Deck of the Year 2017

The 52 Plus Joker is the American Playing Card Collector's Club, founded in 1985. As well as publishing regular magazines, 52 Plus Joker also hosts an annual convention, which was held this year in Erlanger, Kentucky, from 12-14 October 2017. One of the highlights of this year's convention was the announcement of the winners of the 2017 Diamond Awards for Deck of the Year and Artist of the Year. These are prestigious awards, and considering how many new custom decks of playing cards are produced every year, even being nominated for one of these awards is a great honour. You can see all the nominees here.

To win one of these awards is even a greater honour. Yet that's exactly what Greek designer Lotrek has achieved with his recent deck "Golden Oath", which took out the 52 Plus Joker's "Deck of the Year" award for 2017. Winning the award required beating out some other terrific nominees, including Apothecary by Alexander Chin, Pagan Blue Edition by Uusi, Silver Arrows by Jackson Robinson, and Vitreous by Adrian Valenzuela. But with stunning beauty like you see here, the win was well deserved.

What is unique about the Golden Oath deck is that it doesn't have any ink on it. Not on the tuck. Not on the cards.

How's that possible? Because it relies on sheer foil. Yes, for ALL the artwork. Foil on the tuck box. Two foils on the card backs. And three foils on the card faces!

The Golden Oath deck is an impressive and worthy winner of the Deck of the Year! So let's find more about its designer Lotrek, and some of his beautiful designs!


Timeless (2011)

So who is Lotrek? The name will probably be familiar to many of those who frequent forums about custom playing cards. Lotrek is the handle he uses for his personal online, but in the real world, Lotrek makes his home in Athens, Greece.

After working more than 20 years as a freelance illustrator, he first began working with playing cards in 2011, when he was commissioned to design two decks for Russ Stevens of RSVP Magic, starting with the deck Timeless (2011).

Designing custom playing quickly became an obsession and passion Lotrekfor . Many designers come to the world of custom playing cards via the route of their personal involvement with hobbies like card magic or card collecting, but for Lotrek his obsession with designing cards is driven by his own love for creativity and art. Playing cards have proven to be the ideal canvas for him to experiment and produce innovative designs, and to pursue his relentless pursuit for perfection.

Timeless, Lotrek's first deck that was produced for RSVP is themed around the passage of time. Each court card features a different time in the design, from 1 to 12 o'clock.

Butterfly (2012)

Following Timeless, Lotrek's next design under the RSVP Magic label was Butterfly (2012).

This deck featured original fairy-fantasy artwork, with a butterfly theme worked throughout the entire deck.

This is chiefly evident in that the court cards are depicted as human butterflies. The black/red suits are colour-coded with soft green and orange tones.


VeneXiana (2013)

After the release of two successful decks, Lotrek took the obvious step of starting his own label of playing cards as a publisher in 2013, with the launch of Half Moon Playing Cards.

VeneXiana was the first deck he produced under this new banner, and several Venexiana decks are still available today, including the original VeneXiana white, his first solo Kickstarter project. This deck captured something of the elegance and joy of life found in 18th century Venice, including carnival costumes for the court cards.

Grotesque (2014)

In 2014, Lotrek's deck "Grotesque" was selected to be the first United Cardists annual deck, and this was the second deck from Half Moon Playing Cards.

This original meaning of "grotesque" referred to artwork that included ideas relating to doubleness, hybridity and metamorphosis, and favoured the weird, ugly and monstrous. With this in mind, Lotrek has tried to create something that is both strange and beautiful, but in his own style.

VeneXiana Gold (2014)

The VeneXiana Gold deck is a luxury version of the original VeneXiana, and it has the distinction of being considered to be the first deck with hot stamped gold foil on every card back. This proved to be quite a technical challenge, but Lotrek was convinced it was possible, and after much effort and research, the first playing card deck with beautiful foil backs was produced.

As you can see from this uncut sheet, the faces also received gold treatment, with metallic ink to match the stunning backs.

VeneXiana Dark (2015)

Already when he published his original VeneXiana deck, Lotrek planned a Dark VeneXiana deck as a follow up, to deal with the more obscurer side of the city. The two VeneXiana Dark decks (Masked and Revealed Editions) that were published in 2015 show a further progression to the more elaborate and lavish style of deck that would later become the hallmark of a Lotrek deck.

These feature a strong use of metallic colours, and show marks of Lotrek's unique style that would later be refined in his more recent deck designs.

Grotesque Macabre (2016)

At the start of 2016, Lotrek returned to his Grotesque deck to produce several editions of what he called Grotesque Macabre Playing Cards. Thematically, this continued the darker notes of Gothic art combined with a heavy baroque feel. Of special interest is an Animated (Limited) version of this deck, which has an intricate marble-like border on the face cards, and which is animated when taking the deck `to the movies' as a flipbook.

But for collectors, the real attraction of this deck were the versions unlocked in stretch goals, including a Black Mass edition printed on black stock with red and gold/silver shiny metallic inks. The Black Gold edition took this to the next level again by adding gold foil - it was the first deck ever printed on black stock with hot stamped foil on all the card backs.

Working with an existing design meant that Lotrek could focus on the things he does best: adding touches of luxury and beauty in the form of gold accents and metallic inks, and experimenting with different colour card stocks and foils.

The popularity of the Grotesque Macabre project gave Lotrek opportunity to produce several different versions, including an Inferno edition, which was printed on red stock, and had black foil on the card backs, and gold and silver foil on the card faces. An Inverted Inferno used the opposite colour scheme: printed on black stock, with red foil for the back, and gold/silver metallic ink for the faces.


Icons (2016)

After the success of the VenXiana Gold project, Lotrek continued to explore the possibilities and beauty of decks with foil, and this led to the creation of the first ever deck with both gold and silver stamped foil on all the card backs: Icons Playing Cards. Shown here is the Sacred Edition, which has an amazing and intricate tuck case that was stamped on two-sided colored `metallic' stock.

This is considered to be the first of Lotrek's "Treasure Series", which represents decks that he produces entirely himself, and under his own personal supervision, from design to printing, production, and packaging.

This luxurious deck is inspired by Byzantine art, and particularly captures something of Eastern Orthodox art and its love for flat panel paintings depicting saints, angels, and other religious images.

It turned out to be an extremely lavish deck worthy of being considered a piece of art in its own right!

The indices were inspired by Byzantine Scripture, and letters from the Greek alphabet were used where possible. The number cards featured split pips with metallic gold inks, employing a style reminiscent of the DKNG's Red Wheel deck.

Liturgy (2016)

Another deck in the Treasure series was the beautiful Liturgy deck shown here. This deck also pays tribute to the Byzantine painting technique, and is also influenced by Byzantine religious art and illuminated liturgical manuscripts. It was printed on 2-color (bronze/black) stock, and a green and a red edition were produced.

A Treasure edition was produced with double foil on the card backs, with a small print run of only 120 copies.

Not surprisingly, given the scarcity of this deck, it is extremely prized by collectors, and commands high prices on the secondary market.

Golden Oath (2017)

The Golden Oath deck (2017) was the award winning Deck of the Year honoured by 52 Plus Joker, and was lauded for its innovative design that relied exclusively on foil, with no ink on the cards or the tuck box.

Considered to be an industry first, Lotrek describes it as follows: "The first deck ever printed exclusively with foil: Gold, Silver and red for the face cards and Gold with Red for the back. Not a single drop of ink was used. Golden Oath's production was a tremendous technical challenge but the amount of detail achieved was stunning and the deck was sold out in just a couple of days."

The lavish gold, silver, and red foil really does look magnificent against the black canvas of the cards!

It won't come as a surprise to anyone that this deck was expensive to produce, and it wasn't cheap to buy, orginally selling for around US$95. But that's because it looks absolutely stunning in every respect, especially the court cards and the card backs.

Sanctus (2017)

Lotrek's love affair with Byzantine art continued with the beautiful Sanctus deck (2017), which is another deck of luxury playing cards, now under the new label Oath Playing Cards. This was released in mid-2017, and employs new techniques based on those used previously with the Liturgy Treasure deck. The stunning Sanctus deck features a lavish tuck box with solid gold foil (both matte and shiny foil was used) and embossing, with black foil lettering providing a classy touch.

The remarkable court cards have haloed figures that look like they've stepped directly off the walls of a medieval cathedral onto the faces of these playing cards, with gold foil used for the haloes to create an even more dramatic effect.

The overall style continues the liturgical trend that was already evident in the Icons and Liturgy decks, with rich metallic inks used for the rectangular gold borders to give a Byzantine style flat panel shape to each and every card. The use of white opaque ink and foil on the card faces ensures a very rich look.

The card backs have a unique full bleed design, which makes use of two sparkling foils against the background of a metallic bronze stock. A Byzantine style cross is central to the simple yet beautiful and luxurious design, and the use of a second colour foil accentuates the design featured in the center of the card backs.

Like some of its predecessors, the number cards of this deck have pips that are dual coloured, with the red/black beautifully off-set with a vivid gold. The indices have a style and shape that looks as if it has been transported across multiple centuries.

With Sanctus, Lotrek has indeed created a beautiful follow-up to Icons, and even though the courts are quite similar to the Liturgy deck, there are enough differences (e.g. Ace of Spades, Jokers) to ensure this deck is a separate design.

Ambassadors (2017)

The latest offering from Lotrek is entitled Ambassadors.

The Ambassadors Black deck and Ambassadors Red deck are printed on graphite metallic stock and red metallic stock respectively, both with gold foil on the backs. This is another luxurious foiled deck, and was listed for preorder at ucdecksales.com at the start of October, where it quickly sold out.


What do I think?

Luxurious: Foil. Foil. And more foil. If you love foil, then these are definitely decks for you! From the tuck boxes to the cards themselves, there is foil everywhere! A case in point is the Golden Oath deck, which is been made exclusively with foil and without any ink whatsoever! From the moment you first hold a Lotrek deck in your hand, it has the look and feel of absolute luxury.

Progressive: There's no doubt that Lotrek has been on a real journey since he first immersed himself in the world of custom playing cards. The decks he is producing today look very different from the decks he started with in his RSVP Magic days. He's really developed his own style, and the evolution of his playing cards shows real refinement and enhancement, and this also mean that his most recent decks have the benefit of a lot of experimentation and development.

Innovative: While his initial decks were somewhat typical of custom playing cards, ever since he began working under his own label, Lotrek has shown a real willingness to experiment and to push existing boundaries, especially in the use of foil. Several of his decks were real "firsts", with multiple different foils used on the card backs, and then on the card fronts as well.

Self-produced: While originally relying on the expertise of others when he was first immersing himself in the world of custom playing cards, once he became comfortable in this new territory, Lotrek now oversees the entire production process himself from start to finish, to ensure that the outcome is exactly what he wants.

Byzantine: Many of Lotrek's recent decks show a real fondness for Byzantine art and a style familiar from Eastern Orthodox churches. This gives these decks a very classical feel, because they are indebted to material that brings to mind the images and icons of ancient liturgies and epic cathedrals.

Works of art: These decks are works of art in every respect. Lotrek tends to make several different editions of each deck, each with a very small print run, and this enables him to make different versions in varying colours and foils. He pours his passion and craftsmanship into each, and the result is that every Lotrek deck is a true treasure and work of art.

Limited: Most of Lotrek's decks are produced in extremely low quantities, with only a few hundred produced. More often than not, they sell out almost immediately when they are released. This makes them highly desirable for collectors and buyers.

Valuable: It's not going to be a surprise that given the special technologies and processes required to make these cards, that they come with a much higher than usual price tag. The Sanctus deck, for example, currently sells here for $80. But Lotrek decks also do retain their value well, and it's not uncommon to see decks like these on the secondary market for much more than their original cost price.

Collectable: These aren't the kind of decks of playing cards you'll bust out to perform a magic trick, cardistry moves, or even a casual card game. Because of their sheer beauty, they are definitely most at home on the shelf of a collector - where they will often be considered a prized possession.

Award-winning: It was inevitable that Lotrek would be eventually receive recognition for his beautiful and luxurious creations. Having his Golden Oath deck named as 52 Plus Joker's Deck of the Year for 2017 is a great honour, and well deserved.

Handling: Handling is always going to be affected by a deck which has so much foil. For example, I have a Sanctus deck, and its cards do have a somewhat plastic feel, and the deck is much thicker than most. But even though decks like these have been designed primarily for collectors, nonetheless Lotrek has constantly tried to improve the formula of the coating. In my experience with the Sanctus deck, although there is still some clumping, the cards still do fan reasonably okay, and certainly handle better than a cheap department store type deck.

Availability: Lotrek no longer uses Kickstarter as he did when he first entered the world of playing card designs. Instead he prefers to work secretly on a deck, then announce it and take pre-orders through his website before publishing it. He now has a big enough fan base and followers to make this possible. But it also gives him the freedom and flexibility to work on a design unencumbered by the pressure of time or dealing with the marketing engine of crowd-funding. This frees him of restrictions, and gives him opportunity to innovate and experiment in his designs. To get these decks, your best bet is to follow Lotrek via social media on Facebook to get immediate notification of any decks that are announced for pre-order on his website, or to check his existing inventory here.


It's hard to imagine decks that have a more lavish and luxurious classic look than the beautiful foil decks from Lotrek. These are beautiful playing cards of the highest calibre, and will be a delight and treasure to any discerning collector who can afford them.

Links for where some of the decks featured in this article can be purchased directly from Lotrek:
- Sanctus Playing Cards - Cost: $80
- VeneXiania White - Cost: $50
- VeneXiania Dark (Revealed Edition or Masked Edition) - Cost: $17

Want to learn more? Visit the publisher Oath Playing Cards:
- Oath Playing Cards website
- Oath Playing Cards webstore
- Oath Playing Cards on Facebook

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