Thursday, January 26, 2012

2011-2012 ITG Enforcers Review

Round One... FIGHT!  GET OVER HERE!  FIVE HIT COMBO... BRUTALITY... wait... this isn't Mortal Kombat... it's 11/12 ITG Enforcers!  A unique set of hockey cards celebrating the toughest of the tough that have ever played the game.


Base Card Design -
Like many of the one-pack ITG offerings of late, Enforcers does away with a standard base card and gives us insert style cards instead.  The best of the bunch have to be the painted Bloody Battles cards.  These cards immediately stood out to me when I saw them.  ITG was smart to include these art cards because they allow ITG to have great images of the featured players without worrying about showing NHL licensed logos or properties.  For those of you who don't know, ITG is not a licensed manufacturer of hockey cards so they are very limited in what they can use in terms of images on their products.

The Bloody Battle cards all feature a white and red color scheme.  The white background gives a great contrast to the painted images and crimson blood splatter around the edges.  I have to say that I am not a fan of the blood splatter look - it's tacky - but it probably works best on this card.  Also a bit dated are the fonts used on these and other cards in the set.  I know it seems like nit-picking, but these small details make a big difference in how I (and other consumers) view the product.


The back of the Bloody Battles cards give a very nice write-up of the action shown on the front.  Like with other ITG products, I find myself impressed by and interested in the information on the backside.  Other insert cards give similar descriptions or enforcer-centric stats.


This Tale of the Tape insert is an example of a card that features both a description and enforcer statistics on the back.  Like two heavy weights in a weigh-in, the card puts their vital statistics side by side for comparison.  It also recounts the time these two players dropped gloves to go at it on the ice.  This card is also a good example of the limitations ITG has with the photos they can use.  As you can see, the images are closely cropped head shots.  Most all of the photos are like this to avoid seeing team logos and symbols.  It's unfortunate that these are the images ITG has to work with, but I understand it's the best they can do with what they have.

Base Card Design Score:
6.5/10

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos -
Each box of Enforcers will come packed with 2 jersey/patch cards and 5 autographs.  It's impressive that the majority of memorabilia cards are autographs.  In my opinion, it's always nicer to have a signature rather than a piece of cloth.


The standard autographs come on a very smartly designed card.  As with the insert cards I was not impressed with the tacky blood splatter or late 90's style graphics and font, but I did really enjoy the idea of the signatures being on large band-aids.  What a perfect idea for this set of cards!  This idea makes perfect sense and certainly does stand out in a fun and cool way.  The autographs are on stickers, but because of the design, you can hardly tell.  The slight 'bump' of the sticker mimics the cloth under the band-aid just right.  Give whoever came up with this idea a raise Dr. Price!


Single player jersey cards contain a generous swatch of jersey.  I particularly like the Tony Twist jersey piece in this Instigator memorabilia card because the color of it is so bright on the card.  This jersey insert set design is on the busier side, but works well.  The left side border gives the card a more current look.  As per all ITG memorabilia cards, the back clearly states that the jersey piece came from a St. Louis Blues jersey that was game-worn by Tony Twist.  Love how ITG steps up and does this.  Can other card companies follow suit with this practice?


This Combatants dual jersey card shown above is typical of a card featuring two players.  The swatches are smaller than those of their single player card brethren.  Unlike the Instigator insert, this one goes for an extreme industrial or possibly alien/space-marine type feel - at least that's what it reminds me of - could also be some sort of military or underground fighting ring design... not sure.  I am sure, however, that I am not a fan of the design here.  'Dated' would again apply here.

Some of the nicest cards in the Enforcers set are also the most difficult to get.  ITG has included Tough Patch 1 of 1 gigantic game-used patch pieces in this set.  These cards look amazing and deserve the hardest-to-get status they hold in the product.

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos Score:
6/10

Overall Rating -
11/12 ITG Enforcers is a product for a very niche portion of an already niche collecting base.  The set focuses on players that are not the big scorers, most skilled skaters, or flashiest goalies.  It's a set of the tough guys.  To make a comparison, it would be similar to a football card set composed of only the defensive players.  Would people buy it?  Well... yes... some, but definitely not a majority.

Though I am not a fan of these players as a whole, I really appreciate what ITG has done here.  They have come out with a set that fills a void in the hobby.  It's great to see cards of players that made an impact on the ice that didn't involve filling up the offensive side of the score sheet.  These players played pivotal roles on their teams and certainly have fans.  Now these fans can get some autograph and memorabilia cards of these players.

I would not recommend this product to anyone except those who would appreciate it.  It's definitely not a product to go out and buy to get traders or cards to flip for a quick profit.  I found it fun to open and enjoy, but I probably will not be dipping into it any more than that.  I do hope, however, that there are tough guy fans out there who will buy heavily into this product and really savor it.  It's a rare treat for sure.

Overall Score:
6/10
(not and average)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

2011-2012 Panini Limited Review

Panini releases it's first higher-end product of the year with 11/12 Limited Hockey.  You get one pack of cards in a small box.  Is it worth the price?  Let's find out!


Base Card Design -
This year's limited base card surprised me greatly - they were not what I expected them to be at all.  For those who haven't seen Limited before, the base cards are traditionally on very shiny foil board similar to that of Certified.  This year's Limited hockey base are not.  They are on a standard, thin glossy card stock with a few touches of foiling near the bottom of the card.  The cards look nice, but I would think for the price paid for them, a foil board treatment would have been appropriate so that collectors would feel they got a more premium card for their money.

That being said, Panini has come out with a very pleasing base card design.  The base cards have a mature look to them.  In a way, they remind me of last year's UD Ultimate Collection.  The players are in full color while the background of the card is in shades of black, white, and grey.  Having the players in color in contrast to the background really help make for a stunning looking card.  Other smart design choices are notable as well.  The bottom border of the card features the player's name and team.  This portion of the card utilizes nice, clean lines and thin, modern font.  I appreciate the small amount of foil around the name to highlight it.  Panini shows a lot of restraint here.  It's very nice and subtle, not guady or overdone - like I said earlier - it's mature looking.

The upper portion of the card features the Limited logo as well as a 'fade to ice' backdrop.  The Limited logo looks very classy, but as it stands, is very flat on the card.  I've mentioned it before for other Panini products but I'll mention it again... putting foil on the logo would really class up the card.  They have already put a bit of foil on the bottom of the card so I would think it wouldn't be too much to do the same with the logo.

Finishing off the top portion of the card is an interesting 'fade to ice' look.  I'm not sure if this was purposeful, but it is the same design choice they used with Certified this year.  It's certainly not a bad thing, it looks great, but I just wonder if it was a purposeful tie to their other brand or just a coincidence.


The backs of the base cards are horizontally oriented.  They feature minimal stats as well as a write up of the player.  I think the backs of the base cards are pretty busy, but in a good way.  There is a lot going on and a lot to look at.  You will also find the serial number of the card on the back.  The common base cards are all numbered to 299.


As with previous Limited releases, Panini has chosen to include retired players as a part of the base set.  Usually these cards are featured after the current players, but this year they take up the first portion of the set - cards numbered 1 through 50.  These cards share the exact same design as the standard base cards except that the players are in black and white rather than in color.  I can understand the choice to do this, but I personally would rather have the player in color.  As they are, the players and the backgrounds blend too much for my liking.


Phenoms rookie cards make a return to this year to finish off the main set of cards.  Like last year, Panini has manufactured a patch of cloth with a logo on it for the player to sign.  I've noticed that this type of card is a favorite among the designers at Panini.  In football products, they have players sign a leather type material.  In basketball they have team logo cards as well.  Though this year's Phenom cards look better than last years, I am just not a huge fan of them.  It's hard for me to find a reason for the cloth inclusion.  Since the piece of cloth was not worn by the player or used at an event, it simply doesn't have any meaningful place in my opinion.  The cloth doesn't even represent any facet of the game aside from the logo being on it.  I would be fine with the players simply signing on the card and be done with it - leave the extra cloth for the clothing manufacturers!

Base Design Score:
8/10


Inserts/Game-Used/Autos -
Each pack/box of Limited will come with three autographs and/or memorabilia cards.  Along with the base cards, you may also pull themed insert cards.


This insert card of Martin Brodeur is called Crease Cleaners.  Obviously this insert set features the star goalies of the NHL.  The inserts within Limited usually come in different variations with this one being the most basic.  You will find when you open up Limited that each type of insert will have one with no autograph or memorabilia and others that include them.  For player collectors, you will need to find out what variations of the cards your player has.  Unfortunately, the checklist included with each box of Limited does not specify the different tiers and variations of the cards.


One thing that I would like to mention is that Panini has done a better job of masking the areas where jersey pieces, patches, and autographs should be on inserts.  In past Limited releases, many of the cards had large areas of blank space where higher level variations would have autographs or memorabilia.  The Brodeur card seen earlier is a good example of that as well as the Joe Thornton patch card shown above.  This jumbo jersey card features a sweet piece of prime jersey.  Another variation of this card would have an autograph below the swatch where the Sharks logo is.  Now, Panini would fill in the space with team logos in previous releases, but this year the space feels smaller so that it doesn't feel as much like something is missing.  It's not perfect, but I sense that Panini is making an effort to make their cards better.  I know a lot of collectors did not like those large blank spaces on their cards - me included.


Probably the most common type of memorabilia/auto card will be the base card variations.  These are simply base cards with added autographs, jerseys, or patches.  They come with various levels of rarity and are quite a challenge to put together for player collectors.

Though I did not get many of them, there are quite a few different inserts to be found in Limited boxes this year.  Banner Season, Retired Numbers, and Captains Courageous make a return.  Private Signings can be found here too.  One of the more unique inserts are the Net Presence cards.  These inserts feature game-used nets.  Personally, I'm not interested in nets.  They don't really have a connection to a single player... it sort of has a connection to the goalie and all the players who have shot into it, but it's not a very personal item.  I'd be interested to see how collector's feel about these type of cards.  They actually remind me a bit of the game-used floor pieces in basketball cards.  Every basketball player has probably stepped on that piece and the only thing that makes it a part of the player is the picture on the card.  I don't know, perhaps more thinking is needed on these types of cards.

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos Score:
8.5/10


Overall Rating -
This year's Limited is an interesting but expensive product.  It's the first premium product from Panini and the price certainly reflects that.  I enjoyed opening my box of Limited, but I think the cost of each box can be pretty prohibitive for most collectors.  At about $100 per box, it's a very risky gamble.  Typically a box of Limited will yield some kind of autograph or two, a jersey card, and maybe a patch card... maybe.  Usually a couple of the hits in the box are not very strong, and you would be lucky to get one card that is a winner money-wise.  So the best you can hope for realistically is one nice card and a couple of so-so cards.  Do you consider that risky?  I certainly do.

I see Limited as a high roller's product.  People that can afford it by buying boxes or a case at a time will get the most out of it.  For those (like yours truly) who can only afford maybe a box or two, I think it's too much of a risk.  I can say that I will buy products like this just to try out and have fun with, but if you're looking for good trade bait or a nice return, I would advise looking elsewhere.  Each case of Limited contains 15 boxes.  So getting a case hit in one or two boxes would be very difficult.

All in all, Panini has improved upon Limited this year.  There are definitely nice cards to be found.  I hope that a lot of collectors with deep pockets get cracking so everyone else can pick up the singles they need!

Overall Score:
7/10
(not an average)


Check out my break of 11/12 Limited at D & P Sports Cards in Sacramento, CA!

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011-2012 Upper Deck Black Diamond Review

Upper Deck has released the venerable Black Diamond set.  This staple of the Upper Deck line up has been around for well over a decade.  Has Upper Deck found a way to make this year's version different from the previous years, or is it the same old same old?  Let's find out by breaking open a couple hobby boxes


Base Card Design -
I mentioned to the local card shop owner that once you've seen a Black Diamond base card, you've pretty much seen them all.  Each and every year Black Diamond cards come to us with a thin (in a good way) all-foil hockey card.  Well, I can't say 'all foil'.  The player on the front is not covered in foil - which is a good thing, and a smart choice by Upper Deck because having the player without foil helps the featured player stand out from the foiled background.  This is unlike the Pinnacle Nufex cards that completely cover the card in shiny foil.  It's interesting to compare the two foil cards from the two companies side to side.  I actually prefer the Upper Deck card because the player is more prominently featured on the front of the card - it's less muddled.  But anyways, getting back on track...  As I was saying before, once you've seen a Black Diamond card you've pretty much seem them all.  They all have the same feel and look to them.  If you were to put all the Black Diamond base cards from all the years together and mix them up, I am sure collectors would have a difficult time figuring out which cards were from which year based on just the design.  Not that the cards don't have differing designs from year to year, it's just that they all look very similar to each other.  That being said, this year's design is quite nice.  The card has a very modern look.  I like how Upper Deck has chosen to use red, black, and silver as the main color scheme on the side border.


As per usual, Black Diamond comes in different tiers of rarity.  The single diamond cards are the basic card.  There are also double, triple, and quad diamonds to be found in boxes as well.  One significant change in this year's set is the way Upper Deck has included the star players in the tiered system.  In previous years UD had chosen to have minor stars as single diamonds and progressed upwards in star power as the diamonds increased.  Not so this year.  You can find mega stars of the NHL as single diamonds.  There are players like Sidney Crosby, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, and Wayne Gretzky in the single diamond tier.  It's nice that for this year, many of the big names are easily attainable.  The quad diamond cards actually also contain some of the major stars from the single diamond tier except they are featured in All Star jersey's.  So the quad diamond set of the stars is more of an All-Star subset.  Definitely an interesting and different idea from the minds at UD.


Rookies come in two different tiers: triple diamond and quad diamond.  You'll get a few triple diamond rookies per box and usually one quad diamond per box.  Both of the rookie cards look exactly the same save for the number of diamonds shown on the bottom left hand corner.  The rookie cards share similarities to the basic card except in two areas.  The first is the larger side border.  These cards have 'Rookie Gems' in rather large font.  It looks great, especially with the rookie photo.  Notice that the rookie photos are much larger and up-close than the standard cards.  Upper Deck has subtly made the rookies a bit more prominent on the card.  Very cool.  The second area of difference is the background texture.  The backgrounds of the rookie cards are much more textured than on the standard card.  Again, this makes the cards feel more 'weighty' and more important.  And of course they are - these are rookie cards for goodness sakes!


The back of the Black Diamond card is nicely done as you can see above.  It's a very modern back that features a nice head shot of the player.  All the basic information and stats are there along with a little write-up.  All the lines zipping around on the back of the card remind me of the movie Tron.  I can imagine zooming into the card and seeing those light bikes from Tron creating those lines on the card.  Ok I'll stop with the nerd moment now.  It is a very sweet looking card back.

Base Design Score:
8.5/10

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos -
One of my favorite things about Black Diamond is that it contains not only the standard autographs and game-used cards, it carries hard to pull great looking insert cards.  As a hobbyist who collected a lot in the 90's, I was used to seeing insert sets with a lot of thought put into them.  Back then companies would do all sorts of things to make their best inserts stand out.  The hardest to pull inserts always looked the coolest and were the most desired.  Black Diamond has very cool inserts.  This year they have acetate Championship Ring, Hardware Heroes as well as the Lustrous Rookies inserts.


Though these cards don't have an autograph of memorabilia piece, I have found that collectors still covet these beautiful cards.  You can't really tell in the image above, but the Connolly Lustrous Rookies insert is on foil board and the smaller picture is of clear acetate - a stunning card to see in person.


Game jersey cards make their return to Black Diamond this year with a twist.  The game-used cards come in team sets of 4.  You can put the 4 cards together like a mini puzzle and create a large image of the teams logo.  On the Giroux above you can tell that it's the upper left hand part of the puzzle.  Definitely a neat idea here - nothing mind blowing - but just a simple and fun little thing that adds some charm to the set.  One thing collectors may notice is that the standard jersey card is down to 2 jersey pieces rather than 4.  Is this a big deal?  I don't think so, but maybe it may matter to some.


It may be difficult to from the scan above, but the Brandon Saad rookie card is a gold version limited to just 10.  Yes, there are the standard ruby (/100), gold (/10, and onyx (/1) parallel cards to chase down in this set.  You may also find parallel autographed versions of the jersey cards as well.  They are extremely limited as their print run goes to just 5.  Besides the 1/1 onyx cards, it's nice to have just a few parallel cards that are relatively easily attained.


UD Ice is once again back in Black Diamond!  Every box of Black Diamond will contain one bonus pack of UD Ice.  I have to say that Ice is like the opposite of Black Diamond.  The cards a are very bright and feature just a touch of foil highlighting.  The Ice cards look great this year and are a perfect compliment to the Black Diamond cards.   Many collectors have missed Ice as a stand alone product, but at least it is not gone forever.


Of course the main draw of the Ice bonus pack will be for the Ice Premier rookie cards.  Everyone and their grandmother will be tracking down the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins/99.  That card will be worth a great deal of green.  But besides the value of the cards, the design of the cards are spectacular.  I think one of the reasons why these cards remain so valued and collected is because of the way they look.  These cards are slickly designed and attractive.  It's a perfect rookie card without any need for autograph or memorabilia.

Gemography cards and other unannounced insert cards can be found in Black Diamond this year as well.

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos Score:
8.5/10

Overall Rating -
All in all I think I like Black Diamond better than I did last year.  Upper Deck has tweaked the product in some fun ways and has made it a more interesting break.  At 24 packs per box, it can be difficult to pull out nice hits just by buying packs so I recommend buying Black Diamond by the box.  And also purchasing by the box is the only way to get your hands on the Ice bonus pack and your chance at an Ice Premier rookie card.  To be honest, I think for some the Ice bonus pack will be the main temptation to purchase a box of Black Diamond.  The other stuff that comes in the box will be just gravy.  But I would caution discounting the things you can get in Black Diamond this year.  There are some beautiful cards that would be great additions to any collection.  So all in all, I'd so go get a box or two or three.  That's a pretty good dip into Black Diamond this season.

Overall Score:
8.5/10
(not an average)

Here's one of my Black Diamond breaks: