BRING ON THE MAGIC WITH MURPHY'S!

Murphy's Law

Have you ever heard of Murphy's Law? It is typically stated as "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong."

Did you just drop a slice of buttered toast? Murphy's Law says it will likely fall butter-side down. And that the chances of it making a mess on the carpet increase according to the cost of your carpet. Murphy's Law also explains things like why the other queue always moves faster; why uniforms only come in two sizes (too large and too small); and why nobody is listening except when you make a mistake (which will invariably be when everyone is listening).

There are many other laws that are all applications of Murphy's Law, like these:
Law of Mechanical Repair: After your hands become coated with grease, your nose will begin to itch and you'll have to go to the bathroom.
Law of Probability: The probability of being watched is directly proportional to the stupidity of your act.
Law of Theatre Seating: At any event, the people whose seats are furthest from the aisle arrive last.
Law of Close Encounters: The probability of meeting someone you know increases dramatically when you are with someone you don't want to be seen with.
Law of Selective Gravitation: A dropped tool will land where it will do the most damage.

And then there are other related sub-laws, like these:
Finagle's Rider: Anything that can go wrong, will only go wrong at the worst possible moment.
Forsyth's Corollary: Just when you see the light at the end of the tunnel, the roof will cave in.
Gumperson's Law: The probability of anything happening is in inverse ratio to its desirability.

And have you ever heard of Cole's Law? It's thinly sliced cabbage. (groan)



Murphy's Magic

But I digress. Back to Murphy and his law. Because there's also a Mark Murphy (pictured below), and I'm certain he's not the person who invented Murphy's Law. But Mark did found Murphy's Magic, which has absolutely nothing to do with Murphy's Law, except for the fact that it shares the Murphy name. Now if the Murphy from Murphy's Law formed a company, it would have resulted in catastrophe long ago. Fortunately that's not happened with Mark Murphy, who has successfully been running Murphy's Magic for almost 20 years.

Mark founded Murphy's Magic in 1998, and it is strictly a wholesale magic dealer. That means: individuals can't purchase directly from Murphy's Magic, because they only sell in bulk quantities to authorized dealers. So if you see something on their site that you like, you can't purchase individual items directly from them, but need to ask your local magic dealer. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, because Murphy's Magic produces and sells an enormous range of magic products which they sell to magic dealers around the world, and they have a huge network of contacts in the retail industry. Their website is a terrific resource with tons of information about their products, which include all things magical: magic kits, magic tricks, card tricks, DVDs, books, gags & jokes, puzzles, juggling, playing cards, accessories, and more.



Murphy's Playing Cards

But what really interests me is the fact that Murphy's Magic also produces their own playing cards. Jason Brumbalow is the director of New Product Development at Murphy's Magic, and under his leadership multiple decks of playing cards have been developed for Murphy's Magic. In fact Murphy's has created a range of more than half a dozen decks of specialty playing cards, and it's these that I'll be covering in this review.

All of these decks of playing cards are available from Murphy's Magic dealers, and since many retailers that sell magic or who specialize in custom playing cards often rely on Murphy's Magic for their products, this means that these decks should all be readily available from a variety of sources.

So let's just forget Murphy's Law for a moment, and instead show some of the successful playing card projects that Murphy's Magic has produced in the last few years. I'll be covering nine decks in total, which I've roughly categorized according to the amount of customization they have.




FULLY-CUSTOMIZED DECKS

Sometimes decks of playing cards are only semi-customized. This is especially true of many decks produced by Ellusionist, which look glamorous when judging from the tuck box, but in reality the cards themselves are standard, except for customized card backs, Ace of Spades, and Jokers. While these decks can be useful for magicians, many of us who enjoy playing games with playing cards or who enjoy collecting them will prefer a deck of cards with a higher degree of customization.

In this section I want to cover three different decks created by Murphy's Magic which are fully customized, i.e. they also have customized court cards, and number cards that feature a completely new design. In all these cases, a great deal of thought has gone into producing these decks, with great attention paid to every little detail. In many respects, they are really works of art through and through!



Fox Targets

The Fox Targets Playing Cards exude sophistication and class from the moment you take off the shrink wrap. It has a matt forest green tuck box, with a very stylish design on the front, the vertical series of stripes dominating the overall look.



The back of the tuck box has a ornate illustration in which the Fox Targets monogram is central, consisting of a letter F, with an arrow through the middle to indicate a T.

Various symbols on the corners generate interest, like a campfire, arrows, ax, and tent, while the overall picture suggests an outdoors scene, which is no surprise given that this deck was inspired by a love for nature, and the rugged beauty of the great outdoors. Much of the artwork is camping oriented, and pictures the golden hour when the sun sets, which is the one time foxes can become visible hunting targets.

But there's also deeper meaning behind the symbols, and the designer has explained that the fire represents the fire needed in one's heart, the tent represents the need for us to build a structure and home; everything is carefully thought out.



The ad copy says, "True beauty is natural and elusive, much like the fox ... All that glitters is not gold. True beauty is just knowing where to look." Small details, like ornamentation on the tuck flaps, especially the foxes on the upper flap, all confirm an initial impression of quality, without needing to resort to bling like gold foil accents.

The artwork was illustrated by card artist Lance Miller, under the direction of Jason Bumbalow - both well known names for those well acquainted with the world of playing card design. Lance's interest and involvement in magic began in childhood, and in later years he chose to go into the world of art design for the magic industry. The collaboration and idea for this particular deck began when Jason found a vintage hunting target from the 1920s that had a fox pictured on it. This led to the idea of using concentric circles like the one inside the fox on the tuck box, and the design style used for the court card figures' hair.

Once the deck is in your hands, everything about it looks and feels professional and classy.



The card backs are a soft green grey that doesn't overstate itself, and there is a mirrored design that incorporates the Fox Targets monogram. I love this look. It's common to see decks with horizontal or vertical stripes, but to just have a partial stripe to the border gives the impression of a badge or medal of honour, and adds to the style.

The Ace of Spades, a signature card for most decks, has a beautiful design which encloses a tiny fox within the spade pip, and is surrounded by the campfire and axe logo in a stylish black and white figure.



The colour of the face cards is slightly off-white, matching the borders on the backs, to give the entire look an environmentally friendly touch.

The court cards are line drawings, black in the case of the spades and clubs, and two tones of red in the case of the hearts and diamonds. These feature illustrations of native Americans, many in ceremonial war dress, and armed with hatches and arrows.



Lance Miller has poured hours of work into designing these images, with each court card involving on average an incredible 25 hours of time to illustrate - and that's before the process of digital remastering even begins! This means that over 250 hours have gone into the illustration process alone, while a card back typically involves over 80 hours. The designs involved countless iterations and designs in order to produce the beauty you see here. According to Lance, an entire deck like this takes more than 400 hours of work! And there is certainly a lot of detail - e.g. the Queen of Hearts has a nod to the Run deck's Joker at her top left shoulder.

The number cards are absolutely exquisite in every way. To begin with, the pips are completely custom, and I especially love the unusual fire-like shape given to the diamonds. The spade pips are influenced by the same shape. They were hand-drawn by Lance Miller, and then digitized - so they are like no others that exist!

All the pips are placed on the cards in a customized orientation that adds to the custom feel and a sophisticated look. The indices use a very thin font that confirms the look of elegance.



To complete the deck, we have two matching Jokers, with our friend the fox again featuring prominently.



This deck was printed in Taiwan by Expert Playing Card Company, in their crushed stock. The tuck box calls it "Slipstream Finish", but it feels identical to EPCC's Classic Finish. It handles superbly, and the edges have a outstandingly clean cut, superior to USPCC decks. USPCC was originally intended to be the publisher, so I'm glad that the change was made, even if it was last minute.

But there's also a mysterious puzzle built into the deck. In an interview, Lance Miller revealed the following: "I won’t be upset if people don’t figure it out right away or ever for that matter. I wanted to create something that would last throughout time; that people might pick up 25 years from now and still be trying to solve. There are clues buried throughout all of the artwork and the entire deck itself is the puzzle. I almost hope no one ever solves it and that it brings many years of adventure to those endeavor to work on it."

The promo video for the deck ends with a shot of the Ace of Spades and the voice-over: "All you have to do, is know where to look." Is that where the hunt begins? Perhaps.

Lance gave a couple of other clues in a video here where he discussed the Fox Targets deck, where he said something to this effect: ""Every single card has a story. Every story makes a greater story. I want to challenge you to see if anyone catches it. I gave so many clues, and it's not about me or any individual in particular. But it's about the deck, and the entire deck is a family - I will give you that!"



This is a set of playing cards that feels simultaneously outdoorsy, adventurous, and yet exceedingly practical, full of elegance, and sophistication. I'm a man who loves hiking and the outdoors, so this is really a deck that speaks to me, with a raw beauty and even a hidden secret waiting to be discovered. The Fox Targets do indeed confirm that you don't need flashy or gold to be truly beautiful!



To see more, check out the official video trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6Em7_MEn1g

Run

Take the money and run! "After the score, there's only one thing to do: RUN!"

The theme of Run Playing Cards embraces a love for poker, and evokes the idea of surviving a competitive gambling context, coming out on top, and then heading for the exit and making a fast-getaway. You'll especially need to run after performing a hustle or fleecing someone with some gambling tricks!

Under the direction of well-known producer Jason Brumalow, and illustrated by Chris Yoon, this deck is intended to convey something of the energy of a dynamic lifestyle where there is constant motion and activity. It is deliberately designed to capture a sense of something raw and rebellious - but you wouldn't know it initially from the polished presentation of the box.



My version of this deck came in a well-presented hardened black external case that consists of two halves, and offers additional protection to the tuck box itself. It has gold lettering on the front and the side of this external box, reminding us of the deck's theme: "After the score, there's only one thing to do." A solid protective box like this is not very common with decks, and not only does it protect your tuck box and playing cards, but it also fits with the Run theme, where an energetic lifestyle requires taking additional measures to ensure safety and protect. Only the original print-run comes with this hard case, so if there are future printings, they will be without the additional case.

Once you open this baby, you get access to the tuck box itself - and wow, is it ever pretty and stylish!

Three versions of this deck were produced, and what I'm reviewing and showing here is the one that had the largest production, namely the Standard Edition (Green and Gold). A Heat Edition (Crimson and Chrome) is also available, as is a Bankroll Edition (not available to the general market, but only via special promotions). With the Standard Edition, the matt look of the forest green tuck box provides a beautiful background for the stylish gold foil and embossing to really shine.



It's a very stylish pattern that has a diagonal stripe wrapping vertically around the box, creating an infinite loop. One side of the box has a ornate dollar shaped design incorporated into the vertical stripe, a theme that the card backs will pick up, while the other side of the box has a golden Ace of Spades. A light tiled pattern completes the look, and if you notice carefully this incorporates tiny spade and diamond pips along with tiny gems to make up the design; these gems representing the treasure that motivates a gambler and risk-taker at heart.

Initial positive impressions of the tuck box continue when we observe something else unique about it: a side loading design. Yes, this is a deck that defies the usual conventions in many ways - and yet it remains very polished. Even the flap has embossing and gold lettering, and opening up the tuck reveals hidden secrets, with a website at murphysmagic.com that promises more: "Learn a gambling routine with your included gaffed cards". I checked it out, and sure enough, it offers two videos for routines that use the two gaffs included with the deck, and both these videos can be either streamed or downloaded.



The card backs repeat the design already introduced on the tuck box, with a bold diagonal stripe in which a dollar symbol is prominent, as part of a very ornate and bordered design. The diagonal stripe has its roots in the image of a race-track, and along with the rest of the deck is intended to convey something about motion and dynamics. The colours remind me of banknotes and greenbacks - which is no coincidence!

The Ace of Spades should also look very familiar - it also echoes what we've seen before on the tuck box, along with a reprise of the deck's thematic one-liner, this time in print below the over-sized pip.



One of my favourite aspects of this deck are the court cards. For all four suits, they have a traditionally inspired design, but using an unusual and simple colour scheme of a pale yellow accompanied with a blue-grey, creating a very striking and original look. The colours, I suspect, have been inspired by the colour of money: banknotes and coins, gold and silver.



The pips on all the cards have diagonal lines running through them, to match the sense of diagonal conveyed on the card backs, thus creating a unified and overall impression of diagonal lines on both sides of the cards. They also have a very thin yellow outline around them.

On the number cards, the pips are considerably smaller in size than on the court cards, and the arrangement of the pips also is custom to this deck.



Notice how the colour of the traditionally red suits departs from the usual, with an orange that complements the blue/grey and yellow found elsewhere in the deck. As we have said all along, this deck doesn't follow the usual well trodden pathways of the expected, but likes to be rebellious.

The Jokers include a subtle and clever 6 of Spades reveal that magicians will love, and picks up the classic theme of a sword stabbing a heart, found also in miniature on the card-backs, and which historically represents treachery - the thematic connection for this deck being obvious.



The indices use a square-like font that is reminiscent of a type face you'd see on a computer. Somewhat surprisingly, the indices on the traditionally black suited cards is indeed black, and doesn't quite match the lighter blue grey of the pips on the middle of the card. More rebellion!



One other interesting thing about this deck is the banner style arrangement of lines below the indices, running down the sides of the cards. This also enhances the impression of movement, which is related to the deck's "run" theme.

In many ways this is really a deck that magicians will appreciate, and two gaffed cards that are included will be welcome weapons in the hand of magicians. These gaffs are especially well-suited for performing Skinner's Ultimate 3 Card Monte routine or other 3 Card Monte effects, like the one taught at the video link provided with the deck, which features teaching from Jason Brumalow and Chris Huang. The 3 Card Monte routine provided is a 13 minute video, while the Tantalizer routine is just over 10 minutes, and is based on an improved version of an effect found in Royal Road to Card Magic. The gaffs are very versatile, and in the hand of a magician, they can be used along with this deck to produce apparent miracles, including transpositions, sandwiches, and monte effects. The choice of gaffs also fits well with the gambling and risk taking motif.



The Run deck was in development for over a year, and if you're interested in learning more about the design, check out the video here in which producer Jason Brumalow explains all the thinking that went into the small elements of design.

It was printed by USPCC in their standard air cushion finish for quality performance. So bring this along to the table and get playing. "Let your chips fall where they may, but know where the exits are, because after the score, there's only one thing to do..... " RUN!



To get a sense of the intended thematic flavour, see the official video trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4HejliUyRY

Revolution

Wow. This deck is easily one of my favourites that has been produced by Murphy's Magic: Revolution Playing Cards.

The provocative video trailer for this set of playing cards has images featuring information and technology, accompanied with the following voice-over: "Information is the new weapon. The most dangerous is also the most hidden. They collect your data. They record your every move. They use it to keep you predictable, keep you profitable. But I have information of my own. And they're just as vulnerable. If you're reading this, you're a part of their system, you're a piece of their property. The bets they make are at your expense. What if the key was at your fingertips? What if you could bring them down for good? What if you could start a revolution?"

This revolutionary concept is embodied in quotation from Thomas Jefferson that appears several times throughout the deck, including on the tuck case: "When injustice becomes law, revolution becomes duty".



But there are two types of revolution symbolized here. First of all, the systematic collection of digital information represents a technological revolution that is presently taking place in our world; one that will be accomplished without angry mobs, and will be over before we even realize it.

But what if we could use the same tools of information to defy this modern revolution? Efforts by the WikiLeaks projects and Edward Snowden come to mind as contemporary examples. This deck, produced by Jason Brumbalow with artist Abraham Garcia, is a homage to the defiance of this second type of revolution.



My love for this deck begins with the tuck box. When you first hold it in your hand, it looks rather plain: red, with three solid white stripes. By the way, remember those three stripes (or triple bar) - we're going to be seeing a lot of them, because this is the deck's signature icon! The plain red looks non-descript and ordinary - until you take a close look and tilt it in the light, when you notice that it features an intricate design (and even words!) that has been applied with a glossy UV spot varnishing in the same colour!

This is a very neat hidden revelation effect, that really looks impressive. The images and phrases (e.g. "be the change you want to see in the world" and "better to die on your feet than to live on your knees") give suggestions that hint of the revolution theme within.



The card backs have thin borders - ideal for cardistry - that have been printed consistently and beautifully throughout the deck. This deck was printed in Taiwan by Expert Playing Cards, and in my opinion that means it has a quality that surpasses USPCC produced decks - the cut is cleaner, and the printing registration is crisper and more accurate, and that's why the borders on the cards are perfect.

The colour of the backs is a rich red, with the simple three bar design in white prominent. This triple bar icon has several different context-dependent meanings, and it's not immediately obvious which one is the intended one, because it's used in mathematics, philosophy, science, and technology, but in entirely different ways. I was able to ask the designer about this, and he explained that it is a throwback to a binary operation, but also has the same philosophical roots as the Triforce symbol (familiar to some from the Legend of Zelda game), known as the Mitsuuroko which means "three scales", and represents Power, Wisdom, and Courage. Here that concept is combined with the digital information Revolution theme of the binary three bars, and is a visual statement that emphasizes elements necessary in taking a defiant stand against something.



Our perusal of the face cards begins with a very polished and intriguing Ace of Spades, featuring the curious eye symbol that is sometimes associated with the new world order conspiracy and rule of the elite. It is against this kind of rule and all-seeing eye that the revolution of this deck is envisaged. This card also introduces the two main colours of the deck: black and a very deep almost burnt red.

The bursting lines that emerge from the Ace also are evident in the court cards. These are my favourite cards in the deck, and have a haunting and intriguing beauty and refinement.



Many of the cards have characters with elements that protrude outside the carefully framed borders. Clearly, this is a deck that isn't about staying within the lines, but about stepping outside when necessary, in order to effect change.

Notice also how the deck's main motif, the three bars, features in the centre of each court card as a belt buckle style ornament.



The Jokers build in a nice reveal, with the "Semi Free" on one Joker transposing into "Queen Hearts" on the other. They repeat the deck's thematic motif taken from Thomas Jefferson, while the security camera artwork reflects the idea where law has become repression.

The pips do a fine job of combining burgundy red and black in a clever way. All the pips have the deck's flagship 3-bar icon in their center in the opposite colour, which is also used for the outline of the pips. So the black pips are tinged with red and have the 3-bar icon in red; while the red pips are tinged with black and have the 3-bar icon in black.



The pips are also quite refined and delicate, with a custom arrangement. On the indices they are accompanied with a square shaped font for an altogether intriguing look.

Each suit also has its own style of lines as a background image, reminiscent of the lines we saw bursting from the Ace of Spades. But each suit has adapts this in its own style. For example with Diamonds, these are styled as lightning bolts, with Hearts they are single lines, and with Clubs they are straight lines alternating with dotted lines.



To see more, check out the official video trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32SIwrqk_Nw


ULTRA-CUSTOMIZED DECKS

Like the three previous decks, the three decks of playing cards in this section are all fully customized. Card backs, court cards, face cards, jokers - the works - it's all completely redesigned.

However, unlike the three previous decks, these have been customized to the point where you're not likely to use them for playing games with, simply because they have colour schemes or artwork where it becomes difficult to distinguish between the suits easily. I've called them "ultra-customized" to reflect this, because the degree of customization has gone beyond what you'd consider normal.

That doesn't mean that these decks don't have a useful purpose; on the contrary, in most cases they have just been designed with a purpose other than playing games in mind. These decks emphasize colour and shapes, and so are especially suitable for cardistry and card flourishing.



Memento Mori

The Memento Mori Playing Cards is a best selling deck that was created by noted magician and card flourisher Chris Ramsey, and it is bursting with visual beauty and colour. The artwork was designed by Adrian Valenzuela - you can see photos of his original design in his portfolio here.

And it's not hard to understand why this deck has proven so popular, from the moment the embossed and colourful tuck box is in your hand. Check out this stunning fan photo:



This deck is truly a card flourisher's dream come true, and is particularly well-suited for cardistry, and for performing visual moves like the one shown here.



The beauty of this deck already begins already with the elegant tuck box, which has a wrap-around design. The mosaic pattern actual depicts a skull shape - although it's not immediately evident, so it's unlikely to cause offense to anyone, and most people won't even realize that the artwork makes up a human head.

The Latin title of this deck, Memento Mori, means "remember your mortality", and the core idea of this deck is to convey something about the fleeting nature of life, and its origin and end.



The card backs have a similar design to the box cover. I like how the design only appears on the opposite corners, because it gives possibilities for interesting visual effects when fanning or springing.



The court cards have geometric patterns with lines and shapes that are a similar style to the artwork on the card backs and tuck box, with coloured shapes being a key feature of the design.



This style corresponds closely to the colours and design of the card-backs.



The number cards continue this style. There is a distinction between the traditionally red suits and the traditionally black suits, with the Spades and Clubs have a palette dominated by the colour purple, while the Hearts and Diamonds have a vibrant palette dominated by the colour pink.



For some people, the overlap of colours might make this a deck that isn't the most playable deck - although the indices are still clear enough if you really did want to use it for playing games.



But this deck will sparkle best in the hand of a card flourisher. Given Chris Ramsay's involvement in the creation of this deck, it's little wonder that it is a beautiful deck for cardistry!



It sure looks beautiful on a table, and in action, and will especially appeal to the cardistry fan!



To see these cards in action, here's the official video trailer, featuring Chris Ramsay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byAe7kn8zxw

Memento Mori - Blue

This sequel, Memento Mori Blue Playing Cards features exactly the same design, but a more subdued colour palette, with cooler blues throughout.



Like the original, the elegant tuck box has a wrap-around design with the skull shape.

The card backs return to the design on the box cover, with its ice-cold look, and the pattern on opposite corners again gives interesting possibilities for card flourishing.



There are thin borders, and the skull image is central.



The court cards have the same geometric patterns with lines and shapes as the original deck, matching the card backs and tuck box. In this case, however, the shapes are all different hues of blue.



The style of the courts corresponds closely to the colours, feel and design of the card-backs. The overall impression is a sense of a figure, but without details. Thematically, this reflects the idea of being between life and death. Stylistically, this is because this deck is more about evoking a sense of colour and shape.



The number cards match this style closely as well, while the Joker shows the Chris Ramsay logo.



In the original deck the traditionally red and black suits were distinguished by using separate palettes emphasizing purple (spades and clubs) and pink (hearts and diamond) respectively. In this follow-up, however, the same colour palette is used for all the suits.

The result is that all the face cards have a similar tone of colour, and in many respects the colder look produced by this actually fits better with the theme of mortality that the deck embodies. It also reminds me a little of the Frostbite deck, which has a similar palette and is also geared towards cardistry.



I noticed that the 10 of Spades has one index that seems slightly out of place, but aside from that everything about this deck looks just perfect.



The similar colour and shapes means that this a deck isn't the most playable deck. But that's not really a weakness, because this deck will perform best in the hands of a cardist putting it through the paces of card flourishing.

Magicians may also find ways to use it in tandem with the original deck to perform unique colour changes that could really prove mind-blowing.



You can also see this deck in action in the official video trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TisGrZlatqU

Darkfall

From vibrant colours of Memento Mori, we transition into night, with the Darkfall Playing Cards.

Like several others reviewed in this feature article, this deck was created by Jason Brumbalow and illustrated by Abraham Garcia.



Darkfall is a dark looking deck inside and out, and the darkness begins with our all-black tuck box.

Despite its dark look, the box does hold multiple secrets that the attentive observer will pick up. First of all, there's a very detailed and tactile embossed design, with light grey image featuring the Ace of Spades inspired artwork that incorporates a raven.

The reverse side of the box has artwork that matches the card backs, with a light grey chain-link style tiled design, and two ornate diamond shaped pips. Each of these pips is the result of combining a square with two triangles, and incorporates our raven companion. We're going to see a lot of the raven in this deck, given its long-time association with night!



This deck is black - all black. The official promo video for the deck explains why, because it introduces us to a gritty nightscape city scene, where street artists use the cover of night to turn an urban playground into their canvas.

As the ad copy says, "the Darkfall Playing Cards are a respectful nod to the street artists who charge into the darkness to imprint their brand on the city. A pulsing infusion of symbology, style and unforgiving passion, Darkfall was created for those who laugh in the face of uncertainty in order to carve their mark onto the world."



The card backs are exactly what the tuck case has prepared us for: the same image as the back of the box, but with a bolder jet black colour against the background of which the light grey design and images stand out more clearly. The black borders of the card backs serve as an enclosure for the main design, which appear to depict a chain-link style fence - representing precisely the kinds of restrictions that street artists must use the cover of night to navigate past.

It's also a one-way back design, due to the ravens all facing the same direction.



The Ace of Spades also repeats the design on the tuck box cover. There's lots of symbolism here - including a seeing eye, and a raven on a platform, for example - all open to interpretation.



There's a few things that immediately strike us here, including the fact that this deck offers jet black faces as well as backs. Also noteworthy here are the small pips on the indices, which feature an unusual letter style, especially in the case of A for Ace.

All the court cards are entirely customized, and while they have a traditional look, they use white/grey style line drawings to picture our royalty. Against the inky black background, the contrast is striking.



As for the pips and indices, they are the same colour grey for all the suits, the result being that the distinction between the traditionally red and black suits is not at all immediately obvious.

This, along with the choice to use non-conventional and unusual pip shapes (especially the diamonds) and a semi-cryptic font, make this a deck that is not ideal for playing games of cards, or for performing magic, since the cards aren't easily and quickly identified.



But they sure do look pretty, especially the court cards with their white/grey line drawings on black. The entire deck has a very unified look both front and back and throughout.



The matching Jokers continue the dark industrial theme, and one has a King of Clubs reveal. The gas-mask figures seen here also populate the promotional video, and suggest something about being hidden, as well as reflecting the urban context that the deck captures. The imagery and symbols also have some connection with the themes from the Revolution deck, which was created by the same producer and the same artist.



The two additional cards provided in this USPCC produced deck are both interesting gaffs - a white Ace of Spades that could be used to perform an interesting colour change, and a gaffed 3 of Hearts with a Queen of Hearts reveal built into one of the pips.

It's a pity there's no link to a website which gives a simple routine that could take advantage of these unique cards. But perhaps that's just because this deck doesn't really know what it's trying to be. It's less than optimal for card games and for magic, since the minimalist colour scheme and unusual pips/fonts makes it hard to distinguish between the cards at a glance. I like the idea of a tribute to night-time street artists, but the problem is that the veil of darkness also makes it impossible for us to appreciate their craft.

Being impractical for games or magic, leaves Darkfall for the hands of cardists. Admittedly, the back design with singular shapes designed on either end is something seen quite often in card flourishing, and it can emphasize cuts and spins.



Having black on both sides also means that nicks and chips will quickly show up - but that's normal for any black deck.

And everything about this deck does work together thematically, so those who are attracted to the underground street art theme, may enjoy having a deck like this in their collection.



To get a sense of the underground and urban feel of this deck, check out the official video trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7vuBv0A0Dg


SEMI-CUSTOMIZED DECKS

In this section I'll cover some decks that have less customization. Although they all have customized tuck boxes, card backs, jokers, and Ace of Spades, these three decks all have completely standard number cards.

In the case of the Mandalas deck, the colours are customized and so are the court cards; with the At The Table deck the court cards have traditional artwork but customized colours; while with the Magician Anonymous deck the courts are entirely standard as well. So as we progress three these three decks, the amount of customization will decrease, until we are left with a deck that looks fairly ordinary, aside from the card backs, Joker, and Ace of Spades.

These kinds of decks will especially be suitable for magicians or for people playing games, where too much customization will prove too much of a distraction, and where a simpler and more standard look is preferred.



Mandalas

The deck of Mandalas Playing Cards is ideal for magicians and cardistry fans.

It begins with a very non-descript but elegant tuck box in a plain but shiny black. All black - except for the flap, which has Mandalas in a cursive script, and the back of the box, which has two mandalas in raised and glossy grey. The jet black tuck box exudes a sense of mystery, and begs to be opened.



Mandalas have a long history in Hinduism and Buddhism, where they are used as symbols to represent the universe. But they are used more commonly outside of these eastern religions for geometric patterns that represent the universe as well. The mandala design is understood by many to capture spirituality, balance, and beauty.

Designer Damien O'Brien is a magician with a passion for magic, and for aesthetics. His name may be familiar to some of you from BBC's Killer Magic. You'll find his youtube channel here. In this unique deck of playing cards, he has brought together his interest in mandalas together with his interest in tattoo art.



These mandala designs are what the deck is about - a sleek black look, with a straight forward design.

The card backs have the same design of twin mandalas. The position of these is excellent for cardistry, because they emphasize the trajectory of movement during cuts. The mandalas themselves consist of intricate patterns in a soft gray that isn't quite as bright as the white of the card borders.



Speaking of the borders, these are much thinner than normal, which creates a very pleasing look, much better than the standard width borders, especially given the relatively plain card backs. The thin white contrast starkly with the black, and means that it has a much more pleasing look for spreads and fans.



Certainly this deck still has some customization, and it is perhaps the most noticeable in the deck's signature card, the Ace of Spades. It's easily my favourite card in this deck, with an absolutely gorgeous design.



The court cards can sometimes be the high point of a deck, but in this case the deck is seeking a somewhat subdued and darker look, and so the usual garish colour scheme for the court cards has been abandoned.



Instead, all the court cards have the same basic colour scheme: red and black.



But there is customization here too, even though the clothing style of the courts is completely standard within this simplified colour palette.

But the customization lies in the faces, which all feature faces from Damien's real world friends and family, many of whom are magicians, like Daniel Madison and his King of Diamonds counterpart shown here:



Other notable figures featured in the Mandala court cards include Chris Ramsay as Jack of Hearts, Dee Christopher as King of Clubs, and Jeremy Griffith as King of Hearts. The queens are also all members of Damien's family, although the Queen of Hearts is Laura London.

Damien himself is featured as the King of Spades.



The two Jokers pay tribute to one of the ideas that inspired this deck, tattooing.



The likeness may elude some who are unfamiliar with body art, but what the image on the Jokers pictures is a dripping tattoo needle.



Finally there are two gaff cards, a double backer, and a card which is blank on one side.

Aside from the court cards, most of the deck has a relatively standard look, although the red used for the traditionally red suits of Hearts and Diamonds is a deeper burgundy colour than normal, in keeping with the darker theme and tone of the deck.

In many respects this deck reminds me of the Madison Rounders Black, which has similar colours, card backs that are black also with two points of interest, and customized courts with inside references. But there are obvious differences as well, in that the Mandalas deck uses mandalas and thinner borders, and a higher degree of customization in the faces.



This deck has been printed by USPCC, with their standard air cushion finish, which has embossing to ensure smooth handling and performance.

Here's a video trailer that shows off the Mandalas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPAG3uPhBkg

At The Table

The At The Table Playing Cards are closely linked to the At The Table Live Lecture series, as is immediately evident from the tuck box.

I'll say some more about these online lectures later. This deck was produced as a tribute to the show, and was geared to be a functional deck especially suitable for performers.

Once again, Lance Miller (designer of the Fox Targets) was the designer involved.



The wrap around design features a continuous tiling of diamond shapes. Aside from this it's a fairly ordinary tuck box without frills. Clearly this is intended to be a practical working deck, as is evident immediately from the outset.

The Ace of Spades has the classic Bicycle name and logo, but with a forest green look. The card backs repeat the tiled design featured on the tuck box.



When you look closely one at the design of the tuck box and card backs, you'll notice that the lattice structure is actually composed of "AT" in tiny letters over and over. AT, is of course short for At the Table! Very clever.



The deck goes out of its way to avoid any distraction, and so all the court cards appear in their traditional designs, but in a simplified colour palette that eliminates anything garish.



Green and red are the two main colours of this deck. The traditionally black suits of Spades and Clubs are decorated with two tones of green, while the traditionall red suits of Hearts and Diamonds are decorated with two tones of red. It's very practical, and also looks elegant and satisfying.

The rest of the deck, including the number cards, is standard, although the colour of the red pips and indices is a deeper shade of red than normal, and is carried over from the colour used for the artwork on the court cards.



The two matching Jokers are relatively plain, with the At The Table logo dominating an otherwise stark look.

The end result overall is a very practical and usable deck, ideal for a working magician or for a gamer who doesn't want any fuss, and yet wants a deck that is very pleasing on the eye, and has elements of style that you won't find in a standard Bicycle deck.



The two additional cards (standard in a USPCC deck) are promotional cards for At The Table, and include information about a special offer, and advertising for the weekly At The Table show.



The deck was produced by USPCC, and the quality is exactly what you'd expect from the highly respected producer of the quality Bicycle brand of decks.



Magician Anonymous

The Magician Anonymous Playing Cards is somewhat different from the others in this review series, because it wasn't actually produced by Murphy's; but it is a deck they are selling and promoting, and I included it because I obtained my copy from Murphy's Magic. But this is a classic deck that will especially be appreciated by magicians, because it is designed to be a tribute to the theatrical and mysterious side of magic.

Magic is much more than the mechanics of a trick - so much is about presentation and performance, and this deck honours that aspect of magic.

The front has a clever MA monogram (with an inverted A) as the main focus, along with the Magician Anonymous name.



The tuck box features a very understated matt black, which makes the silver foil lettering used on the sides and back of the box look very elegant, and evokes a classy feel.

Like the card backs that we'll see shortly, the back of the tuck box features only the outlines of a masked face. This masked figure is known as the Guy Fawkes mask, and depicts the most well known figure that contributed to the Gunpowder Plot which attempted to blow up London's House of Lords in 1602. This stylized mask was popularized in the V for Vendetta graphic novel (1982) and the subsquent film (2005). In this deck, it captures the idea of anonymity and theatrics, and sets the stage for intrigue and mystery.



This deck is all about anonymity and shadows. We don't even really know who Magician Anonymous is ... because they are anonymous! In fact the whole concept is highly reminiscent of the Masked Magician idea.

Who is Magician Anonymous? Little is known, except that Magician Anonymous is also the creator of an effect called "Tremble", which you can see here, and also of an effect called "An Unexpected Triumph", a remarkable Triumph routine you can see here. But of course even in those videos, our magician is masked and gloved!



The back of the cards continue the look of intrigue, setting the stage for a magician to do his tricks.

Our two masked figures from the tuck box back return on the card backs, but the shadows are deeper and darker, and only a few highlights are visible in a white-grey, conveying a theatrical mask.



The card backs also have extra thick white borders, and a charcoal black colour that is softer in tone from the black used on the card faces, and it matches the matt black of the tuck box.

The overall look sets a tone of minimalism, mystery, and intrigue. This all suits well the Anonymous Magician, whose presence is felt only by means of the outlines of his mask.



Besides the monogrammed Ace of Spades, the rest of the deck is entirely standard.

In other words, there's the usual colours and artwork you'd expect to see in a Bicycle deck, with pips in the usual arrangement, shapes, and colours; also the court cards are standard.



But there is one other exception beside the Ace of Spades: the Jokers.

These continue the shadow style theme, with well-dressed tie-clad figures in suits.



They are face-less of course, to continue the anonymous theme, which this deck is all about.



In the midst of all this anonymity, the signature Ace of Spades hasn't lost any class. It features an oversized black pip, with the Magician Anonymous monogram in the middle, and "anonymous" in small lettering below.



This deck was produced by USPCC in their standard stock with an air-cushion finish. There are also two simple gaffs included for use by magicians: a double backer, and a blank card.

Collectors will likely look for a higher degree of customization that what is found here, and consider this a too straight-forward deck. But that's exactly why it will be most appreciated in the hands of a magician. One of its strengths is that it retains a classic and traditional look to make it instantly familiar for the eyes of spectators, but with just enough customization to add style and elegance, and a sense of mystery and intrigue. It looks discrete and professional, retaining enough of the familiar to be acceptable to a magician's audience, while still adding small touches of personality and sophistication, to add to the mystery without making spectators start to think it is a trick deck rather than a standard one.



Here's the official video trailer for the deck from Magician Anonymous: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V75c6m6IU74


MAGIC LECTURES

Having covered eight decks that Murphy's Magic has created, I also want to include a bonus section that reviews the video lecture series to which At The Table deck of playing cards is dedicated.

The At The Table Experience

The monthly show

The At The Table Experience is a series of video lectures/tutorials from Murphy's Magic that can be found at http://www.murphysmagic.com/atthetable. The lectures are delivered and made available via a monthly subscription service. Each month two new videos are produced, which can be watched via streaming video, or obtained via instant download. The monthly subscription fee of $9.95 entitles subscribers to access these new lectures every month. In addition, all the past lectures are available for individual purchase from the At The Table webpage, and there are ways to get these on DVD as well if preferred.

These lectures will especially be of interest to magicians. The lecture series has been running since 2014, and by my count there are more than 100 lectures currently available! A quick scan of the names and contributors shows that many big names and top creators in magic have been part of the program, such as noted magic teacher Michael Ammar, prolific magic creator Jay Sankey, cardist Chris Ramsay, and dozens of others. A description of each lecture is provided online, along with a list of the material covered, so you can see in advance which ones will be of interest to you. Typically each magician will go through the material of over half a dozen effects, explaining and discussing various nuances to improve performance.



Steven Brundage episode

To see what the lectures are like, I sampled one of the episodes from 2016 by magician Steven Brundage. Steven Brundage gained fame in the mass market through his successful performances on TV shows like America's Got Talent and Penn & Teller's Fool Us, where he performed his Rubik's Cube magic.

His At The Table lecture from 20 July 2016 can be found here: http://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=57853

The show notes introduce Steven as follows: "Steven Brundage has made countless TV appearances on Penn & Teller's Fool Us, Good Morning America, The Steve Harvey Show, and America's Got Talent, just to name a few. He's hit MILLIONS of views on YouTube and the rise of his popularity shows no end in sight. Steven joins us At The Table for his very first lecture EVER, where he gives the inside scoop about what it's like to be on America's Got Talent and Penn & Teller's Fool Us. Steven also goes into heavy detail about how to create viral videos with maximum exposure. You'll also learn tips and tricks using the Rubik's cube and so much more!"



Overview

The Steven Brundage lecture includes coverage of the following effects (description taken from show notes):
Corner to Cube: A variation of an effect Steven performed on America's Got Talent. The spectator holds the cube and selects a card. With sleeves rolled up, the corner of the selection is torn off and vanishes only to appear inside the cube that the spectator has been holding in view the whole time.
Tips on Finger Flicking: Steven gives his best advice on how to be more efficient in solving a cube.
Toss Solve: A non-gimmicked Rubik's cube is mixed and tossed into the air. Within the blink of an eye, it is solved.
Bag Solve: As seen on America's Got Talent, a mixed cube is placed into a bag and within seconds the cube is solved.
Behind the Back Solve: This effect that has received over two million views and has even gotten Steven out of a speeding ticket. A mixed cube is tossed behind the back and once it's caught, it is completely solved.
4 Ace Trick: A fooling four ace routine that has a kicker estimation ending.



Impressions

Downloading the lecture was smooth and easy. I received an email with a password that directed me to the download section of Murphy's website. After entering the password, I had immediate access to the lecture, including a PDF file with an outline of the entire lecture, including a very helpful list of times on the video where different sections commenced. The lecture itself could be watched via streaming, or downloaded. The Steven Brundage lecture was a mp4 file of about half a gigabyte.

I was impressed by the fact that the entire At the Table Experience with Steven Brundage is almost 2 hours long. It has some very helpful tips and information in it. One of the highlights for me was a very nice `corner of a card to another location' (including inside a cube that is in the spectator’s hands) that is taught well. This effect will be a powerful addition to any magician's repertoire, is easy to learn, and seems completely impossible. He also teaches the effect he performed on TV, where an unsolved cube is placed into a paper bag, after which the cube is solved magically inside the bag with no one reaching in.

Steven also shares the secret to one of his most famous tricks: solving the Rubik’s cube in a single toss behind the back. This was the trick that he used to get out of a speeding ticket, the video of which went viral online. The Rubik’s cube is a well-recognized item, and being able to solve it with magic in a single toss has a great reaction and is something amazing! It will require practice, especially for those not used to using Rubik’s cubes, but Steven does also give a nice source to help learn how to solve the cube. He also offers some tips to allow you to help solve the cube quicker with some nice finger flicking. I have a number of Rubik's Cube enthusiasts in my household, so this was good material they could use, and they could build on what they already knew to start performing Steven's behind-the-back solve without too much difficulty.



Recommendation

Because card magic is something that is often seen or at least heard of, seeing magic with a Rubik’s Cube is something new and very effective. The majority of people cannot solve the Rubik's Cube at all, and it is often considered to be something very hard and time consuming to solve. Seeing the Rubik's Cube get solved in any context already fascinates people, so seeing it mixed and solved in a simple toss makes them absolutely dumbfounded! Even just one of these tricks Steven Brundage teaches is worth the whole video. If you are a magician looking for something new to learn for your magic, it is a great idea to try out and watch this episode. Certainly if you already love solving Rubik’s Cubes and that is your hobby (which is the case for several members of my family), watching this gives something to learn that will easily impress people even more than just solving the cube, and you will have a lot of fun learning and performing these effects!

My experience with the At The Table show was very positive. For the relatively low price, when compared with DVDs that can be purchased online, it's good value. The quality of the shows is high, given the calibre of the magicians who are typically featured. The casual format also gives you the feeling of what it would be like to sit down in person with the featured magician, and have a private tutorial and informal conversation, which can include unexpected nuggets of information or interesting tips. Previous shows also provide a wealth of material to draw on, and there's some fantastic content and wonderful effects here just waiting to be explored.

Here's the official video trailer from Murphy's Magic for the Steven Brundage episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Z-4Gq_vamc

Want to learn more?
At The Table Experience: www.murphysmagic.com/atthetable
Steven Brundage lecture: www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=57853




CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

Gamer friendly: Some decks of custom playing cards are geared very much to collectors, and end up being consigned to collect dust on a shelf, or to remain in shrink-wrap in a drawer. That's not the case with the decks from Murphy's Magic. It's clear from the outset that these are decks of playing cards that are designed to be used, whether in the hands of a cardist or magician, or a gamer playing poker or some other card game. In most cases, these decks not only look beautiful, but are also very functional, and the degree of customization is not such that they won't be recognizable or playable by the average person.

Magician friendly: For the same reason, these decks are superb to use for magic. This is particularly the case with some of the decks, which have been created with the magician in mind, as is evident from the additional cards that are included. Perhaps the best example is the Run deck, which comes with two gaff cards, and a secret URL that has two free video downloads of tutorials teaching you two great routines you can use the gaffs for. Having said that, this is certainly by no means a magician-only deck, because the theme and look of the deck will work equally well for your weekly poker night!

Range of customization: One thing I appreciate about the decks in the Murphy's Magic range is the diverse styles, and varied degree of customization. If you want a deck with faces that look very close to a standard Bicycle deck, and just a different card back, there's a deck for you: Magician Anonymous. On the other hand, if you're looking for something where everything has been customized, including the look and orientation of the pips on the number cards, the court cards, and every other aspect, there are decks for you: Fox Targets, Run, and Revolution.

Thoughtful design: In the case of the highly customized decks in particular, it is incredible how much thought has gone into the design. This is particularly the case with the Fox Targets, Run, and Revolution decks, which are probably my personal favourites from all of the above decks for this reason. I love the fact that not only are these completely customized, but that the designers have carefully considered all aspects of the design, and that there's an incredible amount of symbols and icons and stories that have been incorporated wherever possible. This makes these decks full of meaning and significance, and I enjoy exploring and admiring this.

Printing: Most of these decks have been printed by United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), makers of the reputable Bicycle brand. USPCC does an excellent job in producing quality cards, and the printing registration is usually good. I noticed a couple of instances with the above decks that the sizes of the borders weren't entirely consistent and even, one side at times being slightly wider than the other. Admittedly, most people will never notice this! But this does happen occasionally with USPCC-produced cards, although fortunately it's not common. But in my experience this issue almost never happens with decks printed in Taiwan, such as those by Expert Playing Cards (EPCC) and Legends Playing Cards. Both the Fox Targets and Revolution decks were printed by EPCC, and the printing quality and cut of these decks in particular is outstanding; these also have super smooth edges as a result of EPCC's cleaner and neater `diamond cut'.

Handling: Both USPCC and EPCC are industry leaders in the world of playing cards, and so the cards they produce are superb quality in terms of handling. The USPCC cards have an air cushion style embossing and magic finish/coating that handles beautifully, while the EPCC cards have an embossing and coating that produces a similar result. In all cases, this means that the cards handle very smoothly, shuffle very well, and spread and fan consistently and evenly, with just the right amount of friction. They also tend to be durable, and continue to perform well over a long period of time. Magicians, cardists, and gamers will all find the handling very pleasing and second-to-none.

Professional: One thing I'm really impressed with is the polished marketing that Murphy's uses to promote these decks. Murphy's Magic has to be a front-line industry leader in this regard, producing very impressive video trailers for their in-house decks. Typically these are about 2 minutes long, and feature amazing cinematography, visuals, along with appropriate music and voice-overs. These videos are really slick, and do a great job of conveying the flavour and theme of a deck, as well as showing what the deck looks like in action.

Lectures: Having a deck of cards is just the beginning - you also need things to do with it. Almost everyone will have use for a lovely deck of playing cards to play games with. But if you do enjoy tinkering with magic or want to expand your horizons, definitely check out the At The Table lectures.



Recommendation

So are the decks of playing cards from Murphy's Magic for you? While some of their decks will especially have appeal to cardists (e.g. Memento Mori), for most of us, these are ideal and quality decks that are perfect to use for playing card games, or if you're a magician, for doing card tricks. You can also choose the amount of customization that you prefer.

So if you're looking for cards that are high quality in terms of looks and handling, the decks from Murphy's Magic definitely fit the bill. Even Murphy's Law couldn't stop me from being a happy customer!

The decks reviewed above are all available at your favorite Murphy’s Magic retailer. Want to learn more? Murphy's Magic: www.murphysmagic.com

Here are direct links for all the decks featured in this review:
- Fox Targets: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=59119
- Run: https://www.murphysmagic.com/Product.aspx?id=53842
- Revolution: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=58533
- Memento Mori: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=57265
- Memento Mori Blue: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=59438
- Darkfall: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=56651
- Mandalas: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=58314
- At the Table: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=54437
- Magician Anonymous: https://www.murphysmagic.com/Product.aspx?id=55788
- At The Table Experience: www.murphysmagic.com/atthetable/




BoardGameGeek reviewer

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Jeff Clarke
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I love the bearded Mandalas deck. Bearded royals...cool idea.

Also really like the light yellow and gray Run deck and the green At The Table deck. The ATT deck reminds me just a tad of the spades royal court color scheme of the Royal Pulp deck. That was the first thing I thought of.

So many decks I want to buy! I'm trying to figure out the best way to track the ones I want to get.

Another spectacular review, Ender!
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Thanks for the feedback and comments Jeff!

elclarkey wrote:
So many decks I want to buy! I'm trying to figure out the best way to track the ones I want to get.
Here's your answer - Portfolio52 (www.portfolio52.com)

It's a web-based database (sign up for a free account) that allows you to track which decks you own, and also to make a wishlist of decks you're considering getting. It's a fantastic resource created by Alexander Chin of Seasons Playing Cards, whose playing card design work I will be reviewing some time in the next month or two.

I highly recommend checking out Portfolio52 - I think you'll find it can do all that you are looking for, and more.
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Thanks. I tried Portfolio52 at one point, but didn't stick with it. I didn't think they had enough pictures. Maybe I'll give it another shot. Right now, I'm tracking my decks owned here on BGG, but its not really good for that. LOL.
 
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elclarkey wrote:
Thanks. I tried Portfolio52 at one point, but didn't stick with it. I didn't think they had enough pictures. Maybe I'll give it another shot. Right now, I'm tracking my decks owned here on BGG, but its not really good for that. LOL.
All the decks on Portfolio52 now have images for the front and back of the tuck box, which is really all you need when tracking a collection or wishlist.

When it comes to buying decks like the ones featured in this review, Rare Playing Cards is a great online retailer that I can recommend.
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