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Monday, March 23, 2020

Box Break: 2019-20 Upper Deck Allure

Upper Deck Allure released back in early February, 2020.  While I was abundantly aware of the product at the time, I wanted to give it a cooling off period for a bit before diving in.  Even a good steak needs to sit for a couple minutes after it comes off the grill.  Everyone knows that.  I was hesitant because my skepticism got the best of me.  Why?
This is uncharted territory for Upper Deck as Allure is a new title in their arsenal of products.  There really hasn't been a comparison to put it up against and hockey card collectors generally adhere to the paradox of wanting innovation but fearing change.  The previews didn't completely sell me either because what looks good on the screen may not have the same impact in-hand.  The concept design was very nice and had great potential, but the idea behind the product seemed strange.  With focus on rookies, short prints, inserts, and parallels, the low price point at about $100 per box didn't seem to fit the typical configuration for that pricing level.

So let's see what's so alluring about 2019-20 Upper Deck Allure...(see what I did there?)

I'll go off the grid for a second and start with the packaging.  I don't normally care about this but since the product is new, I think it deserves at least a mention.  The box is a cube.  I don't recall an Upper Deck hockey product that has been packaged like this in recent years.  Generally the boxes fit the pack sizes and are either the traditional 2X2 configuration or a 2X1 side-by-side in a smaller box.  Allure packs are placed vertically inside a front-flap opening package, which I think makes the product seem more special than the typical box we're used to.

Each hobby box consists of eight packs with six cards in each, so 48 total cards should come out of a box (there are two inner boxes in a case with 20 boxes total for those high-rollers out there).  Obviously with a checklist that is 100 base cards plus 35 short prints, you are gonna need a few boxes and probably some help completing this as a set.  A hobby box should net you at least one autograph card (which are, from what I can tell, all sticker autos), one rookie jersey card, and one more hit that will be one of the other two or something more rare.  Most boxes will also have about eight insert cards and five of the various parallel cards.

(Not sure why I have two Canucks here but...)

Whether you call it Chrome, Mirror, Chromium, Prizm, or Refractor-like, it's all semantics.  Just know these card fronts are SHINY!  The base cards have a silver mirror finish with diagonal parallel lines cutting through the borders.  The colored parallels are the same, only replace the mirror with each respective color, and most are die-cut.  The player photo is a superimposed cut-out placed over a background that at first I thought was just a blurry version of the mirror finish.  However, on closer inspection, it is the background of the initial photo that was used.  In most cases, you can see whatever section of the dasher board is behind the player.  Speaking of blurry, while most of the photos are decent shots of the players, I did notice quite a few players that look a little grainy, out of focus, or not very high quality.  I'm not sure if that is a printing issue here or just the quality photos they used that just didn't translate to print (I have read about quite a few QC type issues with ghosting and double stamping as well, but nothing in my box came that way.)

As for the My typical issue with the lack of stats or interesting facts exist so let's skip that.

Base parallel cards seem to be the focus so let me elaborate on that for a second.  You will find a variety of these "Rainbow" cards that's list reads like a box of Lucky Charms, including White, Red, Pewter, Orange Slice (#/199), Green Quartz (#/99), Steel (#/50), Blue Line (#/25), Purple Diamond (#/10), Golden Treasure (#/1), and everyone's favorite...Printing Plates.  I'm no archeologist but if my math adds up, that is nine different parallels available in a hobby box.  Nine!  I say hobby because in retail blasters, another parallel can be found as well called Yellow Taxi, which I'm not gonna lie, look really cool and are probably my favorite.  Including the base card (but not the plates), that makes 11 total cards of each sequentially numbered card in the 1-100 checklist. As for the rookies 101-135, there are Pink Diamond and Purple Diamond parallels.  If you are a specific player collector, good luck! 

(By comparison, an up-and-comer and a down-and-outer)

In my box, I got a mix of White Rainbow and Red Rainbow parallels.  As mentioned before they are die-cut into a pattern that is similar to the Colors & Contours set that was out a few years ago or the parallels from the MVP releases.  If I was a betting man, I would say the shape is the goal light??  Come on Upper Deck. Help me out here. 

Of course the hits are what most collectors find compelling and this product is far from short on that.  Available in Allure are a ton of possibilities for memorabilia or autograph cards.  Starting with the autographs, there are Red Rainbows, which are not numbered through the first 60 veteran players but are tiered based on scarcity.  The rest of the rookie cards are #/349.  There are a total of 63 of the base 1-100 subjects that can be found.  There are another 67 Blue Line autos, all #/35.  Purple Diamond autos have 71 subjects and are #/10.  There are also 84 Golden Treasures #1/1 autos that can be unearthed as well but obviously those will be bigger case hit scenarios.  The high number rookies feature 34 Pink autos #/59, Purple autos #/10, and again, the rare Golden Treasure #1/1s.

(Ignore the weird lines on Leon there.  It's just tape on the toploader.)

The memorabilia cards, as mentioned, fall one or two per box and have a mix from just a jersey piece, to both auto and jersey, to tag relics or patches.  The Red Rainbow jersey, which I received two of in my box, are not numbered and, like the regular red parallels, are tiered in both the vets and rookies. The Draisaitl was Group B at 1:65 packs, while the Grundstrom was Group D at 1:21 packs.

The Blue Line auto/jersey cards feature 74 players.  The base veterans are all #/25, while the rookies are #/99.  I was lucky enough to nab this little beauty you see here.  I know what you are thinking, too.  It's an Ebay 1/1 since it's numbered 10/25 and his jersey number is #88. So if you divide that by the percent chance of pulling this specific card, multiplied by the card number #38, carry the 3...yeah, math checks out. True Ebay 1/1.  Since I'm being thorough, there are also 73 Purple Diamonds #/10 and 84 Golden Treasure auto/laundry tags #1/1, of which I receive none. 

And now...what you've all been waiting for...[drum roll]...the inserts!!  There are a lot. As I mentioned, in a 48 card box, eight of them will be inserts.  That's almost 17%.  The designs and style of these range from the sleek, to odd, to 90's-ish charm, to just weird.  Here is a sampling of what I pulled.

Top 50 Rookies, which feature the, top...50...rookies. These will appear quite often in a box as they show up about 1:2 packs.  There are also blue parallels, green parallels, auto parallels, jersey parallels, auto/jersey parallels, and laundry tags. I could have lived without these but they do look decent when placed together.  Despite my take-it or leave-it view, I get why they were included.  Rookies are what drives product and including 50 subjects gives collectors a decent option to compliment the base cards and maybe chase a budding star (or maybe wait till the flippers get desperate and I buy them all for a quarter a piece).

A For The Record which features a snapshot moment that is captured on cardboard, er, foilboard with the date and the event.  Here we see Elias Pettersson and his most points by a rookie for the Canucks on 3/18/19.  I can neither confirm nor deny whether the photo matches that specific game or not.  There are ten of these on the checklist and they fall at a pretty tough rate of about 1:40 hobby packs (and twice that in retail).

The other, which are beginning to grow on me, is from the Winter Storm Warning set.  These cards feature a doppler radar plastered over the players team city.  These are 100% pure cheese, in my opinion, but making things fun is something that needs to be injected into more sets so I give it a pass.  I think the design looks more like a dart board, or target even.  Although, picturing a giant target over New York (or any city for that matter) may not be the best thought out idea for obvious reasons I won't get into in a box break post.  There are 20 of these, with the possibility of Purple parallels, and Golden auto versions for 16 of the subjects.

This next one is called Iced Out.  I did not like the way these looked in previews but they are not bad in-hand.  Same foilboard, shinyness but the blue background kind of pops a bit with the extra sheen to it.  You will find 25 of these in the checklist with Purple Diamond auto versions as well as the Golden Treasures #1/1.

Last but certainly not least, the other card here is a nice Sidney Crosby Open Ice card.  It's Crosby, skating up the ice, ready to take a pass from Bryan Rust and most likely put the puck in the back of the net.  But the card has an authentic, game-used piece of the ice inserted right there.  How's that for putting you "in the game"?!  I just don't know how they were able to get the ice not to melt.  Wait a second.  This just in.  I'm being told this isn't ice at all but just an optical illusion made to look like ice.  It is in fact a die-cut hole in the card.

(I see you!)

Yes.  Really.  In 2020, this is an insert card, with about 41% of the card surface make it look like clear, "open ice".  I get what they are trying to do here.  I really do.  But with all the options for acetate or some other form of clear "window", this could have been better thought out in my opinion.  I'm glad I pulled a PC card and got Crosby because I don't think I need the other 19 that make up the set.  There are also Golden Treasures versions and Purple parallels.  Hey, maybe they will look better in purple?  [Googling Allure Open Ice...pulling up images for purple...]  Nope.  Just nope.

The only insert I did not get a sample of was Quartz.  Coincidentally, that was the only insert I was really excited about when I first saw the initial images.  But I can't be too upset since these cards are tough pulls.  The Quartz autograph checklist features 27 veteran players with grouping odds that are tiered at 1:300 packs or 1:500 packs, plus another 15 rookies tiered 1:500 or 1:4,000.  Yes 4,000!! Cody Glass, Cale Makar, and the Hughes brothers are next to impossible.  There are also Blue parallels on both the rookies and vets, #/5.  With the multitude of breakers out there, I would not be surprised if many of these surface over the next few months but I wouldn't expect to find them for less than $100 a piece on at least the big four rookies.  If you can, I applaud your success.

Overall, while I was unsure of these at first, the hobby box was a fun break.  The more I look at the cards, the more I really like them, especially the parallels.  It's like a fungus.  It grows on you and you learn to like it.  In fact, I may actually say I l,l,l,love them??  I may even say this may be my favorite hockey release of 2019-20 so far??  I may.

Look, there are not a lot of chromium based offerings by Upper Deck at this time and it is a nice departure from the focus on the normally outstanding photography they use on products like their flagship set. While O-Pee-Chee Platinum (or the basic rainbow parallel on the base OPC) has given us an annual outlet for the shiny foilboard printing, Allure takes it to a new level.  But the best part, it doesn't break the bank when it comes to getting a shot at some nice cards.  If you still think $100 is too much, there is a $30-40 retail option that cuts down on the chances for hits but certainly gives you a great option at pulling parallels, including the retail only Yellow Taxi's.  In fact, I (and a few other collectors I'm told) have found that retail boxes seem to yield a higher rate of the rookie high numbers, most likely to make up for the lack of memorabilia or autos.  Whether that's truth or not, I think this is still a nice product with a lot of value potential.

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