On the Radar: 2015 Topps Platinum Football Preview

I am a big fan of Topps Platinum and have been since 2011. The years before that were a tad more suspect, but after 2011's changes stuck for the long term, Platinum has been a set to look forward to each year. Its the first set with on card autographs on non-retouched photos, and that has always prompted my excitement.

Last year was a combination of some really cool looking cards combined with a box hit patch auto design that really didnt work as well as I thought it would:

2014 Topps Platinum Odell Beckham Superfractor Patch Auto 1/1

2014 Topps Platinum Johnny Manziel Superfractor RC Auto 1/1

2014 Topps Platinum Blake Bortles Colossal Patch Auto /5

Previous years have had their fare share of sweet cards too:

2012 Topps Platinum Andrew Luck Die Cut Gold Refractor Auto On Card

This year’s Platinum design is a definite departure from previous years. Instead of the nameplate being the most interesting part of the card, the entire design is going pretty out there, with a feel that has me thinking of those cool outer limits universe pieces. Its kind of smoky, with a space like presentation, and it works really well in the base and the base autographs. Adding the team logo in the background is a really nice touch, especially when it isnt presented as a focal point.

As for the patch autos, there are some changes that I really like, and a few non-changes that linger from 2014. I really like that the player is much more up close in the design this year. Last year, they were too far zoomed out, which led to a pretty awkward look. I also like that they have incorporated a rectangular swatch for the patches to go along side the hexagonal or shield shaped swatch from previous years – as we see on the Winston card. On the other hand, I really dont like that faded out area behind the sticker on the colored refractors. I think it just never looks right and draws the eye there immediately. The colors should be made light enough that it doesnt matter. Instead, we are going to get that white area for the second year in a row.

Overall, this year will continue to be dominated by the quality of the class, as I think there is a big bust potential in many of the rookies at the top of the draft. If the rookies light it up, you can assume that products like Platinum will be hot, especially with the Chrome stock. If not, we can see that the boxes will fall. The box break has always been tougher with Platinum because of the top player SP list that is always in place, so that could play a big part as well. For singles buyers, this looks like a fun product, for wax breakers, it can be a wait and see situation.

Either way, Im pretty excited to see how it turns out.

On the Radar: 2015 Topps Diamond Football

Every so often, a football card set comes along and just makes my jaw drop. We have become accustomed to products that are just plays on the same theme, over and over again, and one can easily get into a funk. I think that has happened a lot over the last few years, but after seeing the preview for Topps Diamond, I needed to re-evaluate what I look for in a product. It looks THAT good. More importantly, it PISSES me off that we will likely only get one year of the product.

High end football has had its tests as of late thanks to Flawless’ precedent of on card autographs in the beginning of the year:

2014 Flawless Tom Brady Logo Patch Auto

2014 Flawless Emmitt Smith Dual Jumbo Patch Auto BGS 9.5

2014 Flawless Peyton Manning Jumbo Patch Auto

However, I still think Five Star was much more dynamic looking last year:

2014 Topps Five Star Tom Brady Auto SP

2014 Topps Five Star Russell Wilson Silver Signature Auto

2014 Topps Five Star Odell Beckham Silver Signature Auto

From what I understand, these cards will be the first in football to have a flat stock mixed with refractor technology similar to Topps Tribute in baseball. It will function very similarly to what we have seen in many other circumstances, but more Chrome is always better. Black background with metallic pens have been a staple for Topps over the last few years, and a lot of the cards have turned out to be some of the best looking they produce. Others have been dropped down a peg due to pen issues.

If Diamond can deliver in the way they are previewing here, with on card autographs through the whole product, and some ridiculously cool technology in play, this could be a winner and then some. Those diamond die-cuts are something else, especially when presented this way. Yet, with Panini taking over the NFLPA exclusive next year, this might be one of Topps’ last hurrahs as a licensed company. From the way it looks, they are going out as king of the gridiron.

I just hope that the year that has passed since Panini announced the exclusive is an indicator that all is not what it seems with their exclusive, and that the NFL may not want to follow suit. It would be quite the awesome situation if Topps could get back on the horse, and split the difference with Panini. Competition always fuels the best fires, and sets like this need a place in the hobby. Of course, Im just reading too far into this, but speculation is always fun.

Collectors freaking love jumbo patch autos, and I love good looking cards. This is a match made in heaven, as the on card autos and enormous patch cards are going to drive some SERIOUS value if the rookie class plays out the way some think it will. Each box is guaranteeing a RPA, plus two other autos, which only makes me that much more interested to see the checklist.

Even if the rookies dont pan out, I am going to have to pick out some boxes of this stuff just to experience what looks like the best I have seen from Topps since Five Star was first announced.

Topps Bunt Making Its Debut With Topps Series 2

I love the Topps Digital apps because they provide a way to merge my affinity for sports cards with my infatuation with fantasy sports. Mixing the two worlds together has garnered the majority of my attention now for almost two years, and from the looks of the recent checklist for Topps Series 2, Bunt could finally be making a cameo in a physical product. I could not be more excited.

Now, I understand that some of you will never be able to understand the appeal of digital trading cards. Ive given up in trying to convince collectors how fun the apps can be. The fact that you cannot hold the card in your hand, probably brings about a sense of confusion as to why people love it as much as they do. Believe it or not, there is real value to be had in many of these cards, especially rare ones that have high appeal. After all, there are no redemptions, and condition is never a problem. Feel free to purchase and open packs in your underwear at 3am if you would like.

Check out some of the ebay listings to see what I mean:

2015 Topps Bunt Mike Trout Signature Card

2015 Topps Bunt Bryce Harper Signature Gold Card

2015 Topps Bunt Kris Bryant / Anthony Rizzo / Jorge Soler Triple Signature

2015 Topps Bunt Ichiro Limited Series Insert Card

Crazy to think how far these cards have come over the last four years, as I remember back when Bunt was just getting going. Now their autographs are worth more than physical ones on many occasions.

I have said that being able to literally “print” cards on demand is a huge advantage for digital, and it has produced a loyal following of customers who will pay hundreds of dollars a day to have access to their favorite digital sets. Yes, you heard that correctly.

Bringing the phenomenon to the physical side is a bold step, and it might serve as a welcome introduction for a lot of collectors who were not aware of the connection between Topps Baseball and Topps Bunt. It may also bring a lot of Bunt players over to the physical side who may not have bought a pack of cards in many years. Both, im sure, are equally attractive to Topps.

Based on the limited information I have, it looks like a checklist of players will have special cards with codes on the back to redeem for content in the game. Although we dont know what these cards will look like or what they represent in the Bunt lineup, this is a huge deal for Topps in general.

For a very long time, I have pleaded with the guys who make Topps Baseball to involve Bunt into the flagship product in any way they can. Whether it be code cards for packs or coins, or even special codes on the back of the cards that give access to that player in the game. As many times as I made that suggestion, as many times I was told, “sorry, that’s just not something we are looking to do at this point.” Im glad that they were able to work it out, and it makes me that much more excited to see what might be possible in the future.

Not only does it open the door for potential tie ins with the other games in the many Topps Products, but it sure adds a fun chase to Series 2. Now that we see that the physical tie in is possible, will there be other things that you can eventually pull out of packs? I can already imagine similar things for their football and soccer apps, Huddle and Kick. Topps also produces physical packs for Star Wars as well, whose launch has turned into one of the biggest sources of revenue for the digital landscape over the last few months. Endless potential exists, and I might even go as far as saying that this might serve more as a vehicle to put digital closer to the top of the priority list over in New York.

Here is a link to the checklist where you can see the Bunt cards and player list.

2015 Score vs 2015 Prizm Draft: Lesser of Two Evils?

Tomorrow, Panini is going to release two different products. With Score Football, you get a TIRED brand, representative of cheap cards and inferior content. With Prizm Draft Picks, you get a lackluster Chrome knockoff that is full of stickers on NCAA jerseys. Im not sure which is worse. Although both seem to be improved representations of the brands they are representing, that’s like saying the Nissan Cube is an improvement on the Kia Soul. They both suck, regardless of slight improvements versus previous failures.

Prizm has been live for a week or two because of pre-release product broken by “special VIP guests” at the 2015 Rookie Premiere:

2015 Prizm Draft Picks Marcus Mariota Blue Refractor Auto

2015 Prizm Draft Picks Bryce Petty Auto

2015 Prizm Draft Picks Devante Parker Purple Refractor Auto /99

Score has had a few cards that were released in special packs at the NFL draft:

2015 Score Jameis Winston NFL Draft Promo

2015 Score Kevin White NFL Draft Promo

As we saw in previews over the last few weeks, Panini approached both products as a prime opportunity to use their new NCAA exclusive. Even though Prizm is a new design, unlike we got for the horribly disappointing Contenders Draft, it still doesnt work as well as other examples from similar sets like Leaf Metal. I would much rather have the slightly retouched on card autographs from Leaf, than full college photos and stickers. Same thing will eventually be true for 2015 Bowman, releasing next week.

With Score, its a bit different. Last year’s Score (and subsequent gag product in 2014 Hot Rookies) was easily one of the worst looking products ever released under the age old banner. Panini chose to use sideline shots of the players without their helmets on, instead of taking the time to retouch the pictures like they should have. What we got was just laughable in every conceivable way. This year, the college pictures are a welcome respite from their terrible decisions made in past versions.

I understand that Panini wants to use Score as an affordable way to keep those “I HATE HIGH END!” collectors around, but lets be honest here, that’s a lost cause in Football. Considering they are already about 90% of the way from driving out the one set that those type of collectors still love, this is another poor decision to try to hang onto that tiny thread.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?!? WHY WONT SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!?!?!?!?

Ugh, please drag a sharp rusty spoon across my ball sack every time this discussion comes up. Kids are gone, and they shouldnt be a focus. I have commented endlessly about how fruitless of a venture it will be to spend the shit ton of money it will take to even get a tiny portion of that market back. No matter, people still think that is the answer to all our problems. Releasing Score once a year wont make that happen, especially if its before the Rookie Premiere content is ready. Thinking of Score as a gateway to bringing back kids is pretty fucking hilarious.

The bottom line is that Panini has no clue how to manage their brands, as has been clear in Football since 2008. They believe its more productive to throw lavish parties and send positive vibes to the collector base through their adverblog. Even though they have been defaulted some brand loyalty by Upper Deck’s exit from the business, lets not forget that 99% of their products not named Treasures or Contenders have fallen as flat as the Patriots footballs. I have even made the argument that Treasures and Contenders have missed out on HUGE potential because of terrible decision making. No wonder their football business is so far in the red, that they needed to buy out the ability for their competitors to make their far superior products. Winners by default, as previously stated.

Prizm wont be worth a damn after a week or two, and even less once the real products start to hit. Considering that Bowman, even with retouched “unlicensed” photos, has been able to create cards that hold serious value through the year, Panini should be looking to revamp their approach. Instead we have two sets that will be forgotten faster than ever.

My anxiety over 2016 grows with each passing day, even though there are rumors floating around that Panini is having issue locking down the sister exclusive with NFLP to match their NFLPA exclusive. Obviously, my bitterness over this situation does nothing to help Topps stay in the game, but one can dream.

2015 NBA Finals: Hobby’s Biggest Names on the Sport’s Biggest Stage

I dont watch a lot of basketball other than the biggest games of the year, and I definitely dont delve much into basketball cards – mainly because of who is the dominant force in producing the sets. However, there are always a few things that get me interested, and hobby reactions to the play on the court is always fun to see. To put this bluntly, Basketball plays like the high stakes room at a Vegas casino, and it has a lot to do with the collectors who make their PCs from the sport. Even though the vast super majority of the best sets in history arent made by the company that has the exclusive license, the hobby's valuation of the players in the sport is fascinating.

When I say High End is king in the NBA, I mean it. Check this out:

2003-04 Exquisite Lebron James Rookie Auto Patch Lot – BGS 9.5 – I dont even have words here.

2003-04 Topps Chrome LeBron James Refractor RC BGS 9.5

2009-10 Exquisite Steph Curry Auto RC BGS 9.5

2009-10 National Treasures Stephen Curry Rookie Auto Patch BGS 9

2009-10 Topps Chrome Stephen Curry RC Refractor

There are two big names in Basketball that will forever be the poster children for any set. One of them is obviously Michael Jordan, whose cards remain some of the most valuable in any sport. That one is a no brainer. The other is Lebron James. Aside from the fact that Lebron is arguably the best player of this generation, he came into the NBA at a time when Super High End really took hold in the hobby. Kobe Bryant has many more titles and records than LeBron, but his hobby legacy isnt what it could be. His rookie year was during a time where the big cards werent rookie auto patches, and that means his legacy is built around cards that are many years after his rookie season. Lebron’s rookie year coincided with the biggest modern set in existence, 2003-04 Exquisite Collection, and as a result, his rap sheet starts with a rookie card that can be traded for a fully loaded Mercedes.

Oddly enough, his competition in this series is Stephen Curry, whose rookie card is at the complete other end of Exquisite's run, some 7 years later. Curry’s Exquisite rookie card closed out the NBA license that Upper Deck had built into a top brand, coming full circle with what started in 2004. Although his rookie is a fraction in value of what LeBron’s is worth, that might be changing somewhat as soon as this finals is over. Curry represents the new guard in the NBA, and with an MVP and a potential NBA title under his belt, there may be a future where Curry’s career is talked about in the same breath as the league’s elite.

With that, the question becomes whether or not this finals is the best thing that can happen to the hobby, as two (or three if you count Kyrie Irving) of the brightest stars face off in a historic battle for supremacy. The answer is maybe. I say maybe, because this finals does more for cards that ALREADY exist, not ones that are likely to be coming in the future. Panini has no ability to produce Lebron James licensed autographs at the moment, and Curry's cards from years other than 2009-10 arent exactly elite – yet. Panini has also shown that they are almost incapable of living up to the standard that Upper Deck was able to set, and dont even get me started on their efforts to recreate Topps Chrome. Panini hasnt been able to carve out the niche they need in Basketball to be successful, frequently highlighting ineptitude in a way that only makes older cards that much more desirable.

Either way, its going to be interesting to see how this series plays out, especially without Irving on the floor to help the Cavs. Curry is likely on his way to his first title, and in the process, hobby immortality. Its hard to ignore a player’s potential when he can pull off the trifecta – League MVP, World Title, and Finals MVP. Lets just hope my kiss of death doesnt backfire, as there is nothing more satisfying than a new sun in the hobby universe.