Friday, 28 June 2019

Upper Deck CFL e-pack : e-ssential? or e-relevant? (definitely e-xpensive)

Upper Deck 2018 CFL Box Front and Upper Deck CFL 2018 e-pack website image   

In 2018 Upper Deck issued their 5th set of CFL trading cards which marked the fulfillment of their original five year deal with the CFLPA to produce football cards for the league. As an added bonus (maybe, depending on your point of view) it was also the first year that CFL cards were part of Upper Deck's e-pack program.

For those unaware the e-pack framework is a well thought out and implemented digital card acquisition web application (no sign of the promised mobile apps that I could see) whose killer feature (from a collector's perspective) is that you can have all of the premium cards that you buy digitally, shipped to you physically. Additionally the folks at Upper Deck very wisely integrated purchase based incentives into the system to acquire multiple card types that are only available through e-pack.

2018 Upper Deck CFL numbered 200 base cards and four different parallel sets all available in physical boxes/packs as well as digitally online through the e-pack site.
2018 Base Cards (200) with Silver borders
2018 Red Parallel (200) with Red borders numbered to 150
2018 Gold Parallel (200) with Gold borders numbered to 50
2018 Purple Parallel (200) with Purple borders numbered to 15
2018 Blank Back Parallel (200) with Silver borders on front (not shown)

You cannot access any of the base cards that you buy digitally, and presumably as a collector you don't care because you are after the premium parallels, autographs, memorabilia and e-pack exclusive rarer cards. This then highlights the killer feature (from the manufacturer's perspective) in that you are actually buying product, of which some large majority percentage of the total cards bought, the seller does not have to deliver (or even produce?).

Also available in both physical boxes and digitally online were autograph parallels in two different scarcity groupings, with company checklists providing a different ratio than that printed on the box bottoms. The only way to get the Blue e-pack parallels was by digitally accumulating 5 copies of a regular base card which could then be exchanged for one blue card.
2018 Autograph Parallel Group A (9) with Black borders 1:267 packs (but box says 1:575)
2018 Autograph Parallel Group B (93) with Black borders 1:8 packs (but box says 1:16)
2018 e-pack Parallel (200) with Blue borders (not serially numbered) front & back shown

Now there are stated odds of each type of chase cards produced for every set, and I have read online that the cards that are opened digitally on e-pack were withheld from being physically distributed, thus maintaining the stated number of chase cards in the total population. But logistically speaking the speed with which the system "delivers" your digitally purchased cards indicates that the whole operation must be digital. How that would then be accurately accounted for and synched with a theoretical monumentally huge accumulation of non-packaged held back cards, is something of a questionable mystery.

Whether Upper Deck actually holds back cards or whether their product legalese related to the scarcity of particular chase cards fully allows them to add as many different sources of the same types of cards as their business interests deem prudent, I don't really know or care. I'm just trying to inform collectors of what was once (potentially) made available to collect.

Among the higher profile rare cards that were available on e-pack for completing defined achievements (ie; buying enough e-packs to get all cards of certain specified card groups) were the two Johnny Manziel SP0 cards. Too bad Manziel was such a monumental bust in the CFL.
2018 SP1 Johnny Manziel (1) with Silver border 1:320 packs 
2018 SP1 Johnny Manziel Autograph (1) with Black border ?:? packs
2018 e-pack SP0 Johnny Manziel (1) with Silver border (? issued unknown)
2018 e-pack SP0 Johnny Manziel Autograph (1) with Black border (5 for achievements)

So signing up for e-pack is simple and then the next step is to buy digital packs, boxes or cases (for the latter two there are very skimpy discounts).  As the packs are priced in US dollars I am pretty sure the cost is significantly more that buying the physical product. At least where I bought my boxes they were $105 CAD if I recall, and since I got them at a card show, no shipping charges. With the US $ exchange rate hovering near 1.35 at $91.99 per box that would translate to about $124 CAD. Many of the digital products have occasional sale pricing but I have not seen the CFL cards reduced as of yet.

One of the best things about e-pack is the capability to trade with other collectors. Most collectors specialize in certain teams or players or card types, so they generally have a lot of premium cards that they would rather exchange with others for their own specific wants. Once you have some cards (and they can be cards from the free pack a day of certain fringe card sets) you can examine others holdings and suggest trades, and they can do the same.

Memorabilia cards make up the remainder of the chase cards in the set, 
and there are definitely a lot of confusing groupings of these. Some players (like Charleston Hughes) that changed teams appear with their old team on some of the memorabilia cards, and not in his old uniform designated with his new team like on most of his cards
2018 Game Jersey (35) with Shield shaped swatch 1:10 packs
2018 Game Patch Parallel (35) with Shield shaped swatch numbered to 25 ?:? packs
2018 O-Pee-Chee Jumbo Jersey (17) with Jumbo shaped swatch 1:92 packs
2018 Game Jersey Autograph (10) with Shield shaped swatch 1:350 packs
2018 epack Game Patch Parallel Autograph (10) with Shield shaped swatch (? issued unknown)
2018 epack O-Pee-Chee Jumbo Jersey Parallel CP Patch (17) with Jumbo shaped swatch numbered to 2

Another approach is to look for sellers on ebay offering the e-pack exclusive cards and either buy them outright, or purchase them from their digital holdings. But be careful with the latter as the cards can be transferred to you for free, but you will need to pay the Upper Deck shipping costs to get them actually mailed to you, and while this is a small amount per card, it adds up quick.

Specially designed CFL Logo Patch cards are the last e-pack specific offering, featuring a few with the older league logo, and with the Montreal logos in French (new and old logos). These cards are all individual one of one's and you will find a few on ebay at very high asking prices. 
2018 epack CFL Logo Patch (33) with Logo shaped swatch numbered to 1

You can also transfer your cards to ComC which is a giant trading card sales agent conglomerate operating online and on ebay, and consign your cards for sale if you wish. While ComC may work out OK for sellers maybe, for buyers their shipping costs to Canada are outrageous, sometimes quoting near $25.00 CAD to ship one card! I guess what with all the dog sleds and igloos involved with delivering anything north of the border, you can't really blame them...

And finally we have the individual printing plates in all four offset CMYK printing colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) also segregated by those with the autograph and those without. 
These were made available as 16 different achievement awards on e-pack and as of this blog date eight of them had yet to be achieved by anybody.   
2018 epack CFL Base Printing Plate Cyan Autographed (103) 1 of each

2018 epack CFL Base Printing Plate Cyan (97) 1 of each
2018 epack CFL Base Printing Plate Magenta Autographed (103) 1 of each

2018 epack CFL Base Printing Plate Magenta (97) 1 of each
2018 epack CFL Base Printing Plate Yellow Autographed (103) 1 of each

2018 epack CFL Base Printing Plate Yellow (97) 1 of each
2018 epack CFL Base Printing Plate Black Autographed (103) 1 of each

2018 epack CFL Base Printing Plate Black (97) 1 of each

So what is the net effect of the e-pack program on the available CFL cards to collect? The physical product contained 1000 different versions of the base cards, 102 Autographs, 2 Manziel shortprints and 97 memorabilia cards for a grand total of 1201. The e-pack cards added 200 Blue versions of the base cards, 2 Manziel shortprints, 60 memorabilia cards and 800 printing plates for a grand total of 1062 additional distinct items to potentially collect.

But do you really need a sixth different version (Blue) of all of the same cards in the set? And almost all of the remaining 862 e-pack cards are short printed to 5 or less copies with 833 of those being singular 1/1 items, so only one person gets to acquire each card. In order to get any significant amount of these 862 rarities a person would have to spend a LOT of $$$ on e-pack (as some have), which from the manufacturer's perspective is of course the whole point of the platform. 

Upper Deck is returning with a 6th set of CFL cards in 2019, and we will soon know whether or not collectors will be blessed with more e-cards this time around. For some that will be good news and for others it may be re-diculous.