Ranking the 11 worst sets of the Junk Wax Era of baseball cards

In case you’ve adopted me on Twitter for any size of time, you already know I like gathering outdated baseball cards, and you already know my scale suggestions closely nostalgia > precise worth. Most of the containers I’ve purchased in the past 12 months, from card retailers or eBay, have been priced in the $5 to $20 vary and have been firmly from the coronary heart of the Junk Wax Era. 

These cards had been my childhood, and I nonetheless cherish them. So what you’re about to learn comes from that place of love. Please do not forget that. I’m not likely indignant, simply dissatisfied.

As a result of as I’ve opened these containers (and packs I’ve hunted down in antiques stores), I’ve been reminded that not all recollections are glad recollections. Some of these cards simply, effectively, stink. Some stink as a result of their designs are both repulsive or bland, and a few stink as a result of billions and billions of them had been produced and cards I as soon as thought had been going to be worth big money are principally nugatory. It’s the harsh truth of the Junk Wax Era.

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Talking of the “Junk Wax Era,” there are many opinions, but no official start or end to the period. For our purposes, I’m defining the start as 1987 — when production totals jumped dramatically again, after a hefty jump in 1986 — and ending it with 1993. By then, companies had started to realize, at least to a certain extent, that maybe it was a good idea not to completely flood the market with more cards than anyone could possibly handle. 

Make sense? So, here are the 11 worst sets of the Junk Wax Era. This is mostly my own ranking, but I asked for help from some of my Twitter followers and not only did they contribute their own comments, but they influenced my ranking at least a tiny bit. 

Let’s jump in. We’ll start with my thoughts on the sets and then you can read the Twitter-submitted comments. 

11. 1990 Donruss

1990 Donruss

Why this set was the worst: Truthfully, I kinda like this set. And I used to be solely going to rank the 10 worst, however, wow, y’all had tons of venom saved up for this set, so I’ll add it right here and simply allow you to Twitter people have at it. 

@kuchemJ: Full discrimination towards youngsters who could not learn cursive but. What had been they considering? I imply I get it, you already know Ken Griffey Jr. by the pic, however what about some rookie with a .210 batting common? The cursive on the entrance of the card seems like some tacky intro from some early ’90s TV show.

@fungogolf25: So many errors. They had been so fast to print these horrible cards that they didn’t proof something. Juan Gonzalez reverse unfavorable. Birthdays are incorrect. Batting averages are incorrect. Only a big mess. An error needs to be precious, not the norm.

@unmarketing: Largely, my hunt for the pretend John Smoltz. I had all the time been fascinated by error cards and John Smoltz’s card had Tom Glavine’s face. I began gathering more packs, understanding I hit a gold mine. I shoveled driveways and ran to the retailer to spend my earnings after every one. I ended proudly owning the full set, together with 15 error cards. That’s after I came upon except it’s half of a restricted first run, the error card is nugatory. FML

@ChrisInSTL: In hindsight, 1990 Donruss was simply terrible. Script names had been tough to learn, orange borders had been garish, and brutal images.  Severely — the most dynamic and sought-after participant the earlier 12 months, Ken Griffey Jr., doesn’t get an motion shot. He will get a kneeling, back-lit spring coaching picture. And this set had so many errors, there are solely two explanations — 1. Donruss was inept or 2. they deliberately made errors to drive demand. I vote #2. Additionally, it’s kind of a kick in the intestine that the big rookie that we had been chasing out of this set at the time was Ben McDonald.

@ssb19876: Let’s start with the hideous purple design with the cursive title and the paint spackle on the side. Goodness these are and had been horrible to take a look at! And the actual cause I hated that set? The heartbreak! All these rookie cards . Sosa, Olerud, Gonzalez, and so forth. Man, did I believe I had the motherload of sets, solely to appreciate they weren’t solely ugly, however outrageously over-produced to the level I might purchase a whole unopened set for below $15 at the moment. And I guarantee you, I spent at the least $500 on wax containers of that crap in 1990.

@tim_wheel: The set is so full of errors that you simply actually need to marvel who rubber stamped the go-ahead for launch, and in the event that they even cared about the product they had been bringing to market. The truth is, the set is so low high quality, and so bereft of high-end rookies (apologies to Larry Walker), that the solely cards of any worth in the set are the error cards. The set is so unhealthy that one time, after I positioned a pretty big order for mid-’90s by means of mid-aughts manufacturing unit sealed Topps sets on eBay, and the vendor included a “free bonus” 1990 Donruss sealed manufacturing unit set with my order to fill the delivery box, I nearly wrote him a word demanding an apology for mailing me literal rubbish.

10. 1988 Score

1988 Score

Why this set was the worst: I used to be VERY EXCITED for a brand new entry into the world of baseball card gathering in 1988, and so initially I actually favored these cards, although I by no means appeared to get any good cards, and so they had been all over the place. For me, 1987 was the golden 12 months of gathering, with three nice set designs and rookie lessons, and it took me some time to just accept that 1988 Score simply wasn’t an excellent set. It was kinda like “The Phantom Menace.” Follow me. The three basic “Star Wars” motion pictures had been AWESOME, so when “Phantom Menace” got here out, my mind couldn’t settle for that it was really horrible, although deep down there was this nagging truth straining to get out. Mainly, 1988 Score is my “Phantom Menace” of baseball cards. 

@ToddHertz: ’88 Score provides me the heebie jeebies for 2 causes: 1. The borders normally didn’t match team colours. I bear in mind ranting to buddies about why an Ozzie Smith card could be purple! 2. My first autographed card was an ’88 Harold Baines (orange border!?) and I apprehensive it was pretend as a result of I purchased it from a neighbor child named Mick. 

@11TimeChamps: No creativity in any respect. I vividly bear in mind being upset anytime somebody would get me a pack of ’88 Score. Such a boring wanting card. 

@JohnStolnis: Score ought to have by no means gotten into the game. These single-color monstrosities had been garish and horrific-looking, and the colours they determined to make use of didn’t match the team colours in the slightest. They appeared to be making an attempt to re-create what ’87 Fleer did with their all-blue cards, however these had been lovely. These had been ugly and blah. No team brand on the entrance of the card, both? No thanks. These cards had been mass produced, worth completely nothing, and ugly besides. They really had been the very definition of nugatory.

9. 1989 Bowman 

1989 Bowman

Why this set was the worst: THE CARDS WERE TOO TALL! Sheesh. I get what they had been making an attempt, the throwback look in the comeback 12 months, however this precipitated all types of logistical points. Liked the rookies; Junior Griffey was right here and Bowman was the solely firm to have a 1989 Jerome Walton rookie, which was a big deal again then. However the images was meh, at finest, and did I point out that the cards had been too tall to slot in binders, card holders or containers? Aargh. 

@ChrisInSTL: I bear in mind shopping for fairly a bit of 1989 Bowman when it got here out as a result of it had kind of a throwback look, kind of the anti-Higher Deck. However it had one deadly flaw — the cards had been taller than normal in order that they didn’t slot in my baseball card album. And THAT, my buddies, is a deal-breaker.

@ericthewelch: The dimensions of the card was the worst. It by no means match good and neat with different cards in the white card containers. I perceive eager to set your self aside (see: Higher Deck) from the pack (pun supposed), however making the card greater set themselves aside for all the incorrect causes. Moreover, the new tackle back-of-the-card stats was a pleasant try however ended up annoying me.

@CStoneman3: That is the set I actually hate more than some other. Simply horrifically boring visually, terrible card inventory high quality and just about each one of them I ever had ended up getting dinged or outright bent as a result of of that silly additional 1/Four inch.

8. 1992 Score

1992 Score

Why this set was the worst: For the life of me, I don’t know why anybody would wish to take up a lot of the entrance of their baseball card with a block of strong coloration, when that space might be used for, I dunno, actually the rest (ideally a full baseball picture). And, yikes, this base set was 893 cards, which meant you had been opening at the least three full containers to even have hope of finishing the set. I’m typically a fan of enjoyable subsets, however I additionally hate overkill — so it’s a dilemma. I’m wanting on eBay proper now and somebody is promoting the whole set for $3.99 (delivery is $12.25, tho). 

@CStoneman3: I presume this aberration was meant to be avant-garde or one thing. I despise random, irrelevant colours on cards (see 1975 Topps) and that dumb, non-team coloured bar that took up a quarter of each participant pic drove me particularly nuts. Eradicating the background from PART of a photograph simply to show you may is idiotic. Ensuring the coloured bar doesn’t even coordinate with team colours appears a particular effort to trigger me to have an aneurysm. The worst of these years. 

@15CK15CK: This set was simply plain ugly. Properly, the third or so of the set with the orange accent coloration was ugly. Though, even the blue and inexperienced accent was annoying, because it took up 25 percent or more of the card. I believe I purchased three packs of these and never one more after that.

7. 1988 Topps

1988 Topps

Why this set was the worst: Look, 1988 was only a unhealthy 12 months for card corporations. Spoiler: Fleer is the solely set from that 12 months that didn’t make this list (and there are loads of individuals who dislike that one, however I like it and it’s my list, so there). And, if we’re being trustworthy, the terrible 1988 lineup was in all probability one of the causes everybody beloved the 1989 Higher Deck set. It was rattling cathartic to have a legitimately handsome set of cards after 1988’s debacle.

However that is about 1988 Topps. The design is bland. The 1987 set was the iconic wood-grain border, and the 1989 set has an incredible, easy design that simply screams “classic Topps.” The choice of rookies wasn’t nice for any set in 1988, however Topps managed to overlook nearly everyone — no Roberto Alomar, no Mark Grace and no Gregg Jefferies in the base set. Topps one way or the other didn’t even add Jefferies, a pastime phenom, you’ll bear in mind, in its 1988 Traded set, the place Alomar and Grace made their Topps debuts. 

@ChrisWGamble: 1988 Topps wins based mostly on the pure boredom that involves thoughts with the set. The design was as fundamental because it will get. The one rookie worth having is Tom Glavine and even that card is as thrilling as the prospect of being quarantined for an additional month. Everyone knows 1988 wasn’t an thrilling 12 months for gathering however Score got here out, Donruss gave us funky blue borders, Fleer gave us a sort of patriotic border with these purple and blue stripes. Topps gave us a bland team title at the high, the participant title on a bit ribbon in a corner and a largely boring picture. That is arguably the most boring set ever produced and to this present day zaps my vitality like I’m a child coming down from a sugar rush as I kind my assortment.

@DaSanz23: The cards on the backside of the containers was a bit of a no-no for me. I by no means cared for the thought. And at 792 cards, it was extraordinarily overwhelming, particularly in case you are a completist and accumulate all the picture variations and error cards and such.

@mattdaigle: 1988 Topps would possibly as effectively have been printed on rest room paper. I bought so many dinged-up corners from my wax packs and the gum stained a good share as effectively.

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6. 1991 Donruss

1991 Donruss

Why this set was the worst: It’s the first 12 months Donruss cut up its providing into Sequence I and Sequence II, which didn’t assist. And the rookie-card choice is simply pitiful. Not even the basic Rated Rookie brand might boost that lineup — 9 of the 40 RRs unfold over the two series completed with a unfavorable profession bWAR (sure, I appeared all of them up). Yikes. The 1991 Higher Deck set had rookie cards for Corridor of Famers Chipper Jones, Mike Mussina and Jeff Bagwell. Donruss whiffed on all three. In the pre-coronavirus days, you could possibly go to any baseball card show and decide up a box of these for $5, if sellers even bothered to deliver them. 

@Yay4Sportsballs: First of all, these cards are UGLY. The multi-colored stripes and paint splatter throughout the blue or inexperienced borders simply screams early ’90s, and never in a great way. One other problem I’ve with this set is the sheer over-production of these cards. They made a gazillion of this set, and I stored shopping for packs and containers, satisfied that I used to be sometime going to land the Holy Grail: one of the Elite Sequence cards numbered to 10,000 every. I purchased tons of of packs, however all I ever bought was mountains of nugatory, ugly cards (and at the least 10 full Willie Stargell puzzles). Lastly, the Rated Rookies on this set are wholly unimpressive.

@15CK15CK: This was one of, if not the first set to return out with a Sequence I and a Sequence II. Man, did that piss me off as a child. Utilizing allowance to purchase packs, however having to separate between the two series to attempt to get the set. Particularly since I believed Sequence II, with the inexperienced borders, was the cooler-looking design. The blue borders simply appeared to much like ’88, which was too current.

@DougDavis66: Simply terrible coloration combos on the card entrance with stripes and dots. A unfavorable for me with all Donruss cards are incomplete statistics. I like to see profession numbers.

5. 1991 Fleer Extremely

1991 Fleer Extremely

Why this set was the worst: Apparently Fleer thought it might simply slap the phrase “Ultra” on cards, throw a bit silver in the design, cost a premium pack worth and collectors would go loopy. Uh, nope. The images is a bit higher on this set than the normal Fleer choices of 1990 and 1991, however that’s not a excessive bar to clear. The corporate clearly was not making an attempt in 1991, which was evident with its 1992 choices. That base Fleer set was, in my view, gorgeous with its inexperienced card inventory, high-quality images and huge names (usually not a fan, nevertheless it labored for 1992 Fleer), and the 1992 Fleer Extremely set was, and nonetheless is, one of my all-time favourite “premium” sets. Every little thing that was nice about the 1992 Fleer Extremely set shines a highlight on how terrible the 1991 providing was. Blah. 

And, to be trustworthy, this was in all probability a greater set than the 1991 Donruss, nevertheless it’s ranked larger/worse as a result of at the least Donruss didn’t have the audacity to name its providing “Ultra” or one thing equally deceptive. Sure, I’m nonetheless irritated. Apparently none of my Twitter followers agreed, which is why there aren’t any feedback, however I’m nonetheless rating this set No. 5.

4. 1989 Score

Why this set was the worst: It’s like Score heard all the criticisms of the colourful 1988 debut set and went fully in the different route: “Hey, they said we’re too colorful so let’s produce the blandest set imaginable and show those jerks!” I imply, that needed to be it, proper? Probably the most damning criticism of 1989 Score is that this: It’s fully forgettable. It is so forgettable that I did not even have any to take an image of (if you wish to see what they appear like, right here you go). Additionally, no Ken Griffey Jr. rookie. Unforgivable in 1989, and never significantly better in 2020. 

One more factor, as a result of I don’t wish to appear like I’m solely hating on Score. I like, love, love the 1990 set. I’ve purchased TWO containers in the past calendar 12 months, and would possibly attempt to discover one other after I lastly open the dozen or so packs I’ve remaining. The Bo card — you already know the one — and the first-round picks and rookies had been all nice. So, y’know, kudos to Score for lastly getting issues proper with its third effort. 

@halemckirnan: I can’t think about a more generic baseball card template. A geometrical diamond on a mattress of random colours with block lettering of team, place and participant title.  A very half-assed effort. The one saving grace to Score ’89 is the Chris Sabo card is ideal. Sabo was the Reds gritty third baseman (often known as Spuds for apparent causes). Is he bunting, slap-hitting to proper, whiffing on a change-up? Who is aware of, nevertheless it’s an ideal card.

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3. 1991 Fleer

1991 Fleer

Why this set was the worst: Let’s start with this: There’s just one cause this isn’t in the No. 1 spot: The Professional-Visions insert set. These cards, painted by artist Terry Smith, are wonderful. They had been gorgeous in 1991 and they’re gorgeous now. I nonetheless wish to have poster-sized variations up on the partitions of my yet-to-be-started man cave/basement. It needs to be identified that these cards weren’t even Fleer’s thought — Smith wrote the firm together with his thought and at last, more than two years later, Fleer mentioned sure. Thanks, Terry. In contrast to the No. Four set on our list — King Blah Score — these yellow cards with zero creativeness had been offensively terrible. However you don’t need to take my phrase for it. 

@sloopylew: 1991 Canary Fleer is simply the worst set — I hated opening them, the general high quality of images was horrible, and the rattling bright yellow was blindingly annoying. Minus the distinctive subset of drawn and coloured stars (that Eric Davis is money!) this set is a whole joke. Not a single card in there would I put in a group. Put up cereal made higher-quality cards.

@halemckirnan: First of all, they’re ugly & look low-cost. Who picked mustard yellow? Secondly, as a Reds fan, that is the first season after the wire-to-wire season when the Reds won the World Sequence after beating the Bash Bros. These yellow-and-black Fleer cards look like an homage to the Pittsburgh Pirates unbranded team-issued card giveaways that every one teams used to offer away at the parks. The Reds beat the Pirates in the playoffs in ’90, so why did Fleer decide these losers as its card template?

@mattkemm: 1991 Fleer cards had been simply atrocious. If being blinded by the “construction yellow” border wasn’t unhealthy sufficient, there’s simply nothing of even first rate worth.

@StillyRyan: My hatred for this set is two-fold. The plain cause is as a result of this set is hideous. Whoever determined that yellow borders was a good suggestion ought to’ve been fired. Simply dreadful. The main cause for my disdain of this set is that I had requested for a box of ’91 Higher Deck for my birthday. I used to be fairly satisfied that my mother and father had been going to get it for me as a result of they really went to Shinders! When it lastly got here time to open my presents, I tore the paper off to reveal the purple abomination of the ’91 Fleer box. My mother and father defined that “it was the same thing.” Such a letdown. No chance at Nolan Ryan and Hank Aaron autograph cards for this man.

2. 1988 Donruss

1988 Donruss

Why this set was the worst: This is likely to be the most uninspiring set design of all time. Possibly it’s as a result of I beloved the 1987 Donruss set, and I’m a big fan of 1989, too (although that set had important centering points). It’s not that the set is bland, like 1989 Score or 1988 Topps, however I knock off points (from my made-up, biased scale) as a result of it seems like Donruss tried to be inventive however wound up with uninspiring all the identical. The images, youngsters, ain’t nice. It seems like half of the photos had been taken with disposable cameras (“Look at me and smile. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter to us.”).

I severely considered placing this one No. 1 — these are the solely packs I’ve opened in the past few years that really bored me — however right here’s why I used to be swayed towards that decision: Donruss really did a good job selecting rookies that 12 months. Higher than the different 1988 sets. They had been the solely ones to incorporate Roberto Alomar in the base set, and so they had Mark Grace, Tom Glavine, Al Leiter and Gregg Jefferies (although Glavine and Jefferies one way or the other didn’t make Rated Rookie standing). 

@mattdaigle: 1988 Donruss was the first non-Topps card I bought into however I am going to perpetually be haunted by the proven fact that I positioned all my eggs in the Gregg Jefferies basket and traded away many a greater card for a number of copies of one thing that I believed was uncommon and precious. Spoiler alert: they weren’t.

@thesportsrabbi: 1988 and 1989 Donruss need to be it. Dwelling in Montreal and struggling by means of the Topps Canadian brother O-Pee-Chee for years, our solely different possibility north of the border, Donruss started inundating the market with off-center cards that bore horrible images. Some of the Rated Rookie gamers appeared so out of it, together with Kevin Elster or Al Leiter in ’88 and Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson in ’89. However at the least they had been in the set!

1. 1990 Fleer

1990 Fleer

Why this set was the worst: Let me put it this manner. I like my toddler daughter very, very a lot. Greater than I believed was humanly possible. And my daughter loves opening packs of baseball cards, particularly 1990 Fleer packs with the stickers from the box I purchased for $10 final fall. She takes the little round team stickers from every pack and places them throughout the house. It’s her pleasure. We’re all the way down to our final three or 4 packs. However, people, I’m not shopping for one other box of 1990 Fleer for her. I simply can’t bear the thought of wanting by means of more packs of that terrible, horrible set. Each single pack she opened had — not an exaggeration — ultimately 10 cards with horrible centering. Even the All-Star inserts are unhealthy. I’m indignant simply typing this. It’s an excellent factor BabyGirl loves these Donruss puzzle items, and a double-good factor I discovered low-cost box of 1988 Fleer stickers on eBay this weekend. She’ll have loads of packs to open, however they won’t be 1990 Fleer. 

@ABDugoutStories: For my pocket change — and that is actually all try to be spending on any of these cards — I’ll choose the 1990 Fleer set as the absolute worst. The rationale it will get the nod is easy. This may occasionally very effectively be the most uninteresting set of baseball cards ever assembled. From the white border on the entrance — or is it vanilla? I can not inform — to the primarily white background on the again, this set has no persona in anyway. Do not imagine me? Have a look at Bo Jackson’s card. Probably the most thrilling participant of the period and that is the picture you utilize? Or there is a double-chinned Mark McGwire grimacing whereas he performs catch. The list is countless. Admittedly, there are some decent-looking All-Star inserts and a few, uh vibrant, Hovering Stars added. However the base set has the persona of Ben Stein’s droning voice from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Go crack some packs, however depart these on the shelf.

@kuchemJ: What’s the obsession with stripes? Gray stripes on the ’89 set and that bizarre blue and reddish stripes on the different. I imply actually, Fleer was the Greenback Common of baseball cards anyway, so why add gas to the fire? I imply, actually, what child do you know again then purchased Fleer? I judged it at age 10, and I am nonetheless judging at 42.

@ericthewelch: For some unknown cause, I made a decision to try to construct the 1990 Fleer set strictly by shopping for packs and the occasional box. I opened pack after pack of off-centered, hazy pics surrounded by a uninteresting design. Suffice to say, I by no means completed the set, which is now worth a whopping $15 (based on Beckett). Nonetheless, the aura round the Jose Uribe card is fascinating.

Honorable mentions

Some of you Twitter people included sets that didn’t make my list, however your feedback had been so nice that I’m together with a number of of them right here. Thanks for contributing!

@kuchemJ: The Higher Deck holograms … MOTHER. OF. GOD. What an affordable ass advertising and marketing ploy. Higher Deck was the F boy wannabe with an STD. I imply I get it, Higher Deck 90-92 from a graphic design standpoint had some good photos, however to place some silly hologram so the youngsters would run in droves is pathetic. Additionally, I HATED Higher Deck ‘trigger the “slick looking popular” (I’ve a lot more colourful language I would choose to make use of) boys in my faculty beloved Higher Deck and I needed to hate it ‘trigger I hated them. They had been jerks who did not respect the solely true baseball card in my guide, Topps. I am purist.

@StillyRyan: My hatred of 1990 Score has nothing to do with the cards themselves. It’s a story of betrayal and thievery. My buddies and I had been all large Bo Jackson fans rising up (even being from small city WI) and had been all on the hunt for his well-known black and white shoulder pads with baseball bat card. For some cause it had eluded us for a lot of months however then at some point, I opened a pack and there it was! I proudly bragged to my buddies that I had lastly discovered the Bo Jackson. Sooner or later shortly after I discovered our holy grail (at the time), we had all gotten collectively at a buddies house to trade cards like we regularly did. I confirmed off my Bo like it was my prized possession. After the get collectively, I used to be wanting through my cards and my Bo card was gone! I searched up and down for it to no avail. I grilled each one of my buddies that had been there and nobody fessed as much as stealing the card. To this present day, I don’t know who had stolen my holy grail.

@halemckirnan: That is an aesthetic challenge. I view Topps ’89 as the basic baseball card design (two-tone pennant team script + title as a nod to baseball heritage). The 1989 Randy Johnson Expos card is an ideal instance; it might have been from 1964 or 1989. However the 1990 Topps jumped too far forward with a futuristic design. Players helmets/hats protecting the team title, the vanishing needle-point color-design. Yuck.

@heyjude1982: I hated 1991 Topps as a child. I believed the design was cheesy, particularly  that vast 40th anniversary brand. And if a 9-year-old boy in rural Missouri thinks you’re cheesy then. Brother. you’ve missed your mark. The picture high quality was low on a lot of that set that I had, not like poor poses or composition however precise picture high quality. There was a low bar in that period and so they nonetheless fell quick. My different beef was these cards got here perpetually bent and felt like they had been copy paper skinny. 

@mattkemm: 1988 Fleer resembled a Fruit Stripe gum wrapper strategy to a lot.

@sloopylew: 1987 Topps can go to hell. I will need to have had 1,400 complete cards however by no means as soon as pulled a Bonds, Cansaco, Palmeiro, Bo, McGwire. I like the design, however I did not want 43 “Brewers Leaders” cards. Did not assist that at the moment you should purchase the complete set for $15. What I might have accomplished with all the money I invested in you, Topps!

@Yay4Sportsballs: The 1992 Triple Play cards had been made for and marketed in direction of 5-12 12 months olds, and I used to be 9 when this set got here out. I eagerly purchased these up after I might discover them, however I finally discovered them to disappointing. With a base set of simply 264 cards and just one 12-card set of inserts, I rapidly ended up with mountains of duplicate cards. When opening packs of these, I stored ready for one thing recent and thrilling to emerge, however nothing ever did. I additionally hated the red-orange-yellow gradient of the borders and the off-kilter framing of the images inside.