January 31st marked the beginning of the 2018 Baseball card collecting season with the release of Topps Series 1. In the months that have followed, predominantly Topps as well as Panini have combined to release dozens of products, ranging from something as simple as Series 2 all the way to the super high-end Panini National Treasures product.
All in all, the year 2018 was a major improvement when compared to 2017, a year full of half-baked products. 2016 wasn't much better with one of the worst Flagship sets of all-time being released.
Therefore, I suppose you could say that 2018 as a whole was one of the best years for collecting in a few years. Even with an excessive number of sets being released, there were a number of products that hold their own, resulting in their placement on my list.
Just like last year, 16 products ended up on my list, 2 Panini sets, 2 Bowman products, and 12 Topps sets. I intentionally left out the beloved Panini Chronicles due to there being too much going on for me to form a coherent opinion on the set.
With that being said, I'll start off with my least favorite set of the year with a product that held this honor in 2017 as well.
#16 Panini Diamond Kings
Once again, Panini Diamond Kings was a disappointing product in 2018. The checklist was one of the few strong points with a nice balance of old-time players from the early 20th century along with today's stars as well. However, the set design was only a bit more exciting than last years' set, and the card backs were pretty lackluster once again, using the same images on the back of the card as the front for the 2nd year in a row.
The card backs from 2018 Bowman weren't the problem as they've become somewhat expected over the last few years. Rather, it's the front of the cards, featuring cut-off logos, that fueled my mild dislike for the set. You'd think Topps would learn from 2016 Topps to never include cut-off logos in their products again, but apparently not. I don't mind Topps continuing to take a more modern approach to the most of their sets. However, in the case of 2018 Bowman, it should've been done differently.
#14 Topps Fire
Coming off a fairly well-received debut in 2017, Topps Fire took a major step back in terms of their 2018 set, mainly due to the lackluster 3 designs that the set is composed of. Unlike last year, the different flame patterns in the background of 2018 Topps Fire are barely distinguishable whereas last years' set featured unique patterns that each had their own strong points. It wasn't a total train wreck, but needless to say, Topps Fire took a step down in 2018.
#13 Panini Donruss/Optic
I surprised even myself by placing 2018 Panini Donruss/Donruss Optic above sets like Fire and Bowman, but I couldn't ignore the fact that Panini put out their best Donruss set yet in 2018, even if that's not too bold of a statement. The backs are still pretty disappointing along with the overwhelming number of variations. However, I appreciate the effort that Panini put in to improve the Donruss set.
#12 Topps National Baseball Card Day
If you're doubting if 2018 was indeed that much of an improvement for Baseball cards from the shaky 2017 season, take a look at the Topps National Baseball Card Day set, showing that even promo sets improved drastically from year to year. Like I said before, many 2017 sets appeared half-baked, and last years' NBCD set was no exception. Even if the 2018 release didn't set the world on fire, the simple and modern design was a major improvement from the 2017 promotional product.
#11 Topps Gypsy Queen
The Gypsy Queen product continues to decline in my eyes with the set coming in at #11 in 2018, another low placement for a set that used to be my favorite yearly release. The Gypsy Queen card backs have never been standouts, but the irritatingly small card numbers cause me to squint in order to see each card number. Even though the base set design isn't terrible, the color is basically a repeat of 2016, causing the set to blend in with previous releases instead of being able to stand out.
#10 Topps Finest
Despite my unfamiliarity with the Topps Finest set, likely due to the fact that I've never opened a pack from the product, the few cards that I was able to acquire via the dime bins helped the set sneak into my top 10. Like Gypsy Queen, the card numbers are unnecessarily small. However, the ultra-modern card fronts and backs are appealing to me, more so than seeing the same type of Gypsy Queen set year after year.
#9 Topps Chrome
Let me preface this by saying that 2018 Topps Chrome was much, much better than the 2017 set. However, up against some tough competition from other 2018 Baseball card products, the highest place I could give the set on the list is #9. This year, refractors were multitudes better than they were last year with colors taking up the entire background instead of appearing as spiky triangles scattered throughout the card.
2018 Topps Chrome was able to benefit from a better Flagship set than 2017, something I'll be expanding on shortly.
#8 Topps/Opening Day/Update
If not for changes being made to the 2018 Topps parallels, the much-improved refractors of Topps Chrome would not have been possible. In addition to stepping their game up with the parallels, Topps designed a base set that's undoubtedly better than 2016 and 2017 by far. The card backs, although they don't include the full stats, include a nice splash of color. Still, it's the front of the cards and the fantastic photography that catapults 2018 Topps to the #8 spot on a list with tons of well-designed sets.
#7 Topps Big League
Although it spelled the end for Topps Bunt, the Topps Big League product delivered everything that many collectors have been wanting for years now. It's a 400-card set, a large enough checklist to include bench players and relief pitchers, that's incredibly affordable and includes a base set design that's different from that of Topps Flagship. I hear there are talks of this set taking Opening Day's place and all I can say is I can't wait for that to happen.
#6 Bowman Platinum
My lack of familiarity with 2018 Bowman Platinum did not stop the set from closing in on the top 5 of my ranking of 2018 sets. With a black background (YES!) and the inclusion of swirls of blue, orange, purple, and pink, Bowman Platinum stepped its game up in 2018. Next step, don't make this set or Topps Gallery a Walmart exclusive nor Topps Fire a Target exclusive. They'll have to make more cards, but Topps should definitely expand these products to both stores so that anyone who wants to is able to buy these products.
#5 Topps Heritage
We know what to expect from Topps Heritage year after year, so it's hard for the set to do a ton to impress me. With that being said, the brand continues to be one of my most collected sets year after year, and 2018 was no exception. 1969 Topps isn't one of my favorite Topps products like 1968 Topps is, affecting its placement on the list. However, Topps remained consistent with it's impeccable recreating of their past sets, causing Topps Heritage to make the top 5 once again in 2018.
#4 Topps Stadium Club
While 2018 Topps Stadium Club doesn't feature as interesting of a base set design as it did in 2016 and 2017, the high-quality images of players both past and present helped the set end up at #4 on the list, trailing just 3 sets with a slight edge over the photography-based product.
Guys like Ted Williams, Tim Raines, and Anthony Rendon, whose card is shown above, were subjects of some of the many intriguing images of this years' set. Even with another year of "meh" card backs, Stadium Club continues to shine since being revived in 2014.
#3 Topps Archives
Deservingly so, Topps Archives was my favorite Baseball card product in 2017 with 1960, 1982, and 1992 Topps being the subjects of the set. This year, 1958, 1977, and 1982 Topps ran the show. With 3 sets that would make my top 20 of favorite Topps Flagship products being included in the set, Archives seemed destined to repeat as my favorite product of the year.
While it was anything but a disaster, small details like font size for the players' names in 1958 Topps and the use of yellow flags for position in 1977 Topps were enough to change Archives' placement on my list. With the sets coming in at #1 and #2 being at such a superior level, it was these small details that moved Archives down to the #3 spot.
#2 Topps Gallery
I promise this is it for Topps Gallery for a long time, but I have to talk about how much I love this years' product one more time since I placed it so high up on my list. With some of the artwork being nothing short of breathtaking, Topps Gallery ironed out the few kinks it had in 2017 and presented a product this time around that's worthy to hang in a museum. The variety of different colors and art styles served to help the set as well since having a range of different artists resulted in a perfect mix of different styles of cards throughout the set.
In nearly any other year, Gallery would be at the top of this countdown. However, one set stepped up its game so much in 2018 that it narrowly beat out the art-based set for the #1 spot.
Here it is, my favorite set of 2018 is...
#1 Topps Allen & Ginter
Topps Allen & Ginter! I guess 13 isn't such an unlucky number after all since Topps' 13th consecutive release of the set is one of the best designs yet. While the card backs remain the same as they've always been, the base set seems to incorporate frames as the players' pictures appear to be inside an intricately-designed border. The color splashes in the background have become expected, but it's the A&G logo at the bottom that also helps to seal the deal.
It's hard to explain, in full, why I chose Allen & Ginter as my favorite set of the year. It's just something about the product that no other set this year had, resulting in it being my absolute favorite set of 2018, a year chock-full of fantastic products.