For a lot of people, their first experience with rainbow rare cards goes something like this. You grab a random Sword & Shield pack from the store to open, because why not? You quickly sort through the commons and uncommon, and as you approach the rare card in the pack you see a glimmer of color.
But it isn’t the typical dark border of a V card or the yellow border of a holo rare. It sparkles and shines, unlike other cards. As you move your reverse holo out of the way you see it: your first rainbow rare card!
Bottom Line Up Front
Rainbow rare cards are a type of secret rare card introduced in the Sun & Moon expansion. As secret rare cards, they are numbered outside of each set’s setlist (i.e., 148/147).
Finished with unique textures and rainbow holofoil patterns, these cards are hard to pull from packs. It’s generally believed that the pull rates on these cards are no better than 1/100 packs (1%). For collecting rainbow rare cards, buying specific cards is much more economical than opening packs.
Rarest Rainbow Pokemon Cards Explained
At a basic level, understanding Pokemon card rarities helps you determine just how lucky (or unlucky) your pulls are from a given pack. Cards found in Pokemon booster packs (except for certain special sets and promo cards) all have a rarity symbol, found at the bottom left or bottom right of the card. Rarities generally fall into one of three basic categories:
Common cards are the most numerous cards you will find when opening up packs of Pokemon cards. Common cards are noted by a black circle symbol and generally are the most prevalent cards in any given set. When pulling cards from modern packs, up to six cards in the pack will be common cards. Most common cards consist of basic Pokemon, though occasional evolved forms of Pokemon can be found as common cards.
Uncommon cards are slightly less numerous than common cards in modern packs. Noted by their black diamond symbol, up to four uncommon cards are included in each pack. Most uncommon cards include evolved Pokemon or trainer cards.
Rare cards are the most varied cards in the modern era of the Pokemon TCG. Marked with an iconic black star, rare cards are elusive prizes—only one is included in each pack (up to two if you get extra lucky with your reverse holo pull).
Back in the early days of the TCG, rare cards were simply either regular rare cards (non-holofoil) or holofoil rare. That was it. But in the modern era, this has changed as the Pokemon TCG has added additional sub-levels of rarity to entice even more openings for collectors to search out their favorite cards.
Rarity Rarer Than Rare
These days, rare cards require more explanation. In modern TCG sets, rare cards fall into one of four subcategories:
- Regular rare
- Holofoil rare
- Ultra rare
- Secret rare
Regular rare cards are simply cards marked with a black star with no holofoil pattern or design. Regular rare cards include all types of cards, including Pokemon, trainer cards, and occasionally energy cards.
Holofoil rare cards include a unique texture or pattern in the illustration box on the card. Typically, there are fewer holofoil rares in a set compared to regular rares. The texture or pattern used for holofoil rares changes at least every generation (i.e., from the Sun & moon era to the Sword & Shield era). Note that holofoil rares are separate from reverse holofoils.
Reverse holofoils aren’t always rare cards (check the rarity symbol at the bottom). Additionally, reverse holofoil cards have holofoil texture and pattern on the outside of the illustration box instead of the inside, so they are fairly easy to distinguish at a glance.
Ultra rare cards contain many of the iconic cards in the modern era of the Pokemon TCG. Pokemon EX, Pokemon GX, Pokemon Tag Team GX, Pokemon V, Pokemon VMAX, and Pokemon VStar are all ultra rare cards. Often, ultra rare cards are noted with a white star symbol, highlighting their increased rarity.
Secret rare cards are the rarest rares of them all. This classification includes rainbow rare cards (among others) and encompasses all cards in a set outside of the main set number. For example, the Sword & Shield expansion contains 202 numbered cards.
But in addition to that, there are 14 secret rare cards, beginning with the designation 203/202 up to 216/202. Finishing modern sets is more difficult than the cards would lead us to believe! In the modern TCG era, Pokemon has put more effort into producing sets with more and more secret rares, ballooning the total number of cards and “extra” cards in a given set.
One of the most popular sets in the last several years, Evolving Skies, includes 34 secret rare cards. Some of the vintage TCG sets don’t even include 34 rare cards in total!
Never Tell Me the Odds
If you are beginning to think that pulling all the ultra and secret rare cards in a set is difficult, you’re on the right track. But it isn’t just difficult, it’s almost mathematically impossible.
I love the set Evolving Skies, even with its absurd number of secret rares. So just how hard can it be to pull one of them? I opened two booster boxes and pulled two secret rare cards—Dragonite V and the rainbow rare Zinnia’s Resolve. But based on pull rates and odds, my luck wasn’t even that bad!
Back at the beginning of the Pokemon TCG, pull rates and pack odds were very simple. In fact, the odds were printed right on the pack itself. Base Set packs contain language that states the odds of pulling a premium card were equal to 1:33.
This meant 1 premium card (a holofoil) out of every 33 total cards pulled. Since those packs contained 11 cards each, it was easy even to calculate that 1 out of every 3 packs contained a holofoil card. So, if you bought a Base Set booster box back in the day and opened all 36 packs, you’d average pulling 12 holofoil (premium) cards.
Today’s odds are much more dynamic and unfortunately confusing. Every set appears to have slightly different pull rates. This could be for a few reasons: either the sample size for the packs being opened are too low for pull rates to reach the mean, or Pokemon is tweaking pull rates for certain sets.
If Pokemon is doing this, we have a much harder time accounting for it as Pokemon does not publicly state the odds to pull the best cards for modern sets. This is definitely intentional, and I think it is a mistake. Pokemon has always presented itself as a wholesome company meant to be inclusive and welcome people of all ages.
But their current practices of adding in extra “chase” cards and including dozens of secret rares lead people to open more and more packs. This is similar to digital loot boxes in video games—you pay a small price in the hopes to hit big, but the odds are never in your favor.
Evolving Skies has the most secret rares (34, including 22 rainbow rares) of any set in the history of the English TCG. So what are the odds to pull any of them? On Reddit, u/markzeej compiled pull data from over 11,000 packs and found the odds to open a rainbow rare card from an Evolving Skies pack to be about 1 in 108 or 0.93% per pack.
Remember that each booster box contains 36 packs. That means that on average, there is one rainbow rare card in every three booster boxes!
Where does the Rainbow Begin?
Back in 2017, Pokemon released the Sun & Moon expansion for the TCG. Along with some cosmetic changes to card design, this set also introduced rainbow rare cards. These cards had the same illustration as their full-art counterparts but had a silvery rainbow finish.
Eight cards were included as rainbow rares in the initial Sun & Moon release, notably Espeon and Umbreon. Since that set, every mainline TCG set has included rainbow rares, all as secret rares towards the end of the setlist.
While rainbow rares certainly have appeal, I think they do lose some of the personality that the full-art versions of these cards hold. Full art cards still have a colored version of the Pokemon or trainer, and usually a background color to pull the illustration together.
Rainbow rare cards lose these details in favor of the multicolored design and in a way all look the same. Various texture patterns on rainbow rares add a nice touch, but I feel that rainbow rares need something else to make them truly feel special.
Notable Rainbow Rare—The Lizard King
Though many Pokemon and trainer cards have been released as rainbow rares since the start of the Sun & Moon expansion, one specific rainbow rare card comes to mind when I think about rainbow rares, and that is Charizard GX 150/147 from the Burning Shadows expansion.
This card was incredibly popular when it was released, as it was the first rainbow rare version of Charizard. However, prices for this card have dipped in recent years, and the card is affordable if you consider it a must-have for your collection.
Based on the odds to pull and the cost of Burning Shadows packs, buying it is much more economical than trying to find it in a pack.
Rarest Rainbow Card?
Since we don’t know the exact odds or pull rates Pokemon uses for rainbow rare cards, we can only assume the rates are fairly consistent across the sets (though this may or may not be the case). But if it is true, then the rarest rainbow rare card would be from the set with the most secret rare cards.
This is because as the number of secret rares increases, the odds of you pulling a specific one decreases. For example, let’s say you want to open a pack of Evolving Skies. It’s your lucky day, and the rare slot in the pack has a secret rare card! But wait—Evolving Skies has 34 secret rare cards, so the odds of you pulling a specific card is 1/34, or 2.94%.
But that is on top of the (very) poor odds to pull a secret rare, to begin with at roughly 1/100, or 1%. So to specifically pull rainbow rare Rayquaza VMAX from a pack, your chances are about equal to 0.03%. Maybe playing the lottery is a better idea.
Other Rainbow Cards
If collecting rainbow rares is out of your budget, consider collecting cards with rainbows! While I’m half kidding, I do think enjoying cards for the artwork is one of the best ways to approach collecting Pokemon cards.
So if you enjoy rainbows, there are two cards of popular Pokemon that you can consider: Mew (1/18) from the Southern Islands collection, and Pikachu (28/72) from the special set Shining Legends. Mew takes to the skies with a rainbow in the background.
Parts of Charizard and Pidgeot are also visible on the card. Unfortunately, the price of this card has jumped by quite a bit in recent years, though if you are a fan of mew or the Southern Islands collection I highly recommend acquiring this card.
For Shining Legends Pikachu, the iconic Pokemon mascot appears to be enjoying a bright and sunny day in the wilderness. Combining Pikachu and rainbows is a win-win, and the low cost of this card makes it affordable for all collectors.
Collecting Rainbow Rares
Let’s face it—collecting rainbow rares is tough. Even though we don’t know the exact numbers, pull rates for these cards are very low. You can easily spend hundreds of dollars opening 40+ packs and still not pull a rainbow rare card.
While Pokemon needs to address this and approve the odds, for modern sets this means that I strongly advise you to not buy packs in an attempt to chase rainbow rare pulls. You are much better off buying the rainbow rare cards of Pokemon you enjoy, as your odds to pull the card yourself will always be astronomically low.
It also helps that most rainbow rares are priced relatively well on the secondary market when accounting for pull rates. For my collection, I bought all of the Sun & Moon rainbow rares except one. It was much cheaper this way and I also got to personally select each card, so I ensured I got well-centered, near-mint cards.
Lookout for Fakes
However, when buying cards on the secondary market be sure to watch out for fakes. Rainbow rares are some of the most commonly faked cards in the modern era, and their rarity is probably one reason why. I have been foolish before with a fake rainbow rare Raichu GX (75/72) from Shining Legends.
When I opened the package and took out the card, I knew it was a fake. However, looking at pictures online can sometimes disguise the fact that the card isn’t authentic. For rainbow rares, the first thing to look for is the texture on the card.
All rainbow rares have some sort of texture pattern, and I have yet to see a fake card replicate this correctly. With that textured pattern, light from a scan or camera will reflect off of the card unevenly. For fake cards that have no texture, the light will bounce off of them in long strips across the entire card.
These two details are ways I quickly identify fake rainbow rare cards, but remember to also look for things like the font being off, words being misspelled, or the copyright date being wrong.
Question: What are rainbow rare cards?
Answer: Rainbow rares are secret rare cards introduced in the Sun & Moon expansion. These cards have textured, rainbow holofoil patterns. As they are secret rares, they are numbered outside of the main setlist (i.e., 148/147).
Question: What are the odds to pull a rainbow rare card from a pack?
Answer: Though the exact odds are not currently known, current estimates range from roughly 1/100 packs to 1/125 packs. This equates to a 0.8–1.0% chance per pack.
Question: What is the rarest rainbow rare card?
Answer: Assuming that rainbow rares have similar pull rates across all sets, no rainbow rare card is technically rarer than another. However, the odds of pulling specific rainbow rare cards can increase or decrease depending on how many secret rares are in the set.
Currently, Evolving Skies has the most secret rares with 34, so the odds to pull any specific rainbow rare card from an Evolving Skies pack are the lowest of any modern set at 0.03%.