Sports Card Analytics

Chaos, Water, and 2018-19 Revolution Basketball


Last month, Panini released their latest iteration of Revolution Basketball.  The set has a bit of a cult following.  Consider me a fan as well.  In my opinion, it checks a lot of boxes for a new set of cards.  Let’s start with the price.




1.       a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.

2.       lack of order or predictability, gradual decline into disorder

The 2nd law of thermodynamics states that entropy of the entire universe will always increase over time.  The last month has been an exercise in increased entropy for me.  I recently moved to Seattle and I am looking to buy a home.  Seattle has basically been ground zero for insane housing price increases over the last few years, although it appears perhaps things have slowed a bit.  The search has been all consuming, traveling to see homes and constant searches for new listings.  How’s the layout on this house?  How long will it take me to get to work?  How much should I spend?  Is this neighborhood what I want?  What if prices drop?  What if they go up?  Should I wait? 

So, instead of contributing new content to this blog, I’ve been looking to make the largest purchase of my life.  I wrote a blog entry about 2018-19 Panini Revolution Basketball a couple of weeks ago that I never got around to posting.  If I’m honest, I held off on publishing it for a few reasons.  First, I’ve been really short on time with the home search going on.  Secondly, I just wasn’t that happy with what I wrote.  Also, the data associated with the most compelling cards in the set, the Galactic parallels, isn’t as conclusive as I would like.  I can only offer an estimate of the print run on those cards as opposed to something a little more concrete.  With all that said, I want to publish the data that I do have in order to inform you, so that’s why I decided to get to it this morning and make this blog entry public.

It’s a struggle unlike almost any other.  I liken it to the moon illusion.  Have you snapped a picture of a full moon as it hangs low in the evening sky?  In person it’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen.  But pull out your phone, snap a picture, and much to your disappointment it looks like every other time you saw the moon.  That same phenomenon is what seemingly happens to pictures of Panini Revolution basketball cards.  For a while last year, I was the fortunate owner of a 2017-18 Revolution LeBron James Vortex Galactic.  How the light danced off the blue background was mesmerizing.  But, try to capture that shimmer in a scan.  It easily can go from blingy to boring. 

2017-18 Panini Revolution LeBron James Vortex … looking dull.

2017-18 Panini Revolution LeBron James Vortex … looking dull.

Many of the most popular modern cards are, let’s say, shiny in nature.  They reflect light in a way that pleases us.  But, why is that?  Why should a sparkling, shiny card really bring us more joy than a simple photo on a card?   Check out this old auction for a 1967 Topps Mickey Mantle.  The description talks about the fantastic gloss.  We even want our non-shiny cards to have the characteristics of a shiny one.  Collectors have decided, matte is boring.  You don’t see Instagram filled with picture after picture of Fleer’s 1997-98 Basketball release

Let’s go back to the question of why.  Our happiness is the product of biochemicals.  Our bodies produce all kinds of different chemicals.  Our brains respond to these chemicals in a variety of ways.  Many medications we take serve the purpose of enhancing or suppressing production of these chemicals.  Some bring a sense of joy or reduce anxiety.  It’s a big business.  When you get down to it, everything humans do relates to biochemicals.  Even the sports cards we buy, and how we buy them, cause our bodies to release certain biochemicals.  If that didn’t happen, we wouldn’t care about cards one bit, good or bad, and we certainly would have no desire to create collections of them.

One study, published in the journal Ecological Psychology, suggests our preference for shiny things is innate.  In the study, children were observed playing with some different items.  Some of the items had glossy, reflective surfaces and others did not.  During play, the kids displayed a strong preference for placing their mouth on the shiny and glossy things.  The researchers hypothesized that the children associated shiny, reflective surfaces with the characteristics of water.  Perhaps as a necessity for survival we seek out glossy over matte.  Deep in our brains we are going back to our need for water.  The biochemical feedback loops that help keep us alive give us just a small dose of dopamine when we see shiny things to help encourage us to want to hydrate ourselves. 

It’s like Greek Freak is jumping off the card!

It’s like Greek Freak is jumping off the card!

For the love of god, I hope none of you are out there is licking your Giannis Antetokounmpo Liftoff Cubic cards.  Also, next time you’re on eBay and your bank account is low, maybe it would be a good idea to go drink a tall glass of water before buying anything.  Another study published in the Journal for Consumer Psychology suggests that thirst increases our affinity for shiny things.

Alright, enough with the evolutionary psychology and biochemical rabbit hole.  We like shiny stuff and nothing is changing that.  You’re here to get information about sports cards.  So, let’s do that for a bit.

Last month, Panini released their latest iteration of Revolution Basketball.  The set has a bit of a cult following.  Consider me a fan as well.  In my opinion, it checks a lot of boxes for a new set of cards.  Let’s start with the price.  A unopened box can be had for right around $60 (as of 1.21.2019).  Boxes of cards are like sushi, just because it is cheap doesn’t mean it’s good.  But, it feels like there is quite a bit of value packed into that $60 box.  How about autographs?  Yep, they’re in there for both veterans and rookies.  The autographs are also ON-CARD!  Unbelievable, I know!  The set also has 50 rookies and 100 current veterans.  What’s missing here?  Oh, what’s that you say?  Where are the all-time great players?  Do you miss them?  I bet you don’t.  I like cards from the era the players were on the court.  Maybe if they just had a set all their own?  They could call it Panini Werther’s Basketball.

Then there are the parallels, lots of parallels.  Each Revolution base and rookie card has 9 parallel versions.  On the bright side, that’s only 37.5% of the number of parallels in Prizm Basketball this year (not including Fast Break and Choice).  Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick, Prizm has a lot of parallels.  The Revolution parallels are all some iteration of shiny.  It’s especially confusing, because sometimes the parallel names just don’t make sense.  I don’t believe that Panini knows what the word fractal implies.  There is nothing about their Fractal parallel that is fractal.  Also, there is a semi-space theme going on with Revolution.  But it’s half-hearted.  There is nothing space related about Plaid or Cubic.

The cards look nice.  They’re affordable.  Autographs are on-card.  There are no all-time greats to act as fillers. There are parallels to chase, even if they’re confusing.  There must be a catch, right?  Did they print more cases than there are Bitcoins in the world?  I don’t think so.  Here’s a look at my estimated print run data.  As always, the data is from case break data, with the primary source being YouTube case break videos I watched.

Sorry for the tiny text, this table was way too large to embed as a spreadsheet.

Sorry for the tiny text, this table was way too large to embed as a spreadsheet.

These numbers are based on an estimate of 2450 cases produced.  The case print run was estimated by dividing the total number of serial numbered cards available across the product by the total number of serial numbered cards pulled out of the observed cases.  Some of the individual card print run numbers seem downright tiny compared to some of the print run numbers out of 2018-19 Prizm Basketball.

The print run information on the Galactic cards is an estimate.  They are inserted at a rate that appears to be one per 16 box case.  There are 150 base cards and 100 insert cards that have Galactic parallels.  The problem with the insert rate being so low and having the parallels split across base and insert sets is that it’s nearly impossible to determine the number printed for each set type.  I would need to view many, many more case breaks to figure this out.  There isn’t enough data made public to be able to do that with confidence.  So, for this estimate, I turned to eBay to look at active and completed listings for Galactic base cards and Galactic insert cards.  At the time of the analysis there were 265 Galactic base cards that were either active or completed on eBay, as compared to 121 Galactic inserts.  These numbers suggest the base and insert Galactic cards do not have the same print run.  Turns out, this arrangement is the same as last year. 

The print run on the BASE rookie cards in 2018-19 Revolution (3150) is estimated to be lower than the print run for 2018-19 Prizm Silver rookies (5240).  As of this writing you can pick up a base Luka Doncic Revolution rookie card for under $20.  If you’re looking to pick up a Doncic Silver Prizm it’s going to set you back just over $320.  I know Prizm is king, but a 16x disparity is huge.

Just for the sake of curiosity, let’s look at how the price of 2018-19 Revolution Doncic cards stack up against some of the parallels of his cards from the 2018-19 Prizm set.  There is very limited data on cards with a print run of 25 or less, so I’ll leave those out of the analysis.


The least desirable Prizm parallel, the Red, White, and Blue, last sold for $58.  That card has an estimated print run of 1800 copies.  The Revolution Impact, with an estimated print run of 140, last sold for $50.  The Red, White, and Blue has a print run of almost 13x more.  Is Prizm an order of magnitude better than Revolution?  At least for now, the market seems to think so.  Maybe Panini should consider color coding the different Revolution parallels to go along with the background special effects.  Colors are easy to interpret.  Background special effects with names that don’t match, not so much.


Till next time – Jeff