Saturday, April 30, 2011

2010-2011 Pinnacle Review

Pinnacle hockey is back! Panini brings back this premium brand with some old favorites and new twists!

Base Card Design -
The Pinnacle base card is crisp, neat, and clean, but does nothing to remind me of the old Pinnacle sets. I will always remember Pinnacle as the premium cards with the black border all the way around the edge, and these are as far away from that as possible. These Pinnacle base cards are very bright - white is the dominant color choice here. And they actually remind me a lot of the 10/11 Donruss base cards. They are not a badly designed card, but it just doesn't bring me back to yesteryear. I'm pretty sure I said the same thing along those lines about Donruss in my review of that product too. I guess Panini wants the old name, but not the old design. It's their choice really, but I guess I would have liked to see more of a connection to the old product besides the logo on the base cards.

The front of the base card features a ghosted out border on one edge of the card. A bar with the player's name, number, team, team color, and position can be found there. The card looks 'ok', but definitely does not feel premium in any way. The Panini products that have come out this year have tended to be very flat looking (exception: Crown Royale), and the same can be said here. I think it would have gone a long way in terms of the design of this product if Panini had decided to put some foil or texture on the card to create a more three dimensional separation between the border and the photo. If they had done this the base cards would have been so much nicer. It might have even made me consider going for this base set, but instead it just left me wanting.

Though I wasn't thrilled with the design, the one thing that really grabbed my attention was the choice of the photography. I loved looking through the base cards. I have to say that the photos chosen rival Upper Deck Series 1 and 2. Actually, many are more unique than those found in Upper Deck's offering. And that's saying A LOT because Upper Deck's base set features some really outstanding shots. Here are a just a few cards that show the variety that can be found within the Pinnacle base set.

I chose to display these three cards in particular because they are representative of what can be found in the photography of Pinnacle this year. The Matthew Lombari card shows him off the ice in a public situation. Hockey players do so much off the ice that fans are interested in seeing. It's awesome to show off these things on cardboard. The Ryan Miller card is a great up close action shot. There are many action shots taken from hockey games in all the hockey sets, but many that are found in this Pinnacle base set are of higher artistic quality. It's like someone cared to put a great photo on the Pinnacle base cards! The Miller is a great example of great hockey action because you can see the intensity of the moment he is in, his concentration on the puck about to be shot towards him. And I really like the Getzlaf card. My guess is that this photo was taken right after a whistle in a stoppage of play. It shows a great moment between him and Roberto Luongo. Who knows what was said! Was it a friendly exchange or something more intense. I don't know, but it's fun to guess!

The backs of Pinnacle hockey feature the same photo on the front but no, yep I said NO, usual statistics section! Instead there is an informational paragraph about the player. Some may not like this because it veers away so much from a typical hockey card, but this was something I thought was really neat about these base cards. It's great to read about the players on the backs of the Pinnacle cards. I'm sure it took a lot more and effort to do this but I appreciate their effort here. I have to give it up to Panini for doing that. Nice one!

Rookies can be found in the Panini base set as well. On average, there are 4 rookies per box. The rookie cards look exactly like the regular base cards... EXACTLY like the regular base cards except they have a little graphic in the corner that says 'Ice Breakers'. Unfortunately, I don't think these rookie cards look that great. The design of the logo isn't inspiring... even the 'Rated Rookie' graphic is better! But again I say, if it were in foil maybe it would have at least looked a little better and felt a little bit more special. As is... hopefully next year's rookie card design will be better.

All in all I have to say that the Pinnacle base cards have their ups and downs. There were things I really liked (like the photography), but things that I really didn't care for too (like the rookie logo and flatness in the design of the card). These base cards deserved a little bit more love before coming out of the factory. Some foil, some gloss, some texture! If they had that I think I would have definitely gone for a base set. For now though, I have to say that there are some great hockey photos on some plain cards. Still though, the photographs really drove the base card score up.

Base Card Design Score:

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos -
Lots and lots of inserts can be found in Pinnacle hockey this year. The most nostalgic one, though, definitely has to be the Nufex parallel cards and inserts. Back in the day, Pinnacle had something called Dufex. Basically it was a special looking foiling process that had a burst effect. I remember being blown away by them when I first saw them in Pinnacle baseball. I tried to collect as many as I could - but with very little money back then, and a big set, it just didn't happen. Well Nufex looks just like Dufex - and it's still cool. And it's still very collectible. And I still want them... all of them! I'm sure this will be a popular parallel set to try and complete for collectors who fondly remember these types of cards like I do. Here's an example of a Nufex Ryan Miller.

You can see the bust effect pretty well here. Also notice how the card is textured. It's sort of like an Upper Deck Black Diamond card, but the burst effect makes it unique - and in my opinion cooler. These Nufex cards (also known as The Rink Collection) display exactly what I want from a card in terms of design stand point. The border of the card has not been 'Nufexed'. It has been glossed over for a more premium feel but does not have foiling. This difference in texture between the border and photo make a huge difference in card quality. It looks and feels great. Take some notes here Panini... this is how it should be done! I'm not saying the entire base set should have tons of Nufex or foil, but something... give it something!!! Alright, back to talking about inserts.

Also making a comeback are the Artist Proof cards. Artist Proof cards always puzzled me greatly back in the day. These cards generally came one per box and just had a stamp that said 'Artist Proof' on them. They didn't look as nice as the Dufex cards but were harder to get. I always thought a nicer card should be harder to get. Well, that didn't apply then and it doesn't apply once again. The Artist Proof cards in 10/11 Pinnacle just feature a gold stamp on the front and come one per box. It's really nothing special - there's not even serial numbering on the card. I'm definitely not a fan of the Artist Proof parallel. I'm not sure the where the desire would be to collect these other than those people who need every single card of player for the personal PC.

In terms of game-used inserts, Pinnacle has one called City Lights. These cards come with either jerseys or patches and are serial numbered. Insert sets featuring the home city of NHL teams have been done before, but I've always liked them. The City Lights insert set shows the skyline of the city of the NHL team as a backdrop for the player. It's simple and elegant. I like this design even though the jersey piece just floats there. The backs of the City Lights insert set give a little information about the city itself - not hockey information, but general historical information about the city.

Autographs can be found in Pinnacle in many forms. I happened to pull one of John Wensink. This one is part of the Tough Times insert set. Didn't Donruss have an insert set similar to this? This particular autograph is nice because it features an on card autograph rather than a sticker. There are many opportunities to gather autographs in Pinnacle, but this is the one I got. It's serial numbered to 250.

The next insert I will point out is the one shown above called Saving Face. I particularly like this insert from Panini because it's an insert that features something special - not just a differently designed card on the same cardboard stock as a base card. In the heyday of insert cards (the 90's before all the game-used stuff), insert cards had to stand out so designers had to think of ways to make them different. Often that meant adding lots of cool foil, or acetate, or some other gimmick. Nowadays inserts are printed on the same stock (there are exceptions, of course), with just a different design to make it an 'insert'. I'm glad to see that this insert features the Nufex technology on it. It makes the card stand out and special.

Here's one last example of a great insert. This one is called Chemistry on Canvas. This insert set showcases players that work well together. Besides having painted artwork, which is already a nice addition, the texture of the card is like that of canvas. It has a rough feel on the surface of the card. Though this type of texture has been done before (UD Masterpieces), it's great to have it adding variety to a hockey card release. I hope that Panini will continue inserts like these so that inserts will be special again.

This year's Pinnacle also features other great insert sets, but none were pulled for this review. Let me know if you get any of these: Pinnacle Pencraft, Pinnacle Pantheon, Pinnacle Threads, Rookie Team Pinnacle Signatures, Team Pinnacle, Fans of the Game.

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos Score:

Overall Rating -
10/11 Pinnacle is a fun product to open. It features a great mix of inserts and super photography. At a little less than $100/box it's not too hard on the wallet. I'm pretty sure it's not going to be the hottest product of the season - but there will be cards in this set that people will enjoy. I really hope that collectors embrace the Nufex cards. They would look great in a binder all together and would be a worthy and challenging set to complete. Let me know if you go for it!

Overall Score:
(not an average)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

2010-2011 Upper Deck SP Authentic Review

Fiiiiiiiiinnnnnaallllyyyyyyyyyyy!!!! I can't believe it's been since the beginning of March since I've last posted a review. Well... that's because of delays from both Panini and Upper Deck. Really, last month should have had at least a couple of products come out, but instead it turned out to be a long dry spell for new hockey cards. Thankfully though, the drought in products has ended with a heavy hitting product: SP Authentic.

Base Card Design -
I've always loved the super clean look of SP Authentic. The cards are always on some sort of medium-thick white card stock with minimal but effective graphical enhancement. Some may argue that it is too simple and too plain, but for me, this is THE look for a premium hockey card. It's just classy looking!

This year's design features the player on a bright white background. There is nothing there except the player. And even the player is barely there - part of his image has been ghosted out just a little. It's a design choice that gives these cards a timeless feel, like a fading dream that's always there haunting you. Haha... sorry, I didn't mean to sound so artsy fartsy on you all the sudden, but that's just what comes to mind when I look at these cards.

The front also features the player's number prominently shown in large foil font as well as the player's name and team. All of these elements look great on the card. Upper Deck's use of foil on their cards always works. It just does some how! The foil elements enhance the card, and Upper Deck doesn't overdo it. It's exactly the right amount of foil to make the card look and feel premium. Huge props again to the UD design team. They should get a raise!

If I did have one complaint about the base set design though, it's the gray border on the right hand side. I feel it looks just a little out of place and is a jarring presence on the card. I don't really have a suggestion of what they could have done, just that it could have been more subtle since the rest of the card is so perfectly executed. I just feel it is a little out of place. Not a huge complaint, but it's the one part of the card that I didn't particularly like.

Also a part of the base set is the SP Essentials sub set. This is one of 3 main subsets of the main base set. The other two are the Future Watch and autographed Future Watch cards. This year's Essentials set takes the timeless feel of the cards and goes a step further. These cards look great! Each card is oriented horizontally with serial numbering to 1999. The cards are very minimalist in color. A ghosted out head shot of the player is set in the background next to a softer black and white image of the player. I think that the colors used and the modern fonts create a perfect subset for the main cards. I have nothing bad to say about the Essentials. It is worth pointing out though that these cards would be perfect for getting in-person autographs on. There is just the right amount of space there to fit a good sized signature.

Just like the Young Guns are the bread and butter of the regular Upper Deck release, the Future Watch cards are the meat and potatoes part of the SP Authentic set. Yep, they are that important. The Future Watch cards, most notably the autographed ones, have a huge following and are heavily collected by many people - including myself. Last year I completed the entire auto set and I will try to do the same this year as well.

This year's Future Watch shares similar characteristics to the base card's design, but up the bold factor a little. Instead of grays and silvers, the Future Watch cards feature a deep red colored border as well as gold foil stamping. These cards have a nice look to them, but I don't think they fit as well in the color scheme of the set as a whole. The red and gold change the entire feel of the Future Watch cards compared to the base cards and Essentials. I personally think they should have used navy blue for the bordering. That might have been better and more of a match in terms of whole set 'feel'. As they are now, they sort of remind me of an Ultimate Collection card. It doesn't matter really though because everyone's going to want these cards!

All in all the base set of SP Authentic this year is tremendous. The base cards and Essentials are both improved over last year's design. The Essentials especially are nice. I have to say that I did prefer last year's Future Watch cards a bit more than this year's offering, but still they are good looking cards that many will be clamoring to get!

Base Card Design Score

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos -
The main draw of SP Authentic must be the Future Watch Autos, and these make great hits when you buy a box, but there are plenty of other cards to chase when buying SPA. One of the consistent inserts over the years have been the Sign of the Times cards. They make their return again in this iteration of SP Authentic.

The Sign of the Times cards fuse elements from the base, Essentials, and Future Watch sets. They have a gray border like the base cards, a horizontal orientation a la the Essentials, and a blue ink autograph like those of the Future Watch cards. Combining all these elements makes a very nice looking piece of cardboard. If there weren't so many of them I'd even think about putting the set together - I imagine that all of them together would look really sweet. Though they look great, the problem lies in the amount of them. The Sign of the Times checklist nears 100 cards, and there are short printed versions amongst the set. It's a hard set to put together, and getting great players is also difficult. I pulled 3 SOTT autos in my 3 boxes (Barry Melrose, Jamie McBain, and Bobby Sanguinetti) and none of them made me excited. Melrose was kind of cool to pull, but if I really wanted it, it could easily be found and for a very reasonable price. Far less common are the multiple signature Sign of the Times cards. It's possible to pull 2 autographs on one card up to eight on a single card. These muli-autographed cards are always great to pull if you're lucky enough. This year there are cards that feature multiple signatures of the same player. It's an interesting concept... but definitely not my idea of a radical and cool idea. I think I'd receive the same happiness from pulling a card with only 1 Crosby auto than one with 2 on there. But maybe there are people out there who really like this idea. I just don't happen to be one of them.

Rounding out SP Authentic's autograph inserts are Prestigious Pairings, Future Watch Patches, Base card patch parallels, SP Chirography, Immortal Inks, and Marks of Distinction. Getting these cards are more difficult than the regular Future Watch Autos and SOTT cards. Each of these insert cards usually feature a pretty low numbering and have strong selling values.

It really helps that the autographs are all hard signed on card. This is one of the main reasons why SPA is always so well liked - the cards were all held and signed by the actual player on the card rather than a sticker placed on the cardboard.

Besides the Future Watch Patch auto cards and base variation patch cards, there are no other memorabilia opportunities here - and I'm totally fine with that. Game-used cards that feature jersey swatches and patches are neat, but I don't think they have ever been better than getting an autograph of a player. SPA doesn't water itself down with cheap, low-valued memorabilia cards. I really appreciate that about this product. It's really about getting the authentic signature of a player hard signed on the card. And that works really well for me!!!

Finishing off the insert sets in SPA are the HoloFX and HoloFX die-cut cards. The HoloFX series has been around for a long time, but instead of keeping value or staying a high interest focus point to collect, they have not stood up well to the test of time and long term collectibility. The cards used to be one of the best things you could pull out of an SP pack. And they used to feature a three dimensional picture of the players head that could turn - now they are just cards with some nice foil on it. The cards look nice and modern, but collector interest has definitely shifted. Looking at prices on eBay for these cards will tell you that this set is not at the forefront of collector's minds and wallets. That's really too bad though, because it would be great to have a high valued card without an auto or patch piece on it. (Well, Ice Premier Rookie Cards comes to mind... but these kind of cards are few and far between.)

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos Score:

Overall Rating -
SP Authentic is as good as it ever was. It continues its hobby dominance this year by offering up some great looking cards, valuable rookie cards, and hard to get autographed cards. It's definitely one of the products that is a must buy this year. That being said though, I really believe that you must buy this product in boxes rather in packs. SPA boxes are definitely hit or miss (more on this a little later), but packs are ridiculously hard to get anything out of. There are a TON of base packs per box, and packs are in the slightly around or over $5 range. Whenever I buy packs of SPA I already know I'm about to get a ton of base, and if I'm lucky, a hit... and if I'm really lucky, a hit that's not a scrub. So I'd just save my money and get the full box to guarantee all the hits I should get out of a box. And even buying boxes is a tricky situation because many boxes really won't give you good value back. I know this because it took me three boxes before anything good came out. And I've seen forum post after forum post of box busters getting very little in good value. Of course I've seen some really great cards pulled... but just like anything else I guess... you really just have to be lucky with the box you choose!

Even though I feel like I got jacked with 2 out of 3 boxes of SP Authentic, it is still a very high quality product worthy of purchase.

Overall Score:
(not an average)

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