Introducing Giovanni Meroni

I'm currently on a bit of a kick doing a few reviews of specialized decks of playing cards. I happen to love traditional card games, and I also love doing card magic, so decks of cards have a real appeal to me. Everyone needs to own at least one good deck of cards, and if you going to own a deck of cards, I figure that you might as well try to get something pretty. I didn't realize that so many beautiful decks of playing cards have been created in recent years, but the advances of technology have empowered some very gifted graphic designers with the ability to create some stunning artwork on their PCs, and then make their dreams a reality by partnering with online publishing companies, and finally tapping into the marketing engine of the internet. One of these gifted individuals is Giovanni Meroni.

Giovanni's work

Today I want to show you some lovely decks that have been created by an Italian, Giovanni Meroni. I stumbled across some of his work online, and was just blown away by the classy and elegant appearance of the decks he's created, as well as the way he has drawn on mythology, literature, and art in the creation of his playing cards. Now I don't normally do previews, but in this case this review is largely a preview of a deck that our friend Giovanni is currently producing, so I am relying somewhat on the images he's provided. I'm sure you'll agree that this is some beautiful work, and I look forward to this seeing the light of day in the near future. Giovanni has already proven his abilities with several other decks he's created previously, so I'll show you those as well.

So who is Giovanni Meroni? He's a freelance designer in Italy, who has created the product brand "Thirdway Industries". To underline his credentials, it's worth mentioning that the clients he has worked for have included companies like Vodafone, Nestle, Schwarzkopf, Gucci, Coca Cola, and Red Bull. Those are some big names! So Giovanni is a freelance designer and art director who knows his stuff! He's worked for more than 10 years for agencies and companies, and is currently focused on website art direction and vector illustration. But amongst other things, Giovanni likes to design decks of playing cards. And that's where he gets my attention and interest!

Giovanni's decks

Giovanni's first published deck was in 2014, when he created his Evil Deck. In this deck, all the four suits had their own theme: hearts = passion, diamonds = violence, clubs = nature, spades = magic. The following year, 2015, he first turned to Kickstarter, and created his Delirium deck. This is considered to be an intricate but modern deck that was inspired by classic French playing cards but with crazy twists. It has the distinction of being chosen as the official 2015 deck of the United Cardists forum.

In 2015, Giovanni also created his Omnia: The First series, which had the theme of cyclicality, and featured three decks representing different dimensions of the Omnia universe. This was followed the next year by a sequel series of three decks, Omnia: The Golden Age, which maintained the Omnia theme, but represented an era of abundance and wealth. The same year, Giovanni created his Dedalo series of three decks, which is inspired by Greek mythology, and tells the story of the Labyrinth of Crete, Theseus and The Minotaur, including the Labyrinth's builder Dedalo.

And that brings us to the present, 2017. Giovanni has now created his SINS series of three decks, which is inspired by the literature and art that explores the Seven Deadly Sins. The Seven Deadly Sins (Greed, Envy, Pride, Lust, Wrath, Gluttony, Sloth) have a long history, and have featured strongly in both art and literature, so it is a rich tradition that Giovanni can draw on. In fact they go back all the way to the beginning of time, with the Fall of Adam and Eve, all of which these decks depict. This project is currently in the process of being funded on Kickstarter (here), and is already over-funded, so it will be produced. I'll focus on showing these decks, along with some of Giovanni Meroni's earlier creations.


The SINS series (2017)

The SINS series that is currently on Kickstarter (link) consists of three decks of playing cards:
Sins Corpus
Sins Anima
Sins Mentis
These correspond to the classic categories of body, soul, and mind.

While there is some continuity between these three decks, there are also significant differences.

For example, below we see the Queen of Hearts, for which different artwork is used in each of the three decks. Especially noteworthy is how the SINS Anima deck features a dark background on all the cards. This is typical for many of Giovanni's deck series - one deck stands out, and it is usually the "limited edition" that is produced in very limited quantities, and thus also attracts a higher price.

The card-backs of all three decks represent Eden, where sin happened, as background to the Seven Deadly Sins.

● In Mentis, Eden is still bright, because Eve hasn't yet eaten the forbidden fruit.
● In Corpus, eternal night has fallen on Eden as a result of the eating of the forbidden fruit.
● In Anima, after the fall, Adam and Eve have been banned, and realize their frailty and mortality, but also have gained new knowledge - Eden is empty, and red like blood, hell, but also like the heart, passion and life.

Mentis deck (Mind)

SINS Mentis is based on the sins that influence thought: Greed (Diamonds), Envy (Clubs), Pride (Spades) and Lust (Hearts). After all, as Giovanni reminds us, every Sin begins with a twisted thought!

Spades represents Pride which says things like "Stand above the others. You'll be the best one." and "Look in the mirror, forget you're a human."

Diamonds represents Greed which says things like "You can't get enough, can you?" and "Material things are the keys that open many doors."

Clubs represents Envy which says things like "Look at them. Their life is better than yours." and "Look in the mirror, forget you're a human."

Hearts represents Lust which says things like "Your thoughts are twisted, Sinner." and "One way to improve yourself is crave something that others already have."

The pips in both the Mentis and the Corpus decks are identical. All they are bigger and taller than normal, to help convey the theme, they are still relatively standard, to ensure functionality. But there are some small details that have been added, for example notice the tiny blood drop on the 9 of Hearts!

Corpus deck (Body)

SINS Corpus is based on the sins that influence the body: Wrath (Diamonds), Gluttony (Clubs), Sloth (Spades) and Lust (Hearts).

Spades represents Sloth which says things like "Are you comfortable? It's okay. Don't do anything." and "If you don't take it easy, someday you'll burn yourself."

Diamonds represents Wrath which says things like "Let the anger flow through you. Destroy everything!" and "Sometimes, the only way to open doors is smash them."

Clubs represents Gluttony which says things like "It tastes good, doesn't it?" and "Hunger is our primary need. Never forget that, Sinner."

Hearts represents Lust which says things like "We may be banned, we may be wicked, but we won't be lonely."

The number cards are the same as the Mentis deck, but the Corpus deck does have unique artwork for its Aces, which have intricate details as seen here.

Anima deck (Soul)

SINS Anima is based on all the seven Sins. While Mentis is about the mind, and Corpus is about the body, Anima is about the soul. This deck is totally red, and is a limited edition.

The Spades are inspired by Sloth and Pride, and the Diamonds by Wrath and Greed.

The Clubs are inspired by Envy and Gluttony, and the Hearts by Lust and Wrath.

The artwork on the number cards is similar to the other decks, but with a different colour scheme, and a very elaborate Ace.

Three jokers are included, two representing Adam and Eve (who are featured as jokers in all the decks), and the third representing Prometheus, the Snake that led them into temptation.


Now let's take a quick look at some of the other decks previously made by Giovanni.

Omnia: The First series (2015)

This is the first of what would later become two series of decks, Omnia the First (2015), and Omnia The Golden Age (2016). The Omnia stories are inspired by Viking and Greek mythology, and reflect a universe and narrative that is Giovanni's own creation.

In "Omnia: The First", there are three decks, each one representing a dimensional plane in the Omnia Universe:
Omnia Oscura is the dark side
Omnia Illumina is the bright side
Omnia Suprema is the plane where the gods live

The main symbol in the Omnia decks is the Uroboros, the immortal god-snake who eats its own tail, represents the beginning and the end of time. Other symbols that these Omnia decks draw on include Egyptian symbols like the Ankh, Ibis, Anubis; Norse mythology such as Odin and Freya; ancient Roman gods like Janus and Fortuna; and even the Philosopher's Stone.

Here are the card-backs from the three decks:

The court cards don't use identical artwork, but feature subtle changes in the art, to reflect the different themes of each. In Oscura their soul is more dark, malicious, angry or sad; in Illumina they are more happy, brave and generous; in Suprema they show divine power with elaborate armors, jewels and wings. Here's an example, showing the King of Hearts:

Each suit in Omnia Oscura represents a different idea, e.g. Spades = The rebirth of the universe, Hearts = War, passion and violence, Clubs = Wealth and power, Diamonds = Goodness and purity

Below are some cards from the main deck, Omnia Oscura.

Omnia: The Golden Age series (2016)

Omnia: The Golden Age is a follow up to the original Omnia series, and time wise they bring you back to an earlier and more prosperous era. Based on the ancestors of the first Omnia, these decks bring you to the Golden Age of the Omnia universe, full of treasures, heroes and war.

This set also consists of three different decks,:
Omnia Antica (the main deck) represents an era of abundance and wealth.
Omnia Perduta represents an era of war and destruction, when everything collapsed.
Omnia Magnifica represents the legendary, remote past of the Omnia Universe, full of gods and heroes, when everything started.

The symbols that these Omnia decks draw on include the ancient Buddhist symbol The Endless Knot, which is the main symbol of this series; Sole and Luna, which are the Sun and Moon divinities of the Omnia universe, the enigmatic Sphynx from ancient Egypt/Greece, and the Wanderer.

Here are the card-backs from the three decks:

The court cards in each deck feature the same character, but living in a different era: in Magnifica they are ancient and forgotten heroes; in Antica they live an era of abundance and wealth; in Perduta they are preparing to fight a huge war that will end the Golden Age and throw the world in the present (as depicted in the Omnia Oscura deck).

The suits in these decks are inspired by ancient civilizations: Hearts are inspired by Egyptians (e.g. one King is a Pharaoh, and a Jack is a priest of Life), Spades are inspired by Babylonians and Persians, Clubs are inspired by Greeks (e.g. one Jack is a Hoplite warrior, and a King is a Philosopher), and Diamonds are inspired by Romans. The Perduta court cards are warriors, with a lot of sharp blades and heavy armors.

Below are some cards from Omnia Antica deck, which is the main deck in the series.

Dedalo series (2016)

The Dedalo series is inspired by and retells the ancient stories of Greek mythology.

There are three different decks in the Dedalo series:
Dedalo Alpha: the past of Dedalo world
Dedalo Apeiron: the future
Dedalo Omega: the story of Infinity

Here are the card backs from the three decks:

Inspired by Greek mythology, this series tells the story of beautiful Ariadne, the dark hero Theseus, the Minotaur Asterion, Minos and Dedalo (which is an Italian synonym of "Labyrinth"). The genius Dedalo built the Labyrinth, which is the main location of the story. If you're not familiar with this famous story, you can read it here. But most people will have heard of Icarus, one of the two sons of Dedalo (Daedalus), who flew towards the sun with wings that eventually melted.

Dedalo Alpha and Dedalo Omega tells the past and the future of the same story:
● In Dedalo Alpha, the Minotaur and Theseus haven’t yet fought, Ariadne goes to help Theseus with her red thread, and Icarus and King Aegeus are alive.
● In Dedalo Omega, Theseus has defeated Minotaur and abandoned Ariadne, King Minos is angry with Dedalo and imprisoned him and his family into the Labyrinth, from where they escape with wax wings, but Dedalo's son Icarus flies too high and wings are melted by the Sun, Helios. Thinking that Theseus was killed by Minotaur, Aegeus commits suicide.

All the same ranked court cards featuring the same character (like the King of Spades above) – but in different versions, reflecting these past and future aspects. For example, Theseus, who is the Jack of Hearts character pictured below, is worried before his fight with Minotaur in Dedalo Alpha, but is victorious and arrogant in Dedalo Omega. I like it!

The "limited" deck in this series is the Apeiron deck, which features black backgrounds.

The gods are also different in each Dedalo Deck. Dedalo Alpha features Hermes, Aphrodite, Poseidon, and Apollo; Dedalo Omega features Dionysus, Athena, Helios and Artemis; Dedalo Apeiron features Ares, Hera, Zeus and Hades.

Delirium (2015)

The Delirium Prism deck was Giovanni's first Kickstarter project, and this is the deck that gained the honour of being the official 2015 deck of the United Cardists forum.

This deck is intended to be both colorful and crazy, as is immediately obvious from the the crazy scene on the front of the tuck box, which depicts the Delirium King giving a speech, surrounded by his guards and his consorts.

The unusual color scheme features combinations of green and blue, as well as maroon and orange. To me it has both a modern and a classic feel.


Now I realize I've included a lot of pictures - but hey, that's what decks like this are all about, the visuals, so I wanted to give you a chance to see what the cards look like. Bear in mind that this is a preview, because the decks based on the Seven Deadly Sins are still on Kickstarter, and haven't yet been produced, although obviously his previous decks are all already in print. But I am very impressed with this project for a number of reasons:

I love the style of the artwork

Giovanni lives in Italy, and there is something unusual about his style that makes it stand out from the kind of artwork typically seen in euro-games, or being produced by American artists and designers. It has both a classic and Mediterranean feel somehow, which I appreciate. A couple of the cards in SINS decks have slightly risque artwork, in keeping with the theme of some suits, but this isn't an issue with the earlier series of decks. The artwork in all the decks certainly feels more stylish and different from a normal deck of cards, and yet at the same time the suits are still very clear, as are the values of the suits, so the cards are very playable and usable. I also like the fact that the number cards feature a unique style. I've seen some other artistic decks where the only thing different from normal are the court cards and Ace of Spades, and I rather like a deck which applies something original across the board. To be honest, I even like the idea of owning a deck made by someone named "Giovanni" - that already sounds distinctly Italian and cultured!

I love the thematic stories

While the Omnia world is a quite unfamiliar to me, the classic Greek mythology in the Dedalo series of decks strikes an immediate chord, because I have an interest in ancient history and ancient Greece and Rome in particular, and it is very clever how Giovanni has woven the ancient Greek myth into the artwork. But I think that Giovanni has really taken things to the next level by working with the concept of the Seven Deadly Sins in his latest series of SIN decks. The classification of the Seven Deadly Sins has a long history (see here for an overview), and I really like the way that each one has been worked into a single suit, with artwork reflective of the concept. The decks create a thematic and artistic unity which is based on a long literary and artistic tradition. There's a lot of rich symbolism that has been cleverly drawn on as well, theologically and artistically. What I really hope is that this series will be followed up with a series of decks based on the the Seven Virtues!

With beautiful and unique artwork that ties in well with a rich theme, steeped in literature and art, these decks are definitely more than just a pretty face, but have real personality and character. Well done Mr Giovanni Meroni, I'm pleased to have discovered your work! If you're interested in learning more, check out the Kickstarter for the SINS decks here, or else you can check out Giovanni Meroni's own website here.

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Russ Williams
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These Sin decks have cool art indeed, and unlike some of the very strange-looking decks whose images you've uploaded lately (e.g. Minim/Iota, Good/Evil, Brosmind, Muertos, etc) these Sin decks look like they could be playable in normal card games without being too confusing/unclear/distracting.

(Sort of reminds me of variant-design Chess pieces; some seem playable, and some are just too weird to be usable.)
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Giovanni Meroni
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Thank you Russ! I made my decks perfectly playable - it's a very important point for me!

Well, maybe some queens may be distracting.......
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