Last year, when Panini debuted their Prime set, I somehow managed to resist the temptation of pouring money into the high-end release. I did, however, succumb to buying into a case break, which luckily gave me a Sidney Crosby Autograph numbered to 5. Anyway, this year, I decided to take a chance at busting open a box, just to see what kind of cardboard awesomeness I might be able to find.
What sets Prime apart from other high-end releases like Dominion or The Cup, is its innovation in the types of inserts that are produced. Whereas a lot of other releases rely heavily on autographs to push their product, Prime goes right for the memorabilia, and sets out to provide cards that collectors have never seen before. Autographs are still a significant part of Prime, but this line also has cards with pieces of gloves, skates, skate laces, helmet decals, and patches that take up almost the entire card surface. Their signature insert, Prime Ties, are 1-of-1 memorabilia cards that have the ties from a player's jersey collar. Those cards are all redemptions, as the memorabilia piece is simply too thick to have it included in packs.
New to Prime this year, and only this year, is a two-card pack of Dominion. Due to the lockout, and the limited number of rookies that would be available to card companies, both Panini and Upper Deck were forced to scrap a number of products, just for this year. Panini remedied this situation by including inserts and hits from Crown Royale, Contenders, Elite, and Titanium in their Rookie Anthology boxes, and Upper Deck included Series 2 and SPX as inserts in other products. Dominion, Panini's highest-end product was saved exclusively for Prime, as it was the only other product worthy of the distinction. Each Box of Prime contains a special two-card pack of Dominion, which has one base card and one insert card from the set.
Prime is the very definition of a high risk/high reward product. It's definitely pricey, but if you're lucky enough to pull a Prime Ties, Prime Gloves, or Prime Skates card, it can all be well worth it. I picked up a box from my LCS, so let's see how this product looks.
The first of my two Dominion cards is a Mike Smith base card, numbered 45/125. The cards of 2012-13 Dominion look very similar to the previous year's release. The only difference this year, is that the foil on the sides are done in more of a convex setting, as opposed to last year's concave, and the Dominion logo on the bottom is imbedded into the foil box, whereas last year's offering had the logo imprinted with stand-alone foiling. The cards look amazing either way, but I would have expected a bit more drastic of a change, especially when you compare what they did from 2010-11 to 2011-12.
The other card in the Dominion pack will be one of the Dominion inserts, which could be Rookie Autographed Patch cards, Autographed Patch Cards, Peerless Patches, 1-of-1 Ensign cards, or a few hits from last year that did not make it into packs. The one I pulled was a Rookie Autographed Patch card of Minnesota Wild left winger Kris Foucault, numbered 98/99. Like previous years, the cards feature a patch from an "event worn" jersey next to an on-card autograph from the rookie. The difference this year is that not only is the numbering more scarce (/99 instead of /199), but the swatches are significantly larger, making for a much more vibrant card, especially for a team with such colorful sweaters.
Once you get past the Dominion "box topper," you have your five-card pack of Prime. Each Prime pack is guaranteed to contain one base card, one rookie autographed quad jersey card, one autographed card, one memorabilia card, and one other autographed, memorabilia, or low-numbered base card.
My base card was of Philadelphia Flyers right winger Matt Read, numbered 76/249. When compared to last year's release, the 2012-13 cards simply bring you closer to the action. As opposed to the full-bodied photos, beige background, and diagonal team-colored stripes, Prime now brings close-up photography, keeps a diagonal stripe in the center, but coordinates the background to the player's team colors. Plus, the black box on the bottom really makes the player's name, team, and serial number really stand out.
The memorabilia card I pulled out of this box was a quad jersey card of Montreal's No. 1 goaltender and No. 1 goaltending prospect, Carey Price and Robert Mayer, numbered 42/200. Prime does a few different things with their multi-swatch memorabilia cards. This once has two players, with two swatches for each that spell out "HABS," but others will have three players with one swatch each, or one card with two pictures of the same player and four swatches for him. They also get creative with multi-card combinations that spell out a longer word when the two or three cards are set side-by-side.
My autographed quad jersey rookie card was of Kris Foucault, numbered 47/249. The surprising thing here, is simply how much they were able to fit on the card without making it look cramped. You get a good full-colored photo of the player right in the middle, with the necessary vitals in the bottom center. Two swatches are placed on each side of the card, which prevents it from looking crammed together, like the 2011-12 rookies, and there is still plenty of white space on the upper right corner for the player's signature. Now I know it's purely coincidental, but fortunately for me, I'm a fan of the Wild, so pulling two Foucault hits in one box isn't necessarily a bad thing.
My guaranteed autograph was a Prime Namesakes card of Los Angeles Kings center Jordan Nolan, numbered 24/75. These cards feature a framed letter, which is representative of a letter in a player's last name, as printed on the back of the jersey. The letter is reproduced just as it would be on the sweater and is autographed right on the fabric, and this is one of the cases where simpler is better, as just having a one-colored basic letter gives the player a larger surface to sign his name. What I love about how Prime treats these cards is that they just spell out the last name, and nothing more. Other products by other companies in past years have spelled out different words, but it's ridiculous to have an autographed "P" of Sidney Crosby, for example, when all it is supposed to represent is the player's last name. Now we all know that these are not the real letters from an actual jersey (although such cards ARE actually produced for Prime), but at least Panini treats it as such, which is good.
My "other" hit was a BIG one. This is a Prime Ties Redemption card of Washington Capitals defense prospect Chay Genoway. As I said earlier, these cards are all 1-of-1s that feature a full-card swatch of the tie on a player's jersey collar, and as thick as they are, none are actually included in packs. Each one of these are done as a redemption, simply for logistical purposes, but they are some of the most sought-after cards in the hobby, as even the lowest level player can fetch hundreds of dollars on the secondary market.
From a blog post on Panini's The Knight's Lance on August 29th, all of the Prime Ties cards have been produced and are ready to be packed out once the redemptions have been redeemed, which meant I was able to get a peek at my Genoway card.
Like most of the jerseys that are tied at the collar, six rivets are used for the lacing, all of which are included in the memorabilia piece. From player to player, the length of the lace differs, but fortunately, Genoway's has a significant length to it, making it even more of a significant card. One big difference in this year's Prime Ties cards from last year, is that Panini also included a photo of the player, as well as a team logo, which made it look a whole lot better. Without those two elements, the 2011-12 Prime Ties cards almost looked like an unlicensed product, which is not a great thing when you have the full rights to use the team name and logo.
As I said before, Prime is the very definition of high risk/high reward when it comes to hockey cards. Panini continued their innovation this year that they began last year, giving collectors some of the coolest cards on the market. At around $230-$250 per box for these, many collectors will be shy to invest, especially considering how rare some of the superstar players are when it comes tot he big hits. Still, when you have such unique items, even pulling a Chay Genoway can be a phenomenal grab.
This is the close of the 2012-13 hockey year, and Panini certainly went out with a bang, and with as much progress as they made this year, I can't wait to see what they think of next.