Interview with Collector, Creator & Consultant Max (Max Playing Cards)
What is Max Playing Cards?
The playing card community is a large one. Besides the consumers, like collectors, cardists, magicians, and card gamers, there are creators, artists, and retailers. And there are whole communities where people share their passion for playing cards, and talk about their favourite decks.
But how do we find out information about the latest and greatest decks to hit the market? You can follow all the newest projects on Kickstarter, or visit forums frequented by other collectors. But there are also dedicated writers that produce a stream of articles with reliable and helpful information about the newest playing card projects and releases, and following their blogs can be an excellent way to stay informed and in touch. Among the very best of these is Max from Max Playing Cards.
For years already, Max has been writing about upcoming and new deck releases, and his popular blog now has more than one thousand articles covering a large range of modern decks. If there's a new deck hitting the scene, and particularly if it's a creative custom deck from the US market, Max will almost certainly have given it his well-researched treatment with one of his wonderful articles on his excellent blog, where new articles appear every few days.
But Max isn't just a writer and collector, he's also a creator, having produced his excellent Bicycle Texture series of playing cards. I remember coming across his Metal deck and Wood deck when I was first exploring the world of custom playing cards. I was immediately smitten, because they stood out sharply from the typical custom deck, by providing a thoroughly traditional look, yet dressed in fresh new garments.
His latest initiative sees him entering new territory, as he offers his services as a consultant to others wanting to create their own deck of custom playing cards. It's obvious that as a collector, creator, and consultant Max has an enormous amount to offer the playing card community. I'm pleased that he was willing to agree to be interviewed about himself and his work. In this interview he generously shares many great insights about the world of collecting playing cards and writing about them, about his own experience in creating custom decks, and about what he can offer others as a consultant.
PART 1 - MAX'S BACKGROUND
For those who don't know anything about you, what can you tell us about yourself and your background?
First, thank you so much for your kindness in interviewing me. After having interviewed hundreds of companies, creators, and other people in the business, this is the very first time someone shows interest in me, so I feel very honored.
I am a Computer Science teacher at a university, and a husband and father, so my day is full of tasks and responsibilities. Playing cards is just my (not so) hidden passion, something I do in all my free time and in my long sleepless nights.
How did you begin having an interest in playing cards?
I began with magic many years ago. I was attending some magic courses and although I love it, I could not perform as I really wanted, and I felt a bit frustrated. Magic is one of the most difficult performing arts and requires thousands of practicing hours, so I ended giving up. Nevertheless, I discovered a hidden beauty in the Bicycle cards I was using and I began collecting.
What involvement and experience with playing cards did you have with playing cards before you started the Max Playing Cards website?
The interest for playing cards as a collector led me to buy many different decks around the globe. Nevertheless, I was in love with the Bicycle playing cards. At that time, crowdfunding projects popped up that were made by artists that gave a twist to the standard design and so I focused my interest on them. I wanted to be part of that new movement, and decided to begin this adventure.
Furthermore, I wanted to express myself also through my own deck of cards and, among other productions and collaborations, I was able to make three decks that became quite popular: The Bicycle Texture Series Playing Cards.
PART 2 - MAX'S WEBSITE
What motivated you to start your website, and how did you go about this?
I was already part of ASESCOIN, the Spanish Playing Cards Collector’s Association, but I discovered I was almost alone in my interests. Spain has deep roots with the production and collecting of playing cards, but the French (poker) cards do not receive general interest here. I felt I needed to make something to spread a voice about the new wave of playing cards designers and their work, so I tried to create a community around them. That’s the origin of Max Playing Cards.
What was the goal of Max Playing Cards when you started in 2012? Has your goal changed at all over time?
At the beginning, I wanted to talk about design and about playing cards. At that time many of today’s popular websites and forums didn’t exist, so I planned to write good quality articles in order to talk about the new playing cards and put them in the spotlight. I wanted to reach out to everyone wherever they were, although I am not English native speaker. Thus I wrote in English and Spanish, which was a challenge, but also something exciting and unique.
Max Playing Cards has changed as times have changed and as even I myself have changed. At the beginning, posts were much more immature and “shy”. Thanks to the personal contact with the artists, I was able to delve deeper and better into the inspiration behind decks, and talk about what goes far beyond a simple list of technical features. My goal has always been for my readers to "feel" the deck before knowing about the stock or the design. Also, the different inspiration sources allowed me to learn many new things about art, history and culture. So whenever I write a new article I like to read about the background and talk a bit about it to share that knowledge.
Along the years, my articles have been the visible part of my work in Max Playing Cards. But those articles were just the tip of the iceberg, as there was a hidden but hectic activity trying to help others to make their decks real. I have spent endless sleepless nights and almost all my free time to build a small community around the playing card business, made up of artists, designers, printers, shops, wholesalers, fulfillment warehouses, and more. In this way, whenever someone contacted me for help, I provided all those contacts and know-how to help them achieve their goals. Sometimes I have also worked as a designer and consultant to improve a deck, or a campaign. All those experiences have given me good expertise and skills (without any income, by the way).
I needed to make this work more visible, so finally the biggest change on the website arrived.
How would you describe your website today, and what can we expect to find on it?
Till a few months ago, and mainly due to the lack of resources, I was not able to make changes to the website, so the site was basically just the blog. All the different versions that the website has passed though along the years have created tons of technical gaps and bugs, so each time I planned to make any change I had to give up. This frustration got worse with a hard personal situation. I had to decide to completely quit, or to try to overcome these hurdles, and give myself an opportunity to progress with the Max Playing Cards project. I tried once more, and began learning what I needed to make it real. After a few months of working really hard, the new website is ready and live.
The site has a new aspect and it now includes on the front page the new offer from Max Playing Cards. It states in a clearer way what I can do for all those that dream about making their own deck of cards. I am giving people the opportunity to contact me to ask for my help, knowing in advance what I can do. I plan to add some extra content, in order to make everything clearer and richer.
Of course, I will be offering the same quality articles in two languages, and spreading this on social media as I have always done.
What groups of people would you say your website is geared towards, and who would find Max Playing Cards helpful?
Of course, whoever is interested in playing cards (e.g. magicians, cardists, collectors, and innovative players) is invited to visit Max Playing Cards. People are increasingly seeking immediate information, but I am an advocate of quality writing. I try to combine agile reading with detailed information. But above all, I want to show the soul of the deck, its spirit, and the inspiration of the human being who created it. The regular reader of Max Playing Cards already knows how to read the articles, depending on the interest the topic has for them, or how busy they are in their everyday life.
Furthermore, after the latest updates, there is now a special place on Max Playing Cards for those who want to make their own deck of cards. I will help them to focus on the most relevant aspects of the production, and will guide them till the end of the process.
How many articles about playing cards have you produced altogether now?
At this moment I have published more than 1,000. Bearing in mind that I write in two languages, I could say I have written more than 2000 articles since I began in 2012.
How long does it typically take to put together a single article, and what work is involved in this?
I am happy about this question, because most people are not aware about what this job really means in terms of effort.
The time I need to finish an article depends on several important aspects. On the one hand, I like to research a bit about the inspiration behind the deck. If there is any reference to history, art, architecture, or science, I like to read a bit about that, in order to make something more coherent and solid (and to enjoy learning something new too).
Regarding the writing itself, I have always wanted to make my own original text, so I avoid any copying-and-pasting, just to offer my own style. I like to give the articles something that makes artists and creators feel special and unique. I also like to describe the main features of the decks, but try to blend this with high-quality writing to guide the reader along the whole text.
Writing in English and Spanish is also a challenge because I am not a native English speaker. I work alone so I need to trust myself about the result. Sometimes I begin writing in Spanish and then translate it into English. But for some weird reason, other times I begin writing in English, which makes it more difficult for me - but afterwards translating this into Spanish is quite easy. ☺
I usually need a couple days (some hours in my break time) to finish articles in both languages, and images, including also the social media promotion in the main platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram).
Since you started, you have posted more than 1000 articles about playing cards. Are there any that you're especially pleased with or proud of, that we could take a look at?
I somewhat miss the interview series. I had the chance in the past to interview the more relevant and emerging artists in the playing cards scene, like Lotrek, Jackson Robinson (Kings Wild), Alex Chin (Seasons), and Linnea Gits (Uusi), when they began working on playing cards. I have to admit some of them have become more unreachable due to their success and their busier lives (although I always try to maintain contact). But others still keep in touch and, along with the new creators that I have the opportunity to know, they remain an inspiration for me. That interview style is not easy, because it requires a lot of work (I have worked on answering questions for this interview for several weeks myself!). But I like to go beyond the artist and try to know the human-being.
I think my longest article was dedicated to the darker side of Kickstarter, where I interviewed Milan Colovic, a creator that was scammed, like most of the backers of the project. I tried to tell the truth about crowdfunding and about heartless creators that take the money and run. Unfortunately, I have been scammed many times too, so I wanted to talk about it, as I felt that pain.
I do love being in touch with creators and the way they approach me to ask for help. I am pleased to do all I can to make their dreams true and feel, in some way, part of their success. That’s why the creative part of the articles means so much for me, and I enjoy writing them all.
I have also written interesting articles about global releases of companies like Art Of Play, Matsui, Gemini decks, and some others. I like collectors to check out what they have. I am preparing a cool article about Butterfly decks. I also like to talk about Bicycle decks made for promotional purposes and specially related to non-profit organizations, like the latest K-9 project one.
In the end, I do love writing about playing cards and knowing more and more people. That is what I really enjoy.
How often do you get the published deck itself?
I like to get the decks I talk about once they are real. I have backed hundreds of projects in the past when I was financially able to. Sometimes I get some decks for my promotion, but it is just a verbal agreement that it is not always fulfilled. Unfortunately, I have had to stop collecting a few months ago. I simply cannot follow the explosion of new releases and the huge (and sometimes stupid) amount of decks variations. Good times have gone, and I simply have no budget for that anymore. But I have been able to know cool collectors I can trade my duplicates with. It is a time-consuming task, but it is fun too.
How do you stay current with the latest developments in the playing card industry?
I try to read as much as I can. I don’t have too much time to be active in forums as I did in the past but try to read them and I have good friends among all those crazy members in United Cardists or Reina de Oros (in Spain) that share my passion for playing cards. I also visit social media although I am not as active as I would like, for the same reason.
Kickstarter is now the main source of new creations, so I try to check new releases there quite often too.
What has it been like to correspond with creators, designers, artists, and producers of playing cards, and how many contacts do you have in the industry?
That’s the best part of my work. As a playing card designer myself, I have also tried to be in touch with all parts of the playing card industry trying to make my name known. When you don’t generate thousands of dollars per month it is not easy to have permanent contacts everywhere, but I am proud of having been able to make good friends also in the industry. I have contacts with the main printers in the USA and Europe, wholesalers, dealers and online shops, fulfillment centers and, of course, dozens of artists and creators. I have helped them get in contact with each other, to help create fantastic synergies, and make many awesome decks real.
I am trying now to reactivate everything in a more solid way to offer my own consultant service, to make everything easier for the creator.
How much feedback do you get from readers, and what does this involve for you to keep up with this?
I usually receive good feedback from my readers and from the creators, and they contact me to express their compliments. I must admit I am not as good as I should be in the area of social media, and the community around Max Playing Cards needs to be more solid, but I am working on that. Nevertheless, I believe in my work, as I am passionate. I will go on working while my readers go on reading, and while creators go on asking me for help as the “biggest bilingual living encyclopedia of contemporary playing cards”.
What do people seem to appreciate the most about your articles?
The way I talk about the deck. They enjoy knowing the story behind it. Sometimes the artwork is not the most important part. I have talked about really nice cards that have no soul, while there are other cards with less graphic qualities but are charming and deep.
Does your website or social media generate any revenue for you at all, or is this purely a hobby project?
Not at all. That’s in part the origin of my new focus. I have never charged anything for promoting playing cards in Max Playing Cards. As I said before, I try to have a verbal agreement to get some decks in return from creators, just to complete my own collection and to share with a small community here. Creators are usually grateful and fulfill their promises but sometimes they forget about me once they succeed.
Although originally planned as a hobby, Max Playing Cards has not been a hobby for years. I have poured myself into it body and soul, trying to give the most professional service to all those that believed in me. I remember finishing an article last year while I was being prepared for a surgery in the hospital. I didn’t want to disappoint those who trusted in me. I demand a lot of myself.
For that reason, I am trying to do things in a different way. In past years I have put creators and artists in contact with companies, printers and wholesalers without being part of that process. I thought that now was the right moment to “change the angle” (you will understand this statement later).
What is it that you especially enjoy most about running your website? Given how much content and work this involves, what motivates you to keep this up?
People are the gasoline of my engine. Having the chance to know people and to make something relevant for them makes me feel happy and proud. In recent years, especially the last two, when I have been very ill and when my personal, professional, and financial situation have dropped to hell, I have been tempted to throw in the towel and to forget about playing cards. Nevertheless, keeping in touch with artists, collectors, and playing cards friends made me keep this up.
What can we expect from you in the future? Do you have any goals to expand or do anything different than what you are currently doing?
I want to go on helping others, but I would like to make my help more professional. I think I can get involved in specific projects as a consultant and as an agent, to allow designers to focus on designing.
Although I have made my own successful designs like the Bicycle Texture Series and have also made decks for others, this is the first time I am offering comprehensive advice for the whole playing card creation process. The Victorian deck, recently funded on Kickstarter, is one of the latest of these projects that I acted as an agent for. I have worked in every step of this process. That experience ended up being awesome. And there are some more in progress...
Are there any other writers or video reviewers of playing cards online that you follow or admire, which we should also check out?
Sure. I have a good and old relationship with Alex (Kardify). We even collaborated in the past although our editorial and strategic styles are quite different. I like his work in the playing cards arena, as he has built a huge community around it. I need to learn a lot about his social media strategies although I still need more time for that.
I miss “Collector”, a great guy that posted in the Playing Cards + Art blog. He stopped posting in 2015 but we had a fantastic relationship, and I hope he comes back some day to continue his brilliant style. I hope he is reading this interview…
I also love the style of EndersGame (perhaps you know him ☺ ). Reading your articles is a pleasure, as you have one of the deepest documented styles when talking about playing cards and I learn a lot from every article.
PART 3 - MAX AS COLLECTOR
When did you start collecting playing cards, and what got you started?
I started two decades ago, buying many different decks without any specific criteria. I wanted to explore everything, but I especially felt an attraction for Bicycle decks (due to my frustrated love for magic), so I focused mainly on USA decks. My best help was eBay, as not only was I able to buy decks from around the globe, but I could also get to know many nice people (and not so nice too ☺ ).
I am basically a contemporary (modern) playing cards collector. I like fresh new decks, and collecting vintage or antique decks is something I don’t feel attracted towards (and something I cannot afford in general).
I also collect sealed decks. That is something not all the collectors share (nor understand). In fact, sometimes even I do not understand it myself, but I think it is part of some mental disorder, since for me opening a deck feels like a sacrilege! ☺
I used to be obsessed to get all the different variations of a deck. That’s really difficult with Bicycle playing cards, as there are tons of different print runs along the years, and quite difficult to collect them without opening the deck.
What are some of the things you especially enjoy about collecting playing cards?
Collecting is, for me, an interesting personal experience in connecting something material with special feelings, emotions, and experiences. A collector belongs to a particular species where all the individuals are completely different, and at the same time they share common interests and thoughts.
There are as many collectors as collecting styles, and discovering them all is as exciting as collecting itself. In fact, the best part of collecting came more recently when after many years I have had the chance to connect with other collectors, in order to trade decks and share different points of view.
How many decks would you estimate that you currently have in your collection?
It is not easy to know, because cataloguing is something I began too late and there is a lot of work to do yet. As an estimate, with the information I now have, I calculate around 15,000 (including duplicates), with around 5000 different decks.
How do you organize and display your collection of playing cards?
I have all the decks in my office. The room is not too big, but it is suitable to store many decks. Unfortunately, there is not enough space for having it as organized as I would like.
They are organized in two sections: the display shelves and the duplicates storage. The idea is to have some place to display all the decks in an organized system, and also to have storage room to manage the duplicates in order to share them with others.
I also have a collection of uncut sheets I bought in the early stages. I stopped buying them several years ago because I don’t have any place to display them and it is a pity to have them in tubes.
By the way, if anyone reading this interview is interested in buying the full collection of duplicates (around 8000-9000 decks) or the uncut sheets, please, contact me. I have been trying to sell these for months, but it is a difficult quest. ☺
Do you have any special categories of decks that you focus on collecting, and what are your favorite types of decks to collect?
My first idea was collecting Bicycle decks. After that, I collected almost everything during the first one or two years. Later I focused on contemporary decks made mainly in the USA.
I try to have collections inside my collection grouped by artist or company. There are some I like because of the artwork or the tuck case, and others are just “assortments”. Unfortunately, the crazy strategies developed by many creators in producing a lot of different editions/colors without a deep reason beyond their greedy way to make money, have discouraged me to go on collecting them, which is really sad. I simply cannot follow that rhythm.
Anyway, Bicycle decks are still my favorite collectibles.
How do you go about adding new decks to your collection?
It is tricky because when I buy a deck from an artist, it is usually because I like the artwork, or the inspiration or the soul behind the deck or the creator. After that, I try to get everything made by the same artist following the collecting instinct. That can become an issue depending on the artist’s development and their strategy. It was easy to control in the past but not anymore.
Now, I am basically trying to complete through trades those sets and the artist categories that I stopped buying myself.
What do you do with extra decks you receive that you no longer wish to keep?
For many years, I have been sharing my duplicates with collectors that, that for various reasons were disadvantaged and weren’t otherwise able to get them. Bear in mind there has been no culture here in Spain of collecting USA decks. Most of the Spanish collectors are interested only in Spanish decks, so creating a community around US produced playing cards was my personal project and challenge.
I also like to trade decks with other collectors. That allows me to get new releases and to share interesting “older” decks that are more difficult to find.
What thoughts do you have on the explosion of custom playing cards that we are seeing today?
I love variety and I think the market has a place for everyone. I love to see new creators trying to engrave their names in the playing cards hall of fame. Nevertheless, thinking about some of the strategies carried out by big companies (and some individual and popular creators) and their greedy minds makes me feel sad. When I began, you could collect almost all the new releases because there were not so many color variations, gilded decks, exclusive editions, deluxe sets and private reserve items. It is obviously impossible to collect all the decks released now. But what is more and more sad, is that it is difficult to collect even all the decks from a few good designers because their production approach has made it impossible for an average budget.
Of course, this is just supply-and-demand, so I just ask for fairness, and good, original and thorough designs.
What impact do you think crowdfunding like Kickstarter has had on playing cards and on collecting?
Kickstarter has completely changed the playing cards scene and business. I do love the original idea of supporting a project before making it real. Part of that spirit has been lost due to the way campaigns are handled today. I understand that creators are there to make money, but the common protocol sometimes does not take care of the backers that are the ones that are really making a project possible. I hate seeing decks in online shops before the backers receive their rewards, or even when they are cheaper than during the campaign. A backer deserves to receive the deck the first and the cheapest.
Which deck (or decks) in your collection is your favorite, and why?
Well, this is not arrogance, but my favorite decks are the Bicycle Texture series decks. It is just for an emotional reason. I had to deal with a lot of issues in order to be able to make my dream a reality: creating a Bicycle deck with my name on it. Having a series of them is simply amazing, and that makes me feel happy and confident.
What would the most valuable deck in your collection be, and what accounts for its value?
Honestly, I could not say. I have many valuable decks in my collection, and most of them are valuable more for sentimental reasons than for the price itself. In my case, it is more linked to the way I got that deck and who sold or traded it with me.
One of the items I appreciate more from the ones I acquired recently is the set given to those who were lucky to be at the recent event in New York to celebrate the union of Cartamundi and USPCC. It would have been impossible for me to get it unless someone attending the event was so kind to share it with me. The person who sent it means a lot to me, and I appreciate his friendship and kindness.
What do your family and friends think of your collection, and of your interest in collecting and reviewing playing cards?
I have to say this is something I don’t share with family and close friends too much. They have always been supportive with all I have done but, in general, they are not very interested in playing cards, and to them I seem like a freak regarding that. That’s why I mainly share this with other collectors and fans of playing cards who appreciate it much more.
My daughter is perhaps the exception. Although she is not crazy about cards, she loves helping me in whatever she can, and she is now learning some strategies to enrich my social media and make it more attractive. It is awesome to have her on board because she is quite creative and sensitive, and that’s essential for my focus.
Do you belong to any playing card organizations, or connect with other collectors, either online or in any other way?
Yes. I belong to Asescoin, the Spanish society for collectors of playing cards. Most members of this cool society are only interested in Spanish decks, so for years I have been trying to infect them with my passion for modern US decks, which is not easy. I also get inspiration from them as expert researchers of the history of playing cards, and to stay connected to the roots of Spanish playing cards. They make a fantastic publication every year, La Sota, which is an awesome knowledge source. They also publish an annual deck. Both are sent to the members as part of the annual membership, what is a great deal.
I was also a member of 52 Plus Joker for a couple of years. Unfortunately, being so far from the USA made this membership too expensive for me. I would have loved to be there and take part in the annual meetings and many other activities. Anyway, during my membership I had the possibility to know (from afar) Lee Asher and other cool members of the association, and that experience was fantastic.
If you would start collecting all over again today, would you do anything different?
I’m not sure. The way you handle your collecting is very important for the future. Collecting is addictive and if you decide to collect deck variations, or many different brands/creators as I did, you will need to change the focus and cut it out at some point. At the same time, the wider your collection is, the more you learn, so you get increasingly inspired and experience more. It is true I had to stop collecting in the way I used, because of the speed the market grew.
What advice would you give someone just starting to collect playing cards today?
I have given some speeches about collecting cards, and the advice I give changes depending on the audience. Nevertheless, I always suggest looking inside you, and to find the reason you want to collect playing cards. When a collector becomes just a deck picker, the original passion slowly dies, and things can lose sense.
I also suggest having a good source of information, and fellow collectors to share the passion with. That helps a lot to feel involved and to feed the passion.
PART 4 - MAX AS CREATOR
You created the popular Bicycle Rider-back Texture Series. Which decks were part of this series?
The first deck was the Metal deck. It was a truly fascinating experience. I couldn’t imagine it would do so well, especially after being rejected by some companies.
After that, I released the Wood deck, which was in fact my very first design. It did really well.
Due to the success of the Metal deck and bearing in mind that we promised not to make a reprint, the Blue Metal deck was released and it also did quite well.
The latest deck I designed was the Marble deck. It was launched at a bad time, and when USPCC changed their policy that disallowed customizing the Rider-back design, so I had to move to Maiden-back in a relaunch. Although it collected a lot of money, it was not enough to cover all the production as the producer Collectable Playing Cards (CPC) wanted, so I decided not to relaunch. I also decided not to go on working with CPC, although the experience had been fantastic.
I want to try something different and the designs are waiting for a better opportunity. I do love those designs, and made two different editions (black and white marble). I really hope these are printed someday.
Where can we buy these decks?
I think you still can find the Blue Metal and the Wood deck is some stores with reduced stock. The original Metal deck has become quite sought after, and I have seen it only in the secondary market for a good amount of money.
When did you create the Metal deck, which was the first in the series, and how did this project come about?
The Metal deck was made in 2012. Originally the deck was a Steel deck. I really wanted to make my own Bicycle deck and I was quite happy with the idea, because it perfectly fitted my design skills. I spent many months making it and then contacted several people in the business to offer it for production. Those who answered told me I was off to a good start, but after more than a year, I gave up and put the designs and the prototypes in a drawer.
But I couldn’t forget about it, and each time I talked to a new creator or company I shared the designs. When I contacted Mike from Collectable Playing Cards (CPC), he showed a passionate interest in it, which made me very happy. In the meanwhile, the Steel deck by Cardicians was released, so I decided to change the name
I didn’t even expect to be funded, but I worked like crazy to make it become a reality. More than 1000 backers loved the deck, and we needed to do a print run of 5000, which was sold out in the next few months. I even had to design a coin and a metal card, which was a fantastic experience.
What was involved in making this design from an artwork perspective?
I wanted to explore my graphic skills, so I decided to experiment with shapes and textures, while respecting the traditional design. I wanted something mature, well done, and full of details and hidden elements. I also wanted something as luxurious as possible, without making real metal, so that anyone could feel the spirit of the deck when having the tuck case in their hands. Each time I checked a card, I made a change to make it nicer or better, and I am really happy with the result.
How did you go about producing and promoting the deck?
Being able to count on Mike at CPC was the key. He took charge of the production in a very professional way. I was involved in everything regarding the printing process. I was in touch with USPCC for every single technical detail until the final deck was printed. I also did the promotion with Max Playing Cards.
How successful was it, and what factors were instrumental in this success?
I think the idea was fresh. There were other similar approaches, but done completely differently. I wanted to keep the essence of a traditional playing cards deck, but with a completely new aspect, being a completely custom deck. I wanted to imagine how a Bicycle deck would look if a magician would convert it into metal (or any other material).
The campaign was awesome and the backers very active. A good community around the campaign is also decisive.
Which decks did you design subsequently, and was there anything different about the process in making, producing, and promoting these?
The next decks were easier to produce because in the first one I was ignorant about making cards. So I had to deal with all the “obstacles” that a huge company like USPCC puts in your way (technical aspects and constraints, production and legal issues). Making a Bicycle deck is even more complicated because each time you find new policy aspects to deal with. All that makes you learn a lot.
What advice would you give to a creator of a custom deck, in light of your own experience in designing and producing your own decks?
If you have a dream, you must try until you make it happen. Perhaps due to my age and my education, I have never been very brave or risky as an entrepreneur, and that has slowed down my progress without realizing it.
There is a lot of information available for new creators about how to do things correctly, and the community is big enough to give advice about new ideas and designs. There are also many options to choose from for printing, producing and fulfilling. So if you have a good idea and design, you just need to work hard and learn from the success and failures of others. Of course, teaming up with someone with experience (like Max Playing Cards) will make the journey easier and more comfortable.
What advice would you give to a creator of a custom deck about promotion? How important is this in order to successfully publish a deck?
Promotion always helps. Of course, if you are already followed by millions, you have the ability to influence them. But in general, playing cards is a small world with many decks on the stage and you need people to know about your new ideas.
When I am contacted by a new creator or I email someone about a new campaign, I always say my promotion cannot be a guarantee of anything. Some people think you can directly measure the impact of that promotion in numbers and statistics but I completely disagree. I have tested those statistics in real projects and they don’t work at all. The Kickstarter statistics report, for example, doesn’t give real information about where the backers come from at all.
When you make a new project, you are immediately contacted by “companies” that promise you a direct result for their promotion. Most of them are scammers and so far I have not found anyone among them trustworthy, unless you spend thousands of dollars on a regular basis (something only available for big creators). That’s why I never ask for money to promote a deck. I prefer to offer my honest work and try to improve the results. Most of the time it has worked, sometimes it has done quite well. The more you are featured anywhere, the more chance you have to succeed.
Would you do anything differently with future projects?
Yes. Although producing the deck with another company has been an interesting experience, I really want to take control over my own projects, so in future I will try to launch a project by myself. I am not sure if I will be able to do so, due to many different obstacles I have to deal with. But if I really cannot, I will be sure to put the designs in the appropriate hands to make the best in future editions.
Have you designed any other decks besides the Texture series?
I have designed some more decks, and the Texture series is in my mind all the time as I would like to explore new textures in the future. Nevertheless, I need the right conditions in my life to be able to concentrate on that. I am working all day with so many things that it is difficult to find the peace I need to focus on a new deck design. I also have plenty of ideas, so sometimes I am able to share them with others, who can eventually make them become real decks.
Do you have any plans for future designs or projects?
Yes! Working with others has always delayed my own designs and projects but I have one that I have been working on for more than a year, the Angle deck. The Texture series was more oriented to magicians and collectors, but the Angle deck was designed with cardistry in mind.
Although I have never been too involved in cardistry, I wanted to explore that universe with a simple but bold design, and I am really happy with the result. Unfortunately, I have not found the best way to produce it yet; I have some offers to make it a reality, so I am still studying the options.
PART 5 - MAX AS CONSULTANT
Creating a deck of playing cards is a complex process that also requires a lot of connections in the industry. What services do you offer to help people with this?
As you say, making a custom deck of cards involves one million things to have in mind. Concept, design, funding, printing, fulfilment. Creators must decide how to deal with all this and how they want their projects to be developed. After working with dozens of creators and artists over the years, I have learned many things you should do - and what is better: many things you should avoid.
I adapt my services to the type of creator and project that reaches to me. I first begin with an elaborated interview trying to capture everything about it (idea, concept, design, printing, special features to be developed). All this information is essential to know the type of help they need. Sometimes they need me to help in almost everything, from the concept and design to the printing and fulfilment, so I end up contacting printers to get the best quotes or making spreadsheets to properly calculate the pledge levels in a Kickstarter project. In other instances they only need some advice, some contacts, or promotion, because the rest is completely clear.
I have been also invited to give some lectures here in Spain to different audiences (mostly magicians) about “how to create your own deck of cards,” and that also gives me more feedback about what they really need.
Aside from promoting the work of others, you have been a consultant to help improve the designs of other creators. What does this involve, and what opportunities have you had to do this?
Although I am not a fine artist myself, my experience with my own decks has allowed me to learn about the most relevant things to make a smooth production process. Sometimes, artists know a lot about creating designs but have no idea about creating cards or selling them. Printers have strict rules that guarantee proper quality, and following them is mandatory. Nice artwork doesn’t always fit in the playing card structure and essence.
Furthermore, I have a restless and creative mind, so I have also collaborated with good artists just trying to improve their designs and make them more interesting for the audience. That creative brainstorming is amazing and rejuvenates me. ☺
What decks have you been involved with as a consultant, and been produced with your assistance or advice?
It is difficult to count them because I have been doing this for years, and mostly in a completely casual way. I have regularly worked with artists and magicians. One of the most relevant works I have done in Spain is with famous magician and youtuber, Borja Monton. He released his Domina la Magia deck, and after that the ARTE Playing Cards set. With both decks I was involved for the whole process from design to fulfillment.
I should mention one of the latest projects I worked in. It has been a collaboration in Victorian Playing Cards, a cool card project by Maciej Frolow in KS. Maciej is an experienced and talented designer, and he contacted me looking for help because he knew nothing about playing cards. I helped him to arrange everything (the Kickstarter project, printing, wholesaling, fulfilment). What was originally planned as a €3,000 campaign with a 500 decks production has become a successful campaign with over 2,000 decks, two different editions, hundreds of backers, and almost €20,000 collected. I feel very proud of this and I hope this collaboration will continue in future and bigger projects. But the best part is not the success of the project but the solid relationship I have reached with Maciej... that’s the best reward for me.
I had also the opportunity to work in my first tarot deck, Sortilegium. I was contacted by a charming designer, Natalia Vélez, based here in Spain. She needed some help to convert her nice color pencil drawings in a real deck of cards. We have been working for several months and the project was recently funded so it will be printed and distributed soon.
I am working now in several projects to be released this year. They will be launched in KS soon and they include the cool Professor Tate’s decks, produced by David Bolt and the Luxury Keys Bicycle deck, made by a passionate Spanish magician called Magic Almendros.
I am also working with a Spanish designer on a very special deck that I am sure will be awesome. Things are moving slowly but I hope we can talk about it really soon. It will be one of the coolest decks published this year.
What can you tell us about your new website that you are setting up to help creators of playing cards make their own decks?
Making the new website with its new aspect was a challenge for me, but I am proud and happy with it. The new website gives me a much more powerful tool to add more content, keeping my simple but effective style. I don’t want to have a messy place where people get confused about where to find what they are looking for, so I will keep trying to maintain the structure as flat as possible with a low number of depth levels.
Whoever wants to make a deck of cards and needs my help can contact me through the I want to make my own deck option in the menu, and by filling in a form where I ask for several relevant aspects of the project. This way I can help better and more quickly.
Max wears a lot of different hats, but all of them are about playing cards: commentator/writer, collector, creator, and consultant. It's obvious that he has an enormous amount to offer the playing card community, and he's poured an enormous amount of time and energy into his passion. What I especially appreciate about his many articles is that he goes the extra mile to do some research on the wider background of the theme being covered by a custom deck. He doesn't just give us the cold facts of what we can expect from a new deck and what it looks like, but he really does share something about its "soul" - something that is very important to him.
Besides all these other things - commentator, collector, creator, and consultant - there's one other important thing about Max which should be mentioned: he's kind, warm-hearted, and compassionate. I've corresponded with Max for a couple of years now, and it's very evident that he's not in this just for himself, but that he loves reaching out to others and helping. He's a caring individual that treats his contacts with respect, and goes the extra mile to be friendly and stay in touch. The fact that he put so much effort into writing lengthy answers to my questions just confirms the kind of person he is, and highlights his dedication and commitment in his effort to be thorough and helpful.
Max Playing Cards has always been about helping creators get the word out about their projects, and about helping consumers find out about the latest projects. And now with his new initiative as a consultant, Max can take his expertise to the next level, and continue to help others, while at the same time getting some reward for his efforts. With the benefit of his own experience as a collector and creator, and perhaps more importantly with the benefit of his many connections in the industry, he is very well placed to be successful in helping others achieve their dreams of creating and marketing their own custom deck. I for one am cheering for him!
Where to learn more?
- Max Playing Cards: Official site, Blog, Portfolio, Consultancy Services
- Social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Bicycle Rider-back Texture series: Metal, Wood, Blue Metal, Marble
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks here.
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