Since there's a steady stream of new releases constantly appearing on the market, it can be hard to keep up with all the newest and latest custom playing cards. To whet your appetite for some of the latest and greatest decks, here are four new releases that I've been enjoying lately.

Memento Mori NXS Playing Cards

Designed by Adrian Valenzuela, and created by Chris Ramsay, the original Memento Mori deck has quickly become a best seller and is one of the most recognizable custom decks of the modern era. As proof of its popularity is the fact that several popular gaff decks are now available with the Memento Mori artwork (e.g. Svengali, Stripper, Invisible, One Way), and a separate Blue version has also been produced.

Now artist Adrian Valenzuela has taken the Memento Mori deck to the next level, with what is effectively its third generation, named Memento Mori NXS (Nexus) deck. The ad copy describes the latest edition to the growing Memento Mori family as follows: "With Memento Mori NXS, he takes low-poly designs to a whole new level by infusing abstract shapes with realism of light and shadow. The result is a beautifully modern design reminiscent of classical impressionism, yet grounded with purpose and inspiration."



The tuck box looks immediately familiar and yet different from its predecessors. Against a matt black back-drop is a skull in the signature pink and blue colours of the Memento Mori deck, arranged as an embossed mosaic with a wrap-around design. The concept of the Memento Mori decks is "remember your mortality," and with this new deck, we are encouraged to use our mortality as a stepping stone to achieve success in life, by turning clumsiness into precision, failures into knowledge, frustration into breakthroughs, struggle into resilience, and boundaries into creativity.

This theme is worded cleverly as follows: "What you live for becomes what you die for. Your life becomes your legacy. Memento Mori NXS (Nexus) represents the convergence of life, art, and triumph. It exists as a reminder to seize every precious moment that we are gifted, to live every breath to its fullest, and to leave a lasting legacy to endure the ages."


Unlike the original deck, the card backs no longer have a low-poly look that disguises their skeletal forms, but these now have artwork that looks more obviously like traditional skulls. The design still does appear on opposite corners, however, giving possibilities for interesting visual effects with fans and springs.



The court cards consist of the familiar low-poly design emphasizing geometric patterns and colours. The artistic design here is virtually identical to the original Memento Mori decks, but with a slightly adjusted colour scheme. While the original Memento Mori decks featured purples, blues, greens and yellows, and the Memento Mori Blue deck opted exclusively for shades of blues, the Memento Mori NXS takes the middle road by eliminating the greens and yellows of the original, and going just with purples and blues.


For the rest, the style is what we have become familiar with from the previous deck. The style of these cards is very clearly geared to visual aesthetics rather than serving as a practical deck for card games, and will perform best when in the hands of a capable cardist.



The two Jokers are quite striking, both picturing an hour glass, which fits of course with the deck's theme about mortality. One is accompanied with some Latin to remind us that Time reveals everything ("tempus omnia revelat"). The other has the same artwork, but has a "Seven of Spades" card reveal in mirrored writing.



There's also two gaff cards, a double backer, and a Queen of Hearts / Seven of Clubs split card.

With USPCC printing ensuring a quality product and good performance, the Memento Mori NXS deck is a fine addition to the Memento Mori series. I'm perhaps not as fond of the card backs as those of the original, but I certainly do prefer the colours of the face cards in this latest deck above those in the Memento Mori Blue deck. The charming pink and blue colour palette, combined with a popular design with the low-poly images on the court cards, is certain to be appreciated and admired by almost all who see it.



Malibu V2 Playing Cards

Toomas Pintson has produced many a deck of colourful playing cards, and the newest entry under his Gemini label is the Malibu V2 deck.

The original Malibu deck was produced in a limited edition print run of 3000, and has since sold out. So with a slightly more vibrant look to the colours of the original back design, this is the follow-up which brings the Malibu deck back into print.



The tuck box immediately introduces us to this deck's concept, which points us to the surf and sand of Malibu beach, with a very exuberant and colourful design that is bursting with Californian sunshine, surrounded with black and white paint splatters. The sides of the box ensure that we quickly get acclimatized to our new setting, with "Malibu" on one side and "Surf's Up" on the other.



Inside, we find cards that have a back design matching what we've already seen on the front and back of the box. The two-way design has been carefully constructed so that a fan in the usual direction will produce a sandy look of yellow along the edge, whereas a reverse fan will produce a oceanic look of blue surf along the edge.



The face cards look immediately intriguing, and although the overall design is relatively standard, the colour palette is anything but that. The Heart and Diamond suits, for example, feature a very soft pink for the pips instead of the usual garish red.



For the court cards, the Hearts and Diamonds are accompanied with a soft purple, while the court cards of the Spades and Clubs are treated to a decorative yellow - once again representing the surf (purple Hearts/Diamonds courts) and sand (yellow Spades/Clubs courts). This is a small change from the original Malibu deck, which used yellow for all the court cards.



It must be said that these colour choices complement the back design very well, and help unify the overall look of the deck, in line with the Malibu beach theme. Courtesy of quinnvdree, here's a lovely display that showcases these card backs.



Customization is also present in the form of a casual "Surf's Up" Ace of Spades, while the two Jokers remind us again that yes, in Malibu the Surf really is Up!



An ad card and a double backer bring the total number of cards up to 56, just as you'd expect with a USPCC produced deck. This is a deck that is clearly geared to cardists, and fans of Pinston's style will find much to appreciate with this new release and its fresh colour scheme.



Gemini Casino Orange Playing Cards

Also from Toomas Pintson is the Gemini Casino Orange deck.

Gemini is self-described as "a fictional casino deck inspired by treasured classics like Jerry's Nugget and Dunes Casino Playing Cards. Gemini was made to look like a vintage deck you might find in an old Las Vegas warehouse from the '70s."



A number of the Gemini decks already exist in several colours, shown here in the collection from cardcollectordad, which includes a Vegas Blue and a Red.



In recent years we've seen many decks that are geared to appeal to those who are drawn to the vintage casino look. The decks in Gemini's Casino series hit the right notes by combining bright colours with a minimalist card back design, which looks particularly satisfying in a vibrant orange, as shown here in this photo by 7even.xo.



What you see on the box cover is identical to the design of the card backs, which feature a fiery red/orange that emphasizes the relatively straight-forward and uncomplicated design, and will handle smoothly courtesy of the USPCC thin-crush stock.



By combining vibrant colours with a practical design, the card backs lend themselves particularly well to cuts and flourishes, such as this nice display from xvirtz.



Besides an oversized "Gemini Casino" Ace of Spades, and two "Compliments of Gemini" Jokers - all in the uncomplicated and expected style of a retro casino deck - the only real customization is with some of the colours.

For the court cards, for example, the elimination of blue creates a very different look, and the black/red/yellow colour combination of the court cards make a striking impression while remaining very practical. However, it's still a more standard look than some of the earlier versions of the Gemini Casino deck (e.g. the blue edition had a royal blue and neon pink colorway).



To round out the deck there's an ad card (with a map showing the location of Las Vegas) and a duplicate King of Diamonds.



The Gemini decks will find themselves at home in the hands of those who like the retro style and theme, and also work very well for card flourishing. Well done Toomas Pintson!


Deceptive Arts Playing Cards

Next up is the Deceptive Arts deck from magician Josh Brett.

Unlike the three previous decks featured above, all of which were produced by USPCC, has been printed by Cartamundi with their popular True Linen B9 Finish, which is thicker and yet softer than a regular Bicycle style deck.



Deceptive Arts is Josh Brett's brand, and he's incorporated into this deck's design numerous things that are important to him, including various mystical symbols.

In his words: "These were created around everything I believe in life and magic. The designs on the cards and box are based on my tattoos which encourage you to raise questions regarding your own freedom, truth and free will. In a hypocritical society we must face up to our own truths about ourselves and realise we are the creators of our own reality."



The tuck box features a low-key and understated look, with a very practical light yellow background, with green and black printing that includes the name of the deck. A central feature on the tuck box and the symmetrical card backs is a triangle shape that integrates and pays homage to many classic symbols, including the all-seeing eye and the symbol for infinity.

Josh comments on this as follows: "The Triangle represents the three forces in creation and the M represents you as the Master within your own world as a reminder that “Each will live according to your own belief”. Stay true to your art and more importantly stay true to finding your role, journey and destination."



Of special interest is how the white border is broken up by a horizontal green line at the top left and bottom right, which helps produce some interesting spreads and fans.



It will come as no surprise to discover a customized Ace of Spades, with the deck's signature green again being a key element, to match the card backs.



The two Jokers are also customized, one in black and the other in green.



The face cards are largely standard, but there is one notable exception: the Jack of Spades, which features the creator Josh himself! This also has a handy Ace of Spades reveal that magicians will appreciate.

As an added bonus, you also get a duplicate of this card, and a blank card - two gaffs that magicians will welcome and be able to put to good use. Overall this is a practical and stylish deck that will especially appeal to those with a fondness for card magic.


Recommendation


So where can you get the decks featured here? Any reputable online retailer that sells custom playing cards should have these available (e.g. Rare Playing Cards). If they don't, send them to Murphy's Magic, a magic wholesaler with an enormous range of products (including custom playing cards) that they sell in bulk quantities to dealers and retailers around the world. 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.

The custom playing card industry continues to boom, and produce some wonderful new decks, and the four decks featured above are fine examples of some of the great new playing cards that are appearing today.


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

Here are direct links for all the decks featured in this review:
- Memento Mori NXS https://murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=62704
- Malibu V2: https://murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=63267
- Gemini Casino Orange: https://murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=63313
- Deceptive Arts: https://murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=62626


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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