We are living in a remarkable time where most of us are spoiled for riches and for choice with playing cards. Advances in technology and printing processes mean that the quality of playing cards is at an unparalleled level. Cards today are produced with embossed finishes and coatings that give them smooth and consistent handling like never before. In addition, creators and designers now have access to the financial backing needed to accomplish this with the help of crowdfunding. The production of playing cards is thus no longer limited to the big players in the industry, and as a result the market is increasingly being flooded with custom playing cards, often at an affordable cost.

There's no doubt that the custom playing card industry has seen enormous growth over the last decade, and it means that we are able to get our hands on creative and colorful playing cards that our ancestors from yesteryear could only dream about. As a result, it is becoming more acceptable to use custom decks of playing cards for card games, card magic, and card flourishing. This is great news for creators of custom playing cards, because they know there is a ready market waiting to buy their products. It is also great news for consumers of playing cards like us. We are living in an amazing time, where we have the luxury of being able to own and use a wide range of playing cards that handle superbly and look great at the same time.

But with all the new decks of custom playing cards that are being released all the time, it can be hard to keep up with the stunning new decks that are hitting the market on a regular basis. Let me show you a few recent releases that especially stand out for me as worth taking a look at.



A tribute to magic: Bicycle Magic Playing Cards

The Bicycle Magic Playing Cards is by Alex from Prestige Playing Cards. This is a deck for the true collector and also for anyone who enjoys magic. But in this case, it's not firstly about a deck intended to be used to perform magic, but as an artistic tribute to the art of magic itself.

Magic has been filled with "impish tricks" that have entertained and astonished spectators for centuries, and this deck is a playful homage to this mysterious art. Little wonder that the cover artwork introduces us to a mischievous imp, along with various other items that have a long association with magic, like wands and dice.



We're in for somewhat of a surprise when we open the tuck box, because the card backs are bordered in a rather striking ochre or orange colour - not what I expected judging by the tuck box. It does match somewhat with the vintage colours used on the faces of the card, but for me they seem to take away attention from the artwork on the card backs. I wonder if something more like the card faces or even a plain black like the tuck box would have been a better choice.

But our impish friends do return on the card backs, which have a mirrored and symmetrical design - or is it? A closer look reveals that all four suits are being carried off by our mischievous imps. So although not immediately obvious, it's very much a one-way design - which magicians can perhaps use to their advantage. Other symbols like an eye, skulls, and stars accompany a scene that appears to offer us a glimpse behind the curtain, where a veil of darkness can be found.

I do love the vintage tones used for the face cards, which really suit the direction that this deck is going as a homage to the past. The four Aces are a real highlight, all with giant pips that are inset with mirrored imps. These mischievous characters are set among a variety of magic paraphernalia like wands, top hats, gloves, keys, and dice.



The court cards are all unique, and feature delightful images that depict different magic acts - doves, levitation, swords, cards, and even large-scale classic illusions like the woman sawn in half.

In some cases the artwork goes right to the edge of the card for a very lavish look, while the art style has a decidedly vintage feel.



But everything about this deck has been steered towards an antique look, even the elongated thin fonts used for the indices. This is especially true of the pips - each of which is a round circle in red or black with the pip itself in white. I love the way this looks, and it all adds to the charm of this deck.



Two playful Jokers - with a masked imp and blindfolded magi - complete the deck, along with two gaff cards (of course!), which are a double backer and a blank faced card.

With USPCC printing, this deck also handles well. But it's not something I intend to put into regular use, but rather it's a real collectors item that does a sterling job of paying tribute to two of my loves: magic, and playing cards.



A tribute to creativity: Untitled V2 Playing Cards

The first time around, the title "Untitled" made my head spin just a little. What a great paradox: after all, if it is titled "Untitled", then it's not untitled is it? That was the clever and creative name of Adam Borderline's first deck, which I've reviewed previously here.

Adam is an artist through and through, and is highly regarded for his "liquid card photography". You'll see some stunning examples of his imaginative and creative work, which often features playing cards with liquids, over at his Instagram account. He explains the premise of the original Untitled deck as follows: "I've always had a fascination with abstract art, it's raw and unconventional. I really wanted to portray that in this deck. Untitled Playing Cards offers a freedom from constraint, pursue your creativity."

Now this striking and imaginative deck has a sequel: Untitled V2 Playing Cards.



Just like its predecessor, the Untitled V2 deck has Fluidcards in capitalized print along the side of the tuck box, which captures both what Adam's photography is about, and also something about the nature of cardistry: fluid motion. As Adam describes it: "Fluid motion. The ability to take 52 pieces of paper and have them come to life. Creating shapes, movement. It’s a skill we spend hours, days and months perfecting. It’s pure."

The front of the tuck box is a work of abstraction in deliberately dull blacks and greys, which serves to make the colours on the reverse look all the more vibrant and energetic. It's a lively design that is abstract and yet exudes energy and life; an overall tone of reds/pinks splashed with black reminds us of the fluids often found in Adam's photographic work. By losing a sense of traditional shapes and boundaries, we enter the world of the abstract, and yet just like cards in motion in the hands of a skilled cardist, it's still very much a work of art.

Unlike the previous deck, which had a one-way design on the card backs, here we have a mirrored two-way design, which ensures that even if the cards are well mixed, we still get order rather than a confused and chaotic slurry of colours, and for me personally that is an improvement. It also captures the subtitle of the deck ("Reflections"), and looks great in the hands of a cardist.



The ad copy describes the origin of this deck as follows: "Untitled V2 'Reflections' is a journey into the mind of an artist. The reflection of self. It began with a painting, then photographed and mirrored 4 times. Throughout the design are hidden meanings relating to the topic of reflection and art. " This means that if you look closely, the artwork on the card backs is actually a four way design, and enjoys symmetry both vertically and horizontally.

The card faces are more or less standard, but there's enough customization to make this deck something special. First of all the court cards have been stripped of their usual blue colour. Instead they are a simpler combination of black, red, and yellow, and this helps preserve a connection with the red and black of the card backs, and looks very slick.



The stunning Ace of Spade features a giant pip, which is in itself a reflection of the colourful artwork of the card backs.



The original Untitled deck had a very special feature with the entire Spades suit: each Spade card had one pip that has been decorated with a splash from the card backs. That concept has been applied here too, but this time it is the Heart suit that gets this lavish treatment - but only the number cards. The fact that the back design is red and black makes this less out of place than the original deck, and it makes the customization slightly more subtle, while still being very stylish.

As to the reason why it's not applied to the court cards this time? It is related to the concept and title of the deck: "This signifies that the untitled ones, born from nothing, have nothing. The court cards were often used to resemble royalty." Ah - clever!



The Jokers offer a very obvious "reflection" of the card backs, this time with a strong rectangular shape that mirrors the shape of the cards themselves. Again very stylish and elegant!



This deck has been printed by USPCC in their usual air cushion finish, so it handles as good as it looks.

While I loved the original deck and found it well suited for magic, I have to admit that it's even more true of the sequel, due to the simpler colour palette. This ensures that it won't draw too much attention to itself, while still being very much a custom deck that stands out from the ordinary and the plain. And to help us with our magic, we can also make use of the double-backer gaff card that is included.



See the official trailer for this deck here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8yTL66_mok

Note that some of the images of this deck are by Adam Borderline himself. To learn more about his outstanding work, visit his official website, or admire the content he posts on social media at his Instagram and Facebook pages.



A tribute to life: Daily Life Playing Cards

The Daily Life Playing Cards is a deck created by Austin Ho. It's produced by "Skymember Presents" from Malaysia, and is their fifth deck.

Austin Ho invites you to explore his deck with a description that is full of poetry:

"Colors are the string of time that string together our day-to-day life. From deep blue sadness that envelops our wounded heart, to vibrant red that lifts our lips to a heart-warming smile. So hold within your hands the deck of Daily Life Playing Cards, which therewith lingers your warmth, and dance with a splash of colors with your cardistry. This is my Daily Life. Which may fraught with hardship and distress. But there are also moments that abound with glittering joy."



This artsy and poetic feel is immediately at home in the world of card flourishing, and any cardist with a deck of cards in his hands will be able to identify with some of the sentiments expressed here.

The cover is a clever tribute to this concept, with a small image of the deck itself on one side, and the other the outline of the artist's hand grasping the deck: two perspectives of the same thing.



Hands and art are a recurring theme in this deck, and the art for the entire deck has been hand drawn, and then digitized from pencil type sketches.



The card backs feature two clasped hands, along with a two-way design that integrates a variety of icons having to do with playing cards and art. If you look closely, you'll see suit pips, and also some artists tools.

The colours used on the card backs (and throughout the deck) are particularly interesting. They remind me of scratch art, although that normally has a black background whereas here the white background gives a very different feel.



Austin has taken a very interesting approach to the court cards, by making the usual objects that traditionally accompanying our characters as the feature piece. For the kings we have swords, for queens we have flowers, and for the jacks we have the pens and pencils of the artist himself. Let's hear some more poetry from Austin in which he describes this:

"Beneath the prideful heart that is the King's, lies a humble adoration for his beloved Queen, and a modest pursuit for their collection of swords. And beyond the nurturing elegance of the Queen, dwells a ravenous hunger to possess everything beautiful. The Jack too, albeit looking ordinary and loyal as a servant, shoulders upon himself a lifelong dream as a celebrated poet, for which he composes every day. What about your Daily Life?



The pips are all hand drawn, and I especially like the custom arrangement of these on the number cards, where they make a mosaic shape in the center of the card, and ensuring lots of white space around them, for a very creative effect.

Perhaps all this white also represents something about the blank canvas that an artist usually begins with. You can also use all the white space on the card faces to your advantage in combination with the blank faced gaff that comes with the deck; it's easy to do a reverse fan and create the illusion that the entire deck is blank, as you'll see performed in the official trailer.



The Aces all feature hands - holding a playing card, drawing, cutting a flower, or making a heart shape.



Besides the blank-faced card, the extra cards that come with this deck include two with empty hands (front and back), and another with a hand holding a two of diamonds. This can be used as a great card reveal, and you'll see a nice use of this in the official trailer.



Printing by USPCC also ensures that this deck has the handling that cardists look for.

See the official video trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9R92uenVDHs



Recommendation

So where can you get the decks featured here? Any reputable online retailer that sells custom playing cards should have these available (one that I can recommend and have had positive experiences with is Rare Playing Cards.). If they don't, send them to Murphy's Magic, which is a magic wholesaler that has an enormous range of products they sell in bulk quantities to dealers and retailers around the world, including a massive amount of custom playing cards. They have a huge network of contacts in the retail industry, so all of these decks should be available from any retailer that sources their decks from Murphy's Magic.

All of these decks are printed by the United States Playing Card Company, makers of the famous Bicycle brand, and have an air cushion finish, so they will be durable and will handle as good as they look.



The decks reviewed above are all available at your favourite 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:
- Bicycle Magic https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=62049
- Untitled V2: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=62817
- Daily Life: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=62273


BoardGameGeek reviewer

For more of my reviews on custom playing cards, subscribe to this list: Pictorial Reviews of Playing Cards by EndersGame

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Jeff Clarke
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Great job as always, Ender!
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