It’s been less than one year since the release of 2021 Upper Deck AEW, AEW’s inaugural trading card set, and on November 30, 2022, Upper Deck released 2022 Upper Deck AEW, AEW’s second flagship set, and it’s third print set after the recent AEW Spectrum.

AEW’s 2021 set exploded onto the wrestling card scene when it released in January 2022, with hobby boxes selling for well over $300 per box, and while the 2021 set has cooled off quite a bit since then, with hobby boxes now available for under $100, 2022 Upper Deck AEW is still a highly anticipated release. Boxes of 2022 Upper Deck AEW can be purchased now for about $100 per box, well below what the 2021 set was selling for the week of release, but that’s a more realistic price tag for what collectors receive in a box.

Like the 2021 set, 2022 Upper Deck AEW hobby boxes contain 16 packs of eight wrestling cards, and within each pack of cards, you receive one base gold card and one insert, on average. There are no guaranteed hits in these boxes (no autographs or relics), so if you get one, consider yourself lucky, but you shouldn’t open a box with the expectation of pulling an autograph or relic. Some 2021 inserts have returned to the 2022 product, such as UD Canvas and Main Features, but others like Top Rope and Rhodes to Success have been replaced with new inserts Debut Dates, Outside the Ring, and the rarer acetate AEW Breakouts. The box of 2022 Upper Deck AEW I pre-ordered on July 9, 2022, was delivered the day of release, and while I was definitely excited to open this box of cards, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it was a little distracting that the person you see front and center on the box is CM Punk. Punk isn’t the only face on the box, which also features Jade Cargill, Jungle Boy, Darby Allin, Adam Page, and Thunder Rosa, but obviously Punk was in a very different position within AEW when this product was manufactured (and Thunder Rosa for that matter).

After settling in at my desk, I removed the shrink wrap from my box, and opened my first pack of 2022 Upper Deck AEW, and my very first card was of Paul Wight, formerly the Big Show. Wight is one of many talents to make their AEW card debut in this set, so while it may not have been the most exciting card to see, I still appreciated the design of the new set. While last year’s base set had a rather dark design, with a blue and black border, the 2022 design is brighter, with a gray frame, and the name of the talent is smaller than last year’s, and fits all on one line. The back of the base cards look similar to 2021, with the main difference being 2021 has a color photo on the back of the card and 2022 has black and white. Other than that, I really like the style of the 2022 set.

Shortly after Wight, I pulled a gold Ethan Page, who’s also making his AEW flagship debut. Page had a number of earlier cards in independent releases, including Limited Wrestling and GCW sets, but it’s great to finally see Page on an AEW card. Right after Page, I pulled an Anthony Bowens Pyro parallel. The Pyro parallels looked great in the 2021 set and I think they might look even better in 2022, and I was excited to get this parallel of Bowens, one-half of the red hot tag team champions, The Acclaimed. Next was a Luchasaurus Main Features insert, and I’ll admit this is one insert that I think is a downgrade from the previous year. I quite liked the 2021 Main Features, especially the numbered parallels, but the 2022 design just doesn’t look good, in my opinion. I finished my first pack with a Red Velvet base card, who’s also making her AEW flagship debut.

In my second pack, I pulled a Tay Conti gold, a Kenny Omega Pyro parallel, featuring his godawful handlebar mustache, and a Red Velvet Main Features, and in my third, I pulled an Evil Uno gold parallel, Sammy Guevara Pyro, and a Keith Lee Main Features, so in my first three packs, the card collation seems to be pretty consistent. The pattern for most packs seems to be two or three base cards, a gold card, a parallel of some sort, an insert, with the rest of the pack being base cards. In my third pack, I also pulled a CM Punk base card.

In my next pack, I pulled a gold tag team card of The Acclaimed, and then I pulled my first UD Canvas card of the box, Thunder Rosa. Each box advertises five UD Canvas cards per hobby box, including one gold UD Canvas card, a new parallel in the 2022 set, which should be a fairly collectible set, especially if you pull a short-printed gold Canvas card. My next card was another Main Features insert, but it’s an MJF Main Features, which automatically makes it a better card (and you know it). Four packs in, I really like the style of the base cards, and I look forward to collecting the full set, but I can say now I really don’t care for the style of the Main Features inserts. Another thing I noticed is that with the 2021 hobby boxes, your hit of the box, if you got one, was typically within the top two packs of the box, so I hope they managed to change that up this year, although it’s important to not forget that there is no guaranteed hit in these boxes.

My first card in the next pack was the brand-new women’s champion, Jamie Hayter, followed by a Jake Hager card that looked more like a UFC card than AEW, with his MMA gloves and shorts, then I pulled a gold Scorpio Sky, a UD Canvas of Jungle Boy dropping an elbow on Darby Allin,  and a CM Punk Main Features.

In my next pack, after a Kyle O’Reilly gold parallel, I pulled back to back Ortiz Outside the Ring inserts, one blue and one gray/silver, depicting him throwing a football. Outside the Ring is a new insert this year, and based on this one card, I’ll say I do not care for it. It looks quite generic, compared to other Upper Deck AEW inserts, so that’s two inserts in the 2022 set that I think are a downgrade, compared to 2021. But on the plus side, the last card in this pack was the new base card of current AEW World champion, MJF, showing him in a suit and his diamond pinky ring and trademark scarf, and he looks sharp as hell.

After that, I pulled a gold Ryo Mizunami and a Jon Moxley Dynamite parallel. The Dynamite parallels were included in the 2021 set, as well, but one difference this year is the Dynamite parallels are number out of 299 this year, which immediately makes for a more collectible card, because card collectors love numbered parallels. Dynamite parallels were more plentiful in the 2021 set, but this time, it’s advertised that each hobby box will contain either one numbered Dynamite or purple Pyro parallel per box, on average.

The first card of the next pack is a Sting base card and it looks great. It’s just Sting, looking at the camera, standing in the snow. It’s simple and the best looking base card that I’ve seen so far, other than MJF, and right after that is Dr. Britt Baker DMD (full name and title on the card), which is another awesome looking card, showing Baker delivering her finishing move, the lockjaw, on her opponent, while she’s grinning and sticking out her tongue. It’s one of the cards used in many of the promo images and it’s easy to see why. Next I pulled a Bryan Danielson gold, and then I got a purple Pyro parallel of Luchasaurus, numbered out of 199. The purple Pyro is a new parallel in 2022 Upper Deck AEW and the purple really pops. I was only supposed to get one numbered Dynamite or purple Pyro in my box, but I pulled one of each, so I guess I got lucky. After that, I pulled a Ruby Soho Main Features and a tag team card of The Acclaimed, throwing down the scissors, so this was my favorite pack of the box, so far.

Halfway through my hobby box, with eight packs to go, I’ve decided I really like the base set and golds, and I’ve pulled some great single cards, but no big hits. I pulled two numbered parallels and lots of gold cards and Main Features, but I hope to see more variety in the inserts in the second half of my box. I should still have three more UD Canvas cards, including one gold canvas, but there’s no guaranteed hits (no autograph or relic), so there’s no promise of a big card, just hope.

In the next pack, I pulled Angelico’s base card, a gold Private Party tag team card, a Matt Jackson Main Features, Max Caster silver Main Features, and base cards of Penta el Zero M, Jay Lethal, and everybody’s favorite podcaster, stand-up comedian, and professional wrestler, Colt “Boom Boom” Cabana.

In the following two packs, I pulled a gold Thunder Rosa, Chris Jericho Pyro parallel, Max Caster Main Features, gold Daniel Garcia, a short print Kenny Omega UD Canvas, Powerhouse Hobbs Main Features, and finally, the first base wrestling card of the “cold-hearted handsome devil” himself, HOOK, who is arguably the most anticipated new wrestler in this set. While MJF is undoubtedly the most valuable wrestler in AEW products, at this time, HOOK is someone who AEW fans and collectors have been clamoring for, and I’m sure his new cards, especially autographs and low print parallels, will do very well on the secondary market.

My next few packs contained pretty standard fare, mostly base cards, gold parallels of Cash Wheeler, CM Punk, and Serena Deeb, a Tully Blanchard Pyro parallel, a Hikaru Shida Outside the Ring that helps me decide this is my least favorite insert of all of AEW’s cards, thus far, as well as Main Features inserts of Thunder Rosa, Kenny Omega, and Penta. I also pulled a gold Thunder Rosa canvas, which I liked, but the gold is rather muted, so it doesn’t look much more special than the standard UD Canvas cards.

With that, I had one pack left from my hobby box of 2022 Upper Deck AEW, and I’ll admit that even though there were no hits guaranteed in these boxes, just like with 2021, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed that I didn’t pull something big, or at least bigger, so breathed in, exhaled, and ripped in, hoping for a little last pack magic. First, I pulled a gold HOOK parallel, which is as good as I could’ve hoped for in a gold card. Next, I pulled a Paul Wight Debut Dates insert. Admittedly, I was less than pumped that it was Wight, but I was happy to see a new insert, and then I pulled my hit of the box, an acetate Breakouts card of Powerhouse Hobbs, and I was genuinely stoked. Breakouts is a great looking new insert this year. They’re relatively tough cards to pull, landing one in every 72 packs (about one in every four-and-a-half hobby boxes), and I’m a sucker for acetate cards, so this ended my box with a bang.

Overall, I opened what I would say was a good box of 2022 Upper Deck AEW. Where I think the 2022 set is inferior to the 2021 set are the Main Features and Outside the Ring inserts, and since I pulled so many Main Features cards in my box (15), they really stood out to me. Thankfully, I only pulled three Outside the Ring inserts, so I can pretty easily ignore those. As for the positives, I think the base set, which is the bread and butter of this product, is an improvement on the 2021 set. It just looks better to me, and it has so many more talents, and stronger rookies, who weren’t included, or weren’t in AEW, in 2021. Therefore, I also think the gold parallel set is improved, and since you get one in every pack, that’s a good thing. The other base parallels are another strong feature of this set. I loved the Pyros and Dynamites in the 2021 set, and I think they’re even better in 2022, especially now that Dynamites are a rarer, numbered parallel, and they also have the new purple Pyro parallel. All of these parallels make for a strong and collectible set of cards. I’m glad to see the return of UD Canvas cards, as well, and since this insert also has a new gold parallel and short prints, this should be another collectible set. I can’t speak on the autographs or relics, because I didn’t pull any, but honestly I’m happier with my Powerhouse Hobbs Breakout than if I pulled another relic. This is an insert set to watch for.

So, with 2022 Upper Deck, I think AEW successfully avoids the sophomore slump, and even if some of the heat of these wrestling cards has cooled off, that only makes it a more approachable, accessible, and affordable set, and that’s a good thing for AEW fans and collectors alike.