Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens: Ranking the Sets of 2019

It's all over the internet, TV, and virtually everywhere else one may look. Today is New Year's Eve, 2019, and in several hours, we will usher in a new month, year, and most importantly, decade.

Late December always entails a couple of different blog posts which, admittedly, I'm getting to a little late this year. It's time for me to analyze how successful I was in accomplishing my card collecting goals for 2019, not to mention I should create new objectives for 2020.

I'd also like, if I have the time and creative mindset necessary, to create some type of post recapping and/or highlighting what the 2010s were like for Baseball cards. I'm still in the stages of what this post would look like, and if I end up following through with it, I'll write it in the next week or so.

The final of the end-of-year blog posts that I write is a full ranking of the year's Baseball card releases, and that's exactly what I've dedicated the final day of the year and decade to talking about. Before I get to the countdown, however, I want to note a couple of things.

For starters, I rank the sets on this list primarily based on the actual design, though this becomes slightly more complex when it comes to products like Archives and Heritage. For those 2, I look at how well Topps did with recreating the older designs and how they stack up to previous releases.

Yes, not every Topps/Panini release is featured on this list. I'm sticking to products that I'm familiar with; in fact, for the first time in the blog's history, I'm sticking solely to sets that I've actually opened packs from.

You'll also see that I've combined Donruss/Optic as well as Topps Flagship, Update, and Chrome into their own respective categories. I just don't deem it necessary to talk about Topps Chrome and Topps Series 1 and 2 like they're drastically different design-wise.

Finally, as sad as it may be (for me anyway), Panini Chronicles will not be featured. There are just way too many designs that the product is worthy of its own countdown which I actually wrote.

I have 14 sets to talk about as I gradually lead up to #1. Let's begin with what I feel is the least interesting set design of 2019.

#14 Bowman

I don't recall coming across a single 2019 Panini Diamond Kings base card this entire year, so the go-to fall guy for the last spot on my set rankings lists in the past wasn't there this time around. As a result, the "honor" went to 2019 Bowman, a set that becomes more boring as the years go on.

The off-center style didn't necessarily bug me all that much, though I wasn't exactly thrilled about this detail. Rather, the cards just lack any sort of personality or wow factor. Luckily, big-time prospect collectors don't care what the cards look like.

#13 Topps National Baseball Card Day

NBCD is a promotion that I've been participating in since Topps reintroduced the idea back in 2017. Though I end up with just 2 5-card packs each year, I sample enough cards from the checklist to the point where I feel comfortable including the cards on my countdown.

This year featured the best set design as well as card backs in the promotional set's abbreviated history, but it simply doesn't have enough to compete with the bigger releases of 2019.

#12 Panini Donruss/Optic
Upon close inspection, the similarities between 2019 Topps NBCD and Panini Donruss become increasingly profound. So, how does the set without logos come out on top over a licensed product? 2 words: card backs.

The orangish/yellow or, for Rated Rookies, blue card backs in 2019 Panini Donruss are a huge step up from their past attempts. The amount of blank space has decreased significantly, and I'm just hoping that Panini can continue this type of momentum and continue improving into the 2020s.

#11 Topps Finest
The Topps Finest hobby box that I opened back in June will likely be the first and last one of these boxes that I'll ever rip; the price just didn't seem worth it when I later analyzed the value of the individual cards, and it didn't help that I didn't land anything all that impressive.

As for the base set, the cards look nice, but chrome cardstock can enhance virtually anything. I will say this, however; I don't believe they're at the caliber of previous Finest sets, especially 2014 and 2016.

#10 Topps Fire
Truth be told, I surprised myself by ranking Topps Fire above Finest, a much higher-end product, but I can't ignore the fact that I slightly prefer the former of the 2 releases. While the backs leave a little something to be desired, the fronts are some of the best we've ever seen from Topps Fire.

Finally, Topps took the notion of "less is more" and applied it to this set. Instead of a black background with a ton of sparks and flames, Topps changed it up, giving us a few simple colors and highlighting the player instead of the work of their designers.

#9 Panini Prizm
It's easy for me to overlook the Prizm base design given the sheer craziness of all the different parallels that I'm chasing because of my 2019 Panini Prizm project. However, the base design isn't too shabby; it's sleek, modern, and, once again, Panini has improved their card backs.

Though the market for these cards is far too great in Basketball for a change to be made, I'm starting to wish that the Prizm base design consisted of silvers instead of cards like the one above. That way, they won't show dust as easily.

#8 Topps Heritage

I surprised even myself by placing Topps Heritage so low on this list, but if I'm being totally honest, I wasn't overly impressed with the product this time around. Maybe other sets were simply better, or maybe I'm getting a little burned out.

Either way, Topps Heritage dropped from #5 in 2018 all the way to #8, and it's a shame because I actually prefer the 1970 design to 1969. Plus, Topps did a stellar job, as always, recreating the set, but, for some reason, I'm just not feeling the magic I once was in regards to Topps Heritage.

#7 Bowman's Best
It seems as if the best elements were taken from both 2017 and 2018 Bowman's Best and combined into one, cohesive design, creating a superb base design that's both modern and colorful at the same time.

Just like Panini Prizm, 2019 Bowman's Best is sleek, but the shade of grey used by Topps is far more appealing than the darker grey that Panini uses for Prizm. Plus, there's just so much color on both sides of the card that I can't help but love it.

#6 Topps Allen & Ginter
Allen & Ginter claimed the #1 spot on my countdown a year ago, so it may seem like I don't like this year's design for the product to fall 5 places down on the list. Though this isn't true, I do have 1 main issue with the 2019 cards: the absence of the color splotches.

Since the set's debut back in 2006(?), we've known what to expect from Allen & Ginter, and I mean that in a good way. The color splashes behind the photos of each subject have been a mainstay in the product, and although Topps replaced them with traditional backgrounds, it doesn't feel like A&G without them.

#5 Topps Flagship/Chrome/Update

Going into 2019, I can't say I would've expected to rank Topps Flagship above Allen & Ginter or Heritage, but my views on the 2019 Topps design have certainly changed since it was debuted back in the summer of 2018.

The card backs, moreover, feature players' complete stats (yay!), and the design, as many have pointed out, looks like a modernized version of the 1982 design. Topps Chrome and all of its gorgeous refractors only made the cards more appealing.

#4 Topps Gallery

When Topps revived Gallery back in 2017, the artwork was something I had never seen before, and the white borders complimented it incredibly well. In the years that have followed, however, there haven't been many significant changes to the product, and that comes with its upsides as well as its downsides.

Despite this minor complaint, I still ranked Gallery in my top 4 favorite sets of the year, so, evidently, Topps is doing something right. I just hope that they take more risks with these cards in 2020, perhaps going back to gold frames?

#3 Topps Stadium Club
When I was deciding in my head where I'd rank each of the 2019 sets, I told myself to put Stadium Club a little lower on the list due to the fact that the cards have lost some of their wow factors following such stellar showings over the last few years.

Well, ranking it "lower," I suppose, still means making the top 3 because although Stadium Club may not be as incredible as it was 2 years ago, its still one of the most anticipated and celebrated Baseball card sets of the year.

If you're doubting Topps ability to be creative with this set now that it's been around since 2014, look no further than the Christy Mathewson card above.

#2 Topps Gypsy Queen
The biggest surprise, for me, out of all the 2019 Baseball card releases was Topps Gypsy Queen, Topps' finest effort in regards to this product that we've seen in ages.

The banner, frame, card backs, and every little nuance contributes to this set design that, finally, has some sort of identity after Topps spent years trying to give these cards something to work with.

The mockups for 2020 Gypsy Queen look just as promising, so, hopefully, after 2 disappointing years, things are looking up for my former favorite product.

#1 Topps Archives

Going into a brand new decade, Topps Archives will not only be my favorite set but an excellent retail option as well. Since 2017, they've chosen a near-perfect lineup of 3 designs for the 300-card base set with this year's choices being '58, '75, and '93.

Topps did a sensational job, though not perfect, with recreating these old school designs, and the checklist is incredibly diverse, featuring guys that are rarely recognized by any other set.

Needless to say, Topps Archives had all the ingredients for a top tier release, and they were able to accomplish just that with the lineup of sets, incredible checklist, and more factors.

Because of that, Archives reigns supreme as my favorite Baseball card product of 2019.


  1. Nice list! I agree with it... almost. My only gripe is Donruss. I think it looks terrible across all sport releases. To top it off, Panini uses the cheapest, CHEAPEST, cardboard for that release.

    Stadium Club, Archives, and Heritage were solid this year.

    Nice post!

  2. Happy New Year! Great list. I don't have cards from majority of these sets, so I won't even attempt to create my own post. I'll just leave my Top 3 here:

    #1: Stadium Club - Photography is the key to this set each and every year. But this year's set stood out even more.

    #2: Topps Holiday - I enjoy the Holiday sets every year, but I thought the "holly" borders really stood out.

    #3t: Topps Flagship - The 2019 flagship design was my 2nd favorite of the decade (2015 Topps was my favorite). With each passing day, I enjoyed this design more and more.

    #3t: Topps Chrome - I know you lumped all of these sets together... but since I wasn't a fan of too many other sets from this year... I broke things down a little more. I liked Chrome just as much as the flagship set. It had less cards in the checklist, but made up for that with refractors.