Thursday, January 21, 2021

2020-2021 Upper Deck Artifacts Review

Upper Deck Artifacts has long given collectors a beautiful set filled with hockey memorabilia to enjoy. Through the years, Upper Deck has changed the product in slight ways, but the design aesthetic has always been a staple of this brand. Collectors who purchase a hobby box of Artifacts are told that they will receive "hits in every box!" Let's see what this year's iteration has in store for us.

Product Thoughts
I sound like a broken record when it comes to the design of Artifacts because each and every year it's about the same. The cards are glossy and have a nice, premium appeal to them. The overall theme of Artifacts is of ancient finds, and the designers have done a magnificent job. They are so good with the Artifacts brand that I cannot tell which year is what just by looking at the base cards. Artifacts slots nicely in the mid-tier part of Upper Deck's card line-up. It's a nice set for any collector to enjoy as boxes typically cost around or under the $150 USD mark.


The double jersey hit is the classic Artifacts card. You get two swatches of game-used jersey. The appeal of these cards has declined significantly since they were first introduced. It's just not that exciting to pull jersey cards anymore. Though we're totally spoiled as collectors for thinking that game-used cards are just run-of-the-mill, it's a fact that cannot be ignored. These cards on the secondary market can be had for just a few bucks. 


Aurum cards are excellent looking cards, but Upper Deck has shot themselves in the foot by considering them hits. These thick cards have a scratch off in the back for collectors to uncover. With an entire set, these Aurum cards can be redeemed for a bounty. But don't sit on your ass as you try collecting them all as Upper Deck gives the fastest finishers better prizes. I've personally never cared about trying to collect these cards, and I haven't really heard of any other collectors really going nuts for these cards. If these were not considered hits I bet collectors would be much happier with this particular insert.


If you see a big thick card in the pack, you've most likely pulled a patch card. Artifacts has a ton of parallels of the base set - many with different combinations of game-used material. The lower the number, the better the material you'll find embedded within the card. The Jake Guentzel above has what appears to be pieces of the fight strap on it. It's a unique part of the jersey, but sadly these pieces are always just a boring white color.


To my great surprise I was able to pull a very rare 2/3 dual patch black parallel of Brad Marchand in the same box as the Guentzel. Upper Deck had to have made a mistake here as they are usually not the generous type when putting hits in products. I'm not complaining though, this is a really cool looking card!


If you know Artifacts, you'll know that there are always redemption cards inserted into the product. These scratch off cards will net you a rookie from the hockey season once Upper Deck makes the cards. The best ones are the autographed versions, so be on the lookout for those!

Positives:
  • Classy looking set with many different memorabilia types to chase.
  • Redemption cards for the current rookie class.
  • Boxes are moderately priced compared to other sets.
Negatives:
  • The packs seem to be very tightly sealed which could lead to some corner damage on cards.
  • Aurum cards are considered hits.
  • Standard jerseys just not the hit they used to be.

Overall Rating:

8/10

Thursday, January 7, 2021

2020-2021 Upper Deck Synergy


Upper Deck Synergy has been in the Upper Deck line-up since 2017, but I'm not sure that it has caught on with collectors. These colorful acetate infused cards are fun to look at and remind me a little of older SPx designs. It'll be interesting to see if Synergy has improved this year, and importantly, if collectors will start warming up to this product.


Product Thoughts
I was honestly biased before even purchasing the box of Synergy at my local card store. I haven't really liked the set - thinking that it is a largely forgettable one. Cracking open the packs of this years offering did change my mind a little as the cards are quite fun and look quite good. Back this year are the foil-y acetate base cards that are part foil/part acetate. The base cards have a nice, thicker stock, and it looks like Upper Deck has just thrown all the card technology they could at them. The only thing missing is a mini screen to show hockey highlights of the player pictured. The overall design of the base card is ok, but it's really the other cards you find in the product that stand out more for me.


I found that many of the cards found in the packs featured serial numbering. Usually in box breaks of mid-tier products you'll get one or two serial numbered cards in the entire break. Quite a few serial numbered cards were found in my box of Synergy. Serial numbering isn't anything new or crazy, and the numbering of the cards aren't low for the most part, but the serial numbers are a nice touch and I'm glad that Upper Deck chose to put the print runs on many of these cards.


There are a few inserts such as this Roaring 20's card of Kieffer Bellows that does not feature a serial number. These cards are my least favorite of the set as there isn't much that is interesting about them. The design is a bit generic - even with the full sheen of the rainbow foil - the card falls a bit flat in design and look.


Synergy comes with a number of different insert cards where you'll find the stars of the NHL. For player collectors, it's nice to have a few more cards of your player. Many of these inserts are sure to be affordable and easily found to put into a collection. 


My personal favorite cards in Synergy are the shiny pinkish purple SynergyFX cards. The pink really makes the card stand out amongst the others. Each of these cards are serial numbered to 349. They're not particularly rare, and could make a nice parallel set to chase down.


The one autograph I found in my box of Synergy was that of Elvis Merzlikins. It's a nice looking card save for the sticker auto. I would have much preferred the autograph to be on-card, but at this price point you should be expecting the autos to be of the sticker variety.

Positives:
  • Many serial numbered cards.
  • The designs of the cards are colorful and appealing.
  • The price point per box is reasonable.
Negatives:
  • Not a hobby favorite.
  • Cards are easily smudged.
  • This is not the product if you're looking for lots of hits.

Overall Rating:

7/10

Thursday, December 31, 2020

2019-2020 Upper Deck Chronology Volume II


It's seems like a long while since Chronology Vol. 1, but Volume 2 of this release is out and adds current players to the mix. Collectors will find on-card autographs in the product along with Letterman and Masterpiece autographs. Back also are the Time Capsule rip cards that give you the opportunity to either keep the card intact or open it to reveal a mini card inside. It's an interesting, but pricey, product that collectors will have to weigh the merit of before buying.

Product Thoughts
Each pack comes with just four cards to enjoy - and one of them is a base card - so the price per card is pretty steep. Boxes of Chronology will run anywhere between $125-175 USD depending on where you find it. The base cards are serial numbered, but their values will be pretty minimal. The base cards actually remind me a bit of Artifacts from years back. They have that marbled look to them that evokes a time when civilizations would build huge monuments and buildings with pillars. Sadly, these cards don't have the heft of that era of time. The base cards feel a bit thin so you don't get that premium card quality to them. It would have been nice to either eliminate the base cards or at least make them the thickness of an Ultimate Collection card - or better yet - get really creative and have a faux marble feel to them. That might justify the price these costs a little more. As they stand, they are the equivalent of serial numbered Artifacts base cards.


When I first learned about Chronology Vol 2, I thought the set would be completely made up of current players. That's not the case as you'll still find retired players within the packs. I don't mind getting retired players, but I thought it would be nice to really distinguish the two sets of Chronology between current and retired players - making each set very unique. Though one good thing about the older players is that their signatures tend to be much better than the current players' sigs. Notice the signature of Chris Nilan above. It may not be the most fancy, but it has a unique quality to it and quite obviously is his full name.


Now check out Ryan Poehling's autograph! It's basically just his initials on the card. I'm not a fan of his signature. And speaking of not being a fan of something... the Letterman cards are also kind of bogus. Upper Deck tweeted out that because of the COVID situation, they couldn't get the letters manufactured as they typically do, so the Letterman cards were printed on these plastic-y name plate material. Unfortunately, it's not a good look for the set and very puzzling for collectors who end up pulling them. Perhaps they should have renamed the set something like locker room plates - at least that would have made a little more sense.


I was really hoping to get a Masterpiece autographed card in my box, but ended up with a Time Capsule instead. The Masterpiece cards look like the painted sets that Upper Deck used to make. The set features gorgeous autographs on them. The Time Capsule cards give you the added fun of opening up the back to find a mini card. I'd trade that type of fun for an autograph just about any day! A Pierre-Luc Dubois mini came out of the Malkin Time Capsule. There wasn't anything really special about it save that it was serial numbered to 60. I probably should have just kept it sealed up... hindsight's 20/20!

Positives:
  • Masterpiece autographs look great and are popular with collectors.
  • On-card autographs.
  • Current NHL players have been added.
Negatives:
  • Expensive for a product that doesn't have much of a WOW factor.
  • Letterman cards fall flat.
  • 4 cards.

Overall Rating:

6/10

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

2020 Topps Clearly Authentic Review


Topps Clearly Authentic is an acetate based set that comes encased and sealed by Topps. The cards come in a one-card-per-pack format and will cost you between $60-70 at release. It follows products like Topps Signature Archives, but with a more modern feel. What's the best way to purchase this product? I weigh in on it in my review.

Product Thoughts
The Clearly Authentic cards have a very nice look to them as they follow the design of the flagship Topps set. This is a smart idea by Topps as it almost makes these cards a parallel to the base cards and provides a strong connection to the main brand. The on-card nature of the autographs of these cards are another great selling point. With a different photo and ink, these cards look really great and outshines the Archive Signature product that Topps has. Add in the fact that there are also colored parallels and you have a set that many collectors will enjoy ripping into.

At around $60-70, the question comes into mind if boxes are worth buying. For the vast majority of boxes, the card you pull will not be worth anywhere near the amount paid for it. I pulled the Jesus Luzardo card above. I like this card quite a bit, but I could pick it up for much cheaper as a single on the secondary market. If you're looking for the really big names, then it may be worth the gamble to pick up a few boxes and try your luck. But if you're a team collector or someone who collects a player that doesn't have staggering secondary market values, it's a much wiser decision to just purchase the single that you want. A VAST majority of the time you're better off just doing that.

Positives:
  • The card designs look excellent.
  • Many parallels to find in the product.
  • On-card autographs are great.
Negatives:
  • Hit or miss product.
  • Might as well buy the one you want as a single.
  • One-card-per-pack is not everyone's cup of tea.

Overall Rating:

8/10

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Not Buying 2020 Topps Finest


2020 Topps Finest Baseball came out yesterday along with a few other products (Panini Prizm Baseball, Topps Pro Debut, and Topps Big League), and I have decided to pass on the product. It's not that the cards or horrible, but I find Finest to be a tired product that gets forgotten about a week after it releases. At about $150 a hobby box, you get two mini boxes with each containing an autograph. Aside from the nice shiny look of the cards, I find that Finest doesn't really have an appealing place in the hobby landscape.

Topps' flagship product (Series 1 and 2) are cheap, but extremely collectible. Every baseball collector buys it and the rookie cards from these sets are some of the most well-known and desired. This set also has a ton of parallel cards to chase, and I find that collectors just can't get enough of them.

A product like Bowman is has collectors chasing after prospects and parallels. Chrome is like an upgraded version of Topps. And high-end products like Diamond Icons, Tier One, and Triple Threads have amazing memorabilia hits to find.

So where does that leave Topps Finest? I mean, it was the OG of refractor cards back when it had its inaugural set. It seems that Topps Finest started off as the very best Topps could offer, but over the years has declined and declined in the line-up. Maybe they should just rename it Topps Middle. That's what this product is... just the middle of the road and easily forgotten about after release.

What about the other products that came out recently? Well, I'll buy Panini Prizm at retail as well as Topps Big League. You can find those at the local Target and Walmart at a price that you can throw a few dollars at. Pro Debut? I think I'll pass on that too since like Topps Finest, I find it neither here nor there as a product. I'd just rather save my money and get Bowman.

What do you think? Are you a fan of Topps Finest baseball? If so, I'd love to know why as I personally feel it is outclassed and out matched by other products at other price points.