Product Review: 2011 Topps Inception

I don’t like deceiving people, so let’s get something out in the open. I haven’t purchased a box of 2011 Topps Inception. This will be the first product review I do without having purchased at least a retail box, though I usually shoot for the hobby variety. BUT this is not an unfounded review. A little while back, I tried to do a group case break of Inception. That attempt failed miserably. One person had signed up. Rather than refund his money or figure out a way to honor the “break” aspect, I decided to just buy a variety of Inception cards from his favorite team. With just $50 to spend, I came one autograph short of an entire hobby box. Not bad. So I have held and scanned all of the cards I’m reviewing. So while it’s technically not a standard product/box break review, at least it’s not based on someone else’s scans or Topps’ promotion images.

Whew. I’m glad I got that out of the way. Now, onto the review:

2011 Topps Inception box
I didn’t buy this – this is just for your reference

Hobby boxes come as a single 7-card pack. Each box promises two autographs, one memorabilia, two parallels, and two base cards. As mentioned above, I got one autograph, one memorabilia, two parallels, and two base cards for $50. Hobby boxes are currently selling for a bit over $100 for a per-card average of about $14-15. That isn’t quite super high end a la Exquisite, but is certainly not your granddad’s box of cards either.

The Breakdown:
Base Cards: 2
Parallels
   Blue (#/209): 1
   Black (#/109): 1
Hits
   Autographs (#/200): 1
   Jumbo Relics (#/75): 1

2011 Topps Inception
Click image for a full-sized scan

FIRST AND GOAL’S FOUR DOWNS:
1st Down, Design: In a word: awesome. For a long time, Upper Deck was essentially the undisputed king of high end. Topps and Donruss (now Panini) often tried and fell terribly short. I’m not a huge high-end buyer, so I can’t argue that I have the most experience or valid viewpoint, but Inception is legit. The base cards are all printed on 72-pt card stock. The card fronts have a fine matte finish that actually enhances the luxury feel of the cards while the cut-out player image is super slick and shiny. The ghostly fog background is understated and simple, which is great. There’s no need to design the crap out of these cards, and Topps nailed that. The card back is also solid. There is only one season and then a career line for statistics and no player image, but what sells it for me is the player bio. Most cards will have a trite reason why the featured player is good. Inception focuses on the player’s inception and talks about how he got his start in football. Very cool concept. The foil stamping is about the only so-so point on the base cards. It never scans well and isn’t terribly vibrant in certain lighting, but you almost need foil stamping for a card like this. Printed and colored logos/text just wouldn’t work in this case.

2nd Down, Inserts: In a word: great. The parallels seem a bit pointless in a product like this. An average base card is already worth about $5, so changing the background color and adding a serial number isn’t a big selling point. I will say the re-coloring is done well, and could really look great for certain teams. For instance, the Ray Lewis here looks awesome as a black parallel (a Baltimore team color) while the Joe Flacco just doesn’t have IT, despite being more vibrant. The autographs are fantastic. The player sheen is removed on the lower half of the card to allow a nice matte surface for the autograph, so you shouldn’t have to worry about it rubbing off or fading as fast as you would with a shiny sticker. The faded auto area also really helps the autograph “pop” from the card. I couldn’t get a silver auto with my limited budget, but the scans of those are stunning. Jersey cards seem pointless at this stage of the game, but they are done well in this product. I find it interesting that a lot of sets now have lower serial numbers on jerseys than autographs. This card is the jumbo jersey swatch variety. The smaller swatches feature a different card design, which is a nice touch. It’s evident that every card was hand designed, rather than simply adding or removing elements to make the design process easier across the board.

3rd Down, Collation: In two words: not applicable. I didn’t buy a box, so my selection was hand picked by me. So that’s perfect collation. But even the factory packed hobby boxes contain 7 cards. How in the world do you judge collation for a product with 7 cards in the box? You don’t.

4th Down, Overall Value: In a word: questionable. As I said above, I had just a $50 budget to purchase a team-based sampling of this product, and that included shipping fees from five different sellers for these six cards (I was able to double up on the two base cards). That budget was less than half of the cost of a box, yet I came up just one autograph short of an entire box’s contents. Not too shabby from a buyer’s perspective, but certainly not good from a seller’s perspective. Granted, by hand picking a “box,” I had no chance at that super rare card of a high draft pick. But I also avoided pulling a hit of an after thought veteran from a small market team. So in essence, Inception is a typical high-end product. The prospects in any box can be off the charts, but the risk in buying is almost equally high. The cards themselves are fantastic, but a sealed box may be overpriced a bit.

RED ZONE RESULTS: TOUCHDOWN, PAT NOT NECESSARY 2011 Topps Inception is a great product. There’s no getting around that in my opinion. The base cards are subtle yet carry an air of elegance and the hits are well designed and eye-catching. But unless you’re really into lotteries or busting wax for the sake of busting wax, buying boxes or cases probably isn’t the way to go. As I showed here, you have a real shot at getting a box worth of cards of your favorite team/players on the secondary market for the same or even lower price. I will say I really wish Emmitt Smith was on the checklist as I would definitely love to add cards of this calibur to my collection. But even if that were the case, I would definitely go the singles route than gamble on any sealed product.

NEXT UP: 2011 Score (No really, I will review this some day…)

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