The Upper Deck Company LLC. was founded in 1988 in Yorba Linda, California, US (they are now headquartered in Carlsbad, California, USA).
They are primarily known for trading cards but they also produce figurines and die-cast toys.
In December 1988, UD was granted a license by Major League Baseball to produce trading cards, and the rest is history.
Upper Deck literally changed the game for better and for worse as they printed way too many of each set, flooding the market with options that are mostly worthless today.
This list of the top 25 Upper Deck cards of all time is based on a variety of factors including; card value, rarity, card image, staff opinions, player popularity, and card popularity.
(Please note that once a player has been named we will not use him again.)
For example, more than one Michael Jordan Upper Deck card could have easily made the list. But then we might have a list packed with MJ cards instead!
The Top 25 Upper Deck Cards of All-Time
This list is meant to be fun, but should also add value to your sports card investing portfolio as these cards are potential big-time money-makers.
25. 1990 Upper Deck Sergei Federov Young Guns French #525
Sergei Fedorov won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player in 1994 and claimed the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 1997, 1998, and 2002.
The first card to make the list is Fedorov’s RC, which is found in 1990-91 Upper Deck Hockey boxes.
It was UD’s debut release within the sport, as well as the first time they produced the brand’s trademark Young Guns High Series subset.
The image shows Federov battling for the puck in front of the net and has a classic ‘Young Guns’ graphic in the bottom right-hand corner of the card.
We think the French version has the best potential of all of his RCs when looking at potential long-term ROI.
24. 1990 Upper Deck Ed Belfour French RC #55
GOAT Canadian goaltender Ed Belfour made six All-Star game appearances between 1992 and 2003.
His rookie is also found in the star-studded 1990-91 Upper Deck Hockey release, which features a classic image of Belfour defending the goal mouth.
There’s also a large ‘Star Rookie’ logo located on the bottom right corner of the card. It might not be one of the Young Guns, but there is an interesting parallel of sorts.
1990-91 Upper Deck French Hockey has always been more popular than the base set, although it’s mostly similar in design.
One key difference is the value, as well as a French translation of the word “goaltender” in the top-right corner, which instead reads; “Gardien de but.”
23. 1991 Upper Deck Chipper Jones RC #55
A talented hitter, Chipper Jones was named the NL MVP in ‘99 and was the MLB batting champion in 2008.
His RC from the 1991 Upper Deck Baseball set is up next. It has an action shot of the youngster, while it lists him in the unfamiliar position of shortstop.
Jones spent his entire career with the Braves, as repayment for being their number one overall pick in the 1990 MLB draft.
His UD rookie card is cheaper than you might have guessed, possibly due to the sheer number of copies, even when looking at PSA 10-graded versions.
22. 1991 Upper Deck Brett Favre RC #13 (buy on eBay)
Brett Favre is a retired quarterback, best known for spending the majority of his career with the Green Bay Packers.
His RC is found in Upper Deck’s debut gridiron set, as he sits on the bench and waits to be called upon.
(It actually makes sense, as Atlanta head coach Jerry Glanville did not approve of the drafting of Favre, saying it would ‘take a plane crash’ for him to put Favre into the game.)
Another card from the overproduced ‘junk wax era’, it’s another affordable long-term investment piece that features a Hall of Famer.
21. 1989 Upper Deck Randy Johnson RC #25
Randy “the Big Unit” Johnson was one of the most fearsome pitchers to ever take the hill and was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015 after receiving 534 of 549 first-place votes.
His ‘89 Upper Deck RC features a simple straight-on profile shot of the player with a wry smile on his face.
Despite being ignored by many collectors up to this point, we think that it’s another great investment piece, especially if you can grab one of the many cheaper pristine copies that are floating about on the market.
20. 2013 Upper Deck Young Guns Nathan Mackinnon #239
Nathan Mackinnon was selected first overall by the Avalanche in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, going on to become their alternate captain in the present day.
Exceptionally talented, he’s one of the few first picks to live up to expectations.
Another Young Guns card, his RC is a short print released at a rate of 1:4 packs, or six per hobby box.
There are also a couple of parallels that can cause the price to range into the mid-thousands, especially the High Gloss version which is limited to ten copies.
19. 1990 Upper Deck Star Rookie Deion Sanders #13
Deion Sanders played professionally in two sports, winning two Super Bowl titles as well as making one World Series appearance in 1992 with the Braves. He remains the only player to have done so.
The 1990 Upper Deck Star Rookie card shows a close-up shot of Sanders wearing a white headband, while the back lists his outfield baseball record.
It benefits from an understated design, and it’s arguably the best-looking card found in the set.
Given Sanders has multiple RCs in two sports which were released when print runs were massive, it’s unsurprising to see that prices have remained low in the present day.
18. 1989 Upper Deck Gary Sheffield Upside Down SS Error RC #13
Gary Sheffield won the National League batting title in 1992 and was known as a heavy hitter.
His 1989 Upper Deck RC is one of the more humble options on this list, with a low asking price and a simple image of a seated Sheffield holding a bat.
The ‘Star Rookie’ has an outline of a baseball field found on the right-hand side.
However, there’s also an error version that comes with a major difference. His position (SS) is still found in the top right corner, but this time it’s upside-down.
It’s easy to spot once you know what you’re looking for and explains why the card might look ‘off’ at first glance.
17. 1994 Upper Deck Mickey Mantle Ken Griffey Jr.
As legends go, you can’t do much better than the pairing of Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey Jr.
That’s why this 1994 Upper Deck card is special, as an illustration of the two was boosted by 1,000 Griffey/Mantle autographs which were randomly inserted in Series 1 retail packs.
If you’re worried that they may have been signed after the fact, all have authentication holograms on the back.
Remember, each player signed some of these cards on their own. Others have autographs from both of the all-time greats, and the price will differ accordingly.
It’s a true piece of history and a worthy addition to any baseball card collection.
16. 2015 Upper Deck Young Guns Connor McDavid RC #201
Another first-overall pick, the Edmonton Oilers drafted Connor McDavid in 2015. Many hockey experts consider him to be the best player in the league, and his RCs are priced accordingly.
The Chosen One’s 2015 base Young Guns card was part of a set released at a rate of 1:4 hobby packs or six per box.
- 2015 Upper Deck Young Guns Parallels: Foil, Exclusives (/100) (Hobby), High Gloss (/10) (Hobby), Printing Plates 1/1 (Hobby)
It features a simple shot of the player on the ice, while there are numerous rare parallels available.
Confusingly, by collecting ten base cards or five Young Guns, you could combine the cards into an exclusive foil version of the card.
These foil copies were only available through e-Pack and were not available through hobby or retail backs.
15. 1990 Upper Deck Pavel Bure Young Guns French #526
Pavel Bure played a total of 12 years in the NHL, racking up 437 goals and 343 assists (779 total points).
We’ve mentioned that it was the first time that UD produced the brand’s trademark Young Guns High Series subset, with Bure chosen alongside Federov as the two key rookie subjects.
The image shows Bure in a CCCP uniform with a medal around his neck.
As with the ‘90 Fedorov Young Guns card, we’d stick with the popular French version for the best chance of a good ROI in the future.
14. 1991 Upper Deck Heroes Nolan Ryan auto #18
During Nolan Ryan’s stellar 27-year MLB career he struck out 5,714 batters which still ranks 1st for most career strikeouts all-time.
1991 Upper Deck Baseball Low Series packs gave collectors an opportunity to “Find the Nolan.”
In practice, there was a collection of 10 inserts to seek out, with the best being an autographed version numbered to 2,500.
It featured illustrations of Ryan throughout his career in a variety of signature poses.
2.500 might sound like a lot, but it’s really a paltry amount compared to the majority of cards from the era.
13. 2005 Upper Deck Young Guns Alexander Ovechkin RC #443
The next spot on this list is reserved for Alexander Ovechkin. After notching 52 goals in his rookie year along with 54 assists, he’s now seen as one of the most prolific scorers of all-time in the NHL.
His RC is a candidate for being the most popular UD card ever released, especially when it comes to attracting bids at auctions.
It’s another Young Guns card, with a large ‘Rookies’ logo found at the bottom. There’s also a High Gloss parallel which is limited to ten copies.
- 2005 Upper Deck Hockey Parallels: High Gloss (/10) (Hobby), Masterpiece Press Plates (1/1) (4 per card)
12. 1991 Upper Deck French Dominik Hasek RC #335
Legendary Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek is widely seen as one of the greatest of all time, although he doesn’t have as many RCs as you might expect.
We’re looking at the French edition of his 1991 Upper Deck card, which features an action shot of the goaltender defending his net, making a save with his stick held out.
You’ll be able to tell by checking out his position on the front of the card, which is listed as “Gardien debut”. On the US version, he’s simply listed as a goaltender.
We think that the French card has greater potential as a long-term option.
11. 1992 Upper Deck Shaquille O’Neal Rookie #1 RC
No athlete represents the larger-than-life trope better than 7’1 Shaquille O’Neal.
In his ‘92 Upper Deck RC, they attempt to capture the giant dunking with the use of three images laced together in a moving still frame.
It’s not a bad result, and the card already pops thanks to the all-black backdrop.
PSA has graded a total of 321 gem mint copies so it’s not the rarest by any means, but prices have continued to increase year upon year since his retirement.
10. 1991 Upper Deck Teemu Selanne RC #21
Teemu Selanne was a Stanley Cup winner in 2007, and he still holds a number of franchise records for Anaheim, including the most goals in a single season, and the NHL record for the most goals and points by a rookie in 92/93.
1991-92 Upper Deck Hockey produced subsets relating to the Soviet Stars and the Canada Cup.
The latter was the first chance to collect a Selanne card, as part of the Finland international team.
As with some of the other 1991 UD hockey cards on this list, it’s worth looking at the parallel French issue, which lists his position as ‘Ailier Droit’ (right wing) on the front.
9. 2000 Upper Deck Ultimate Signatures Kobe Bryant #KBS
Kobe Bryant is one of the most celebrated basketball players of all time and will be sorely missed as the next generation of players can only hope to emulate his career.
A card that is arguably a better investment than those found in his ‘96 RC collection, the 2000-01 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection actually comes in four different colors.
It starts with Signatures Bronze, while there are Silver, Gold, and even Super versions to look out for.
Each has a different print run, so the Silver version has 75 copies, while only 25 Gold cards were produced.
The serial number can be found on the front, and the color of the trim corresponds with the parallel selected.
8. 2005 Upper Deck Young Guns Sidney Crosby RC #201
Sidney Crosby has been the face of the NHL for the last decade and continues to be a star today, scoring “the Golden Goal” which is one of the biggest in Canadian hockey history.
His Young Guns RC was always popular given his obvious talents, and was inserted into 2005-06 Upper Deck Hockey packs at a rate of 1:4.
It features a simple action shot of the rookie on the ice and is finished with a silver chrome trim.
This version of the Sidney Crosby rookie card is one of the more popular ones and one of the most sought-after cards in any Young Gun collection.
7. 2003 Upper Deck Cristiano Ronaldo RC #13
The evergreen Cristiano Ronaldo is still going strong, recently notching the Golden Boot at Euro 2021.
The 2003 Upper Deck Manchester United set contains a number of interesting Ronaldo cards, which can often match up to his earlier Sporting Lisbon cards in terms of interest if not price and prestige.
It has a great action shot of a young Ronaldo skipping past a strong challenge with the ball at his feet. He’s also wearing a vintage Red Devils kit.
Remembered well during his time in Manchester, it’s another great long-term pick for soccer fans.
6. 2001 Upper Deck Tiger Woods RC #1
Arguably the greatest golfer of all time and a living legend, Tiger Woods was the face of the sport for over a decade, with a total of 70 PGA tournament wins, including 14 major championships.
That’s only one half of the story, but there’s no denying the interest surrounding his best RCs.
2001 Upper Deck Golf was the sport’s first mainstream set of cards for almost a decade, with Woods being one of 45 RCs in the collection.
The action shot shows the golfer as he strides down the green, pointing at a ball off-screen with his club in hand. He’s also wearing his classic Nike gear.
5. 1990 Upper Deck French Jaromir Jagr RC #356
Jaromir Jagr spent 11 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, recording 439 goals and 640 assists.
Jagr went on to play a mind-blowing 24 years in the NHL and had a total of 1921 points.
This RC is found in 1990 Upper Deck Hockey and shows Jagr shaking hands after being drafted by the Penguins.
Once again, there is also an Upper Deck French version which was released for Canadian audiences.
As well as a bilingual reverse, it lists his position as ‘Ailier Gauche’ (left wing) on the front, so it’s easy to spot.
4. 1991 Upper Deck Michael Jordan (Baseball) #SP1
You can tell that we’re getting to the business end of the list when Michael Jordan makes an appearance.
However, we’re looking at his baseball RC, rather than any of the Upper Deck cards produced to coincide with his time on the court.
The 1991 UD Michael Jordan SP1 features the basketball Hall of Famer in batting practice with the Chicago White Sox.
It might not have worked out for Jordan on the plate, but it’s our pick if you’re looking for one of the most unique MJ rookie cards on the market.
3. 2000 Upper Deck SPx Tom Brady RC #130
Tom Brady has that same quality and charisma you can only find in names like Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, and Wayne Gretzky.
As such, his rookie cards are not only a superior investment, but one of the safest in the entire hobby to boot.
The legendary QB has an RC found in the 2000 SPx set, with a base version limited to just 1,350 copies. (There’s also a Spectrum parallel, with a print run of 25.)
It features a simple shot of Brady holding the pigskin, with a large SPx logo in the background.
2. 2019 Upper Deck Goodwin Champions Exquisite Luka Doncic RC #LD
Narrowly missing out on the top spot on this list, Luka Doncic has to be seen as the best young player in the NBA right now.
He’s trying to downplay comparisons with Larry Bird, despite his obvious ability to improve those around him, and Doncic’s rookie cards are currently making headlines due to their record-breaking prices.
We’re looking at the otherwise unimpressive 2019 Upper Deck Goodwin Champions set for this Luka RC, contained in the Exquisite Rookie Autograph subset.
An understated card with a classy design, it has a large on-card auto-filled in blue ink and is serial numbered to 99 copies.
1. 1999 Upper Deck Retro INKredible Wilt Chamberlain #WC
Wilt Chamberlain was a true man among boys in his era, averaging 50 points per game in 1961, and a mind-blowing 22 rebounds per game across his career.
Of course, his RC was released back in 1961, so we’re looking at a more recent option for the former Globetrotter.
The 1999 Upper Deck Retro set looked like a lunchbox and had INKredible inserts featuring a Chamberlain card – one of only four certified autographed cards to feature the player.
It’s easy to see how this card has great potential to produce long-term profit in the future.
The best Upper Deck cards are typically some of the long lines of rookies released across a number of different sports over the past three decades.
There’s something to suit everyone (and every budget), while the majority have great potential if you’re looking for a long-term investment option or two.
As always, we’d stick with graded versions when possible, especially for some of the more expensive cards that have made the list. (That way you’ll be able to avoid many of the fakes that litter the resale market.)
Upper Deck might have changed the game with engorged print runs when they first started off, but nobody can deny that pristine copies of their best cards haven’t stood the test of time.