Doesn't Exist

Chill Clinton is a trading card enthusiast and investor who operates an online trading card store.

Does the prerelease Raichu actually exist?

Does the prerelease Raichu actually exist?

Let's Take a Trip Back in Time

The year was 1999. The Space Shuttle Discovery became the first vessel to dock on the International Space Station, Vladimir Putin began his first term as the President of Russia, the world's population surged past six billion, and Wizards of the Coast was planning its follow-up to the wildly successful Pokémon TCG Base Set: Jungle.

Though Pokémon was at the height of its popularity, Wizards of the Coast, the company that produced and distributed the first Pokémon cards in the United States market, wanted to keep the energy alive by sponsoring Prerelease events at bookstores and gaming shops around the country. These events allowed eager collectors to get their hands on the newest Pokémon cards about a week before they would be widely available in stores, and they featured tournaments, giveaways, free play, and more.

A Pokémon Trading Card event hosted by Wizards of the Coast at the Spring Hill Mall in West Dundee, IL. Circa 1999

A Pokémon Trading Card event hosted by Wizards of the Coast at the Spring Hill Mall in West Dundee, IL. Circa 1999

In order to ensure that these events would draw crowds of excited fans, Wizards of the Coast decided to produce an exclusive "Prerelease" promotional card that would not be available through packs. This card could only be obtained by attending one of these events.

Those who were around back then, or who are Pokémon historians, might remember that this exclusive promotional card was Clefable, who made its debut in the trading card game in the Jungle set.

The Clefable Prerelease Promo Card from Jungle Set.

The Clefable Prerelease Promo Card from Jungle Set.

The Myth of the Prerelease Raichu

As the story goes, the process of producing the Prerelease Clefairy card did not go off without a hitch. While working to produce thousands of these promotional singles, the production team noticed an error.

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In one of the print runs, the "Prerelease" stamp featured in the bottom right corner of the illustrative frame was erroneously printed on hundreds and hundreds of Raichu cards!

So naturally, Wizards of the Coast did what any manufacturer would do following a production error. They allegedly destroyed nearly every copy of the Raichu promo, leaving only a few dozen left that were said to be handed out to employees of Wizards of the Coast.

The Raichu "Prerelease" promo was never meant to exist, and was allegedly only printed due to a production error!

The Raichu "Prerelease" promo was never meant to exist, and was allegedly only printed due to a production error!

Was It All Just a Rumor?

For many years after that, the story of the Raichu Prerelease promo was thought to be a wholly unsubstantiated rumor. Very few had actually seen one of these cards, and even those that were seen were assumed to be counterfeit attempts to replicate the mythical card.

Of course, Wizards of the Coast made no public statement regarding a story for which there was limited to no evidence. But even if it were true, why would they? A story in which they mistakenly produced and destroyed an untold number of cards so early into their involvement with the intellectual property wouldn't exactly be a good look.

Card Sightings in the 2000s

However, in 2006, a story surfaced on message boards, claiming that a former Wizards of the Coast employee had found a Prerelease Raichu in his collection, and that after allegedly authenticating the card, it was believed to be genuine.

Three years later, in 2009, a Pokémon fan forum called PokéGym reported that a private sale of the card had taken place on April 1st, 2009 for a total sum of $10,500. However, no formal receipt of the transaction was ever produced, and given the date of the transaction being reported as having occurred on April Fool's Day, there are some genuine questions as to the validity of this report.

If It Exists, It Would Be Expensive

At this time, no Prerelease Raichu has ever been professionally certified or sold in a public auction, and Wizards of the Coast has remained silent about whether the production error ever even occurred. However, it is probably safe to say that if any of these cards were to ever emerge and found to be genuine by a credible authentication company, it would likely be among the most expensive if not the most expensive card ever sold.

Until then, the story of the Prerelease Raichu lives on in infamy, mesmerizing Pokémon fans around the world. And perhaps an unending search for this legendary card is for the best, as it keeps the same wonder and magic we felt for Pokémon as '90s kids alive forever.

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