Thursday, November 5, 2009

09/10 UD Black... More Like UD Blah...

When the innaugural edition of UD Black was released, I was stunned, as were many collectors of high-end autographed singles.

I walked the aisles of the Fall Expo in Toronto gobbling up cards from the set that featured my main collecting focus, Marty Brodeur, leaving the frenzy with five beautiful hard-signed cards - one of which (Lustrous Materials) would rank near the top of my "favourites" list. I love everything about the card - from the sleek finish, crisp autograph in silver sharpie and most of all, the acetate photo.

08/9 UD Black also introduced some other unique concepts like the "Marks of Obsidian" and "Pride of a Nation" cards, which were very popular, and featured unique parallel versions boasting new colours of foil and ink at every turn.

Pride of a Nation is back this year with a very similar design - yet again Upper Deck fails to picture players in National Team uniforms, even though the subset commemorates nationality and international play. This year, they've got "Dual Pride of a Nation" cards... essentially the same idea, except two players pictured in NHL uniforms sign around the flag of their country. Neat, but in no way original.

Lustrous Materials are back, too - but instead of making use of the acetate to show a cool etched in photo this time around, players have signed overtop of clear plastic in black ink, resulting in very small and plain signatures. In sum, a fantastic design has gone to waste.

Black Hockey has brought the "fold-out" concept (prevalent in other sports) into the hockey set this year, and I am personally not sold on these things. How do you store a fold-out? How many times would you look at one? These cards appear to take the eight-way two sided jersey cards seen last year to a sickening extreme. Most importantly to the player collector like myself, the lineups seen on the foldout cards are guaranteed to feature lesser-known and uninteresting combinations of players.

One of the 12-ways commemorates the New Jersey Devils "rivalry" with the Carolina Hurricanes. It has all kinds of players on it fromt he 2008/09 ECF series between the two teams. I would like to take a couple of lines to thank Upper Deck for making a card about the biggest failure in the history of the New Jersey Devils organization. I am tempted to buy all 25 copies and destroy them.

Sticking with the player collector theme - Martin Brodeur notched his 565th win last night, and yet he is almost nowhere to be found on the checklist for the year's first premium product. Brodeur has a Pride of a Nation card, a Dual Pride of a Nation card (w/Roy) and a Dual Game Night Ticket (w/Roy). By my count, those are the only autographed cards he has in the set. Could it be that Brodeur, one of the most popular and reliable signers in the hobby over the years, signed only 100 or so cards for this product? Even worse is the fact that only 37 would be "solo", the rest tarnished by the appearance of Roy.

Upper Deck has changed up the checklist this time around, but I don't think removing star power from the mix is the right way to go. Patrik Elias is on the Lustrous Materials Checklist, and Martin Brodeur is not. Someone explain that one to me.

With another Black release comes another onslaught of "Rookie Lettermen". Hundreds of fake letters spelling the names of players that, for the most part, I've never heard of. Really? Sounds like a great idea! These things will be in five dollar bins within two weeks of product release... AGAIN!

From what I've seen so far, I give this year's UD Black a rousing two stars out of a possible five. Quite the disappointment after last year's edition, which broke the mould as far as high-end sets go.

The door is wide open for ITG's UM 9 to destroy this flub of a product at the Fall Expo next week (!!!), and even though the cards are still entombed within inches of plastic, don't picture players in NHL uniforms and aren't hard signed, this round in the UD/ITG war will be unanimously won by the "People's Choice" manufacturer. Even with their limitations, the folks at ITG always put a lot of thought and emotion into their designs, which is not something that the crew of four year olds with crayons hired by Upper Deck to design Black can say.