Tuesday, July 26, 2011

2010-2011 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection Review



There have been many non-Upper Deck releases since UD's last release, many of which that have been non-spectacular, but here comes Ultimate Collection to remind us why Upper Deck's cards are the tops in the industry.

Base Card Design -
The Ultimate Collection brings us a nicely refined base card look. It is predominantly black, white, and silver with a full color image of the featured player. It is a simple, yet elegant design. I am unsure what the background is supposed to be of, but it reminds me of a globe for some reason. The smokey clouds in the background look like continents, and the lines rise up like the lines of longitude. Do you see the same thing? That could just be me...

But besides seeing things that aren't really there, I like the simplified look of the base card. Upper Deck has chosen to use silver foil to highlight the important aspects on the face of the card like the player's position, name, and number. Silver is a great choice here because it goes well with both the ice hockey theme and the stark black and white look of the card. Each regular base card is limited to just 399.



Rookie cards come in two varieties - signed and unsigned. The unsigned rookie cards are numbered to 399 and featured a design that is a spin off the regular base cards. The line contours under the player image follow the same contours as the regular base card. It's a subtle nuance, but let's the collector's know that these cards are related to each other. Very well done here by UD's designers. I really appreciate this detail here that ties the cards together.



The autographed versions of the rookie cards are very similar to their unsigned brethren except for a few key differences. The obvious first difference is that the cards are signed. The autographs are on card - which is awesome. They are located in the space between the player and the bottom border. The space is a little small, but sufficient. The second difference comes in terms of numbering. The signed cards are limited to either 299 or just 99. The hottest and most desired rookie cards receive the most limited treatment. And finally, the signed cards have a slight design difference. Instead of just a black bottom border, these cards feature the player's team's color. This design choice makes these signed rookie cards really stand out and look vibrant.

Upper Deck has done a very nice job with the base set of Ultimate Collection cards. They have come out very slick and modern. If I had one complaint, I would say that they are a little too stark. Taking some of the eye popping color choices from the rookie cards and incorporating them into the regular base cards could have elevated the cards even more. But that's just nit picking. UD Ultimate Collection base cards are very nicely done.

Base Card Design Score:
9/10

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos -
Unlike Panini, Upper Deck steers clear of insert cards that do not feature either autographs or memorabilia on their higher end releases. And this is exactly what you find in Ultimate Collection - lots of autographs and memorabilia cards. Each one pack box will net you at least one autograph and one memorabilia card.



I really appreciate UD Ultimate because it is a product that consistently gives out good sized pieces of jersey or patch cards. The Phil Kessel card above is a good example of a very large jersey swatch. It is bordered nicely with gold foil and the background showcases his team's main color. I'm amazed at how well the card comes together! I have seen patch versions of this type of card with the window filled with an amazing patch. Those will definitely either sell for a premium on the secondary market or make a really unique addition to your card collection.



Here's an example of smaller, but more plentiful, swatches on a card. Again, notice the use of the team's colors. UD always does a great job having the player and their team represented nicely on the card. Above, both Crosby's Penguin's and OV's Capital's colors make it onto this card - and it's not distracting - it just works. And this is a beautiful card. Again, there is a patch variation to this card that is more limited and more beautiful.



Rookie material cards are also well represented in Ultimate this year. The Debut Threads series continues on this year and continues to look great. There are abundant opportunities to pick up your favorite rookie from this year's class on a great looking card. Like before, the Debut Threads come unsigned, signed, and with patch variations.

Other notable pulls in Ultimate are the Ultimate Signatures, Ultimate Nicknames, and the Ultimate Autographed Logo Shield cards. I can attest to the fact that the Logo Shield cards look amazing in person. After I bought two boxes of Ultimate at my local card shop, the owner opens a pack and gets one...

... it looked great!!! But I wish I had chosen that pack!

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos Score:
9/10

Overall Rating -
Ultimate Collection definitely delivers on quality. It is a very solid, but pricey, product. Buying a box of it is definitely a risky venture, but an exciting one. I bought a three boxes last year and five this year. I have to say that in my three boxes last year, I got better cards than in my five total this year - but I did have fun opening all the boxes and seeing all the beautiful cards. And these cards are very beautiful. Upper Deck really does know how to put out a premium product. I definitely recommend buying some Ultimate if you can afford it. Even though you get so few cards per pack, these cards are worth it in my opinion. And who knows, a lucky big hit in this product could be huge in terms of trade or resale value. I'm of the opinion that this type of product is worth more of my money than buying a box of a mid-range product... I won't mention any names... but you probably know what I'm talking about.

So try some out and let me know what you get!

Overall Rating:
9/10
(not an average)

Check out some videos of me opening UD Ultimate Collection!




Friday, July 22, 2011

2010-2011 Score Rookies and Traded Review



Panini releases it's second little boxed set of the year... how does this compare to the last one?

Base Card Design -
The Score Rookies and Traded set's look comes directly from the Score base set released near the beginning of the 10/11 NHL season. And of course that's just the way it should be since it is really an extension of that set. In fact, the numbering of this set starts where the Score set left off.



The base cards in this boxed set come in two flavors: there are the regular Rookies and Traded base cards and the Hot Rookie base cards. The regular R&T base cards look exactly like the glossy cards from the Score set - the only difference being a large black and white Rookies and Traded logo above the player's name. This year's Score was designed to look like what it did in the 90's... and these cards do just that. The cards have a great retro flair to them that capture the spirit of the older sets that they emulate. The cards are clear, clean, and uncluttered. Job well done here.



This season ending set is a great way to capture players that were traded during the latter half of the season in their new sweaters. I know that I personally love to get the most current members of my favorite team in the home team's jerseys. This set provides the opportunity for that. It also provides opportunity to get cards of players that have returned to the NHL too - like Peter Forsberg. Forsberg came back to give it one more shot, but could only make a short stay in the NHL this past season. This Score set may be the last 'regular' card you can get of him.



Hot Rookies were a subset in this year's Score set and they are also found in the boxed set as well. These Hot Rookie cards have a different look than the ones previously release - these are better. Gone is the graphic background and generic geometric lines. The Hot Rookies available in the boxed set look more like the base cards and feature full action photos of the rookies. It's great to see the rookies in action on the ice in their NHL sweaters.

The base cards in the Score Rookies and Traded box set are a step up from their counterparts from the beginning of the season. I love the glossy feel on all the cards, the sharp design, and the improved Hot Rookie cards. This set's score improves upon it's bigger brother's.

Base Card Design Score:
8.5/10

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos -
Just like the All Goalies set released previously, this one has some incentives for purchasing it. It has inserts and cards to chase!



Gold cards come 5 per set. The gold cards feature a gold border around the card as well as a gold colored Rookies and Traded logo. The gold touches on these cards make it very easy to tell that they are a parallel version of the set. I'm glad that these parallels are easier to spot than those found in All Goalies. Also unlike in All Goalies, the gold parallels seem to be randomly inserted rather than getting a block of parallel cards in a row. It's nice to have a parallel to this set, but this gold card variation probably won't be something that is in high demand. They just add another card for player collectors to chase after.



An autographed card is probably the main chase card to get when buying a box of Rookies and Traded. I prefer to have autographs over memorabilia cards, so getting a guarantee of an auto is enough to persuade me to buy this set over the All Goalies set if I had to make a choice between one or the other. The autographs are on stickers that are simply stuck to the front of the base cards. There's no special design for these cards - so that's a little disappointing, but an auto is an auto. And at this price point, it's appropriate.

The final card I would like to mention is a special card that Panini included in the set. It's a Taro Tsujimoto Hot Rookie. This card is numbered like its part of the regular set but I consider it a chase card because it falls about one per case. I appreciate how Panini has gone to lengths to put cards like this in to their products. If you don't know, Taro Tsujimoto is a fictional Japanese player that Buffalo Saber's GM Punch Imlach made up during the 1974 NHL entry draft. This name is the stuff of legend. It's a GREAT story and if you want to find out about it, it's just a Google search away. Anyways, it's awesome to have a card like this in the set. There is a regular version of this card and also a parallel version. The parallel version is said to be nearly impossible to get because it has a ridiculously low print run.

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos Score:
8/10

Overall Rating -
The 10/11 Score Rookies and Traded set is a unique little item that is worthy of a purchase. There are many rookie cards of players who came into the NHL later on in the season as well as veterans in new uniforms. And if you have the entire regular Score set already, you must get this set to finish it off - along with the Tsujimoto, of course! The set won't set you back too much and it's fun to see what autograph and parallel cards you get out of it. If you happen to get the parallel Tsujimoto card, let me know! That would be an exciting thing to pull.

Overall Rating:
8.5/10

Check out my box of 10/11 Score Rookies and Traded below!


Saturday, July 9, 2011

2010-2011 Panini Zenith Review



Panini brings back long lost Zenith back to the hockey card world. Does this once premium brand return to its former glory?

Base Card Design -
Well, first and foremost... Zenith has not returned as the top of the line brand it started out as in the 90s. I remember when Zenith was first released - the cards were golden foiled and came on very thick cardstock. These Zenith cards are nothing like those. The brand has come back as a mid-tier product at a middle of the pack price point.

The Zenith base card comes on thin, flimsy card stock and looks like it could have come from a low to mid end 90's base set. I'm not sure what happened here, but these base cards just don't do it for me. I think the best word that comes to mind for me in describing these cards is generic. Everything about this card says 'plain' to me. There's a spot for the Zenith and team logo and a the player name with a thick black border and that's it. It's not creative and the design does nothing to make these cards stand out. And even though the photo of the player is rather large on the card, it scarcely matters because everything else about the card is just plain boring. The backs of the cards are of the standard Panini fare - a line of stats and a short write up.

I really wished Panini would have made a better effort with these Zenith base cards. Back in the day you could recognize a set by its base card. Base cards set the look and standard for the entire set. You knew if a set was great by looking at the base cards. Here, the base cards disappoint in a major way. Panini had a golden opportunity in this first in hockey to re-kick off some great legacy brands. They have done that to some extent with Score this year, but this one, Donruss, and Pinnacle have all fallen a bit short.



The base set includes current stars of the NHL along with some legends and rookies. The legends cards are interesting in that Panini has chosen to show these former stars in jerseys that these stars are not typically remembered or shown in. I think this was a fun idea because I like these odd ball type things. Check out Cam Neely above in that funky old school 'Nucks uni!



And as usually for modern day sets, the rookie cards are limited and autographed. Unfortunately for these cards and as for the legends cards as well, they share the same bland design that the all the base cards have. There are a few minor differences in the rookie card - foiled team logos and a special foil rookie card logo as well as serial numbering.

Base Card Design Score:
4/10

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos -
Despite Zenith's lackluster base set, its insert offering is better. Zenith offers many different types of inserts, game-used, and autographed cards. Below you will see a scan of some of the inserts I pulled from my first box of Zenith. I had to use a camera to take the picture instead of relying on my scanner because the nufex foil technique Panini employs does not scan well for me.



Many of the the Zenith inserts feature the nufex foiling effect. And I must say that I do like the foiling aspect of the cards. One of my main complaints about Panini has been their lack of good foil usage in many of their products. Well, here they use it very well. The nufex doesn't just add a shine to the card, it also adds some texture. The Mosaics insert features 3 players from the same team. Along the bottom portion of the card are a pattern of squares that reflect light differently creating a very cool mosaic effect. It's a pretty card but for one thing... if you look at the Mosaics card I pulled of the Penguins (bottom middle), you'll notice that there is only 1 jersey piece but 3 players on the card. I'd rather have no jersey piece than one loner piece like they did on that card. The card just looks off to me. What do you think?

Aside from the foiled inserts there are standard looking insert sets as well. Here are a few examples from the Chasing the Cup, Z-Team, and Gifted Grinders insert sets.







Insert sets like these really bring me back to the past when inserts pretty much looked like those shown above. I commend Panini for coming up with some nicely themed inserts and featuring players that might not otherwise get an insert card (like the Cal Clutterbuck card and others in that particular set). But the downside with these cards is that collectors nowadays want more from their cardboard. I can't see these cards being very desirable at all except in player or team collections.

Probably the most interesting aspect of Zenith this year has to be the Dare to Tear card that comes one per box. It is an oversized card that hides a smaller card within. Collectors can choose to keep the big card or rip it apart and see what regular sized card is inside. There are some pretty nice cards you can obtain by ripping the big card so I would not hesitate to tear and see. If you'd like to see me rip mine apart you can by checking out the video at the bottom of this post. I got a Tony Esposito Dare to Tear jumbo card... it got turned into... well... you'll just have to watch and see!

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos Score:
7.5/10

Overall Rating -
Zenith is a very interesting product from Panini. Though the base cards have much to be desired, the inserts and fun you can have might make it worth a purchase. Zenith falls squarely into the mid-priced product range with boxes going from $80-$100 so it won't set you back too far. I definitely would not recommend buying packs because the potential to get all base or just jersey is too high - and you would have no chance of ripping the Dare to Tear card. A box or boxes is the way to go! All in all though, I don't think this year's Zenith stand out in the long run. So buy a box or two and wait for the big boys to come out soon!

Overall Score:
7/10
(not an average)

Check out what I got in a box of Zenith and watch me dare to tear!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

2010-2011 Panini All Goalies Review



Panini releases the first of its 2 boxed sets of the 2010-2011 hockey card season - All Goalies. It's a nice little package for the price... and a must buy product for all goalie collectors out there!

Base Set Design -
The base cards in this 100 card set have a sweet, modern look to them. Kudos to the the design team at Panini for these cards! Especially well done is the All Goalies logo. It's the perfect logo for this set and just looks so darned cool! It's great that every card in the set has this logo stamped in silver on the front.



The overall color scheme of the base set is black, white, and sliver - and these basic colors do a great job of bringing out the goalies on the fronts of these cards. The images of the goalies are in vibrant color and really pop off the card. I really like how the photo of the player takes up about 80% of the card. It is really all about the player on the front. These cards really do the goalies justice, and they stand out on these well-designed, classy cards.



The backs of the All Goalies cards are nicely done as well. Panini switches to a horizontal format for the back and includes a small write-up about the goalie. Like in some of Panini's other offerings this year, these cards do not have any stats included. The picture on the back is the same as the one featured on the front - but is pulled back a bit more so that you can see the what is going on around the goalie when the shot was taken.



The base set includes the current NHL goalies, retired stars, as well as some rookie goaltenders that may not have another card out yet this year yet. It's a very nice mix, and I'm impressed that Panini was able to cram in 100 goalies into this set.

Base Card Design Score:
9.5/10

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos -
I find it really neat how Panini was able to add some collectability to this boxed set. In the past when you bought a set like this you simply got the basic set and that was that - no extras. Here, Panini gives you a few things to chase and get excited about as you open the little All Goalies box. First are the parallel cards. The parallel cards in the All Goalies set are called Up Close cards. Here is an example of one below. Tell me if you can spot the difference between this and a basic base card.



Did you notice a difference? It may be hard to tell at first. The only difference between the base card and this is the ghosted image of the player in the background. It shows an 'up-close' image of the player. Yes, it's definitely a very subtle difference. Other than that there is nothing else to distinguish the parallel card - no alternate colored foil, serial numbering, nothing to indicate that it is different except for that up close image on the front. I like the idea of having a parallel set here that can be relatively easily attained, but I would have really liked to see a bigger difference between the base and parallel cards. Also, the parallel cards you get will all come in a row. For example, if you get card number 1, you'll most likely get cards 2, 3, 4, and 5 as well. If you get card 6, you'll get 7, 8, 9, and 10. This could be nice if you collect a certain team and hit that teams numbering in the set... you'd get all the parallels in one shot!



The real excitement factor in All Goalies is the last card you get in the box... and it's the memorabilia card! It's awesome that Panini put memorabilia cards in this set to add a little extra fun for the collectors out there. The memorabilia cards feature a different design from the base cards - and that's good thing - it provides a bit of variety for the set. These cards showcase the goalie's team colors and a nice action shot. Of course, these cards still have the cool All Goalies logo prominently featured on them. You can get both jersey and patches within the boxes.

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos Score:
7.5/10

Overall Rating -
Panini All Goalies is a nice little package at an affordable price. The set costs around $20 and you get 106 cards in one shot. For goalie collectors this set is a no brainer. It features a great variety of players from new comers in the NHL to retired hall of famers. It's not a set that you would really buy over and over again, but it has some fun inserts to try to obtain. This is definitely a set worth picking up and having in your collection.

Overall Rating:
8/10
(not an average)

Watch me open my box of Panini All Goalies!


Friday, July 1, 2011

2011-2011 Panini Luxury Suite Review



Let me start by saying this... there was a thread on Sports Card Forum that asked if Panini Luxury Suite could be better than UD's The Cup. Well, the answer is a resounding... NO!

Base Card Design -
Luxury Suite shares a similar characteristic to the product I reviewed last time - ITG Decades. Instead of just one pack with 6 six hits in that product, Luxury Suite features four packs per box with 2 hits per pack. The product is designed to maximize 'hits', so there are no 'regular' base cards. All the cards are either rookie cards, or have an autograph or memorabilia piece on it. The numbering on the back of the cards reflect that all cards are pretty much a part of the Luxury Suite set. This reminds me of Upper Deck Black from last year in that the regular set of cards were the memorabilia cards. For the purposes of this review, I'll review the rookie cards for the base set and the auto/memorabilia cards in the next section.

The standard rookie card in Luxury Suite incorporates a clean horizontal design with a close-up photo on one side of the card and an action photo on the other. The word 'rookie' is placed vertically in the middle of the two photos along with the player's team logo. The card itself is very thick and has a high gloss finish on the surface. The Luxury Suite logo is featured in bronze foil at the top center of the card. Overall the card is nice looking and feels premium. Looking closely at the card you can see that the designers really went for a 'marbled' look - a little like the Legendary Contenders insert from Panini Contenders this year. I think that this marbling is Panini's way of saying 'hey, this is a premium card!' - and I agree. It's pretty classy, and it works better here because the card is so thick. The card definitely feels premium. The basic rookie card is numbered to 899. There are many parallels of the rookie cards as well as autographed and memorabilia versions. Here's one that I pulled numbered to just 10.



Although the cards have some nice elements, the cards all together get a bit repetitive to look at. And because of the dual photograph nature of the card, the player doesn't really stand out on the card. These cards remind me a little of cards that feature two players on the same card. Panini has made an interesting design choice here - to combine an action shot with a close-up - but this may be a case where the idea is better than the execution and/or result.

Base Card Design Score:
7/10

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos -
Well, Luxury Suite is all about the hits... and they come two per pack! Like the rookie cards, the hits come on very thick card stock and have a very high gloss front. There are all sorts of things you can get in Luxury Suite. Memorabilia ranges from standard jerseys to autographs to even pieces of players' game-used sticks!



The standard hit, of course, is the jersey card - and acutally, these would be the regular cards in the base set of Luxury Suite. These cards feature the stars of the NHL. The standard jersey card is numbered to 599. The card design is horizontally focused with the player on the right side and memorabilia on the left. The swatch size for the jerseys are appropriate for a product in this price range. They are about the size of the Authentic Fabrics in Upper Deck's SP Game Used product. Jersey cards now are not the rare gem that they were when they were first introduced. And unfortunately, these cards don't feel special in any way - they are just another jersey card. Aside from getting cards of your favorite players and teams, these cards won't be too desirable. From a design standpoint, these cards a very clean - but it's probably a bit too clean as there is a lot of white space around the card. There is some faux texturing in the background - but it doesn't really give it a textured look or add anything to the card. If the cards were truly textured and had a tactile enhancement maybe that would add to the desirability of the card and make the card better.



Some cards like the Pavel Datsyuk shown above feature two pieces of memorabilia. The individual pieces in these cards are smaller than the standard jersey card but usually are more premium. The dual memorabilia cards will have prime jersey pieces, stick pieces (some of which are really great looking), and parts of players' numbers as well. Panini has chosen to let you know what it is you are exactly getting by labeling the pieces. Aside from having multiple pieces of memorabilia, the cards share the same design as the standard jersey card.



Speaking of the same design, the autograph cards also have the same design as the game-used memorabilia cards. Although I have to say that the autographs are the best of the bunch. Because the space is not taken up by some square holes for memorabilia, the players got to use up the space for their autographs. It's neat when players have a lot of signing room on the card. The Denis Savard pictured above is a great example of a very nice on card signature. The card here looks great with his autograph on it. You just can't get that look on a sticker.



Speaking of same designs again... just kidding! Private Signings are insert cards that you can get in Luxury Suite that do not look anything like the rest of the cards. This is probably because the are not a Luxury Suite insert, but rather, an insert that Panini has chosen to put into a few different brands of its product line. The Private Signings are a breath of fresh air though in a box of Luxury Suite. These cards are *gasp* vertical! These cards feature on card autographs with a large space for the player to sign. I'm a fan of the look of the Private Signings cards. It's a clean design, but I don't feel as if there is any wasted space here - there is a large photo of the player, a large space for a signature, and some very nice foil touches. The only thing that doesn't make this card set a complete winner is that the card is razor thin compared to all the others. It comes on standard thin card stock. I wonder why Panini chose to do this. Otherwise this card set would be on par with cards from The Cup or National Treasures - it certainly has the same type of design/feel.

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos Score:
8/10

Overall Rating -
My expectation for Luxury Suite was very high. I had seen mock ups of the product long before it came out and it looked great on paper... but this product just didn't reach expectations. And judging from comments from fellow collectors, this is a sentiment that is shared by many. There are a few reasons why this product was a bit of a let down.

One - the look. While the cards look nice individually... they all actually look very similar to each other. The design of the cards from player to player from jersey to stick to auto all look the same. There just isn't an interesting variety to the cards. Once you've seen one, you've seen them all. Unfortunately, the jersey cards are pretty cookie-cutter and the dual pieces of memorabilia also feel the same way. Panini could have made the set so much better by just incorporating some more varied design in this product. I can see that perhaps they were going for a uniform look on purpose - the Luxury Suite look, as it were - but it didn't work here. It's boring. And one more thing... Panini needs to realize that collectors don't just want jerseys anymore... it's ok for them to be there, but Panini needs to start pairing more jerseys/patches with autographs. That makes for a killer combination. Upper Deck has really done well in that area and I hope Panini follows UD's lead there.

Two - the player selection. There are many players in this set, which seems like a good thing until you realize that getting the players you want is very difficult. I've heard complaints that the checklist is full of too many players. It is very difficult to get a player that is 1. what you want or 2. worth $ to sell or trade. For example, in the Private Signings checklist you have players like: Chris Neil, Cory Schnieder, Dan Ellis, Dustin Penner, T.J. Galiardi, Wojtek Wolski, Matt Carkner, etc. Now I'm not saying these players are bad by any means... but they are not the players that people want to pull from their packs. And there are a lot of these type of players.

Three - the price. Luxury Suite packs are around $50 each and boxes run from $150-$200. That's a lot of money - especially for the pack. $50 to get two hits is a huge risk, but it's a risk some may be willing to take if the hits were perceived to be worth it. Luxury Suite breaks I have seen typically do not have the big name stars coming out. It's a lot of money for a big risk. It's a similar gamble to SP Game-Used... but in my opinion SP Game Used is even a better deal than this.

So, Luxury Suite is a product that I would only recommend to try if you can really afford it. It does not seem to be a product that collectors have embraced. If the price were to drop on this product, then and only then would I recommend getting some. I really did have some very high expectations of this product, and now that it is live, I'm disappointed. The product is not a complete bust, there are some nice cards to get here, but for the cost I'd just be looking for singles of the cards I really want rather than to crack boxes or cases of it.

Overall Rating:
6/10
(not an average)

Check out the Luxury Suite cards I got in this video!