Friday, May 31, 2013

Cardboard Commentary #11 (Buying on eBay)

In the last Cardboard Commentary, I mentioned that card collecting has gone global. Collectors are not limited by geography anymore - the world has opened up. A huge contributor to this has been the emergence of eBay. eBay gives collectors a way to buy and sell cards in a simple and effective way over the internet. It's so popular, in fact, that it is also used to help collectors determine the value of their cards... but we'll save that discussion for another time. Today I'll be talking about how I use eBay to find cards that I want. I'll be listing some tips that I hope you will find useful!

People use eBay in many ways. The simplest way would be to go to the main site and utilize the search bar that they provide. That's all fine and good to start, but if you want to get the best deals, find the most unique cards, or beat other's to the item you want, you'll have to utilize strategies that others may not be aware of. Here are some that I use:

Set the search to 'Newly Listed'.
Often times the search tool on eBay is set to 'Best Match'. Now, I'm not sure what kind of fancy pants computer algorithm eBay uses to determine what the 'best match' is, but I feel that any filter or computer generated list of items would be incomplete. I tend to want to see ALL the available items that I search for. Using the 'Newly Listed' search, I am able to see the most recent additions to eBay. This is especially good finding great 'Buy it Now' deals. Sometimes sellers want to move their items as quickly as possible. If you're constantly looking at the newest items listed, you have a greater chance of snagging a great 'Buy it Now'.

You could probably call me a crazy Logan Couture collector. If you take a look at my personal collection of Couture cards, you'll find quite a few unique pieces, including one-of-ones. The way that I found many of these cards has been to just search constantly - I'm talking many, many times a day. I always know which Couture cards have been newly listed because I'm constantly searching with my free time. This sounds crazy... but at the height of my Couture collecting days I would refresh my search every hour to see what new Couture cards came up.

Download the eBay app for your phone.
In order to stay on top of things, get the eBay app. With just a quick swipe downward, you can stay on top of all the newest items for whatever it is you're looking for. It could be your favorite player, a whale you've been searching for years for, or the newest cards that have just released. The card companies don't like this, but often times you can find cards on eBay before their scheduled release date. With the eBay app, I can constantly look for things wherever I'm at... no need to be tethered to my home computer.

Be generic in your searches.
When I try and find cards of Logan Couture, I just type 'Logan Couture' into the search tool. I don't care that there are posters, pucks, and all that other stuff in the list that shows up. I've gotten good at just ignoring things that I don't care for. You don't want to be too specific in your searches as you may miss something you want because a seller didn't give the item a title that matched your parameters. And actually, it's fun to just see all the items available. You can find some pretty fun stuff with a more generalized search. And if you're like me and search ALL THE TIME, a generalized search gets easier over time because looking a new stuff in the search will only constitute an hour or two's worth of new items to search through.

Think uniquely for specific items.
Sometimes to find the item you want, you'll have to employ some special searches to get the results you want. An example of this would be a Jason Arnott and Logan Couture jersey card. Some sellers would list this card as 'Couture/Arnott Jersey Card'. If they did that, anyone typing in 'Jason Arnott' or 'Logan Couture' WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO FIND THIS CARD because they searched for 'Jason' or 'Logan'. For cards with multiple players on it, keep in mind that sometimes sellers will only put last names in the title. It's really their loss because it makes it harder for potential buyers to find... but it helps those of us who take advantage of this to keep bidding wars to a minimum. Some other things to try are 'Sharks Quad' to find cards with four autos or memorabilia of the Sharks. You can even try purposefully misspelling words to find cards you want. When Ryane Clowe was still a Shark, I would type in 'Ryan Clowe' or 'Ryane Clow' and find cards of his. Sellers who are not careful with spelling can lose out on getting a higher sell price... but if you know these things, you can get a great deal because of an error.

Take advantage of 'Best Offers'.
I love seeing 'Buy it New/Best Offers'. If there is a card you want, immediately try and put in a best offer to the seller. I usually have a price in mind that I would be willing to pay, but I usually put in a best offer that is lower. If they take it... then great! If not, you can always try bargaining with them through eBay's counteroffer process. It's great because you can actively communicate with the seller while negotiating. A LOT of higher-end cards are now being listed this way. This is your chance to score that expensive card at a reasonable price.

Use eSnipe or similar service.
Some might think this is a bit shady... but I do employ eSnipe's services. For those who don't know, eSnipe is a site that will put a bid in for you at the very last second of an auction. Using eSnipe will prevent you from entering a bidding war and driving up the price of something you want. Basically, you enter the highest amount you'd be willing to pay, and eSnipe will put that bid in for you. The service is not free, but it doesn't cost that much... and in fact, it has saved me a lot of money by doing it. It also frees you from having to sit in front of the computer waiting for auctions to end. I love it!

So there you have it, some of the things I do to help me be a successful buyer on eBay. I'm sure there are a lot more strategies out there. If you would like to share a great strategy with me, feel free to leave a comment in the comment's section! I'm always looking for ways to utilize eBay better!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Retail Review #50 (08/09 Upper Deck Artifacts Blaster)

Someone out there asked for an Artifacts break... and I just so happened to have ordered one! This blaster is from the 08/09 season. This actually might be the first time I've ever opened an 08/09 Artifacts product. It'll be interesting to bust into it as I'm not sure what even the base cards look like. I usually try to stay away from Artifacts (of any year). Will this box show me that I should buy more of this stuff... or continue staying away from it? Let's find out!

Price - 

Packs - 8
08/09 Upper Deck Artifacts Blaster Packs

Upper Deck usually puts out a solid product with their Artifacts line of cards. The design is always on the elegant side, and UD doesn't shy away from a generous use of foil. When buying hobby boxes of Artifacts, collectors get a very complete opening experience. Hobby boxes are loaded with jersey cards, autographs, and rookie redemption cards. When buying retail, the experience changes quite a bit. The cards are still beautiful and pleasing to look at, but finding hits within retail is very, very difficult. Since the suggested price of a blaster is so high, you would expect to have a good chance of at least a jersey card... but that is not the case. I'll be interested to see what exactly comes from this box.

Let's take a look at what comes out of it:

Review -
As I opened up the packs of Artifacts, I was struck by how well the design has held up. Though just about my entire break was base, they were good looking base cards. If I were a non-collector purchasing a box of this, I think I would enjoy the cool design and the amount of star names found within the box. As Artifacts usually has only a small number of cards per base set, the chances of pulling star names is pretty high - and that was evidenced in this box of Artifacts.

The problem with Artifacts retail blasters is that they are not satisfying to the general card collecting population. Collectors look for hits... but sadly those are very few and far between when opening blasters. There aren't even really any interesting non-hit inserts to try and find here. The one 'special' card found in this blaster was something that could probably be found in the $.25 bin at a card show somewhere.

It just wasn't very fun opening up packs of base after base.

Still gotta come up with a top three, so here they are for this week:

Top 3 Cards

#3 - Patrick Marleau Card No. 16
Patty Marleau shows up as he was one of two Sharks to come out of this blaster. Marleau is having a solid time in the playoffs this year, and has always been a solid player for San Jose. I like this card because the teal colors of the uniform really stand out from the brown/bronze background. Though it clashes, the effect is pleasing and makes Patrick really jump out of the card.

#2 - Dominik Hasek Card No. 67
Probably my least favorite uniform I like to see Hasek in is the Red Wings... but he is still always a fun pull to get for me. Many of you know that keep a small PC of the Dominator. He was a great goalie with truly unorthodox methods. You loved it or you hated it!

#1 - Brad Richards Card No. 69
This Richards card gets the top spot as it was the only card of note to come out of the blaster. This base parallel card is has gold foil rather than the regular bronze and is numbered 74/75. I can't really say much about this 'special' card as I don't find it very special - a disappointing card for the top spot!

Overall Value -
I asked myself if this box would make me want to purchase more Artifacts blasters in the future... well... the answer is a resounding 'NO'! Artifacts is just not worth it at retail. If Upper Deck guaranteed a hit per box, that would be a different story. But as it stands now, Artifacts is a terrible buy at just about any price. Though the base cards are pretty, this retail product just doesn't deliver for amount of money it costs.

Let me know what you thought of my 08/09 Upper Deck Artifacts blaster in the comment section below. Have you ever pulled anything good out of one of these? I'd love to hear about it.

Overall Value Score:

Look for a new episode of Retail Review every Sunday!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cardboard Commentary #10 (Shipping Cards)

Back in the day, getting new cards through trading only happened between friends, with a card shop, or at a card show. All you had to do was bring your cards and swap them with the person in front of you. Nowadays, the internet has globalized the ability to trade cards with other people. Unfortunately, you can't just hand off your cards and be done with it. To trade, you will most likely have to ship your cards through the mail. Today I'm going to address the way I like to ship cards. It has proven to be safe, and I haven't gotten a complaint about my shipping methods as of yet! Hopefully this little guide will help you be a great trader in the card community by getting your cards undamaged to those you trade with.

Since I returned to collecting in 2009, I've seen a variety of peoples' shipping methods. Some have been  top notch and safe, while others have been downright horrible. Some of the best packaging I have seen involved using cardboard to sandwich the card. I've also had cards delivered to me in one-touch card holders - definitely some good protection there! On the weaker side of things, cards have come to me in a plain white envelopes, or PWEs. Sometimes the cards have arrived safely, while at others times, cards have come damaged. Just last week someone from Russia sent me a card in a PWE wrapped in some type of magazine paper. Thankfully the card was unharmed in transit. I was pretty amazed. If you want to see that particular package, click HERE to watch me open it.

I have to admit that I have shipped in PWEs before, but I have made sure that the cards were protected as best as possible in them. Also, I have told those who have gotten a PWE from me that I would be using that method of shipping. I try not to use PWEs, but sometimes they are the best method for sending out really low-end cards. PWEs are the cheapest in terms of both material and shipping cost. With the recent increase in US shipping, a well-packaged PWE may become more popular.

My method of shipping cards involves a few key items. They are: a bubble envelope, a toploader, decoys, a team bag, and some tape. The cost to ship to me is on the higher side as all these things put together increases how much it takes to ship... but I know it is appreciated by the receiver and also gives me the peace of mind that what I'm sending out has a great chance of getting to its destination safely.

Check out my video on shipping below as I detail how I ship in PWEs and bubble envelopes. I hope it helps give you some insight on good shipping practices.

If you have comments about shipping methods, I'd love to hear from you! Also, feel free to let me know any horror stories you've had because of bad shipping. You can share in the comments section below.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Retail Review #49 (09/10 Upper Deck Series 2 Blaster)

This week I'll be opening up another Upper Deck product... 09/10 UD Series 2!!! As usual I'll be looking for a couple of Young Gun rookie cards and whatever inserts decide to pop out. This will be the first of three of these 09/10 UD2 blasters as I was able to pick up a 3 box lot for just under $22 - not a bad deal for a chance at some nice rookie cards from the 2009/10 hockey season!

Price - 
3 for $21.95

Packs - 12
09/10 Upper Deck Series 2 Blaster Packs

When Upper Deck Series 1 and 2 come out, usually one of the pair is considered better than the other. This is because one of the series usually ends up with the better Young Gun selection. Last week, when opening up 08/09 Upper Deck, I was really only looking for Steven Stamkos. And he could only be found in Series 1. Series 2 of that year was markedly less desirable with hardly a desirable Young Gun to pull.

In 09/10, I would have to say that Series 1 was again the more popular series as it had John Tavares and Matt Duchene. Series 2, in my opinion, didn't drop off too far in terms of rookie quality though. My favorite player, Logan Couture, can be found here. And a player that didn't hobby interest at all that year, but became hot later - James Reimer - can also be found in 09/10 Series 2.

Let's take a look at what pops out of this first 09/10 Upper Deck Series 2 blaster box:

Review -
I was very impressed with this blaster of 09/10 UD2. Right off the bat a Young Gun was pulled out. It wast Tom Pyatt. He isn't a huge name to get, but it's still a Young Gun pull. There would be one more to find in this blaster.

This blaster contained a large amount Victory Update cards. I actually completely forgot that Victory was inserted into this set. I was able to pull a smattering of Victory base and rookie cards - including a gold rookie parallel of Colin Wilson. The Victory rookie cards are ugly to me - they just look cheap and have an inelegant design. The Victory base, on the other hand, are actually very nice cards. This is one case where I wish the rookie cards looked exactly like the base with perhaps a rookie logo to indicate the player's first year.

Speaking of base cards, opening this blaster reminded me that though I love the Young Gun design, I didn't particularly care for the base cards that year. To me the design was just too plain. The base cards looked like something from an uninspired 90's set. Well, not that terrible - but 09/10 is surrounded by better UD Series 1/2 designs in the years before and after.

Let's check out the top cards of this break:

Top 3 Cards

#3 - Cam Ward Card No. PP2
This third spot was a toss up between an Evander Kane Victory rookie and this Cam Ward insert. I chose Ward because of the way this card looks. It's such a bold looking card! I love the bright red background along with the large player photo. In the long run, the Kane could eventually be a more valuable card, but this one wins for its design elements. Also, I didn't want to have two Victory rookie cards in the top three.

#2 - John Tavares Card No. 318
Though I have already stated that I didn't like the Victory rookies, this one had to be here. John Tavares is a supremely gifted hockey player. Though his team just lost in the first round of the playoffs, he was able to put his talents on display during the series. Tavares was the biggest name in 09/10 and I never felt like I pulled enough of his cards. It's always good to get a Johnny T rookie in my opinion.

#1 - Logan Couture Card No. 487
It's LOGAN! 'nuff said.

Overall Value -
At a price of three for $21.95, these blaster boxes are a total steal! It's practically buy one get two for free. 09/10 Series two blasters contain some pretty solid Young Guns... and those are supplemented with Victory rookies. There are ample opportunities to pick up some sweet cards at a very reasonable price here.

I definitely recommend this product. Get some and have some fun with it!

Let me know what you thought of my 09/10 Upper Deck Series 2 blaster in the comment section below. Have you ever pulled anything great out of one of these? I'd love to hear about it.

Overall Value Score:

Look for a new episode of Retail Review every Sunday!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Cardboard Commentary #9 (Upper Deck v. Panini Part II)

Last week's Cardboard Commentary looked at long-time hockey card Manufacturer Upper Deck. We saw that Upper Deck's hold on the hockey card hobby is very strong. Their products look great and hold value. Upper Deck also has a few exclusive signers like Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr that really boost the content of their product lines.

This week the scope moves to Panini. Panini entered the hockey card scene starting with the 2010/11 hockey season. It was a great season to begin manufacturing cards as that year's rookie class was strong in terms of talent and collector interest. What has Panini done well since they entered the hockey world? What has Panini done poorly? And what changes should Panini consider making? I'll talk about all these things coming right up!

As usual I'd like to start with the good... and Panini certainly does have its strong suits. First of all, as the new kid on the block, Panini shook up the hockey collecting world by introducing new ideas and product lines. Panini reinvigorated many in the hobby by bringing back old legacy brands that collectors fondly remembered collecting in the past. Products like Score, Pinnacle, and Crown Royale were just some of the old classics that were revived. It was a very smart maneuver to obtain these old licenses for reintroduction. Collectors love their pasts, and Panini played it smart by utilizing these classic brand names.

While having older brands was great, it was important to make them worth purchasing. And Panini did that by implementing some great ideas into the then Upper Deck dominated landscape. Score, in particular that first year, brought back a ton of memories. The cards looked and felt like the Score of old. Though Score is a low-end product, collectors flocked to it because the designs were different than what Upper Deck was doing at the time. I'm sure collectors had gotten a bit tired of Victory and MVP. Score was different and nostalgic enough to be a huge hit. And for the seasoned collector, there were some pretty rare cards to chase within Score - the buyback autographs and French back parallel cards.

Crown Royale was another brand that triggered collector's desire for the past, but from a higher-end perspective. These one-hit-per-pack, four-pack-per-box cards were elegantly designed and eclectic. Talk about a completely different design that hadn't been seen in years! Collectors were ready for cards of this quality and boldness. They were like Artifacts on steroids. And to top it off, Crown Royale introduced the Rookie Silhouette cards to the hockey world. These cards featured a huge patch set behind a die-cut of the featured player. They were instantly the hottest cards to get. I remember boxes of Crown Royale steadily increasing as it became harder and harder to find.

But Panini didn't just rely on the past to drive it's way into the hobby. It was awesome to see new products come in to hockey like Limited, Prime, and Dominion. These high-end products really shined as the spotlight highlighted some amazing patch cards and autographs. One of my all time favorite patch sets is the Manufacture's Mark set from Limited. Those cards featured the entire Reebok logo from the back of the player's jersey. All the Manufacture Mark cards are one of ones. In Prime, collectors could literally put together an entire logo if they were somehow able to complete a print-run of a certain player's card. And Dominion featured very large patches on their rookie cards - bigger than those of their main rival from Upper Deck, the Cup. Panini put the pedal to the metal and went for broke in giving collectors memorabilia content.

With memorabilia content, sometimes issues can arise, like... are these legitimate? Have pieces of the card been faked? Panini solves this problem in a couple ways. First, Panini has special anti-tampering measures built into their cards with prime material pieces! Since 2007 Panini has placed an invisible marking on their cards that they can verify. If collectors want proof that their card is 'legit', they can actually make a request to Panini and get it certified. The card is then sealed up and shipped back. From then on the card can actually be looked up on the Panini site. That is thoroughly cool I have to say. It's a process that costs about $10, but can give piece of mind to the skeptical collectors out there.

The second way Panini gives collectors piece of mind is through their transparency as a company. What I mean by transparency is that Panini is a very open company. No other company utilizes their social media outlets to let collectors in on what's going on better than they do. Panini frequently shows off video of how they make cards, shows galleries of high-end cards (which can be used to verify if cards are legitimate or not), let's collectors know when signed content arrives to them, and frequently updates their own company blog - The Knights Lance. Panini has really led the way in letting collectors in on their company. It's a practice that I think other companies should follow Panini in.

Though there are many positives to be said about Panini, they are not without their flaws too. As the newest company in hockey, they have shown some inexperience with product development. While some products have been massive hits, Panini has also had a few pretty big letdowns. Donruss, Zenith, and Classics Autographs come to mind in this area. With Donruss, Panini failed to be nostalgic enough. That product line pretty much was an inferior version of Pinnacle. With both being at around the same price point, Donruss was not able to keep up. I have said this before, but with Donruss, I wished they took the approach they did with basketball - to make it a real old school brand... as in 1980's old school. What actually came out was a set that was neither here nor there. It was sad to see Panini fall on its face with such a great legacy brand.

With Zenith, Panini certainly under-delivered. Before it came out collectors were chomping at the bit to get some. In the past, Zenith was one of the highest-end cards you could get. Panini's revival of it set it squarely in the mid-range product area... and the cards just didn't look good. Uhh, Winter Warriors jersey cards? No thank you. Boxes of these cards fell dramatically. At their current price point of under $50 they are about right. Still, a bad misfire.

Classics Autographs that came out earlier this year was set at an initial price that was way too high. And with this example, I want to highlight a trend with Panini products - they all tend to fall dramatically in price after short while (save for a select few). I'm not sure why Panini chooses to set their prices so high initially, but box prices for most Panini products just drop and drop and drop a month or so after release. Is it overproduction? Loss of collector interest? It could be both of these. Panini products just don't hold their value very well. Looking on sites like eBay, Panini cards tend to be good values to buy... but as a seller, or if you're trying to trade, Panini cards tend to offer less value compared to Upper Deck.

So what can Panini do? Well, I think Panini has been stepping up their game already. They have seemed to get stronger as the years have gone by with their product lines. Panini needs to continue working with their current brands and make them better. The designers at Panini need to take a good look at what their competition is doing... and exceed it. I mean, when looking at the Upper Deck and Panini product lines, you can see where the companies meet. Score goes with O-Pee-Chee. Pinnacle goes with Series 1 and 2. Artifacts goes with Certified. Limited with Ultimate. Dominion with the Cup.

Panini needs to be better than Upper Deck's version of the same product level. They don't need to look the same or give off the same design or feel... they just need to be better. Looking at the little list I just came up with... I'm sorry to say that Upper Deck has the upper hand in all those areas, except for maybe O-Pee-Chee. Upper Deck's quality and value is higher in all cases. Can Panini do it?

I believe that they can.

Panini has given hockey collectors choice in the marketplace - it's really cool that Upper Deck has competition. I hope that Panini rises to the challenge and catches up with Upper Deck soon. I'd love to see the day when my Panini rookie card and my Upper Deck rookie card are of equal value. Will it ever happen? Let me know in the comments below! Also, let me know what you thought of this little comparison. Feel free to add your own thoughts!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Retail Review #48 (08/09 Upper Deck Series 1 Blaster)

I had been on a string of Panini products, but now it's time for Upper Deck to take the spotlight for a bit. Last week I went with some hobby Be a Player packs. In the coming weeks  you're going to see more Upper Deck related products coming your way! My hope is that a nice Young Gun will come out of the blasters I ordered. Today we'll start with a 2008/09 Series 1 blaster box. 

Price - 

Packs - 12
08/09 Upper Deck Series 1 Blaster Packs

The main draw of these 08/09 blasters is super sniper Steven Stamkos. There are other solid Young Guns to be found in this product, but his is far and away the most sought after and desired. Stamkos basically drives all of the 08/09 products. The 08/09 product line was the the one I just missed as I began getting back into cards in late 2009. I remember really regretting missing the chance to get Stamkos rookie cards - I felt like I missed the boat. Though he is still wildly popular, interest in Stammer has slowed a bit as his team has failed to make the play-offs for two years in a row now. I'd still love to get one though!

Will a Stamkos come out for me? Let's open up this blaster box and see what I get:

Review -
This blaster box didn't contain the coveted Stamkos Young Gun, but I have to say it was still a pretty solid break. I was happy to see the amazing 2008/09 base card design again and I pulled five inserts along with the two Young Guns from the box. Both of the Young Gun cards I pulled are still playing roles in the NHL. They aren't worth huge bucks, but they're much better than someone who is already long gone and out of the league.

I was a little surprised to find three All World Team insert cards in the blaster. The design of 08/08 AWT cards are nice, but the next year's iteration is better in my opinion. With three AWTs, I thought at least one of them would have been a short-printed variation. Checking the numbers on the back, it was not the case. Seeing these cards made me wish that Upper Deck didn't discontinue this series of insert cards. I love the inserts based on nationality and national pride. AWT cards were a great way to do that.

Let's check out the top cards of this break:

Top 3 Cards

#3 - Jonathan Ericsson Card No. 212
I always feel that I have to put a Young Gun pull in the top three. And between Michael Frolik and Jonathan Ericsson, I went with Ericsson. I guess I chose him over Frolik because of his affiliation with the Red Wings. Though the Winged Wheel is a nemesis of my favorite team, the Sharks, I really respect that organization and they way they do things. They play right, and their players are classy.

#2 - Joe Thornton Card No. AWT11
Speaking of Sharks, I had to choose Jumbo Joe to go in the two hole. My other two All World Team cards featured players who are more decorated (Lidstrom and Brodeur), but being a home team homer... I had to go with Joe! One thing I do really like about this card is the Canadian maple leaf symbol right in the middle. It clashes a bit with the teal Thornton is wearing and gives the card a unique look.

#1 - Henrik Zetterberg Card No. HT9
This Zetterberg card comes in number one for a couple reasons. First, it's just a nice looking card. The foil on the card helps it stand out. The picture is nice and big and clear. I love the fact that it has a date stamp on it showing when Zetterberg got a hat trick. All these things add up to a sweetly put together card. Secondly, this was sort of a bonus insert for me as it came in an unexpected place in the pack. Usually insert cards are right in the middle of the base cards. This card came in at the end of a pack that already had a Young Gun in it, so I felt like this card was a special extra in my blaster.

Overall Value -
At $12.95, this blaster box was a good deal. I try and stay at the ten dollar mark when buying retail products nowadays, but thirteen bucks for a chance at a Stamkos Young Gun is ok in my book. The current sale price is still much less than the original twenty dollars it was when it first came out.

These blasters contain a lot of packs to open and give out a lot of cards and inserts. It's a great break for just about any collector. I would definitely recommend getting some if you're looking for a fun little break for not a lot of money.

Let me know what you thought of my 08/09 Upper Deck Series 1 blaster in the comment section below. Have you ever pulled anything great out of one of these? I'd love to hear about it.

Overall Value Score:

Look for a new episode of Retail Review every Sunday!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Cardboard Commentary #8 (Upper Deck v. Panini Part I)

Welcome to another Cardboard Commentary article! I hope you enjoyed the past four postings focused on collecting the different sports. A big 'thank-you' goes out to those of you who took the time to read them! And special appreciation goes out to those of you who commented with your opinion. I appreciate the feedback! If you haven't read them yet, or want to comment on them, feel free to click on the following links before reading this one! Here they are: baseball, basketball, football, hockey.

Today's article will begin a short series about the two major producers of officially licensed NHL cardboard: Upper Deck and Panini. Is one better than the other? I'll try to highlight some pros and cons of each as well as offer up some suggestions that I think would make them better in the following weeks. I'm sure collectors will have strong opinions about this topic as everyone has their favorites.

I'll begin with Upper Deck as they are the perennial card maker of modern NHL cards. Before Panini in the 10/11 season, Upper Deck was the only officially licensed maker of NHL cards. For about five years, they had total reign on the hockey card industry. While that may seem like a bad thing in terms of collector choice and variety, they actually did a very good job of offering a huge variety of products for collectors to buy. From low-end cards like Victory, MVP, and O-Pee-Chee, to mid-enders Series 1/2 and Artifacts, to the high-end with Ultimate Collection and The Cup... there was a lot to choose from - and there still is. Upper Deck has done a masterful job of giving collectors a choice of products. And each product in recent memory has been worth buying.

So what makes Upper Deck such a strong purchase choice? For me, it has to be in their card design. Upper Deck makes the classiest cards out there. Upper Deck's distinct card stylings have been very difficult for their competitors to match. And when others do something similar to the way UD does it, they get called out for it - I'm looking at you 11/12 Panini Contenders! UD has been leading the way in making amazing looking cards since they debuted with their groundbreaking baseball card set in 1989. The cards hit at collectors' desire for a more mature, adult card. Upper Deck has always given high quality cardboard and careful execution to their targeted audience. From low to high end, the quality has has always been there.

Victory, now discontinued, was the lowest of the low in Upper Deck lines. Though it was cheap and didn't contain a chance at an autograph or memorabilia card, the eye popping graphics and glossy feel of the card was a perfect jumping in point for very young collectors. And even for more mature collectors, Upper Deck snuck in the ridiculously difficult to get black parallel cards. For player collectors, these were a nightmare to track down, but were highly sought after. And the black border made the cards look oh-so-sweet.

On the mid-end side of things, Upper Deck Series 1 and 2 as well as the SP Authentic and Artifacts lines gave collectors amazing looking cards at inclusive prices. I've heard very little said about how ugly Upper Deck Series 1/2 cards are. Do people even dislike the way those look... ever?!?!? UD does such a good job with the design and photography that just about all collectors go for that set each and every year. It's just that good. And the same can be said of SPA. While there are a few who think SPA cards are too spartan and too simple, there are many more who enjoy the modestly designed SPA cards - particularly the Future Watch rookie cards. Upper Deck just knows how to hit the sweet spot in card design.

And in talking about Upper Deck high-end... the accolades just keep on coming from a design perspective. Ultimate Collection and The Cup (and OPC Premier before it was discontinued) satiated collectors' desire for the highest of the high end. The use of foil, thick card stock, and modern design made collectors suddenly poor in their chase for these cards. I, myself, can't help but drool at some of these high-end cards.

It's apparent that Upper Deck knows how to make great looking cards. But not only are the cards great to look at, they are consistently hold the highest value of all other manufacturers.

When you look at the value of Upper Deck cards in comparison to similar Panini cards, Upper Deck cards will almost always be higher - even if the print-run differs in the other's favor. Check out a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Contenders on-card rookie and a Future Watch Nugent-Hopkins. The Contenders is serial numbered to 800 while the FWA is to 999. The FWA beats the Contenders in sale value. It doesn't make sense from a pure analytical numbers comparison, but in the actual market place, it is obvious that Upper Deck cards are the more sought after ones. The same thing happens with Ultimate vs. Prime/Limited (though this isn't really fair as some Ultimate RCs are /99), Pinnacle vs. UD1/2,  and Dominion v. The Cup. Like I said, Upper Deck almost always comes up on top.

It can be said that Upper Deck has an edge in value because of it's time as the only card manufacturer let it establish some core brands, but nonetheless, it doesn't diminish the fact that UD reigns supreme in terms of which cards are the most sought after - just follow the dollar signs. It's also worth mentioning that Upper Deck is the only company to be able to make cards of Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr. With those two exclusives in the line-up... UD has an even bigger edge versus its competitors.

As for negatives concerning Upper Deck, I have heard numerous complaints about UD's customer service. Collectors on forums complain about their replacement policies quite a bit. I, for one, have never had an issue with UD customer service. But, that's not to say I won't in the future. In the customer service department, Panini seems to have the edge in that it is more transparent than UD. Upper Deck occasionally will let collector's know what is going on within the company, with the status of products, checklists, and redemption updates... but this area could use some significant improvements if it wants to catch up with Panini.

Upper Deck also seems to be slowing a little in terms of card innovation. Recently Panini has really stepped up its game in terms of their card products. Though Panini may have lagged behind to start, it seems as if their growth and improvement rate is better than UD's. Upper Deck has slowly build upon and improved it's core card lines... but nothing has been very groundbreaking as of late.

One area I feel that Upper Deck needs to improve upon is with its game-used cards. Upper Deck could do a better job of making sure collectors know where game-used or player worn material comes from. ITG is by far the leader in this area, and Panini at least has technology that prevents game-used material on cards has not been faked. UD occasionally will allow collectors to see where they get their game-worn pieces via Facebook or other media source, but as collectors get more and more demanding of quality, UD will need to step-up more and more to keep up with everyone else.

Upper Deck should not let it's high place in the market allow it to stagnate and rest on its laurels. Upper Deck needs to continue to innovate and impress collectors not only with their service, but in their cards. Panini (and ITG, too) is definitely upping the ante and giving Upper Deck some much needed pressure in both those areas.

Next time I'll put the focus on Panini and what they're doing with their cards. Let me know what you think of Upper Deck in the comments section. What could they do better? What do you like about them? What don't you like? Feel free to discuss!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Retail Review #47 (HOBBY EDITION 2 BAP Packs + Score R&T)

So here's something completely different! When I was making my retail product order a couple weeks ago I accidentally ended up purchasing 2 hobby packs of Be a Player. Rather than just opening them in a normal video, I had the idea to just include them here in a special hobby edition of Retail Review. Sometimes hobby packs are available in places like Wal-Mart and Target, so that's my justification for including these products here today. A Score Rookies & Traded set came free with my order so you'll see me open that in the video as well.

Price - 

Packs - 3
09/10 Be a Player Hobby Pack x2
10/11 Score Rookie & Traded Set

When I made my order, I thought that I was purchasing two blaster boxes of 09/10 Be a Player rather than 2 packs of BAP hobby. A blaster box and a hobby pack are the same price, so my mistake must have been in not paying enough attention to the specific details of my online shopping cart. Both blaster boxes and hobby packs contain essentially the same desired outcome - one autographed card. The advantage of a hobby pack, though, is that insert cards are much easier to pull. BAP Retail blasters just give collectors twice as many base cards - rarely does anything else of note surface.

The boxed set of 10/11 Score Rookies & Traded was a free bonus. I've opened a bunch of these little boxes already. They are neat little sets. Since they came out, these guys have had major price drops. You can find them for around $8 each now. Each box comes with an autographed card and a chance to pull out a Taro Tsujimoto short-print card. If you don't know who that is, it's worth a google search! I'd actually love to have a Tsujimoto card for my hockey PC. That would be awesome... maybe he'll pop out today! The Tsujimoto is a case hit (1:20 boxes).

Let's see how different hobby is from retail... it can't be that different, can it?

Review -
Hmm, I guess hobby is pretty different than retail! This break just goes to show the disparity between the two formats. But I think it's pretty common knowledge that it's always the better idea to go for hobby if you can.

If you've been following my Retail Reviews, you've seen many Be a Player blasters opened. In just two packs of hobby, I got a card that is probably better than anything else I have found in retail Be a Player blasters... and that wasn't even the guaranteed autograph - it was a bonus hit! Not every pack of hobby will present a card like that, but in the long run, these types of pulls are much more readily available.

I definitely enjoyed this break. Pulling four autographs out of three sealed items was pretty awesome. Let's take a look at the top cards from this break:

Top 3 Cards

#3 - Chris Drury Card No. S-CD
Drury was a good player earlier in his playing days. He was part of a Stanley Cup winning team,  was captain of a couple teams, and also a fan favorite. Though his career kind of petered out just a short while ago, he has made his mark on the game. I have no qualms about pulling his auto!

#2 - Victor Hedman Card No. RJ-VH
I was very tempted to put this Hedman pull in the number one slot this week. It's probably the most valuable card from my break today. I'm not sure if this card would even be available to pull in a retail blaster! If it were available, the odds would have been pretty long. Hedman was much more popular in the hobby during his rookie season. I'm not sure if he'll ever get back the hobby love he enjoyed back in 2009. Still a sweet card though! I can't complain here.

#1 - Kevin Shattenkirk Card No. 601
I just had to put this card in the number one slot. Shattenkirk is a solid player, but besides that... the fact that it says 'GO AVS!' on the front with him being pictured in a Blues jersey is just too hilarious to me. Obviously Kevin didn't think he'd be switching teams that soon in his playing career. I love it! It really makes this card special and unique.

Overall Value -
For the price I paid for these cards, it was definitely a great value. Sometimes hobby packs and boxes can find their way into retail stores for clearance. Though these products may be older, there is a good chance that the contents of them will be better than anything else available on the shelf. I would personally give them a shot if you can find them.

Next week it'll be back to normal Retail Review. I hope you enjoyed this little special hobby edition of Retail Review - I know I did!

Let me know what you thought of my break today in the comments section. Have you found hobby products at your local Wal-Mart or Target (or similar type) store? How did you do?

Overall Value Score:

Look for a new episode of Retail Review every Sunday!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Cardboard Commentary #7 (What Sport to Collect Part IV - Hockey)

Hockey... it's a sport with super passionate fans and supporters... but somehow it is the least in popularity of the four major North American sports. Is it because of its inaccessibility to start playing for most youths in America? The lack of television coverage? Poor marketing by the NHL? Well, that's a discussion for another blogger to tackle... today we'll look at the pros and cons of collecting it's cardboard. Like the sport that it portrays, hockey cards come in fourth out of four in terms of hobby interest. So why get into something that's the least popular option? We'll examine that today.

Obviously, if you're favorite sport is hockey... and you collect trading cards... you're going to go the hockey card route. So for those folks, this really isn't for you. But what if you're a card collector that follows multiple sports with hockey being one of them. Why would you want to spend your hard earned money on hockey? 

Well, as I mentioned at the very beginning of this posting, hockey fans are super passionate. In fact, they are known to be some of the most loyal and vested as a group towards their teams. These same passionate fans share that same passion towards the hockey card hobby. The hockey card community is full of people who truly enjoy the hobby and try to make it better for others. Many of these collectors are in it not to flip cards for a quick profit (though there are those who do), but rather to collect cards of the teams they love and are loyal to. And in something somewhat unique to hockey, there are also those who collect out of country loyalty - whether it be towards Canada, Sweden, Russia, the United States, or one of many others. The pure passion that hockey card collectors have is one of the great reasons to choose hockey.

Hockey is also one of the easiest sports to collect in terms of value. The sheer number of people collecting the other sports drives up card values in those sports. For those who want to collect for big dollar amounts, that's a good thing... but for a collector who wants to be able to get the cards of the player he or she wants, hockey is the sport that best meets those needs. One of my favorite sets to collect each year is the SP Authentic Future Watch autograph set. I typically buy a few boxes of SP Authentic to try my luck in pulling the top card in the set, but it hasn't happened yet in the past few years. In 2009 I had to turn to eBay to buy John Tavares and Matt Duchene. In 2010 I had to buy Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. And in 2011 I had to find Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. But even though I couldn't pull these guys out of wax, I could pretty much get these top cards for around the price of a box. That isn't the case with some of the bigger football, basketball, and baseball names. Getting an autographed Andrew Luck... Bryce Harper... Kyrie Irving? Get ready to pony up some cash!

For collectors who enjoy memorabilia cards, hockey is definitely the sport to find the sweetest patches. Many hockey sweaters include a full logo of the team. Because of this, patch cards in hockey can features some amazing and unique pieces. Some particular teams of note are the Red Wings with their tangled up red and white parts of the winged wheel, the Minnesota Wild with their fuzzy green and red logo, and the now defunct Atlanta Thrashers had logo that featured a myriad of crazy colors and breaks. You cannot deny how great some of these cards look. It's definitely much better than just a chunk taken off a large number patch (ahem... football!).

And if you are into hard-signed autographs... hockey is the sport with the most prevalent cards of this type. I have already mentioned SP Authentic earlier. Each Future Watch rookie card is hard-signed on-card. And with Panini, their Contenders brand features all hard-signed rookie cards. But the same cannot be said of Contenders football. It's the same brand as in hockey, but there are many sticker autos to be found within the football version. Perhaps because of hockey's lower standing in terms of the major sports, hockey card companies have more access to the players, and thus can provide a more personal product. I'm not sure the exact reason, but what I am sure of is that hockey collectors can enjoy some of these special perks that aren't as readily available with the other sports.

As a hockey card collector, I have found a lot of joy and fulfillment. Though hockey isn't the most popular, most valuable, or most recognized sport... it provides those who choose to collect it a unique experience. I wish that there were more hockey card enthusiasts around me, but thankfully, the internet has brought us all a whole lot closer together. Let me know why you have chosen to collect hockey cards! What would make you collect hockey over baseball, basketball, or football? Tell me in the comments section.

Thanks for reading this four part series on what sport to collect. Here's a brief summary of the pros and cons of each sport in my opinion:

Pros - Legacy/Tradition, Collector Base, Easily Available
Cons - Prospect Driven, Difficulty Obtaining Star Autos, Only Official Card is Topps

Pros - Insert Cards, Michael Jordan, Fast Growing Worldwide Interest
Cons - Mostly Superstar Driven, Only Official Card is Panini

Pros - Currently Most Popular, Big Card Values, Multiple Card Companies
Cons - High Player Turnover, Some Positions Value-less

Pros - Relatively Affordable, Best Looking Patches/Autos, Multiple Card Companies
Cons - Can be Hard to Find, Lower Card Values, Niche Sport