Monday, January 27, 2014

2013-2014 Upper Deck SP Game-Used Review

Upper Deck released its popular SP Game-Used product last week, and I was able to get a box then. Due to a pretty hectic schedule, I wasn't able to get this review out until now... sorry! But I'm glad to have it ready for you to read at this point! Long time collectors know that SP Game-Used is a product that underwent some major changes last year. This year's release continues on what Upper Deck did with the venerable brand in 2012. Let's take a look at what SPGU has to offer us this time around.

Base Card Design -
I've mentioned this before some time ago, but the SP Game-Used base cards and cards of the SP-line are generally unremarkable. They certainly aren't bad looking cards, in fact, I think the base cards this year are pretty sharp looking. But their similarity to each other year after year make them hard to distinguish. You almost always get the player image on a white background with some graphics. It is what it is. The base cards are clean and modern, but ask me in a few years what season these came from... and I might have a hard time telling you!

The back of the base card is standard Upper Deck fare. And that's a good thing, because Upper Deck usually doesn't stick to just one or two tones for the back. The entire back of the card has different graphical elements in a variety of different colors and shadings. Upper Deck produces the best card backs of them all. Though I do enjoy the SPGU card backs, they aren't the most radical design I have ever seen. Like the fronts, I do like the back, but they probably won't be stuck in my memory for too long.

Like Titanium from Panini that was just released, SPGU has gone the route of making their rookie cards numbered to the players jersey. While it makes the card more collectible... it makes actually pulling one much harder. I wasn't able to pull one in my box, but a quick scan of eBay reveals what they look like. Each card has a special rookie design that is different than the base. The cards feature a script looking serial numbering on the upper right corner. You'll also see that people are asking quite the high price for these rookies!

Base Card Design:

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos -
Boxes of SP Game-Used are pretty small. I remember when I got back into collecting and bought one. I though... how could such a small box cost so much!?!? It almost seems silly picking packs out of the box as there are only five of them in there. Each pack of SPGU will offer up a hit though - collectors will find jersey cards, patches, sticks, gloves, autographs, and more.

The Authentic Fabrics jersey card is the most standard memorabilia card you can find in SPGU. Usually, if you get one of these in your packs, you'll be disappointed. Packs of SPGU range from $20-30... and getting a plain jersey card is not what it once was... even for star players. The jersey swatch on these cards is medium sized. The design of the card is a bit mundane though. They look like something that would have come out a few years back. Somehow UD dropped the ball on the look of these cards.

The Authentic Fabric cards also come in dual swatch variations as well. The Galchenyuk/Gallagher card shown above is an example of one with two pieces of fabric. Unfortunately, the memorabilia pieces are much smaller here. These dual card share a similar design with their single counterparts. And while I always like continuity in design, it's too bad I didn't enjoy the look of the regular single memorabilia card to start. A saving grace with this card type could be a potentially nice patch parallel version of these cards. Of course that is relying on the memorabilia pieces to overcome the design weakness.

The base cards and rookie cards come in autographed parallel versions. I was able to pull an autograph of rookie Viktor Fasth of the Ducks. These autograph cards are not numbered and simply have a sticker slapped onto the front of the card. I'm not a fan of cards having autographed stickers just willy nilly on the front of a card. These are fine cards, but I wish Upper Deck had put more thought into them. I guess the good thing is that now I have an image of what a rookie card out of SPGU looks like! Just imagine this card without the sticker auto and a serial number to 30. That's what the Viktor Fasth true SPGU rookie would be like. It would also be worth a lot more than this autographed version!

My other autographed card was of number one draft pick Nail Yakupov. I'm not showing it because the card is a redemption. My box didn't yield any crazy huge patches or unique memorabilia pieces (like net cords), but they are out there for collectors to find and pull out of boxes. Manufactured autographed letter patches can also be found in this year's product. Though why would you put manufactured fabric cards in a product call GAME-USED? In fact... all the rookie memorabilia is EVENT USED too. All I have to say to that is ... sigh.

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos Score:

Overall Rating -
SP Game-Used is a hugely hit or miss product. This year and last the price dropped, so buying it doesn't seem like such a hard pill to swallow if the box is a miss. I mean... the box price dropped about $70 or so! That's a pretty big drop!

Though buying boxes of SPGU has become more affordable, it's still pricier than the standard $100 box price for mid-level products. The incentive for SPGU is that you get a hit in every pack... but too many packs contain just the boring Authentic Fabrics jersey card.

If you're going to buy SPGU, I would recommend buying by the box only. That way at least you get something autographed. Lucky collectors may pull some very unique items, though, and that's always a big draw.

I think my box would have been better if I had gotten it in another year. The Nail Yakupov Inked Sweater I pulled was decent... but getting an autographed card of a number one pick is usually more exciting.

All-in-all, I think SPGU is a decent product for its newer lower price point. I know that collectors still hate the fact that there are probably too many jersey cards in it, but the lure of great memorabilia and low numbered rookie cards can be a draw to buy this product.

Overall Rating:

Check out a few breaks of SPGU from D&P Sports Cards in Sacramento, Ca:

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Retail Review #85 (13/14 Upper Deck Series 1 Blaster)

It was about to be another Target Excell re-pack this week, but I didn't want to do four of those in a row. My Target actually re-stocked them this week, but sadly, none of them had Trilogy in the window. All the new Excell re-packs had 2 packs of OPC on both sides. That's not a real incentive to buy them. One of them was very fat and bloated though... it caught my eye and curiosity. I may have to pick that one up one of these days.

Price - 

Packs - 12
13/14 Upper Deck Series One Blaster Packs

This blaster of Upper Deck was more than twice the price of the last three boxes of re-packs. Obviously it's a newer product with more packs... but somehow I don't feel that the price justifies the content. But that's how much blasters have always been, so it is what it is. My recent blasters of UD1 have been very similar in nature. A lot of the packs this year seem to be only base cards. I expect the same form this box today.

As most of you know already, UD1 blasters are a vehicle to find Young Guns. You are pretty much guaranteed to get two per box. Often times the Young Gun card is a better pull than a plain jersey card. This year I have yet to pull any big named rookies out of UD. I'm sure if I keep cracking it, a Hertl or MacKinnon will come out one day.

Will that day be today? Let's open up this blaster box of UD1:

Review -
So this box wasn't the best box ever. But it was nice to get over the amount of expected Young Gun cards. That's something I definitely can't complain about. You'll see the three Young Guns I pulled later on.

As I expected, the blaster was pretty base card heavy. After pulling the first Young Gun in the first pack, I came across a slew of base card only packs. I gotta say that opening up a bunch of base card packs is not fun. But for new collectors, it'd be ok as at least the Upper Deck base cards are pretty to look at.

My insert cards were pretty middling. A couple of MVP base, a canvas card of James Neal, and a Decades 1980's card do little to raise the excitement level.

Surprise, surprise! The top three cards today are all the Young Guns I pulled:

Top 3 Cards

#1 (tie) - Viktor Fasth Card No. 244
So, I really couldn't put one Young Gun over another in this break, so they all ended up in a tie. Fasth is in the three hole simply because he is a Duck, and he had some fantastic games against the Sharks. I'm mad at him for that so he's here.

#1 (tie) - Boone Jenner Card No. 225
I have to admit that I don't know a whole lot about Boone Jenner. The only thing I really do know is that his first name, Boone, is pretty cool. It's unfortunate that he plays for Columbus though... that is not a team that has garnered a lot of collector interest.

#1 (tie) - Olli Maatta Card No. 220
Olli Maatta finds himself in the one hole because I do like the Pens a little, and I saw that he had a nice goal very recently against the Islanders. Checking his cards on eBay, they don't sell for high amounts, but there is at least activity on his cardboard with active bidders going for his stuff!

Overall Value -
The saving grace of this box was that I got three Young Guns. So far I still haven't gotten a Young Gun that has really excited me though. I feel like I'm pulling the same ones over and over again. Hopefully one of the three Young Guns I pulled in this blaster will rise up and make a good name for himself in the NHL.

If I had a choice, I think I would actually go for the Excell re-pack. For the price and flat out zany fun you can have from one of those, I would go that route. When these 13/14 UD1 blasters take a price drop... that's when I think I would find these to be a better deal.

Let me know what you thought of this break 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, January 25, 2014

Cardboard Commentary #45 (Card Storage Ideas)

Card storage used to not be an issue. Hobby shops have long offered big white boxes with varying columns to store cards. You can get the shoebox sized one with two columns, or you can go big and get the 5000 count, five column wide box. With the emergence of one-touch holders becoming more popular, what are good methods to hold them? I have a couple suggestions, but I'd love to hear yours too!

You can call me a neat freak. I want all my stuff to be easily organized, and I want the tools to be able to do that. When I collected cards as a kid, I'd set aside some money to buy white card shoeboxes or the different card storage boxes that could hold more. My favorite was the medium sized 3200 count box. That one held a good amount of cards, but wasn't as difficult to handle as a 5000 count one. These large boxes allow collectors to store a lot of base cards. And they are roomy enough that the base cards can be sleeved as well. I loved it!

The problem comes when you want to store cards in top-loaders or one-touches. Because of the extra width, the cards in these storage devices don't work well with the afore mentioned box products. And for me, I actually add even more width to the top-loader or one-touch by putting each of those in a team bag. It would be great if a company came out with a box that could hold that width of card and card holder. But that don't (yet). So here's what I do.

Method One - Photo box.
At craft stores like Michael's or even Wal-Mart and Target, you can find these photo boxes. They come in a variety of colors and usually have a top to them. I have found that you two columns of cards either in top-loaders or one-touches sit perfectly in them. The cool thing is that you can usually find them for pretty cheap. The variety that they come in allow you to organize according to color or go with a theme such as your favorite team. Notice that this one is teal! Teal for the San Jose Sharks, of course! When you put the lid on them, they stack very nicely. For those who are really organized, you can put a label on the front as there is a place for that.

Method Two - New Way of Using 3200 ct. box.
The other way I store cards is by using the 3200 ct. box in a different way. Rather than putting the cards in they way they want you to, I turn the box on so that the side faces me and put the cards in this way. By doing this, you can fit a few columns of cards side-by-side. It's not perfect, but it works. To avoid cards sliding into different columns, I use decoys from packs and place them between each column of cards. Now these 3200 ct. boxes can be repurposed for more than they were initially intended for!

I am always looking for more ways to store my cards. How do you guys do it? Let me know of any tips you have in the comments section. I'd especially love to hear the ones you have that allow you to organize top-loaders and one-touches. Suggest away!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Retail Review #84 (Target Excell Re-Pack)

You know what's coming... winter!!! Hah, not really... this isn't Game of Thrones... it's Retail Review!!! And last week I bought two Target Excell Re-Packs. This makes three in the last three weeks, so it's a trilogy of sorts. I'm actually very excited to have found hobby Trilogy packs at Target for such a great price. I'm not sure if I'll find such a good deal again!

Price - 

Packs - 4 + 50 Cards + Bonus
1 x 07/08 UD Trilogy Pack
1 x 08/09 UD Collectors Choice Pack
2 x 08/09 UD OPC Pack

I've gotten two Frozen in Time Trilogy insert cards in the last two packs of Trilogy. I said last week that if this next box contained one, I might assume that these packs were left-overs after all the hits had already been pulled. I actually don't mind getting the Frozen in Time cards though. They look great and are individually serial numbered. I would say that these inserts probably go for the same, if not more, than a standard jersey card would. To me, the Frozen in Time cards are the type of insert that show that companies care. I love to see cards that don't have memorabilia or autographs, but instead let the design and make of the card carry it.

Will another Frozen in Time card come out in this box? Let's see:

Review -
The answer to my question was 'no'! The Trilogy pack turned out to be much thinner than the previous two so I knew it would not contain the Frozen in Time card. The pack had to contain either an autograph or a memorabilia. I suppose it could have just held a numbered rookie, which it states on the pack, but for some reason I thought it would have a hit. And it was!

I actually had a lot of fun looking through the various cards that came in this box of Excel. The 50 random cards were a hoot to sort through. As usual, it was a huge mash-up of stuff, but I have to say these ones were a bit more eccentric than the other two. Some of the older cards from brands and companies long gone made me laugh.

The OPC and Collector choice packs were probably the least interesting cards included in the box. I would have liked to get something out of them, but I can't complain. I didn't really buy this re-pack for them anyways.

Let's see the top three cards form this break:

Top 3 Cards

#3 - Viktor Kozlov Card No. 113
Wow, just check out all the crazy contrasting colors on this card. And they're all highlighted with thick gold foil to boot! Sometimes I miss the days when card companies put out products that could almost make you go blind! So much fun!

#2 - First All Star Game Card No. 335
Pro Set cards are probably best used for kindling... but this card stood out to me. It's just not something you see everyday - a photo of the first all-star hockey game. It's amazing to see this piece of history on cardboard and read a little about it on the back. Though Pro Set will never get any hobby appreciation in terms of value, some of the cards are pretty unique and worthy to look at.

#1 - Brendan Shanahan Card No. HS-SH
The hit in my Trilogy pack was this Brendan Shanahan jersey card. Yes, it's 'just' a jersey card, but that's still very good considering the type of product I pulled it out of. Notice the tiny swatch on the card... they really skimped back then! Shanahan was a great player in his day, and now he continues his work for the NHL as the head of player safety, so he still has a very significant role to play.

Overall Value -
With the pack of Trilogy in this box, I have to say that this was of great value. I've said it before, but you just have to look at these retail re-packs and see if you can find some hidden gems. The people who put these together aren't looking out for your best interests, just your money... but every-so-often, they can flub up and put something in that collectors may actually want and enjoy getting!

Let me know what you thought of this break 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, January 18, 2014

Cardboard Commentary #44 (Titanium Rookies - No Auto, No Mem, No Problem)

My most recent box break was of the new 13/14 Titanium. Initially I wasn't too happy with the box as it contained three plain jersey cards out of the five hits it held. And the other two autograph hits were nothing to write home about either. The box did contain a rare rookie card though... at the time I didn't think to much of it, but that rookie card turned out to be a pretty darned good pull. The hobby can sometimes surprise you. I love it when cards with no memorabilia or autograph can hold good value. No ink, no cloth... but worth much more than the cardboard that it is!

So if you saw my Titanium break (should be the post below this one), you would notice that I pulled a Tom Wilson rookie card. Looking at his other rookie cards from other releases, he doesn't sell for much. I just checked eBay and his Young Gun could be had for $1.99 (or best offer)! So he's definitely not one of the hotter rookies this year. But guess what... I sold my Tom Wilson Titanium rookie card for more than I paid for my box of Titanium.


I'm not sure, even now, how that happened. I know that Titanium true rookie cards are pretty hot items. When Titanium came back in 2011, the true Titanium rookie cards were extremely hot. No matter who you got, the rookies were selling for very high premiums. With this year's release, I didn't feel the same level of excitement for the Titanium rookies. Is my hockey hobby sense dwindling? Haha, maybe... because I definitely didn't foresee my Wilson RC to go for so much.

Before I posted my Wilson on eBay, I checked to see if any other copies of the card were up for auction. There was. That card is currently still up on eBay as I type this post. It is listed at $149.99 (buy it now with free shipping). I decided to post my card a bit under that with a 'best offer' option. And I did, in fact, receive an offer for the Wilson card... but as I was considering it... someone else swooped in and bought it for my full asking price. Sweet!

Is my case an isolated incident, or are Titanium rookie cards flying off eBay at enormous prices? Doing a check out Titanium, I see that the hotter rookies this year are selling for decently high prices. The Tomas Hertl rookie card went for a little less than $130 at auction. He's injured, plays for San Jose, and has about the same print run of my Wilson, so to me that card went for less than I think it should have gone for. But the MacKinnon rookie card, who I think is the hottest of all the rookies this year, went for over $800 at auction. That's a pretty nice payday. MacKinnon's card is numbered to 29, so it's rare, but not uber-rare.

I didn't spend the time to look for the more difficult Titanium rookies, but I'm sure they have posted some decent values for cards that don't have an autograph or memorabilia. While the values of cards and the money people are willing to pay for them has certainly dropped this year, its nice to see that there are cards like these in Titanium that can have surprising value to them.

I really hope that our hobby finds a way to rebound in terms of value. It's a bit sad to see how card prices have really sunk. Part of the appeal of the hobby for many is the value of the card that they pull out of the pack. It keeps people engaged to break more product. Card collectors know what is of value and is hot (like these Titanium rookies), hopefully the card companies can key in on ideas and products that can deliver.

Let me know what you think of cards that hold a strong value this year... are there any? These Titanium rookies seem to be one of the few that have been able to do this. Tell me in the comments section below!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

2013-2014 Panini Titanium Review

Titanium made its way back into the hockey card world in 2011, but was only seen in as an add-in type product in Rookie Anthology last year due to the lockout shortened season. This year Titanium has a full-product release... of sorts. Panini decided to only distribute Titanium to Canadian Round Table Dealers and to US customers through their own online store. I know this angered many collectors. As it turns out, some US hobby shops did get Titanium, but only those who had made a pre-order of it before the distribution policy was set. Putting all the distribution confusion aside, let's just see what 13/13 Titanium is all about.

Base Card Design -
The Titanium base cards are foil! That's not normally a big deal, but to me it is. When Titanium was released in 2011, the base cards were on regular glossy stock. For a product that has a metallic theme, I expected Titanium to reflect that. It didn't then, but it does now. The base cards come on very thin card stock, similar to that of Limited. In fact, these base cards are eerily similar to Panini Limited in look and feel. For the most part, the Titanium base come with a very spartan design. The player name and team are featured in vertical form on the left side of the card. The Titanium logo occupies the upper left corner, and the player image takes up the rest of the space. The entire background of the card is silver foil, which helps the player pop off the card a bit. The Titanium base aren't particularly good looking or exciting. In fact, they are very pedestrian. These base cards certainly wouldn't inspire me to try and go for a set of them. Collectors will be just looking for the hits and rookies when they break into their Titanium boxes.

The back of the Titanium base card looks good - it's busier than most Panini backs. I like the relatively large black and white photo used. It takes up a good amount of space, and gives the back of the card some life. Many of Panini's backs are filled with geometric blocks and shapes, so I'm glad to see a larger photograph here. The team colors are used to highlight the back. All the vital information is included on the back along with a write-up about the player... but only one line of stats are provided.

The rookie cards in Titanium have always been the talk of the set. These rookie cards come one per case and are numbered to the player's jersey. I was lucky enough to pull one in my box. The Tom Wilson card shown above has foiling similar to that of Panini's Absolute products. The rookie card shows its importance by being made on thicker card stock. The card is as thick as a jersey or even a patch card. The rookie card design shares similarities to the standard base card with the foil coloring, but the player's name has been moved to the bottom of the card. The rookie card gets a rookie marquee as well as the double rookie class shield. I wouldn't say these rookie cards are great looking, but I know collectors will flock to get their favorite rookies because of their rarity and hobby importance.

Base Card Design Score:

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos -
Each box of Titanium comes with only five packs. Each pack will contain a hit - an autograph or memorabilia card. Rookie cards do not count as a hit, so if you get a limited rookie card, you'll still get an auto or mem! That's pretty nice!

My box came with three Game-Worn Gear cards. The GWG cards are the most basic jersey insert you can find in Titanium. These are the same cards you can find all over eBay for a few bucks each. I was not happy pulling three of these in my box... it makes me wonder if I got these three because my box contained a true rookie card. I'm not sure... I can only speculate. But anyways, the Game Worn Gear cards have a much nicer look to them than they did in the past. I like how the card has gone vertical, and I appreciate the up-close photos used on them. Prime and patch variants have been inserted into Titanium. Couldn't I have at least gotten one of my three GWG cards to feature a better piece of material? Ah well.

Metallic Marks are cards that feature autographs. They come in four tiers - bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. As you can probably guess, the better the metal, the better the player. The metallic marks are pretty nice looking cards. I appreciate the foil used and the metal themed look of the card. It's unfortunate that the card features a sticker autograph though. I would have also liked the card to gave a bit more girth to it. As they stand, they are the same thickness as a base card, which doesn't make sense to me if the card is supposed to represent a type of metal. I guess I have to call these cards out on their autograph color too. Wouldn't it have been a bit too nice to have the players sign in the ink color the card was named? Maybe that makes too much sense.

The Cristopher Nilstorp card shown above is a Titanium Reserve autograph card. Like the Metallic Marks auto of Ryan Hamilton, this one is also on a thin cardboard stock. I'm not sure what's up with Titanium and thin card stock, but it just makes the cards feel 'lesser'. The autographs feel like something I would get out of a lower end brand like Score or Topps. You can see clearly one of the reason why collectors don't like sticker autographs on cards with this example. Nilstorp's autograph has been cut off at the top and there is a smudge as well.

With three Game-Worn Gear cards in the box, there wasn't a whole lot of variety to see. It would have been great to get one or two less GWG cards and have a different type to show a bit more variety... because Titanium actually has quite a bit of variety in the product. Collectors can find quite a bit of jersey, autograph, and patch cards in boxes. My guess is that since my box came with a true rookie card, the other hits were more of the thrown-in variety.

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos Score:

Overall Rating -
The box that I broke for review did not showcase what Titanium really has to offer... but it does show that anyone can pull a true rookie card from the product. If I had pulled a big name rookie out, I think it would have been double or triple the price I paid for my box. Titanium is really about getting the desirable rare rookies. And I guess I should be happy that I got one. Even the smaller name guys sell for a good amount of coin!

As far as other hits go, Titanium does have some great hits to find. I didn't pull one, but I really like the patch autographs available in the product. Like them or not, the autographed sweater cards are also back. I pulled a pretty rare one last year. Those are pretty much love them or hate them type cards.

With a box being around a hundred dollars, Titanium is a decent choice for collectors to buy. It features some very desirable rookie cards and has some nice patch and auto cards to find in it as well.

Though my box wasn't particularly great in my opinion, I would still recommend Titanium as a product to try. It's a product that the hobby has liked and enjoyed, and I don't see that changing with this iteration.

Overall Rating -

Check out my box of Titanium here:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cardboard Commentary #43 (Those Darned Base Cards)

Before autographed cards, memorabilia cards, parallel cards, or even insert cards... there was the base card. And in fact, it wasn't called the base card... it was just 'card', thank you very much! One set of cards came out each year and most players just had a single card. And collectors would try to complete an entire set of cards (usually a very large set of cards) in a season through the buying of wax packs and by trading with friends. Well, times have changed, and I think the way base cards are done should also change. Here are some of my ideas as to how the hobby can adapt to changing times.

When the typical adult collector buys cards, he or she will typically rifle through the base cards looking for the hit (autograph, parallel, memorabilia, insert) with little to no mind in regards to the base cards. Some older collectors may frown upon this, but that's just the fact. AND IT'S OK. There is really no way to make someone care about base cards. There just isn't. So the solution is not to try and change people's minds. The solution may be to change how base cards are done.

I'm not proposing to get rid of base cards. I think base cards are important because they are the foundation of the hobby. Long ago, getting a base card of a star player was like getting a hit. In the past, if you got a Wayne Gretzky or a Michael Jordan card, that was a successful pack. If someone gets a Crosby or LeBron base card in a pack, nothing may even register in terms of excitement of the pull. In fact, if there is not hit, there is not excitement no matter how awesome the players you got in the pack were. So what can be done?

Like I said, base cards are the foundation of the hobby. I think putting out big base card sets like O-Pee-Chee and Score in hockey are necessary. In baseball, the standard Topps set is a model for how modern large sets should be done. Having an all-encompassing base set helps keep the history of the sport alive through cards. It also keeps the traditional hobby sensibility alive. These sets tend to be cheaper to buy, and thus kid-friendly. But this model should only be applied to lower-end sets. Mid to higher-end sets should be treated completely differently.

Collecting cards started off as something for kids to do, and these big lower-end sets keep kids in it. What Topps has done in baseball is add in rare variant cards as well as the chance for an autograph or memorabilia card once in a blue moon. These extra goodies allow the more serious collector to have an interest in this lower-end product. Though packs may be cheap, the prospect of pulling an ultra-rare autograph of a star or hall-of-fame player is always good. And for a young collector, pulling something like that out of a pack would be unforgettable.

So I say keep the big sets, but make them interesting with the chance to pull something good on the rare occasion. I would follow Topps' example of having a lot of cool subsets and inserts to pull as well. Creating unique base set designs that are memorable would could only help make collecting these sets more fun and desirable.

For mid-tiered sets in the hobby, I suggest a radically different approach to the base card. The hobby is flooded with mid-tiered sets that cost between $7-20/pack with boxes costing about $100 each. Most products fall into this category. If you look at these products, they all spit out about 3-5 hits per box no matter what the pack configuration is. In terms of hits per box for the price, they are all in the same boat.

In hockey, you have sets like SP Authentic, SPx, SP Game-Used, Crown Royale, Contenders, Limited, Ultimate Collection, and the like. Who here collects the base set from these sets? Well, I know some do. But it's definitely a more rare for collectors to go all in getting sets of these base cards. These are usually the cards that collectors leave behind at the shop after all the hits have been collected. These are the cards that go into a big box and sit in a closet for forever.

Instead of offering a ton of base cards in these products, why not just limit the base cards to one-per-pack. It would make the base cards much more valuable and desired. It would eliminate a lot of printing of cards that nobody really cares about. I would not suggest simply discontinuing the base cards of these sets, but rather making the base cards more of interest and more rare. I would also love to see more of an effort in making these types of base cards really stand out in terms of design. I mentioned Crown Royale earlier. Those cards look awesome to me, and to get only one per pack would make them more meaningful.

Super high-end products like The Cup and Dominion already limit the base cards to one. And they are not necessarily highly collected base sets, but those high-end cards are a different story.

Super high-end products only come with one base card, but with products like those, the hits completely overshadow the base. Also, the extreme price of those packs ($300-$700) makes even wanting to get the base set a scary proposition. But if you want your favorite player's base card from these super high-end products, it generally isn't too hard to find or get. And a lot of collectors don't really care about them too much.

Panini recently released the most ridiculous high-end brand in basketball - Flawless. Each base card had an embedded jewel inside. I have to tell you who don't follow basketball cards... these cards command high prices. And these cards are more desired than many of the patch and autographed cards found in Flawless.

I'm not saying to put jewels in all the high-end base cards... but perhaps having base cards at the highest levels include autographs or something else that is very unique and special would be appropriate for the highest-end cards. Making the high-end base worthy of high-end collector tastes would be quite a feat. But it is not impossible as seen in Flawless late last year.

So in summary, here are my ideas for each level of product:

Low End.
- Make large sets of base cards that include a comprehensive checklist of players
- Include subsets and variations cards to add variety
- Make rare autographs or memorabilia cards available to find (perhaps one-per-case)

Mid End.
- Put a strong effort into the design of the base card
- Make the base card only one-per-pack
- Continue to put in cards that collectors want at this level (ex. SPA should continue with FWAs)

High End.
- Continue one-per-pack base card idea
- Make the base card a hit too by adding something unique to it
- Potentially have the base card more desirable than some of the other hits in the product

So what do you think? I'm curious to see if you agree or disagree with me. Some of my ideas may be very radical, but I think the hobby needs a shake-up, and base cards are the foundation of the hobby. So why not start there? Let me know your thoughts in the comment area below.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Retail Review #83 (Target Excell Re-Pack)

Last week I was excited to get a hobby pack of 07/08 Upper Deck Trilogy in an Excell Re-Pack. Those packs alone are worth the price of the re-pack box of cards, so I went back to Target to see if they had more... and they did! There were two more re-packs with the Trilogy pack showing on the outside. A third box on the shelf didn't have Trilogy in it, so I left that one behind. You'll see me open this box today and the last one next week.

Price - 

Packs - 4 + 50 Cards + Bonus
1 x 07/08 UD Trilogy Pack
1 x 08/09 UD Collectors Choice Pack
2 x 08/09 UD OPC Pack

The pack configuration of this re-pack was exactly the same as the last one. I think whoever puts these packs together tries to stay consistent. Other than the Trilogy pack, everything else was unremarkable. Some re-packs give out a couple Upper Deck Series 1 packs, which is great because they could possible contain good Young Guns. But I guess the Trilogy pack was the 'heavy hitter' so the rest of the packs had to be of lower quality.

The O-Pee-Chee packs are actually 'ok', and do have the potential (albeit a very narrow one) to get a hit. I've gotten to enjoy opening up OPC blasters, so I don't mind the 2 08/09 OPC packs. 08/09 was also the year Upper Deck put in the retro cards that looked like the OPC cards of Wayne Gretzky's rookie year.

The Collectors Choice pack is the one that has to be the most disappointing to get. Collectors  Choice is one step above Victory in my opinion - and it's a small step! There just isn't anything you could really possibly get in it. Ah well, I just have to remind myself not to get to greedy... there's already a nice pack in this selection!

I'll go ahead and break them open and see what comes out:

Review -
So this break wasn't as exciting as my break from last week, but it was still good. As I thought, nothing really great came out of my OPC and Collectors Choice packs. My 50-card assortment had some interesting cards come out though. Some notable cards were an '89 OPC Kevin Dineen, '93 UD Claude Lemiuex, and an 11/12 Martin St. Louis. I mention these three cards in particular because they were each made so far apart from each other! I was especially shocked to see the 11/12 St. Louis card. That card tells me that the 50-card assortment was put together fairly recently. I really wonder who is it that makes these things and what their thought process is when putting them together.

Of further note is that I got four total Dave Taylor cards. Really?!?! Four Dave Taylors? This was definitely a Dave Taylor hot box. I got a '90 Score base, a '90 UD base, and two '90 Bowman base cards of his. Is someone breaking up their Dave Taylor PC? Haha! No idea.

On to my top three:

Top 3 Cards

#3 - Joe Thornton Card No. 242
Though I said nothing really came of the OPC and Collector Choice packs, I did choose this Joe Thornton card as a tope three card. Joe has been having an outstanding season thus far, and I always enjoy seeing him come out of the packs I get. The captain of the Sharks has been strong and steady in the NHL for many years.

#2 - Brett Hull Card No. 13
This Brett Hull card was my 'bonus' card from this Excell Re-Pack box. Like my Bure I pulled last week, this card is in very good shape! That's good considering whoever packs these just tosses them in with all the other packs. I remember Hull very fondly as a consistent member of the Beckett Hockey Cold list when they had that going on. To this day I fell as though collectors don't want his cards because of that.

#1 - Nicklas Lidstrom Card No. 114
The best card in the break came from the Trilogy pack. It's wasn't Wayne Gretzky like last week, but Lidstrom is still a legendary player. I noticed that the Trilogy pack was fat again. It makes me wonder if I will get another Frozen in Time next week. Could it be that someone sorted out all the fat Trilogy packs to pull the hits out of the remaining ones? It could be the case. We'll find out next week when I finish this 'trilogy' of Excell Re-Packs!

Overall Value -
I couldn't go wrong with this week's break as it contained that Trilogy pack again. My break this week wasn't as satisfying as last week's, but I still enjoyed it, and I do really like the Lidstrom that came out. Check back next week to see what comes out of the final Excell Re-Pack!

Let me know what you thought of this break 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!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Cardboard Commentary #42 (Three Up, Three Down)

It's been an interesting past month for hockey cards. We've had a few Canadian-only releases with Team Canada and The Edmonton Oilers Collection. We've had Dominion come out... and Titanium has been announced, as mostly a Canadian exclusive (US collectors will have the opportunity to buy it directly through Panini). With all these sets coming out, it got me thinking of sets that I think should be retired, and sets that should make a return. I'll mention three for both sides, let me know if you agree!

Three Up (Sets I would like to see back).

UPPER DECK BLACK. This super-premium set was available to hockey collectors for only two years (08/09 and 09/10). It had an interesting 2 card per pack/2 pack per box packaging that took collectors a bit of time to open. UD Black as an earlier in the season release, so it gave collectors something high-end pretty early. Black was known for a few things: Letterman rookie cards, Letterman rookie card redemptions, Pride of a Nation flag cards, acetate autographs, booklets, and of course... the black design motif. Upper Deck has inserted Black cards into their high-end football and basketball releases as of late, but they have not been found at all in hockey. UD Black cards were some of the best looking cards Upper Deck has ever made. They would be great super-premium cards with a totally different look and feel that what is out there now. UD Black needs to come back!

UPPER DECK ICE. You could say that Ice is still around. I mean, yes, it is in the form of bonus packs found in certain Upper Deck products like Black Diamond this year... but that hardly counts. Ice should get it's full product line back. There were a few great things about ice. First, Ice was a mid-level brand that didn't cost terribly much to buy. Collectors could easily find boxes at both the hobby and retail levels. The brand was on-par (maybe a little above?) Upper Deck Series 1 & 2. Secondly, Ice base cards were ridiculously cool. The Ice base always had some sort of crazy etching and design that made them stand out. I still love looking at my old Ice cards and enjoying them. And lastly, Ice had the opportunity for collectors to pull amazingly rare and desirable cards. Yes, we all know of the Ice Premiers/99 cards. Those are still technically available, but what about the Ice Premiers Patch/Auto parallels numbered to just 10 and Rookie Thread to just 5? What about the other amazing patch cards? I miss those, and I'd love to see them return!

PANINI DONRUSS. Panini released Donruss during their inaugural hockey card season in 2010. There was a lot of excitement for this fan favorite brand, but they dropped the ball on it... BIG TIME. Donruss started off well, but as collectors opened it, interest fell off a lot. 10/11 Donruss was poorly designed and full of weak hits and inserts. Even today, collectors can easily find boxes of the product unopened at rock bottom prices. A ton of it was made, and a ton of it is left still. While some are glad it is gone, I would say that Donruss just needs a make-over. Donruss would be the perfect brand to be a retro product. Panini could follow what Donruss did in the 80's with their iconic border designs, Diamond (Ice) Kings, and Rated Rookies. Donruss did this once in basketball, and in my opinion, that set was GREAT. I know it's a long shot for ever happening, but it's something that I personally would love to see... the return of Donruss done with eighties flare and modern limited numbering and rare hits.

Three Down (Sets I would like to see retired).

UPPER DECK SP GAME-USED and SPx. The Upper Deck SP line of cards currently includes SP Authentic, SP Game-Used, and SPx. There have been other iterations of SP as well. I remember in basketball they had SP Game-Floor back in the year 2000. My favorite of the current SP line is SP Authentic. It's a classic set that features on-card autographs as well as the collector favorite patch/auto variants. SP Authentic's Future Watch rookies are in the top three most desired rookie cards in the hobby (with the Young Guns and Cup RPAs being the other two). SP Game-Used and SPx, however, are older lines that are now somewhat dated. SP Game-Used, up until last year's change of pace, was always an over-priced product for what you got in it (plain one swatch jersey cards) - and many of the cards in SPGU weren't even 'game-used' - there were even manufactured patch cards in the product (YIKES!). As for SPx, it was a product that was also overpriced, but not so much as SPGU. SPx's problem is that jersey/sticker auto rookie cards have fallen out of favor with collectors. There just isn't a desire for them. I love brands that have been around for a long time, but both of these brands could use a deep change. SPGU underwent one last year. It's not perfect, but it's better. Some have suggested combining all SP lines into one big line. Hey... that's not a bad idea! You know... there used to be just plain old Upper Deck SP (no Authentic, Game-Used, x, Floor...). Maybe it's time to bring that back and just keep the best of what each line has to offer?

PANINI ROOKIE ANTHOLOGY. This is a brand that I think collectors enjoy (there are even nice autographed rookie cards to be found), so why is it here? Well, Rookie Anthology is a brand that really isn't a brand. It's Panini's catch all at the end of the season. Panini puts all the stuff they wanted to do or left out into Anthology so that it's become a sort of card dump. Sure, there are some great things you can find in it, but it's a product with no real focus other than to give collectors a big mish-mosh of stuff. I would much rather Panini give collectors a stable brand that doesn't add a lot of confusing cards to the market. For example, instead of putting Luxury Suite cards into Anthology... just do Luxury Suite the right way! Or just don't do Luxury Suite at all. I am a huge fan of having strong and stable brands that have been developed over time. Brands that have names that stick around and grow and improve. Rookie Anthology isn't a product that can really do that with it's current configuration and design.

UPPER DECK MVP. Alright, so MVP is already sort of 'dead', but it lives on in Upper Deck Series 1 and 2! And when I say it lives on... only the base cards and rookie cards have hung around this year. You can't find MVP autographs or memorabilia cards anymore. In 11/12, at least the dual autos were available. This year? Nope! Upper Deck was absolutely right in nixing Victory and MVP when a couple years ago. Victory is nowhere to be seen anymore - thank goodness - but MVP has continued to its way into Upper Deck's signature line of cards. I have already ranted about this in my UD1 review, but I'll bring it up again... Who want's MVP anyways? Was there a loud outcry for MVP? Was it so beloved a brand that it needs to be included again? Upper Deck just needs to get some better insert ideas and not put MVP into their future products. Let's leave the MVP era behind. If you are someone who really enjoys MVP, please let me know! I'd be really interested in hearing your reasons for it!

So there you have it... some sets I'd like to see make a hobby return, and some sets I'd like to see shown the door. Tell me in the comments section what you would like to see back or gone from the hobby!!!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Retail Review #82 (Target Excell Re-Pack + 13/14 UD1 Pack)

Today I was back in the card aisle trying to decide which Upper Deck blaster to purchase. I have opened all of them recently, and none were calling my name. Next to them were the humble Excell Re-Packs. They were less than half the cost of a new UD blaster so I went for it. You never know! There could be something cool inside one of them. Since my UD blasters have, for the most part, been terrible, I thought I couldn't do much worse with one of these. I picked up one pack of 13/14 UD1 for good measure as well.

Price - 

Packs - 4 + 50 Cards + Bonus
1 x 07/08 UD Trilogy Pack
1 x 08/09 UD Collectors Choice Pack
2 x 08/09 UD OPC Pack

I have gotten these Excell Re-Packs before... and usually they aren't very good. The best to hope for out of these things are the random Young Gun hit you might find in an Upper Deck pack within the box. Looking at the open windows on this box, there were no standard Upper Deck packs. I saw a Trilogy pack and an O-Pee-Chee pack. I was a bit skeptical about the Trilogy pack as that has been traditionally a hobby only product. Was there a retail (crummy) version of it back then? I didn't know.

The 50-cards that come with the bonus box are just cards that are thrown in with little to no thought. It's just an odd mixture of old and sometimes newer cards. A lot of times these cards are in less than stellar condition. No serious collector would really enjoy these other than to flip through them for fun.

The 'bonus' in the re-pack has been all sorts of different things. I've gotten oversized cards that have been mangled as well as a single 'special' single cards. I guess it's kind of fun to find out what you get. But usually it's a let-down.

Let's just dive into the break and see what comes out:

Review -
Wow. That break turned out much better than I thought it ever would have! It's not like I pulled out a hundred dollar card or anything, but I got some pretty decent stuff that beats just about anything I could have pulled out of the other UD blasters sitting on the shelf.

The Trilogy pack turned out to be a true hobby pack of Trilogy. These packs at the hobby store went for $15-20 each at the time I believe. They are guaranteed to have either a rookie, auto, or memorabilia card per pack. Whoever put these Trilogy hobby packs in these re-packs made a big mistake! Oh well, that's my benefit for buying them I guess! I need to go back to Target ASAP to see if the other Excells have Trilogy in them!

My box of 50-cards was pretty terrible, but the packs were definitely decent, especially for the price I paid. I'm happy with this little haul of cards today!

Let's take a look at the top three cards from this break:

Top 3 Cards

#3 - Pavel Bure Card No. 14
This was my 'bonus' card in the box. And thankfully, it's in pretty good shape! This Bure card comes from the 2002 Atomic Stratosphere set. It's very shiny and has a good thickness to it. I loved watching Bure play way back in the day, especially when he was a Canuck. I know, hard for me to say that now, but it's true!

#2 - Alex Galchenyuk Card No. C4
It's always nice to pull one of the top rookies from the current year. Galchenyuk has a ton up upside, and I'm sure Habs fans are eagerly picking up his cards. I don't have much of his stuff yet, so this is a nice addition to my collection. 

#1 - Wayne Gretzky Card No. 120
I couldn't believe it when I pulled this card out of the Trilogy pack! Such a nice looking card! If you watched the video, you saw me slowly peel away the protective coating from the card. I was a bit nervous that it wouldn't come off right after all these years, but once it was off I really enjoyed the beauty of this card. What a great card to come out of a re-pack product!

Overall Value -
This little break greatly exceeded my expectations... and you know what? Sometimes that will happen. I guess the lesson to be learned here is when you see re-pack products, take a good look if you can at what is being offered. The price of admission was very cheap for this pack of Trilogy... and I got some other stuff to go along with it! I'm very glad I made the choice to go with this over the other blasters on the shelf. We'll see if there are anymore... if there are... you know what next week's Retail Review will be!

Let me know what you thought of this break 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!

Friday, January 3, 2014

2013-2014 Panini Dominion Review

So, now that it's the end of the of they year, Panini releases its biggest and most premium... wait a minute... it's not even half-way yet! But here it is, Dominion Hockey! As most of you already know, Panini has changed Dominion's place in the hockey card line-up. Rather than being their highest end release, Panini has released it much earlier and reconfigured the product. Though Dominion has changed much in this way, the cards themselves retain a very Dominion-like look that collectors have grown familiar with. Dominion just released in the United States today (Jan 3rd, 2014), but came out much earlier in Canada... so many collectors north of the US border have already seen quite a bit of this product already.

Base Card Design -
The Dominion base cards are just what collectors should expect in a product with a $200/box asking price. The base cards are serial numbered to 299 and have a super-premium look and feel to them - there is no wacky 'kid stuff' to be found here. The base cards come on thick stock, but no comically thick stock like they did last year or the year before. 11/12 and 12/13 Dominion base cards were very low thrill and plain, and the thickness of the card just didn't resonate with them. The thinner stock this year is much more appropriate. The cards feel sleek not only in look, but also in their girth. The all white background is bordered at the top and bottom by designs etched in silver foil. The intricate etchings, fonts, and logos add to the premium high-end feel. These base cards evoke what Dominion is, and they are much improved over the last two years' clunky rounded foil border design.

The back of the base cards are as simple as the fronts. Everything is done in black/white/grey except for the team and Panini logos. The sparse backs are what we come to expect from the highest end cards. Each card back has a short write-up of the player as well as their stats from the previous season. The upper and lower borders of the card have a design that matches the foiled front. It's a nice touch to bring both sides into harmony with each other.

The rookie cards in Dominion come towards the end of the set. The standard rookies are numbered to 299 while the 'better' rookies are numbered to 99. Each rookie card features an event-worn patch (probably from the photo shoot) and an on-card signature. The RPAs this year follow a similar design path to Dominion rookies of the past couple years. The color scheme is consistent with the base cards in that the entire card is white with silver foil. The cards are designed in a way that makes sense. The area for the autograph is large, and the spaces for the photo and patch are appropriate. The cards look very good. My only issue with these cards are the patch windows. They seem noticeably smaller than in previous years. Does this size reduction correspond to Dominion's fall from top-dog status in the Panini line-up? Who knows?!?! But it is something I noticed. Despite that, I do enjoy the look of these rookie cards quite a bit. A well designed card is a well designed card.

The Dominion base cards and rookies are right up my alley in terms of how they look. There has been a little concern about chipping on these cards though, and I've seen a few cards with chipping on the foil. That is something to look out for when you buy your boxes or singles of Dominion.

Base Card Design Score:

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos -
Each box of Dominion comes with one giant-sized pack of cards. Though the pack may look big, you're only getting five cards inside. Besides the base card and the RPA, you'll get three other hits inside. From what I have seen so far, many boxes will contain redemption cards. My box had a Mikhail Grabovski autographed patches redemption.

The Ryan Nugent-Hopkins jersey card shown above is a nice example of how Dominion does a jersey card right. The jersey window itself is intricately designed, and I really appreciate the photo used for the card. There is plenty of foil, and the card is relatively low-numbered. I'm sure this card probably won't demand a very high value on the secondary market, even though it is of RNH, but it's a very nice card that I would enjoy having.

My biggest hit from the Dominion (I want to say tin, but that doesn't apply anymore) box was this booklet of Pavel Datsyuk. The sports card hobby has gone bonkers over these booklet cards. This particular booklet is very nice, and the scan does it ABSOLUTELY NO JUSTICE. In person, the card has a three-dimensional effect to it that looks great. But even as I praise this card for its good looks, I think the booklet card thing is a bubble waiting to burst. To be honest, this card could have been done without being a book. I always thought of a book card being cool because you could cram more signatures or game memorabilia into one card. When you boil down to it on this card, it just has one autograph on it. The part that collectors desire is just that one auto on one half of the card. I'm glad to have this card - in fact, I've been wanting a Datsyuk auto for some time now - but I'm just not sure how long a run these booklet cards will be a hit with collectors... especially if they don't contain multiple items of interest imbedded in them.

Obviously one pack of Dominion cannot give an accurate sampling of what collectors will find in the product. But given what we know from the Dominion releases in the past, there will definitely be high dollar hits to find in this product. Look for NHL shields, silver engraved cards of Stanley Cup winners, different kinds of booklet cards, parallels, and more!

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos Score:

Overall Rating -
I was a bit skeptical about Dominion this year. I didn't like that it was being released so soon, and I didn't like the new configuration. I really wanted Panini to grow Dominion as its upper echelon offering to hockey card collectors. Now that it has an earlier release date and different pricing, I can see some positives for the future of Dominion.

First of all, you are paying less and getting less cards. To me, that's ok because I still believe you will get at least one 'good' hit out of the box. Which was the same case it was with the Dominion of old. Dominion boxes used to pump out multiple standard jersey cards or no-name rookie card autographs. This slimmed-down version of Dominion kind of gets rid of the excess. And I like that. I'd rather pay this price for Dominion and get what I got than pay double that and end up with more fodder.

And second, the pricing makes it easier to buy and try $200 is a lot, but I kind of think of it like getting two mid-tiered hobby boxes. When you get into the $300+ range... that's when buying a product becomes a huge challenge on a budget.

So all-in-all, I have to say I'm very happy with 13/14 Dominion. The cards look great, and the price is at a place that's nice. No, it's certainly not cheap, and not for everyone, but I think it's doable for more collectors than it has been in the past.

Breaking the box of Dominion was great fun, and I hope you get a chance to break some too... and if not, perhaps pick up a few singles on the secondary market.

Overall Rating:

Check out my box of 13/14 Dominion that I broke at D&P Cards in Sacramento, Ca: