Tuesday, January 3, 2017
Sets of the Year: 2016
It is time, once again, for me to rank the sets we saw throughout the just-ended card season.
As usual, this was a fun list to create, and the same rules apply as past years. I had to have bought at least one pack and/or elsewhere acquired an ample amount of singles of a given product for it to qualify for this list.
Though I do own cards from sets like 2016 Museum Collection and Gold Label, you won't see them here because I don't really have enough to form any kind of opinion on them. Also (as in the past) I've consolidated each brand and their various offshoots into a single category for the sake of time and space.
Let's begin with the now four-time reigning Worst Set of the Year.
#10 -- Donruss/Optic
The sets near the bottom of this list appear in almost the exact same order as they ranked in 2015, so I'll try to make this as quick as I can.
My opinion about Donruss hasn't changed over the years...just, no.
#9 -- Bowman/Chrome
Bowman produced its first non-foil set in what seemed like forever in 2016, but the design remains a little too TV-graphicy for my taste and will probably never be a favorite of mine.
#8 -- Gypsy Queen
I'm always good for a pack or two of Gypsy Queen every year, but the fact remains that (as far as the base cards go) I just find this set incredibly bland, no matter how Topps tries to tinker with it.
The best way I can put it is this: not once have I bought a pack of GQ and felt as if I've gotten my money's worth.
#7 -- Diamond Kings
The dawn of Diamond Kings created a bit of a stir in 2015, but I didn't hear much about it this year.
I was lukewarm on it last year and the 2016 edition didn't much change my opinion. DK wins points by sometimes including relatively obscure past greats like Jake Daubert in its checklist, but outside of that there's not a whole lot that excites me about this product. Unlike other sets bringing up the rear on this list, however, I do think DK can be tweaked into a set that I enjoy.
What those tweaks are or how they should be applied, though, I don't know.
#6 -- Allen & Ginter
It often feels like I've said everything I need to say about Allen & Ginter.
Topps opted for a more Heritage-esque card stock in 2016 A&G, but I didn't have much of an opinion one way or the other about the cards themselves. Nice? Sure. Exciting? Not so much.
I'm fine with A&G being on the shelves year-in and year-out, but at this point I'm not sure if A&G can ever recapture its mid-2000s greatness.
#5 -- Flagship/Opening Day/Chrome
Here's where the list starts to get interesting.
Flagship comes in at #5, which is the lowest I've placed a Flagship set since I started creating these countdowns four years ago. Topps revolutionized their central product by doing the unthinkable and whipping up a Flagship set without borders.
Instead, we got smoke and odd nameplates that look like something you'd see during a FOX telecast. Couple that with uninspired photography and you have what amounted to a boring Flagship release. Buying packs of Flagship this year carried more of an I guess I should than I want to train of thought.
I think a Topps Without Borders set can one day succeed, but for my money, 2016 Topps was a failure.
#4 -- Bunt
Fresh off the heels of Flagship's failure comes the most surprising set of 2016: Topps Bunt.
Bunt was the only debut brand to crack this list, and it was met with raucous applause from many collectors, for good reason.
First, the price point: I bought an entire 36-pack box of the stuff for only a few dollars more than a blaster. Second, the design: giant team logos are almost always a good thing (though the backs kinda suck). Third, the fact that Bunt's success seemed to be somewhat of an accident: I get the feeling Topps was tossing this brand out mainly as a shill for the online Bunt app.
I didn't once try out the Bunt app -- I'm just not an app kind of guy -- but the cards themselves are clean and were, against all odds, simply better than what the almighty Flagship had to offer us in 2016.
Do us all a favor and bring back Bunt in 2017, Topps.
#3 -- Heritage/High Numbers
Heritage, as usual, was a winner in 2016.
No matter how much others have tried to sway me to the contrary, '67 Topps has never been much more than a middle-of-the-pack Topps set to me. But when it comes to Heritage, my feelings regarding the chosen design are almost second nature.
Heritage, for me, is really about how well it stays true to the original, and how much it causes me to go back and maybe reconsider my feelings towards the honored design. I think 2016 Heritage succeeded in both departments.
This year's edition clearly echoed the original design, and at the end of it all, I can honestly say that 2016 Heritage probably kicked '67 Topps up a few notches on my all-time list.
#2 -- Archives
What I just said about Heritage goes double for Archives, which was far and away the most improved brand of 2016.
This year's edition featured the 1953, '79, and '91 Topps designs, and you'd be hard pressed to find a weak card among any of the three. We've seen quite a few '53 reproductions before, but the fact that the 1979 and '91 Topps designs have never gotten much pub in retro sets made 2016 Archives a breath of fresh air.
The '91s in particular were amazingly well done and singlehandedly catapulted '91 Topps -- a design that originally came in at #13 in my countdown a couple years ago -- into my all-time top ten favorite Topps sets.
Needless to say, I'm on the edge of my seat waiting to see what designs Topps chooses to honor for 2017 Archives.
#1 -- Stadium Club
Here it is, folks, the now three-time reigning Set of the Year: Stadium Club.
There's just not a better brand out there. Stadium Club has it all. Horizontal, vertical. Old players, new players. Hair-raising action shots, fun candid moments. Every card has the potential to be a masterpiece.
Stadium Club has faced some noble competition over the past few years -- 2014 Heritage and its honoring of '65 Topps, the colorful 2015 Topps, not to mention this year's Archives -- but nothing has yet been able to take it down.
In 2016, as in years past, Stadium Club remains at the very top of the baseball card mountain.