With new releases of custom playing cards constantly appearing on the market, it can be hard to keep up with some of the newest and hottest decks. To spark some interest in the the latest offerings, here are four new custom decks that I've enjoyed checking out recently.

Mono - X Playing Cards

Created with the support of Kickstarter in 2018, the Mono - X deck was designed by Luke Wadey, a London-based graphic designer who has also produced the popular Grid Series of Typographic Playing Cards. Mono - X has card flourishers in mind, and Luke's aim was "to explore how the family of a single colour can create design with impact and ambition." It's intended to be the first in a larger Mono collection, so perhaps we'll be seeing further family members in coming years.

A distinctly mono feel greets us immediately upon our first look at the tuck box, which features a minimalist black and white colour scheme, and a custom seal. The absence of colours amplifies the style of the design itself, which has a series of lines in different thicknesses and lengths. Careful observers will notice that this design cleverly creates a large X, which is reflected in the name of the deck.

Luke's concept for this deck is worth sharing: "We live in a world surrounded by colour. Some of us have the ability to see it more vividly that others, some of us can detect differences in colour more easily too. But what happens when we isolate one of those colours and explore it's range? I present to you Mono, a collection of playing cards design to do just take; to take a single colour and all of it's tints, and see what beauty it can create in monochrome. For Mono - X I wanted to created a distinctive pattern to compliment the monochrome use of black."

While black dominates the tuck box, experienced card handlers will know that cards with black borders are impractical due to signs of wear that quickly become apparent. That's why it's welcome to see that the colour palette on the cards themselves is the inverse of what is on the tuck box, with the white lines on black being replaced by black lines on white. The card backs feature the large two-way X, while a grainy texture type gradient helps keep the overall look grounded and earthy. By opting for a borderless design, Luke has given himself the freedom to have the lines go right to the edges of the cards, to maximize their impact in fans and other visual flourishes.

The card faces apply the line style design to all elements of the artwork, including the custom pips. Half of each pip is fully inked, to ensure clarity of design, while the other half uses the lined pattern used throughout the rest of the deck, for a very creative look.

The court cards also utilize the lined style of the deck. These are all monochrome, but fully one half of the character design uses the pattern and style familiar from the card backs. This ensures that the court cards are still readily identifiable and recognizable, and yet have a very original look completely in keeping with the rest of the deck.

Aspects of the design also go right to the edges of the front of the cards as part of a deliberate full-bleed design, that ensures that fanning the faces of the cards also generates visual appeal.

Each suit has a different number of lines on the side, with 1 for Spades, 2 for Diamonds, 3 for Clubs, and 4 for Hearts.

Different shades ensure that the traditionally red and black suits can still be easily distinguished, despite the absence of colour. To achieve this, the traditional red for Hearts and Diamonds has been replaced with gray.

With printing by the United States Playing Card Company with their crushed Bee stock paperstock and air cushion finish, this deck handles just as good as it looks. And magicians will enjoy having the inclusion of a double-backed card.

The Mono - X is a fine example of the style that can be conveyed with a minimalist design that makes excellent use of negative space to produce a traditionally styled design with a very modern look.

Division Playing Cards

Sticking with the emphasis on shapes is the Division deck, which was created by Nick Vlow, a prolific Russian graphic designer who focuses on playing cards.

Nick describes this design as a "retro-geometric style inspired by Russian Avant-Garde". The geometric emphasis is immediately obvious from the tuck box, which is a tribute to famous artist Escher, and celebrates his concept of cubic space division. This concept has also inspired the name of this custom deck, and the Escheresque approach is on display here with an image that looks like a 3D maze. I've always loved Escher's work, so this gave the Division deck instant appeal for me.

Danny Weiser is credited on the tuck box as the producer, and the deck is produced under his label WeiserConcepts, which has the slogan "Branding the art of magic with innovative style."

The custom seal on the tuck box gives us a foretaste of the colourway found within.

The card backs have an intriguing palette that focuses on shades of brown and black, and include the three dimensional rectangular shape similar to what was on the box cover. Or is this just a brain fooler, and is it merely an illusion? I'll leave you to decide. That is of course part of the appeal of Escher's work, and this deck is all about breaking limits and boundaries, and going beyond first appearances.

The faces of the cards enjoy a level of customization to match the rest of the deck, including a recolouring that corresponds to the colorway on the reverse of the cards, with a soft brown replacing the usual garish red, for a more earthy look.

For the rest the cards look quite traditional, although the Ace of Spades has a fresh design in keeping with the rest of the deck.

Two gaff cards (a double backer and a blank face card) ensure that the magician gets some extra opportunities for fun with this deck, but instead of two Jokers we get two ad cards.

As for the cards themselves, these are printed by the United States Playing Card Company with their usual high quality, and so they handle nicely in fans and in spreads.

Jazz Stripes Playing Cards

Next up is another abstract design, namely the Jazz Stripes deck. This deck was produced by Got Magic?, which also brought us playing cards like the Mondrian Broadway deck and the Views deck.

If the tuck box design looks vaguely familiar, that's probably because you've seen this design before - in the 1990s, or perhaps more recently. The jagged scribble of crayon-like teal with a zig-zag of purple-blue was found everywhere at one time, especially on wax paper cups and disposable plates. Thanks to 90s nostalgia, this distinctive pattern has seen a revival of interest, and has become a visual meme that has been plastered on everywhere from hoodies to socks, and even to decorate cars! So why not playing cards?

As an aside, here's an interesting piece of trivia: Before the design went viral in recent times, its creator was unknown. It took a Reddit fueled campaign in 2015 to find the designer of the iconic pattern. It turned out to be Gina Ekiss, a designer for Sweetheart Cup Company in Missouri, and Gina is credited on the bottom of the tuck box. She came up with the concept in 1991, later calling the design "Jazz", given its improvisational feel. After the Sweetheart Cup Company was acquired by the Solo Cup Company in 2004, the patterned cup has typically been referred to as the Solo Jazz Cup.

Unsurprisingly, given the popularity of the Jazz pattern, the deck has a ready audience. The iconic Jazz Stripe greets us on the tuck box, which also features the name in silver foil in a stylish yet casual font. The tuck case has an unusual tuck box that features a cigarette box styled flap, which helps give the deck added appeal and a touch of sophistication.

There's no real surprise with the cards, because they feature the same Jazz design from the box cover, but now with a mirrored look to ensure that the cards don't have a one-way look.

The design of the card backs is a full-bleed borderless design, and by having the pattern go to the edges of the cards we are guaranteed interesting visual fans and spreads. Not everyone will fall in love with the amount of white-space this produces, but the vibrant neon look ensures that it won't go unnoticed.

The face cards have a standard look, with the exception of the traditional blue being replaced with the same coloured teal used for the splash that is part of the iconic Jazz design. This helps give the entire deck a closer sense of unity, which standard colours would not have been able to achieve.

While the majority of the cards do have a traditional design, the Jazz pattern finds its way onto exactly the places where you would expect it, such as on a customized Ace of Spades, and on customized Jokers. These offer a playful look while still making good use of the pattern that is the deck's signature.

Besides the Jazz pattern, the cigarette style tuck case is not the only point of interest for card collectors and cardists. The deck has been produced by Cartamundi with their Superlux B9 True Linen cardstock, so that means you get cards that are thicker than normal, and yet are much softer than a standard USPCC produced deck. This stock is finding real favour with many cardists around the world. Although it handles quite different from your usual Bicycle style deck, it's very durable, and ensures that flourishes can be performed smoothly and with style.

Maybe it's time for you to take some Jazz Stripes for a drive!

Masquerade: Black Box Edition Playing Cards

The immediate impression that the tuck box of the Masquerade Black Box Edition deck gives is one of style. Besides an ornately designed seal, it features a black tuck case with intricate linework and curvy art, touched with silver foil and black UV spot printing.

It turns out that our first impressions are right on the mark, because this deck is part of the Artist Series by creator BrainVessel. This particular deck features the artwork of Denyse Klette, who is a renowned painter, illustrator, and sculptor whose work can be seen in galleries around the world.

Much of Denyse's artwork has a whimsical feel, and that's also the case with this deck. Once we make it past the classy tuck case, and the cards themselves find their way into our hands, the card backs greet us with the same busy pattern we've already seen on the back of the tuck box. But now the use of red, black, and various shades of gray, ensures that we miss none of the playful artistic details that Denyse has created.

The relatively straight forward colour scheme persists through the rest of the deck, and all the faces employ the same simple colours, which helps emphasize artwork itself.

Much like the card back design, it's very whimsical, and a closer look at the court cards will reveal faces that emerge from within the busy patterns.

The oversized pips of the Aces continue this light-hearted style. Even the pips of the number cards have undergone a radical transformation, which ensures that the entire deck has a thoroughly customized feel, that the collector will especially appreciate.

The two Jokers work in tandem as a whimsical diptych. And yet it's not all fun, but quality too. The United States Playing Cards has come to the party to ensure that we have cards that are durable, and with an air cushion finish so that they handle well.


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 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 has been thriving in recent years, and the four decks featured here are all fine examples of the kind of quality and unique styles that are on the market today. In the hands of a skilled creator, even a monochrome deck, or some simple patterns and stylish swirls, can "jazz" up a deck and turn it into something artistic and interesting. Put decks like these into your own hands, and see for yourself!

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:
- Mono - X: https://www.murphysmagic.com/Product.aspx?id=63128
- Division: https://www.murphysmagic.com/Product.aspx?id=62258
- Jazz Stripes: https://www.murphysmagic.com/Product.aspx?id=60420
- Masquerade (Black Box Edition): https://www.murphysmagic.com/Product.aspx?id=62278

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