McDonald's Happy Meals Pokemon Cards Guide

McDonald’s Happy Meals Pokemon Cards Guide

Most Pokémon fans know where to get cards for their collection. National brick-and-mortar store chains, local card, and video game shops, and even certain grocery stores carry Pokémon cards.

But perhaps the most accessible place to get Pokémon cards is in your lunch order. McDonald’s has partnered with Pokémon for over a decade (going back to 2011) to provide Pokémon cards in Happy Meals®. Usually released once per year, Pokémon cards in Happy Meals® all follow McDonald’s’ toy schedule—once announced and released, you have about a month to collect ‘em all before they are rotated out in favor of a new toy lineup.

However, unlike most modern sets of Pokémon cards, these minisets are much easier to complete due to the small number of cards in each set. But just like with standard Pokémon TCG sets, there is randomness involved—so don’t ever count on pulling your favorite card out of one pack!

The last time McDonald’s released cards for the Pokémon TCG was in 2021. This miniset, released as a part of Pokémon’s 25th-anniversary celebration, was much larger than past minisets and featured many familiar faces.

Bottom Line-Up Front

McDonald’s has released a number of minisets since 2011. They are a promotional Happy Meal® item, generally available for about a month. The 2021 miniset was based on Pokémon’s 25th-anniversary celebration and contains many iconic Pokémon.

Celebrations Begin

For those who missed it or weren’t quite into the Pokémon TCG at the time, the 25th anniversary of Pokémon was a big deal. The celebrations began at the start of 2021, which events and merchandise planned throughout the year.

On the TCG side of things, the celebrations began in earnest in early February when McDonald’s released their 2021 collection in honor of Pokémon’s 25th anniversary. Unlike past minisets, this miniset contained an enlarged number of cards—25 to be exact, appropriate for the occasion. These 25 cards honored all of the past starter Pokémon plus the game’s iconic mascot Pikachu.

Happy Meal Card Pack
Photo by Tony Bresnen

An aspect that I really enjoyed about the release of this set was the packaging included with the pack in the Happy Meal®. Each package included a numbered envelope (1–4) that determined what prize you got in addition to your booster pack. Packages labeled with a “1” had a deck box (visible in the middle left of the photo) with Pikachu plus a trio of starters, which could vary from the Kanto starters to the Galar starters.

Open Happy Meal Card Packs
Photo by Tony Bresnen

Packages labeled with a “2” had a scenic playmat for Pokémon stickers or figurines. Packages labeled with a “3” contained stickers of Pikachu and a trio of starter Pokémon. Packages labeled with a “4” had a card frame you could use to show off a card from your collection.

All of these items were high quality and something that I (as an adult) appreciated. It was nice knowing that although there was no mystery for the main item (you always got a pack) you could still be surprised by both the cards in the pack and in what other goodies you received. And yes, during the month these Pokémon cards were available I ate a lot of McDonald’s.

McDonald’s 2021 Collection Set

Happy Meal Card Pack Packaging
Photo by Tony Bresnen

Once you opened the package, your pack was staring at you front and center. The blue-colored pack was a simple but pleasing design and featured the Kanto starters and Pikachu, along with the official logos for the 25th-anniversary celebration. (Note that the aptly named special TCG set called “Celebrations” was released in fall 2021).

The packs contained 4 cards–3 were regular prints and 1 was a holographic card. Typical for McDonald’s sets (but not typical for standard TCG sets) there is no card rarity—just 25 total cards in the set that each come in a holofoil or non-holofoil version for a total of 50 cards.

I loved this aspect because most modern sets are so large with so many Ultra Rare or Secret Rare cards it is nearly impossible to complete a set without buying individual cards on the secondary market. This set is large enough to look impressive in a binder, but not so large that the task to collect them all is impossible.

Every time you opened a pack, you had a 1/25 chance to get the holofoil card you were after, or a (roughly) 3/25 chance to snag one of the non-holofoil cards you wanted.

The complete set numbered 1 through 25, numbered not in specific Pokédex order but by type then Pokédex order. Fun fact—beginning with the standard TCG sets in the Pokémon Black & White era (2011), cards were no longer numbered and ordered by rarity.

Instead, they switched to an order-by-type format. In the case of the 2021 McDonald’s miniset, the eight grass starters are numbered 1–8, then come the 8 fire starters (9–16), followed by the 8 water starters (17–24), and finally Pikachu (#25, which is also Pikachu’s Pokédex number).

The cards were illustrated by several well-known card illustrators, such as Ken Sugimori, who has done official artwork for Pokémon since the release of Pokémon Red and Green in Japan, and 5ban graphics, an artist collective who has designed many iconic full art cards in the past 10 years.

As you might guess, the most iconic card in this set is the holofoil version of Pikachu. This is a thoughtfully designed card that shows Pikachu in a restaurant, grinning joyfully as smells waft through the air. Though the food in the display looks to be Asian influenced, I can’t help but picture Pikachu in an American McDonald’s on his way to snag a large fry. Combine that with Pikachu’s first attack, “meal time” and I think the Pokémon world and McDonald’s have come together for a successful collaboration.

Not Lovin’ It—Hoarding, Scalping, and Price Gouging

This set was by all accounts, an extraordinary success for Pokémon and McDonald’s, unlike any set the two had worked on together in the past. However, there were many issues with the set’s release and product availability.

February 2021 was still the height of the global pandemic, and most people were stuck at home with nothing to do (or in some cases, nothing to buy). But Logan Paul, the famous social media star had reignited the fires of Pokémon card collecting by showing off his collection and some of his big-dollar purchases and encouraging others to look for their old cards and get back into collecting.

This led to more people learning about and becoming involved in the Pokémon TCG, which can be a good thing, but unfortunately led to many bad apples joining the hobby.

Holofoil Pikachu (2021)
Photo by Tony Bresnen

People started buying up sealed card products in bulk, leading to shortages. This, combined with the McDonald’s 2021 collection being the first spotlighted event/collection of the 25th-anniversary celebration, led to a perfect storm of card shortages.

There are stories of people buying dozens of happy meals just to get the packs so they could sell them on the secondary market. Where I live, Happy Meals® cost $3–4. At the time these packs were first available, they were selling for over $10 each at local card stores, so it made many people consider going to McDonald’s to buy food for the sole purpose of getting packs.

The issues of wasted food aside, this led to shortages of card packs in some large areas, which was really unfortunate for children looking to get a pack and maybe learn about the Pokémon TCG. During this time, the holofoil Pikachu (25/25) was selling for upwards of $70 on many online card stores.

Collectability of the 2021 Set

Thankfully, the days of scalping Happy Meals® are in the past. If you missed collecting this set when it first came out, now is a good time to jump in. Both the sealed packs and individual cards can be found online for reasonable prices.

It is likely that scalpers, hoarders, and even legitimate card shops bought too much and are still offloading what they have. Additionally, the international release of this miniset (occurring in several waves from March to October 2021) also added more copies of these cards to the market, helping to reduce prices.

McDonald's 2021 miniset non-foil cards
Photo by Tony Bresnen

This is a very affordable and eye-catching set. It has a somewhat unique holofoil pattern (called “confetti”) that you won’t find on cards in standard TCG sets. I have my set of 50 cards in binder pages, but this is a set that would look good framed on a wall as part of a fandom display. You can also do miniature displays with just a few cards—holofoil versions of Pikachu and your favorite starter trio framed in the card frames from the #4 envelopes would look great.

This isn’t likely to become a set that raises much in value in the next few years. Even though this is an expansive set filled with iconic Pokémon, the sheer volume of cards in the market likely means that prices will remain low.

Past McDonald’s Sets

McDonald’s first released a 12-card miniset in North American markets in June 2011. Each set is based around Pikachu and a relevant trio, usually starter Pokémon from the most recently released mainline Pokémon game.

Unlike the 2021 miniset, some of the previously released minisets didn’t come in packs, and instead one card and one toy were bundled as your Happy Meal® prize. The toys included were usually plastic figurines, some of which could be articulated in certain ways.

Like the minisets, the figurines included in a given set were based on the most recently released mainline Pokémon game. Since the first Pokémon and Happy Meal® collaboration in 2011, figurines highlighting Pokémon first introduced in Pokémon Black & White, X & Y, and Sun & Moon have been made available, with a couple of exceptions.

The 2014 figurine collection contains mega Pokémon forms introduced in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (along with Pikachu and Wobbuffet). These mega Pokémon were originally found in earlier games but their mega forms debuted in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire during the X & Y era.

Another notable exception to the typical spotlighted game figurines occurred in 2018, which The Pokémon Company International celebrated as the year of legendary Pokémon.

To draw attention to this celebration, all of the figurines were of legendary Pokémon from older generations: Latias and Latios; Dialga and Palkia; and Thundurus, Tornadus, Reshiram, and Zekrom. If you are looking to collect any of the McDonald’s figurine sets, the 2018 set contains classic and much-loved Pokémon.

McDonald’s Happy Meals Pokemon Cards Guide Holofoil Mudkip
Photo by Tony Bresnen

Generally there has been a new miniset each year, though some years were skipped or the miniset was only released in certain regions. One subtle feature shared by all of these sets can be found in their set symbols. These symbols are icons typically found at the bottom left or right of the card to signify to what set the card belongs.

In all of the McDonald’s minisets, the set symbols all contain some version of the letter “M” to signify McDonald’s. These symbols still follow the general set symbol guidelines for the major TCG sets, minimalist in design and done in black and white.

If you come across a card that has an unfamiliar set symbol, see if you can find an “M”—it might be a McDonald’s promo card. Many of the cards included in past McDonald’s minisets have been reprinted from standard TCG sets and can be used to play in the official Pokémon TCG.

Collecting these sets is relatively easy due to the small set sizes (12 cards) and amounts printed and available in the secondary market. But none of the past sets can compare to the McDonald’s 2021 collection in terms of card design, collectability, and nostalgia. If you want to focus on any McDonald’s or anniversary set, the McDonald’s 2021 25th anniversary set is the one to get!

Other Memorable Card Releases—Gold From the King

While it’s certainly forgivable to not know about all of the toys and minisets McDonald’s has released over the last 10 years, most older Pokémon fans will remember the original Pokémon card and fast-food chain collaboration—the gold-plated cards from Burger King. In late 1999, Burger King released six gold-plated Pokémon cards (along with an assortment of over 50 toys) to promote Pokémon: The First Movie.

These six cards, featuring Charizard, Pikachu, Jigglypuff, Poliwhirl, Mewtwo, and Togepi, had to be purchased separately and did not come free with a kid’s meal.

Not true trading cards in the traditional sense, these cards were made from a piece of metal covered in a thin layer of 23-karat gold and had separate illustrations for the front and back. They came sealed inside of a plastic replica Pokéball holder and cardboard box.

These cards were extremely popular at the time of their release and sold very well. As a result, they remain available and affordable to anyone looking to snag one card or the entire set of six. The only caveat is that many of these items will show signs of wear on the Pokéball holder or the metal card itself if the item wasn’t properly stored.

They are a good addition to any Pokémon-related collection as they are a bit different compared to other vintage (or modern) Pokémon collectibles.

Conclusion

No future McDonald’s miniset has been announced for 2022. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet will be released in late 2022, so I suspect the next miniset will highlight some of the new Pokémon, such as Sprigatito, Fuecoco, and Quaxley.

Maybe new fan-favorite Lechonk will also get some special treatment. I also expect the next McDonald’s miniset to have much better availability compared to the 2021 miniset. Though Pokémon card collecting is still much more popular than it was just a few years ago, there are fewer scalpers and hoarders in the hobby now compared to the height of the pandemic.

The great thing about getting cards from McDonald’s is that it can be a way to introduce children, coworkers, friends, or loved ones to the game. All it takes is the purchase of a Happy Meal® and you might have them hooked.

McDonald’s Happy Meals Pokemon Cards Guide: FAQs

Question: Can McDonald’s Pokémon cards be used when playing the Pokémon TCG in the Standard or Expanded format?

Answer: Yes, if those cards are reprints (with the exact name, attacks, HP, weakness, retreat cost, etc.) of previously printed cards. This is true in most cases, as many cards from McDonald’s minisets are reprints of cards from standard TCG sets, just with new artwork and set information.

Question: How many cards are in McDonald’s minisets?

Answer: In the 2021 mini set, there are 25 cards. Each comes as a foil or non-foil version for a set total of 50 cards. Prior McDonald’s minisets released in North America contain 12 cards.

Question: Does McDonald’s have Pokémon cards in their Happy Meals® around the same time each year?

Answer: No. In some years no miniset is released in North America. Releases are not restricted to a specific month or season—they have occurred throughout the year in the past, and a specific miniset might be released months earlier or later depending on your region.

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