When Pokémon and Magic Cards Went to War
They don’t seem that similar aside from the fact they’re printed on cards, and they were never really competition, either, but in October 2003 that didn’t stop the companies behind Magic Cards and Pokémon battling somewhere other than the tabletop or the schoolyard.
This story begins in the late 1990s, when role-playing giants Wizards of the Coast acquired the rights to release Japanese sensation Pokémon in the West. With experience in the field thanks to its Magic: The Gathering cards, which were first released in 1993, Wizards of the Coast were a natural choice for the license.
It was thought at the time that, upon release in January 1999, the cards would be a hit for the company. Yet few could have predicted just how big a hit they’d turn out to be: over 400,000 packs of Pokémon cards were sold in just the property’s first six weeks on sale in the US, which was 10x what Wizards had been expecting.
So great was demand, in fact, that in order to print enough of the packs to satisfy demand, some lines of sporting cards had to be shut down in 1999 just to satisfy demand. By the end of that year over one million packs of Pokémon cards had been sold, making it one of the biggest childhood crazes in living memory.
But the gravy train couldn’t last forever. By 2003 Nintendo’s own internal organisation tasked with managing the franchise, The Pokémon Company, had established an American division, which was to take over production of the trading cards when the last of Wizards’ original contracts ran out on September 30.
The two companies, however, did not get along. In 2002, two of Wizards’ senior executives were lured away by Pokémon Company USA, along with several other high-ranking employees, while there were also bitter disputes over the release of expansion sets of certain lines of Pokémon cards.
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