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Ultrastar v. Pulsar

Brandon “Muffin” Malacek, a player for Boston Ironside and Major League Ultimate’s Boston Whitecaps, has long been known for his ability to rip full-field hucks from a flat footed, static position. After a couple months of playing with the Innova Pulsar in the MLU, he wrote a lengthy blog post about his thoughts on the disc. He’s not impressed.

He writes:

As many of my Whitecaps teammates can attest, I’ve been in a continuing love-hate relationship with the Innova Pulsar.  For starters, I was definitely intrigued that the MLU was using a different Frisbee.  At first touch, I was pleasantly surprised by the increased lift and smooth release of the disc.  It was new and different, which was exciting — like throwing a brand new disc golf for the very first time.  This feeling lasted for maybe two weeks, before I had accrued enough touches to realize, that this pulsar was very different than the Ultrastar.  During the early practices and scrimmages, multitudes of throws careened out-of-bounds, missing their targets by 30 yards.  During one particularly windy deep drill, there were at least 10 straight throws that floated, turned and veered away from their target…

When maxing out the distance on an Ultrastar (which is understable), the initial edge must be Inside-Out (IO or hyzer). But to max the distance on the innova pulsar (which is overstable), the initial edge must be Outside-In (OI or anhyzer). Splitting hairs on the angle of release sounds tedious, except when the flight plan is aimed at 80-100 yards.  Even the slightest difference on the release, can yield a yardage difference anywhere from 20-40 yards…

Obviously, this is a big difference when trying to throw hucks with a Pulsar and Ultrastar – because the angle of release is completely opposite.  This realization was cemented several weeks ago, when Ironside tryouts and MLU games were in direct conflict.  Suddenly, I was hucking Ultrastars like a Pulsar and Pulsars like Ultrastars.  Neither disc agreed – and my rage and distain for the Pulsar grew.  This Pulsar is a fake, beginners disc with a fat rim and extra float.  You could grip it like a cantaloupe the rim was so deep  and every pass was destined for extra air time.  I didn’t care if I could throw it farther than an Ultrastar anymore.  I had lost my total control of the disc and my muscle memory…

…The rim is huge, bulky, and abrupt in comparison to the Ultrastar rim.  But the biggest difference is that the Pulsar holds its edge, despite the spin on the disc, making IO throws stay IO.  Even a flat IO will fade away, making the majority of huck drills unmanageable as disc after disc strays out of bounds.  At first, due to the Pulsar’s ability to hold its edge, I thought it could be thrown harder and farther.  That was foolish optimism.  There is no S curve.  Throwing IO with the intention of turning the edge over isn’t an option.  With an Ultrastar, ripping the hyzer and playing out the S curve makes for the biggest throws.  But with this Innova, the only option is anhyzer.

Count me as surprised that MLU brass has not ordered this taken down yet. [LATE UPDATE: Now it's down. Read the full text below.]

Muffin is just one player, but this may qualify as the first “professional” review of the Pulsar by someone who has real authority on the subject. Have you played with one enough to have an opinion? What do you think?

***

Full text as it was written before it was removed from the web:

As many of my Whitecaps teammates can attest, I’ve been in a continued love-hate relationship with the innova Pulsar.  For starters, I was definitely intrigued that it was a different Frisbee.  At first touch I was pleasantly surprised by the increased lift and smooth release of the disc. It was new and different, which was exciting — like throwing a brand new disc golf for the first time.  This feeling lasted for maybe two weeks, before I had accrued enough touches to realize, that this pulsar was very different than the ultrastar.  During the first practices and scrimmages, multitudes of throws careened out-of-bounds, missing their targets by 30 yards.  During one particularly windy deep drill, there was no less than 10 straight throws that floated, turned and veered away from their target.  My suspicions grew.  But after several weeks, the throws began to straighten out and play appeared almost normal again.  Initially, I was definitely intrigued at the prospect of being able to throw the pulsar farther than the ultrastar – something that appealed to me greatly.  For several weeks, I was whole-heartedly convinced that the pulsar was a superior Frisbee – a big boy disc that held its edge and was destined for max distance.

However, it didn’t take more than a week or so to realize that this was also foolish thinking.  Thus, my relationship had flipped-flopped and flipped again.  I had to re-crunch the numbers.  It wasn’t until I was able to get onto the turf with a bag of ultrastars and my 2-3 pulsars that I concluded several horrifying realizations.  For most throws, ranging from 5-15 yards, the difference in flight is barely noticeable.  Once the range hits 20-40 yards, there is a technique change, but nothing revolutionary, as long as there is enough spin.  However, anything over 40 yards is completely reverse – and this is my biggest gripe.

When maxing out the distance on an ultrastar (which is understable), the initial edge must be Inside-Out (IO or hyzer). But to max the distance on the innova pulsar (which is overstable), the initial edge must be Outside-In (OI or anhyzer). Splitting hairs on the angle of release sounds tedious, except when the flight plan is aimed at 80-100 yards.  Even the slightest difference on the release, can yield a yardage difference anywhere from 20 -40 yards. Still, changing the angle of release is normal in ultimate, depending on the target and distance – so nothing THAT revolutionary right?  If you new to the basics, then this difference is minor, if not completely irrelevant to you. However, I make my money on big throws – rocket launcher with a sniper scope.  I can huck it 80 yards, on the money, either way, boomheadshot. The key to my success is either way – upwind, downwind, crosswind, no wind. Despite almost all conditions, I had the biggest throws on the field – especially upwind.

And here is the biggest difference and my main pet peeve.  The innova pulsar was designed to max it’s distance as thrown like a disc golf. Anhyzer edge, laser straight, S curving and tailing left on the backhand.  For going downwind, great – it goes 100 yards and floats forever!! I’ve been just killing it in the weight room.  But that’s not the case.  Try throwing the pulsar upwind.  Go ahead – straight upwind.  And… Oh, it only goes like 60 yards before it blades and dies.  That is my issue.  When throwing against the wind, the OI (anhyzer) edge is naturally pushed down – and therein lies the problem.  The pulsar was designed to max out with the OI edge, which coincidentally doesn’t jive when going straight upwind.  The difference for the ultrastar is the versatility and ability to turn/aim the disc – moving it around targets more effectively and the ability to control the flight plan all the way through the S curve.  When throwing upwind with the ultrastar, the edge has to be severely IO (hyzer), which is the way to max the distance for an ultrastar regardless.

Obviously, this is a big difference when trying to throw hucks with a pulsar and ultrastar – because the angle of release is completely opposite. This realization culminated several weeks ago, when Ironside tryouts and MLU games were in direct overlap. Suddenly, I was hucking ultrastars like a pulsar and pulsars like ultrastars. Neither disc agreed – and my rage and distain for the pulsar increased.  This pulsar is a fake beginners disc, with a fat rim and extra floaty. You could grip it like a cantaloupe the rim was so deep  and every pass was destined for extra air time. I didn’t care if I could throw it farther than an ultrastar anymore.  I had lost control of the disc and my muscle memory.

At first, I started getting angry with the disc and just trying to throw it harder.  If there was enough spin, the Z’s could turn the edge naturally. I started squeezing harder. This had two immediate effects. First, the rim was soo deep, it began brusing my hand from how hard I was griping the disc.  And second, the massive rim was changing my grip to such an extent that I was now missing my power point (the very last point of contact with the disc before release). Perhaps my friction gloves could solve the problem?  Not remotely.

I can recall the exact instance that I my loathing for the pulsar climaxed.  During a long scrimmage at Ironside tryouts, I threw my fourth flick huck to a wide open deep target and for the fourth time, the disc turned, bladed and fell incomplete.  I was throwing the ultrastar like a pulsar and suddenly, I felt like a beginner again.

Coincidentally, USAU has been exploring new disc options for the last several years.  Apparently the original discraft ultrastar mold has been fully depreciated and lived its last days, spurring the need of a new plastic mold to fill the shoes.  Originally, USAU sent 5 test flight discs last year for feedback.  I was impressed with some more than others, but generally was hesitant to approve just any old Frisbee for championship use.  I wasn’t the only one, as 43% of testers failed the current ultrastar (one of the five test flight discs) for championship use!  So for the second round of testing, I was more receptive to change and passed the next 3 discs with relative ease – as they were adequate.  However, one more disc came up for testing and I immediately recognized it as an innova pulsar-esque, which I lustily denied for championship use.

Overall, the MLU is awesome and clearly top dog to the AUDL.  The professionalism and excitement created for the sport of ultimate is amazing.  The new sponsors and increased competition make sense, but damnit – choose a Frisbee that doesn’t compromise play in the sense that I have to relearn how to throw the darn thing.  For 90% of players, who like to run lots, chase players on defense and cut under to throw dumps – this will hardly affect you.  But my favorite part of ultimate is throwing the disc, and overall, this disc sucks to throw.

Lately, I’ve decided to take that pulsar to where it really belonged, the disc golf course.  I nailed some trees, but also some birdies.  Maybe disc golf providers should stick to making disc golf discs..

It’s mid-April and I’m already 9 weeks into the season.  My first game is this weekend against NY, but I can already tell it’s going to be a long season.  Every Wednesday evening for two months now, I’ve battled traffic and stormy weather just for the opportunity to murder my legs on a gigantic ultimate field.  The extra 10 yards of length and 13 1/3 yards of width are surprisingly large factors on the professional stage. There is no shortage of space anymore.  Defense is still nearly impossible.

But the biggest travesty thus far, is changing the Frisbee. While well intentioned, this new disc will undoubtedly affect the level of play. It’s no wonder the innova flies like a golf disc, as innova is a leader in disc golf discs. The rim is huge, bulky and sharp in comparison.  But the biggest difference is that the pulsar holds its edge, almost regardless of the spin on the disc, making IO throws, stay IO. Even a flat IO, will fade away, making a majority of huck drills unmanageable as disc after disc strays out of bounds. At first, because of the ability to hold its edge, I thought it could be thrown harder and farther. That was foolish thinking. There is no S curve. Throwing IO with the intention of turning the edge over – isn’t an option. With an ultra-star, ripping the hyzer and playing out the S curve makes for the biggest throws. But with an innova, it’s all anhyzer.

About Charlie Eisenhood

Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (charlie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

View all posts by Charlie Eisenhood →

  • Troy Revell

    I’ve picked up a Pulsar and agree it felt deep/big. The fact that the throws did hold truer to release was the only promise, but I don’t throw big OI, just IO. I thought maybe I could get used to it but I had no reason to continue down that path so I put it away. I guessed that women, youth and anyone with smaller hands would hate it.

  • Marcus Ranii-Dropcho

    Interesting that Brandon is speaking in disc golf terms (hyzer/anhyzer). Although, to a former disc golfer, that makes a lot of sense. Innova, holds a huge stake in the disc golf market and it only makes sense that they would let their disc golf discs influence the flight of their ultimate disc. I haven’t thrown with it yet, but I have a few pulsars sitting downstairs in my basement. In disc golf, the more overstable discs are the ones you want to use when throwing upwind or just when you want to get the most distance out of your release. Maybe Innova merely overlooked how ultimate players want to make throws, or maybe they are just trying to improve throws in the wind? I would imagine upwind throws, if the disc travels like Brandon says it does are much easier to keep edge down.

    • Bradjamin

      By “former disc golfer” do you mean “former Juniors champion”?

  • Ryan Nation

    Aside from the complaint about the difference in rim size, wouldn’t these same arguments hold true if Malacek had learned to throw an Pulsar and then was handed an Ultrastar, only in reverse? It seems he’s more aggravated by losing his significant investment and skill in bombing the Ultrastar more than anything.

    • Joseph Marmerstein

      If you actually read the blog post, there is more than just what Ultiworld has included here – namely what Malacek believes to be a shortcoming of the Pulsar going upwind.

  • Joseph Marmerstein

    You guys left out what I think is the most important part of his post:
    “Try throwing the Pulsar upwind. Go ahead – straight upwind. And… Oh, it only goes like 60 yards before it blades and dies. That is my issue. When throwing against the wind, the OI (anhyzer) edge is naturally pushed down – and therein lies the problem. The Pulsar was designed to max out with the OI edge, which coincidentally doesn’t jive when going straight upwind. The difference for the Ultrastar is the versatility and ability to turn/aim the disc – moving it around targets more effectively and the ability to control the flight plan all the way through the S curve. When throwing upwind with the Ultrastar, the edge has to be severely IO (hyzer), which is the way to max the distance for an Ultrastar regardless. ”

    This is the first time I have seen an argument against the Pulsar that is more than just “it’s different and I don’t like it”. I haven’t thrown a Pulsar (there’s no MLU team near me and I don’t see a reason to spend money on a disc I’ll never use…), But it seems to me this would be a big problem…

    • Jeremy Mitchell

      A huge problem! And there’s no way we would know about it if we could not go watch a game in the wind since the MLU is suspending players for speaking their mind :/

  • Justin Fereshetian

    One thing that I do like a lot about the Innova Pulsar is that the plastic is much grippier than the ultra-star. I’ve noticed that the ultra-star has a glossy type feel to it, but the pulsar feels more tacky. I really like the feel of the pulsar plastic.

  • Tom Pettit

    Aaand the MLU has caught up and had muffin remove the post. Not so awesome. I know Innova has invested money in the league, but silencing players is lame. They should use the feedback to focus on replicating the throwing angles of ultrastars while improving flight characteristics – rather than quashing the opinions of a valued ultimate player.

    • L

      Does anyone have official confirmation that Muffin removed the post under official pressure from the MLU (and not of his own accord?)

      Before we start getting the pitchforks out…

      • Tom Pettit

        Definitely no confirmation. Baldly speculating. But it was a pretty damning post from a respected player so….

        • anon

          IF the MLU told him to take it down they have every right to do so. Players are employees, and probably signed some agreement about oh, i dunno, not bad mouthing sponsors, the league, etc etc. You know, common sense stuff.

          • Tom Pettit

            Sure, they have the right. But it is the worst possible marketing option for Innova and the MLU to take. We’re dealing with hypotheticals so what is the point, but instead of embracing the criticism of the pulsar and making the (presumed next generation) Pulsar II awesome with the help of people like Muffin, that kind of reaction is reminiscent of clueless 20th century PR goons stomping out any whiff of dissent.

            It is nearing the end of the season and MLU/Innova could very easily make step 1 in their offseason partnership improving the Pulsar – and do so publicly and openly in the way they have done everything else. After all, most ultimate players have heard one way or another about Pulsar having flaws – Muffin just detailed them in a way a lesser player isn’t capable of, practically handing Innova a roadmap to a better disc.

            Of course, its possible he just rethought his point of view.

          • Ryan Nation

            Different Flawed

          • Tom Pettit

            Quite the opposite. Different AND flawed.

          • anon

            an “employee” who receives $25 per game? fuck that shit.

          • L

            It may be a “right” in terms of the contract, but it sure isn’t just, and it definitely isn’t what I want to see out of ultimate, a sport that has always valued freedom of expression.

      • Julie Eagle

        Confirmation:

        MLU demanded that the post be removed and Muffin will be suspended for this weekend’s game (without pay). Also notable, there is nothing in the contract addressing players’ comments on sponsor products. (Although it can and will be argued that that is implicit.)

        The game this weekend can’t impact the playoff status of the Whitecaps, but censorship as an issue in both MLU and AUDL is interesting and worthy of discussion.

        I’m a fan of Innova disc golf discs (and the Pulsar, as a disc golf mid-range approach disc, is a good disc) and I’m a fan of most of what the MLU has done. I am not surprised by the disciplinary action taken by the MLU to protect its sponsor relationships, but I do think it is a petty reaction demonstrating the league’s insecurity.

        • Tom Pettit

          Hugely disappointing and shows the immaturity of the league. How many times do you think they’ll try to teach a lesson to “Pro” players being paid a pittance before the players go back to the autonomous club teams where they can be themselves and play on ESPN.

          It’s really poor form on the MLU’s part – the article isn’t going to go away as its already made it out. Stomping on Muffin achieves nothing positive – it merely makes an example of him.

  • sam

    Muffin is absolutely right in saying that throwing the pulsar forces you to change your form severely. I showed up to a practice early to throw around and a pulsar was tossed to me, so I figured I’d try it. Throwing shorter passes felt fine, and the disc flew nice and straight. As soon as you move out, however, the self-correction that you’re used to with an ultra-star (what Muffin calls the “S” curve), an aspect of the disc’s flight with which every good thrower is familiar and compensates for in their angle of release, dissapears. The disc will not reshape its curve like you expect it to, and falls away from the receiver. It was extremely difficult for me to try to break the habits I had formed while throwing an ultra-star, and it felt decidedly uncomfortable. My throws were all over the place. I am not saying that the flight path of the Pulsar has to be a bad thing, and I’m sure that if you wanted to only throw Pulsars, you could get used to it. BUT if you want to continue throwing discrafts, then the change to Pulsar is gonna screw your throws up for sure.

  • Anon MLU Player

    As a player in the MLU, I think using the Pulsar is a lot of fun for some of the reasons Muffin dislikes it. It makes you have to think a bit more when throwing, tweaking mechanics and figuring out how to best manipulate the edge. Very happy with the disc decision.

  • 10tech

    I play Disc Golf and Ultimate and I really appreciate Muffin’s very coherent review. One thing confuses me though:

    According to Muffin, the Pulsar is overstable and thus bad for throwing upwind, but in Disc Golf, a more overstable disc is better for throwing upwind. An understable disc thrown right-handed backhand will tend to “turn over” in a headwind and blade OI into the ground. Wouldn’t the overstable Pulsar tend to do better going upwind? you should be able to throw it flat or OI and it would S-curve back. Can anyone explain?

    • Joseph Marmerstein

      I think what you’re saying is correct. However, by throwing OI into the wind, you expose the top of the disc to the wind, which pushes it down and causes you to lose distance and hangtime. I’ve never played disc golf so I can’t speak to that, but it may be possible that the smaller and learner golf discs cut through the wind better and don’t experience this problem (not to mention the weight difference).

      • 10tech

        I trust that what Muffin says happens, does happen, so it is just a question of why, and you might be on to something there with the wind pushing on the top surface. Thank you.

        p.s. In case you’re interested, there actually isn’t a significant weight difference from Ultimate to Disc Golf. Disc Golf discs range between about 140-180g, and 165-175 seems to be the most common range from what I’ve seen.

  • Aich Aich

    That’s no Muffin’s personal blog; that’s my personal blog that my great friend Brandon has permission to write on. I’m currently traveling and so I can’t comment on the article as is; but I will read it when I return to Madison and will likely repost it under my account name.

  • Jeremy Mitchell

    Although I am new to ultimate, the difference between high level club and major league ultimate could not be more clear.

    Jeff – fans see the difference in play when there is a wide field. We see bad throws with an unfamiliar disc.

    Don’t think these are inconsequential details. They are everything.

  • Jonathan Brand

    The NBA redesigned their ball a few years back and it was immediately rejected after player complaints; no players were suspended. MLU should have not taken action against this, but allowed the discussion to open up.

    • Bill Bourret

      Did the players in question write public blog posts conveying their frustration? Or did they actually appeal to the NBA ball authority? The problem here is Malecek opted to post his feedback – which is great, don’t get me wrong – in the wrong channel.

    • nrojb

      Both of the balls were designed by Spalding. The NBA players wanted to go back to another Spalding ball, not revert to a previous brand. The comparison is irrelevant.

  • Will Stowe

    I’d be interested in any biomechanic perspectives on the differences between understable vs overstable discs and IO vs OI throws. Can a thrower simply get more power behind one or the other? How are muscles utilized differently (legs/back/core/arms)? A lot of interesting questions…

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