Monday, May 28, 2012

Panini Presents A Blast From the Past with A Glimpse of the Future

I like surprises, do you? Upon the landscape of the trading card industry you get used to seeing similar products. If you listen to collectors rants, you'll hear all kinds of things like there are only certain things left to do on a 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 canvas, or if a collection doesn't have element A or element B, I don't want anything to do with it. That's all fine and good, but the truth is if one person doesn't like it, ten others might. Sometimes you gotta try new things to see what sticks. In this day and age of social media and instant replies it is even more of a task to keep things under wraps before people start shredding you to bits. Some people even do it when they have never seen a product, just because they feel justified in their opinions. Some like being first, some are interested in nothing more than linking to similar items for sale to make money. Good for them, but when I write it is my job, and on this day I received a product to review that exceeded any expectations I had after seeing a small preview. Panini America just released an NBA product that blew my mind. Past & Present Basketball hits the hardwood at $100 per 20 pack box. You'll enjoy players from all eras of the game and a design with a vintage flair. It doesn't hurt that it includes 3 autographs per box.

When the NBA went on strike, I pretty much boycotted watching the game. I have more important things to do than worry about guys not making enough money to put an orange ball through a hoop. I have a family to support and really can't see a gripe when they all make nearly $500,000 minimum. With the playoffs upon us, and the fact that I report on sports and sports collectibles, of course I had to tune in, but I was reluctant. I stopped collecting basketball cards too, totally. When I saw the early previews that Panini's Tracy Hackler posted on twitter, for Past & Present Basketball, I became very interested in seeing more. I think what caught my attention immediately were the sheer volume of great players on cards and a strong design that stood out among other recent basketball releases. It made me think about the history of the game and that's exactly what Panini needed to do to get a rise out of collectors that echo similar sentiments to those that I did above. On the flip side, there were just a lot of NBA collectors waiting for a product, any product after a long drought and a severe cutback from 2010-11.

All of the elements are present for a fun and educational collecting experience. Fun because of the blast from the past, educational, because after all, cards are like the pages of encyclopedias or your favorite wiki site. Past & Present introduces you to, or revisits the NBAs greatest ambassadors, most outrageous players, iconic game-changers and journeymen that shaped the game into the financial juggernaut it is today. The set could have been released without any of the big hits and I believe fans would still want to collect it. The combination of vintage photos, historical NBA moments chronicled on card backs and some amazingly fresh inserts utilizing new technology would have been enough for many, especially set builders.

No Time Machine Necessary
Hanging out with Doc Brown and his DeLorean couldn't get you this many retired, seasoned, and future players in one collection. A 200-card base set is comprised of four different vintage designs and includes players ranging from Jeremy Lin to Walt Bellamy, or if you don't like NY, how about Rajon Rondo to Robert Parrish? Stephen Jackson to George Gervin? You get what I'm saying right? There is something for everyone.

You'll also have the thrill of the chase because 1 hobby box will provide you with about 67% of the set, in my case it was exactly 134 of the 200 card set. A good majority of the base cards have also been autographed. Look for 'em.

Collectors seeking a bit more of a chase can seek out the 50-card base variation set. Seeded scarcely at only 1 per box, you are going to have to hunt these down to complete this elusive set.

Yo! Where are the Rookies?
Its been a tough year for collectors. The only rookie cards of NBA players that we've seen have come from a cello pack at the 32nd National and have you seen what that Kyrie Irving card is selling for? Well, rookie collectors can rejoice as you will find redemption cards for 2011 and 2012 NBA rookies inserted into this product. Let's be honest too, do you care what a book says? RC, XRC? People will want these, they will pay for them and if they look anything like the other cards in this product, they are gonna be splendid!

On the horizon are 35 autographed rookie cards from the 2011 class. These redemption cards are seeded into the product and the player checklist will be unveiled on Panini America's Knight's Lance blog at

You might also find a 2012 rookie redemption card in your packs. There are 25 of these cards including one good for a complete set of 2012 rookies. We won't know who these players are until the draft takes place, but you will know your draft slot as it is listed on the redemption card. 

Bring on the Bread Winners
Like die-cut cards? Want more basic inserts? 150 total cards make up 3 different Bread themed sets. Bread for Health, Bread for Life and Bread for Energy are randomly packed and you'll find about 9 or 10 per box.

Who Said You Can Only Do So Much On a 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 Canvas?
On the box, it states, "Look for four cutting-edge technology cards in Breakout, Changing Times, Fireworks and Raining 3s!"  Before I saw them, I was like hmmm... are we looking at a resurgence of the late 80s and early 90s inserts that have been setting eBay on fire of late? I actually didn't know what to expect because I didn't see any inserts, just base cards to this point. I was very impressed with the look of these cards. They are some of the nicest designs, not just from Panini, but from any company. Let's break them down one by one:

This 20-card collection features a combination of gloss and matte finishes and some interesting, eye-catching technology that makes the athlete literally appear as if he is engulfed in or omitting flames. I'd throw in some kind of modern catch phrase here, but its unnecessary, find some; the cards alone do the talking. I unpacked two in this box, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.

See your favorite NBA stars explode right out of the arena wall in this 30-card collection. Solid in action photos with a white cement wall cracked so you can see -AND- feel the exposed bricks. Think those silly Fleer ProVision with real photos and technology that's light-years ahead of its predecessor. The first 28 players on the checklist also have autographed variations. I found four of these in the box including Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Gordon Hayward and Eric Bledsoe. I also scored an autographed version of the Bledsoe card.

Changing Times
Another 30-card insert is the Changing Times series. Another outstanding collection of old and new players, but what sets them apart is the attention to detail not only in the design elements like fonts, black & white and color images, but the product team killed it when they adapted the actual texture of the old NBA ball versus, the ABA red, white and blue ball and also, the newer NBA ball on the background image of the cards. This design or something similar could stand alone as its own brand in the future. I usually don't like to make comparisons, but it is reminiscent of the Ovation brand from Upper Deck, but it's better. There were 4 in the box. I have to say I would have loved to have seen these autographed, they look spectacular.

Raining 3's
This 20 card set, without going over the top, is my favorite design ever utilized by Panini America since they took over the Donruss/Playoff company. You wanna talk gorgeous? Talk. Again, a combination of gloss and matte finish with a black marble-like design just resonates to the artist in me. The cards are gorgeous and I'd love to see an entire product use this type of design. I only found two in the box, but you can bet that I will be seeking out the entire 20-card set. I am staring at them wondering how awesome they would look with gold, silver or other metallic ink colored autographs on them.

All four of these sets are scads better than some of the basic designs we have become accustomed to on trading cards. No framed borders, no mirror board, chrome, or anything other than a solid design and some wonderful printing techniques that should be utilized more by manufacturers to set themselves apart from others.

Big Guys And Big Swatches
It only seems natural that if you have a big jersey, you should use a big swatch on a card. Panini has given collectors the equivalent of tallboy swatches on the Gamers memorabilia cards. There are 100 of them to find and while some might be all white or all blue or all red, they are all HUGE.

What Else Ya Got?
There is even more to get excited about, especially if you are a fan of players that missed out on the memorabilia and autograph craze within the the hobby. Panini has assembled a group that has few or no autographs and some current players that are must haves in a hoops set. Between the Elusive Ink and Modern Marks signature series are names like Sleepy Floyd, Hersey Hawkins, Charles Oakley, Steve Kerr, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Marc Gasol, Muggsy Bougues, Reggie Theus, Blake Griffin & Bryant Reeves. There are more but you can check out the entire checklist here.

Overall there is a lot of NBA goodness abound. The combination of good looks and good conversation is much like a good date and I am positive once you get the introduction to Panini's Past & Present Basketball, you'll want to spend a lot of time with your cards. You might even find yourself jonesing for a second date and $100 will get you to at least third base and maybe a little more. I found the three autos and one memorabilia card per box. You know that one of the autos was of Eric Bledsow. The other two were former Orlando Magic star Nick Anderson and Major Jones. Jones was one of four brothers that made it to the NBA. He was drafted in the same draft as Robert Parish and John Lucas, but went to the CBA and didn't arrive in the NBA until he spent a couple years in the WBA. He's an elusive auto for sure.

Your Take
Reviews have been mixed. The product has a lot of love for the design and the inserts. Some collectors think the auto checklist are scrubs, some love the fact that some of the guys that have few or no previous autos are now available. One collector even found a card that wasn't the player it was supposed to be, so you know people are watching this one with keen eyes. Many of the autos are very affordable on the secondary market, but the rookie redemption cards are starting to heat up with anticipation of who will be included in the 2011 auto set and who will be drafted for the 2012 collection.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Upper Deck Assembles The Avengers for New Entertainment Trading Card Set

As only the 4th film to reach the 500 million mark in the United States, the Avengers has been the hit of the year and it is going to take something bigger than the Hulk to take it down as the 2012 box office champion. Globally, the film is speeding towards the $1.3 Billion mark and its legacy will only grow with the upcoming Iron Man 3, Thor 2, and Captain America 2 films building up to an Avengers sequel.

As far as trading cards go, Upper Deck has been doing a fantastic job delivering quality sets for the founding fathers of Earth's Mightiest Heroes in their solo films, and they got their chance to play Nick Fury by assembling the Avengers for one autograph, sketch card, and memorabilia-filled collection.

Priced at $125-135, it is a huge hit, selling out at the Upper Deck store and many other online retailers. One of the gripes that collectors have had with previous UD movie sets is that they didn't nail the lead actors for autographs. That's been a gripe about this collection too, but it hasn't hindered sales. That's because Upper Deck loaded it with other interesting and collectible items including a guarantee of one sketch card per box. The sketch cards involve all of the Avengers too, they go far beyond the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Iron Man.

Avengers Assemble also differs from previous releases in the sheer amount of cards that are on the base set checklist. Where many movie sets come in at 72 or 90 cards, this one goes to 11.. er, wrong movie... this one contains a mighty 180 cards.

You didn't necessarily have to have seen Iron Man, Thor or Captain America to enjoy the Avengers, but those fine films sure did lay the groundwork for the team to assemble and defend, no avenge the earth against Loki, the Chitauri and their leader who you don't see until midway through the end credits. If you left, shame on you, if you didn't, you'd know I was talking about the the Mad Titan -- Thanos.

Upper Deck wanted to assure that collectors got the whole story. They included key moments from all of the films leading up to the Avengers. These recap cards make up card numbers 1-90. You'll learn how Tony Stark became Iron Man, see the troubles of Dr. Bruce Banner as he struggles to control the beast within known as the Hulk, discover how Thor -- the God of Thunder came to be a defender of the Earth, and the birth of America's first super soldier -- Captain America. You will also learn about the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division and its key agents Nick Fury, Phil Coulson and Maria Hill. All three factor into the formation of the team most people never thought would grace the big screen.

Cards 91-180 chronicle the grand spectacle that Joss Whedon gave the world. You'll get a glimpse of what the Avengers will face when Loki, the evil half-brother of Thor, steals the cosmic cube that was last seen at the end of Captain America The First Avenger.

Three hobby-only insert sets provide even more backstory for collectors. With Classic Covers you will see years of Avengers comics from the very early days to the West Coast Avengers, and the more modern New Avengers. Enjoy 36 vintage covers from the Marvel vault. The team has gone through more members than the NY Yankees over the years, more name changes, more incarnations to keep them relevant with comic book fans. There isn't a major character in the Marvel Universe that hasn't had some kind of run in with the team fighting either with or against them. Believe me when I say that this movie only scratches the surface on what is possible to put on screen. But you know the saying, too many cooks spoil the broth? It happened with the X-Men franchise and no one wants to see it happen to the Avengers.

A 60-card set titled Heroes & Villains Evolve is a fantastic foil expedition that provides a look at your favorite heroes and villains and how they have morphed from their inception in comics to their larger than life realistic presence on film.  

If you'd like to get a feel for the behind-the-scenes work on costumes and storyboards for the film, you will no doubt enjoy the 9-card Concept Series cards. These black and white artist renderings are placed within a blueprint design and really pay homage to the people that did the grunt work for the Avengers Initiative.

All this and we've really only hit the tip of the iceberg. We still have autographs, sketch cards and memorabilia to discuss. Let's start with memorabilia. You will most probably find these more so than autos or sketches. There are single, double, triple and quad memorabilia cards. So far, anything with a swatch of fabric that touched the flesh of Scarlett Johansson are hot while the others, not so much. Her single swatch cards are closing at about $50-75 and her dual swatches hit upwards of $225. You'll find gear from actors Sam L. Jackson, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Clark Gregg, Coby Smulders, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, and Tom Hiddleston. This, Upper Deck did right.

The autographs are a whole different animal. You will find autos from several Marvel movies including Thor cast members Kat Dennings (Darcy Lewis), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Colm Fiore (King Laufey - Frost Giant) and Jamie Alexander (Sif). Captain America is represented by Bruno Ricci (Jacques Dernier). The only new autos from the Avengers movie cast are Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) and Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill). That hasn't stopped collectors from paying, and sellers demanding top dollar for the autographs. That's where UD has done it right. There aren't 5 per box and they aren't common. The rarity of the signatures is fueling large secondary market prices and demand.

While the collection is sans Evans, Scarlett, Sam L., Downey, Gregg, Ruffalo, and director Whedon, it certainly still packs a punch. Why they are missing remains to be seen. It could have been cost per autograph, it could have been timing, or it could have been the fact that because the movie was going to be huge, they didn't need the big names to push the product. Whatever the case, it still doesn't justify the absence of some or all of them on the checklist. Scarlett was actually supposed to be a part of the set albeit on a sell sheet or in someone in the product development area's dreams. Why didn't she make the cut? That's a question to ask directly to Upper Deck and I'll take care of that either via email or the next time someone from the company appears on my radio show.

The real drivers of Avengers Assemble are the sketch cards. You'll find a mix of pencil sketches mixed in with some colorfully complete images. Some are selling for over $300. You'll find single sketches, 2-card panels and 4-card puzzle cards with amazing art from the talents of Rhiannon Owens, Optic Nerve, Elvin Hernandez, Tom Hodges, Joe Rubinstein, Jim Cheung, Edward Cherniga, Charles Hall and many, many others.

Other items to be on the lookout for include Printing Plates. These rare 1/1 collectibles add a whole different dimension to collecting an entertainment set. UD doesn't even list the odds of finding the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow or Black plates, but they are fetching $50-100 in many auctions. It's not just the base cards either, look for these rarities of the insert collections too.

Like the film, there are very few flaws with the set. You know UD is always going to deliver a good looking design, they did just that with all of the cards included. They fell short with the auto checklist, but what they did put in is red-hot, showing that while collectors want the big names, a set like this doesn't necessarily need them to sell out. The only element that's missing in action? Where in the world are the vintage Captain America cards? You know, the ones Agent Coulson carries around to show he's not just an agent of Shield, but a fanboy just like you and me. UD missed a golden opportunity to put in a subset of clean, fake Captain America cards with a vintage design, along with a chase set with Coulson's blood, sweat and tears on them as it is his sacrifice that eventually forges the bond between the heroes.

A hobby box provided 131 of the 180 card set with 2 duplicates. Yes! Finally an entertainment set building option. You will need more than one box to compile the set. There were 10 of the 36 Classic Covers, 12 of the 60 Heroes & Villains Evolve set, and 2 Concept Series.

The hits were a single swatch of Tony Stark's blazer worn by Robert Downey Jr, a triple swatch card featuring movie costumes from Agent Coulson, Nick Fury and Tony Stark, and the final hit was an Optic Nerve sketch card of Spider Woman.

Avengers Assemble the trading card set is fun, much like the movie. It will leave you satisfied, but wanting more, much more. Luckily a sequel has already been announced and I for one can't wait to collect Thanos trading cards. Here's to hoping for Infinity Gems memorabilia cards!

That's it for this issue, as Stan Lee would say, "Excelsior!"

Tune in to Cardboard Connection Radio on Wednesday, May 30 for some discussion about the collection and be on the lookout for a video of the box break on YouTube!

I have received a box of Upper Deck's Avengers Assemble trading cards for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Some recent box break videos

Haven't had a lot of spare time lately but here are few videos of recent boxes I've opened. Enjoy...

2012 SAGE Autographed Football

2012 Topps Gypsy Queen Baseball

2012 Topps Museum Collection Baseball

2012 Press Pass FanFare Football