There are now at least 898 unique species of Pokemon, and every last one of them is somebody’s favorite. Each Pokemon has its advantages and disadvantages, from the tiny Flabebe to the massive Eternatus, and each new iteration shows the familiar fighters in a new light.

In 2021, Pokemon TCG released six new expansions, totaling over 1000 new cards for players to collect and add to their decks. With that many options, it’s no surprise that of all the “top ten” lists of the best cards of the year, no two look alike. That said, here are my ten favorite Pokemon cards released in 2021.

Ditto VMAX

Shining Fates, the first Pokemon TCG expansion of 2021, came out with a bang, dropping nearly 200 brand new cards. This Ditto VMAX is one of two by PLANETA Tsuji, and while the Shiny Vault version is rarer, I think this Holo Rare is a better showing of the artist’s work. The swirling colors in the background give Ditto a three-dimensional look that the Shiny Vault version disguises.

PLANETA Tsuji is one of the most recognizable artists currently creating for Pokemon TCG. They’ve illustrated dozens of other Pokemon, Pokemon V, and Pokemon VMAX cards across multiple expansions, all with their iconic three-dimensional style.

Ditto doesn’t look like much, but this evolution of Ditto V has the Max Transform attack. Rather than dealing damage of its own, this attack allows Ditto to choose another player’s active Pokemon and use its attack as its own. Having your own attack used against you in battle is a devastating blow, and this Ditto VMAX is the best Pokemon to deal it.

  • Evolves From: Ditto V
  • HP: 320
  • Type: Normal
  • Weakness: Fighting
  • Rarity: Holo Rare VMAX
  • Expansion: Shining Fates
  • Release Date: February 19, 2021

Cinderace VMAX

This Cinderace VMAX card is one of three Cinderace cards found in the Shining Fates expansion. Artist PLANETA Mochizuki, who also designed the Victini VMAX card on this list, captures Cinderace VMAX preparing to unleash an epic battle cry, striking fear into the hearts of its opponents.

This Cinderace card has two attacks. Max Pyro Ball does 170 damage and burns the opponent’s active Pokemon. The second attack, Counter, is a perfect revenge move, dealing whatever additional damage Cinderace received during the opponent’s previous turn.

Another Cinderace VMAX card, which came out in the later Fusion Strike expansion, features the artwork of 5ban Graphics, shows Cinderace wielding a massive fireball with its ears, and I have to admit, choosing between that version and this one was tricky. Ultimately, though, I prefer the two-attack versatility of the Shining Fates version of Cinderace VMAX.

  • Evolves From: Cinderace V
  • HP: 320
  • Type: Fire
  • Weakness: Water
  • Rarity: Holo Rare VMAX
  • Expansion: Shining Fates
  • Release Date: February 19, 2021

Victini VMAX

Rumor has it that trainers who battle with Victini always win, and while I can’t say for sure that it’s true, I do know that this Victini VMAX stands a good chance against any opponent. Its Spreading Flames ability allows a player to take up to three fire energy cards from their discard pile and attach them to their Pokemon however they wish, which is a huge advantage.

The Max Victory attack does 100 damage on its own, plus an additional 120 if your opponent has a Pokemon V as their active Pokemon. At 220 damage total, that’s enough to knock out most Pokemon V, making Victini VMAX a nearly invincible card to play.

Of course, this isn’t the only Victini VMAX in the entire Pokemon TCG, but its Rainbow design is my favorite version. Artist PLANETA Mochizuki’s artwork turns the already powerful Victini VMAX into a colorful emblem that’s sure to brighten up any player’s deck.

  • Evolves From: Victini V
  • HP: 310
  • Type: Psychic, Fire
  • Weakness: Water
  • Rarity: Rainbow Rare
  • Expansion: Sword and Shield: Battle Styles
  • Release Date: March 19, 2021

Mimikyu V

No one knows for sure what Mimikyu really looks like because it wears a homemade Pikachu costume, apparently attempting to look cuter and less scary. It definitely misses the mark, as it’s much creepier than cute. Still, this Ultra Rare card by illustrator Eske Yoshinob captures that energy perfectly, giving the impression that Mimikyu is making puppy eyes, luring its opponents into battle.

Mimikyu’s ability, Dummy Doll, protects it from damage for one complete turn after a player plays it from their hand onto their bench. This ability prevents it from being knocked out of the game before you have the opportunity to use its attack, Jealous Eyes.

This sadistic attack counts up every prize card your opponent has taken during battle and gives their active Pokemon three damage counters for each. There’s something darkly satisfying about taking revenge on your opponent for their success, isn’t there?

  • Evolves From: (none)
  • HP: 160
  • Type: Psychic
  • Weakness: Darkness
  • Rarity: Ultra Rare
  • Expansion: Sword and Shield: Battle Styles
  • Release Date: March 19, 2021

Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX

The Sword and Shield: Chilling Reign expansion brought nearly 200 new cards to the Pokemon TCG, including dozens of Pokemon from the Galar region. This Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX by artist group 5ban Graphics stands out among the eight VMAX cards included in the expansion.

As the viewer, you look up at Calyrex mounted on a rearing shadow horse, ready to charge into battle. The swirling VMAX colors beyond make the artwork of this Holo Rare card pop more than any of the three Shadow Rider Calyrex V cards from the same expansion.

At 320 HP, Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX is a sturdy defender, but its ability and attack combine to pack a powerful punch. The Underworld Door ability allows Calyrex to attach a psychic energy card to a benched Pokemon, then draw two cards. The Max Geist attack does ten damage, plus an additional 30 for each psychic energy card attached to all of your Pokemon.

  • Evolves From: Shadow Rider Calyrex V
  • HP: 320
  • Type: Psychic
  • Weakness: Darkness
  • Rarity: Holo Rare VMAX
  • Expansion: Sword and Shield: Chilling Reign
  • Release Date: June 18, 2021

Galarian Rapidash V

Rapidash, the evolution of Ponyta, is usually a fire-type Pokemon, but this Rapidash V found in the Region is psychic. Artist Sui shows Rapidash in a new and unusual color palette of pastel blues, purples, and greens. In this scene, Rapidash V stands among a field of tightly-closed buds, gently prodding a beautiful blue flower open with its glowing horn.

It’s a unique take on the Pokemon, who usually appears rearing and ready for battle, but of course, I like seeing Rapidash this way. Even the most formidable Pokemon deserve a bit of leisure time, and it’s nice to see Rapidash basking in the glow of the natural world.

Of course, when it’s time to battle, Rapidash V is every bit as powerful as you would hope. Its Libra Horn attack adds as many damage counters as it takes to lower one of your opponent’s Pokemon to 100 HP or less. Then the Psychic attack does 60 damage, plus an additional 30 for each energy card your opponent has attached to their active Pokemon.

  • Evolves From: (none)
  • HP: 210
  • Type: Psychic
  • Weakness: Darkness
  • Rarity: Ultra Rare
  • Expansion: Sword and Shield: Chilling Reign
  • Release Date: June 18, 2021

Umbreon VMAX

Umbreon is the dark evolution of Eevee, and this Umbreon VMAX, which evolves from Umbreon V, is its most potent iteration yet. This card features the artwork of KEIICHIRO ITO, an artist who has been illustrating for the Pokemon TCG since the 2019 release of the Sun & Moon: Unified Minds expansion.

This VMAX card is the most powerful and beautiful of the four Umbreon cards in the Sword and Shield: Evolving Skies expansion. It captures Umbreon coiled around a tall spire, playfully batting at the moon. The blue and green clouds and the reflection of the moonlight on the lake are beautiful additions not often seen in the standard Pokemon cards.

I have a soft spot for the cards that show powerful Pokemon in restful situations, but Umbreon VMAX is still a force to be reckoned with. Its Dark Signal ability allows the player to evolve one Pokemon and switch an opponent’s benched Pokemon with their active Pokemon, and its Max Darkness attack does a massive 160 damage.

  • Evolves From: (none)
  • HP: 320
  • Type: Darkness
  • Weakness: Grass
  • Rarity: Rainbow Rare
  • Expansion: Sword and Shield: Evolving Skies
  • Release Date: August 27, 2021

Espeon V

This card by artist sowsow captures Espeon, the psychic-type evolution of Eevee, in a library surrounded by a telekinetic tornado of books. It’s one of four Espeon cards from the Sword and Shield: Evolving Skies expansion. Although it may not be as strong as the Espeon VMAX, the alternative art makes it my favorite version.

The card has a cozy, homey vibe that’s a pleasant relief from the usual high-intensity energy. The other Espeon V cards, like the one by illustrator 5ban Graphics, feature the Pokemon actively engaged in battle. This alternative art version shows a softer side of Espeon that Pokemon players don’t often get to see.

Sowsow’s art is recognizable across many other Pokemon cards, but this Espeon V is by far their most impressive work. Of course, the card is more than just its art, and Espeon packs a punch. Its Zen Shot does 60 damage to an opponent’s Pokemon V, and Super Psy Bolt deals a devastating 120 damage.

  • Evolves From: (none)
  • HP: 200
  • Type: Psychic
  • Weakness: Darkness
  • Rarity: Ultra Rare
  • Expansion: Sword and Shield: Evolving Skies
  • Release Date: August 27, 2021

Mew V

Squishy, pink Mew doesn’t look like much, but it’s a terrifying Pokemon to go up against even in its standard form. Its psychic abilities are deceptively challenging, considering its soft, hairless, external appearance. But Mew V from the Fusion Strike expansion is an even more formidable opponent.

Its Energy Mix ability allows a player to search through their deck for an energy card, attaching it to any of their other Fusion Strike Pokemon before shuffling the deck. The Psychic Leap attack does 70 damage before allowing Mew to disappear safely back into the deck, along with any other cards attached to it.

Stealth attacks and supporting abilities like these make Mew V one of the best cards to have in any deck, regardless of playstyle. While it’s not the only Mew V in the TCG, this version by Mitsuhiro Arita captures the Pokemon in all of its hairless, pink glory, and I absolutely love it.

  • HP: 180
  • Type: Psychic
  • Weakness: Darkness
  • Rarity: Ultra Rare
  • Expansion: Sword and Shield: Fusion Strike
  • Release Date: November 12, 2021

Crabominable V

The original Crabominable, a fighting ice type, packs a heavy-hitting punch, but this Crabominable V from the Sword and Shield: Fusion Strike expansion is even more powerful. At 220 HP, it’s nearly as strong as some of the VMAX cards released in 2021, and it has two significant attacks.

The Trigger Avalanche attack allows you to discard the top two cards from their opponent’s deck and watch them realize you’ve just removed their favorite Pokemon from the game. Then, Crabominable V adds insult to injury with its Destroyer Punch attack, which does 90 damage, plus an additional 60 damage for each damage counter on the defender’s Active Pokemon.

Artist MUGENUP brings Crabominable to life in this Ultra Rare card, showing the Pokemon in all its three-dimensional glory. With its pincers raised in the air, this Crabominable V is ready to take on whatever Pokemon it may encounter along the way.

  • HP: 220
  • Type: Water
  • Weakness: Metal
  • Rarity: Holo Rare V
  • Expansion: Sword and Shield: Fusion Strike
  • Release Date: November 12, 2021

Conclusion

Each expansion brings new abilities, attacks, and features to the familiar world of Pokemon. Choosing ten out of over a thousand possible cards is no small task, but here you have it. I hope that looking back over some of the best Pokemon cards released in 2021 gets you excited about what’s coming in 2022.

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