Base Card Design -
This year's Certified base cards have received a complete overhaul in terms of their design. The entire card is still on foil board as in years past, but the shine is much more apparent with these as the background of the card is an almost totally silver look. I liked the look Certified had sported these last two years, but I am a big fan of the new design. It's fresh and different and easy on the eyes. A good word to describe the base is 'elegant'. From the shiny silver to the scripted team name, these cards show a lot of class. Gone are the more rigid geometric lines and blocks. This year the graphical designs on the card blend in more - it's a subtle and sophisticated approach that shows restraint and a delicate touch. I've got to give it to Panini this year for taking a bold step in changing a design that worked and making different... and more importantly... making it better. That's not easy to do.
The backs of the cards are very clean, and that's been the case with Certified all along. I do like, however, the inclusion of the player image in the background. That's a new element that I didn't expect to see incorporated into Certified... ever! It looks great though. The entire backside is clean and neat. Nicely done.
The Freshman Signature rookie cards make their return into the main set of cards. As much as I liked the standard base design, these cards left me wanting more. In terms of design, the card looks good for the most part. My only problem with the card is the huge white rectangular space they left for the sticker autograph. It's a bit glaring and sticks out like a sore thumb. And in my case here with Duck's rookie Matt Clark, his autograph has a bit more to be desired. Not only is his autograph not pretty, it got cut off at the top too. On a more positive note, the card is serial numbered. It seems as if Panini has heard the collective outcry of collectors wanting more of their cards numbered. Thank you Panini!
Rookie jersey autograph cards also have come back to Certified this year. Collectors will immediately recognize them as the design is a tweaked version of what they did last year. The most obvious design call-out is the 'rookie' die cut with the jersey piece within. It's certainly a nice looking card. I don't have any complaints about the design here... but I do have a concern about the player quality. Unfortunately, with the NHL's labor problems this year, the only rookies featured in the set are hold-overs from last year. This leaves out the biggest new names that collectors are most looking forward to. I'll be interested to see if any of the players in this group have any desirability in the hobby.
Base Card Design Score:
Each box of Certified comes with an average of four hits. My particular box had 2 autographed cards and 2 memorabilia cards. Also found in boxes are inserts and parallel cards. I was able to pull a variety of different card types in my box of Certified.
One of the most prevalent inserts in 12/13 Certified are the Path to the Cup cards. The Path to the Cup cards come in many forms and in a variety of rarities. These cards chronicle the path to the 2012 Stanley Cup, and will generally feature 2 players from opposing teams that faced each other during the playoffs. It's a neat idea that is definitely relevant to the game - it's great that these cards highlight significant moments during an important time in the hockey season.
A couple things about these cards confuse me a bit though. Panini seems to have gone to great lengths in making Certified the shiny foil card brand. And, well, these cards are not shiny or foil at all. They are on standard plain glossy card stock. It's not that they are ugly cards... they just seem very different than everything else in Certified. The other thing that has me perplexed is the jersey swatch size on the memorabilia imbedded cards. It's kind of neat to have the Stanley Cup die cut shape... but the pieces just seem a bit small. The trend card companies seem to be going on is making plain jersey cards more significant by having larger swatches. I would have liked a larger piece of both players' jerseys on these cards. But that's just a minor complaint. The Path to the Cup cards is a great way to pair up players who would usually not be put together on the same card.
The Mirror Red and Mirror Blue parallels are back along with other, more rare, color varieties as well. I have to say that the making the entire background the color of the variation is stunning looking. These cards really can be set apart from their standard base counterparts. Each of these parallel cards are individually serial numbered. Some cards will feature memorabilia and autographs. These are the cards that make player collecting a huge challenge. Go ahead and try to find all the variations of the player you are trying to collect, you'll be surprised at the daunting task ahead of you!
Besides the Mirror cards, another familiar face is back... the Fabric of the Game! Like the base cards, these cards have received a full foil make-over. The cards are recognizable and continue on a great tradition in Certified. Similarly to the Mirror cards, there are many different variations to collect. The most basic type of these cards is the plain jersey card like the Mikael Backlund card shown above. More rare types will have team names spelled out, patch pieces, or autographs. It's really fun seeing all the different types of Fabric of the Game cards that are available to find.
There are many more types of insert cards available to find in boxes of Certified. There are plain inserts like the Masked Marvel card above as well as creative inserts that feature a pull-out card within a card. Though there are so many things to find in Certified, it does seem like pulling anything that could be considered 'great' is few and far between. And though I think the hits in Certified this year are nice, I find myself wanting more from them in terms of both design and value.
Overall Rating -
Like I said in the beginning of the review, Certified has been one of Panini's most solid and reliable brands. This year's Certified is still a good product, but I have to say it is not as strong as it was the past two years. While I do think the overal card design has shown improvements (AMAZING base cards), other factors have detracted from Certified's appeal.
One factor that is not Panini's fault whatsoever is the NHL lockout. That has hurt the rookie cards within the product in a big way. Without the exciting young stars, it's hard to have the desire to break box after box. So in that case collectors have to look to the established stars within the product. And this is where it gets a bit tough. It seems to me that it is a difficult task to pull the big name guys. With a huge amount of players in the Fabric of the Game, Mirror Parallels, and Path to the Cup, getting a superstar player is rather difficult. And even when a superstar is pulled, a jersey card of that player probably won't be the most satisfying experience. I've seen cases of Certified busted already, and unfortunately I haven't seen a ton of value.
I would say if you enjoy the look of these cards, break, break, and break the product. For collectors looking for good value in a box, I'd perhaps try my luck with one or two... but not much more. And I probably wouldn't recommend a case unless getting multiples of cases. And even then... I wouldn't be sure. But, like I said, if you're going for looks, there is plenty of that here to enjoy.
Check out my break of 12/13 Certified here: