A Serious Reflection on the State of Playing Cards

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Bryant_Tsu, Apr 23, 2016.

  1. I will start this by giving a fair warning: if you consider yourself to be a hardcore fan of certain cards you may not want to read further.

    I've really slowed down my card intake recently. Call it personal preference, I think the playing card industry is slowing down. The big names (theory11, ellusionist, fontaines, NOCs) have found their group of dedicated consumers and seem to have slowed down in terms of innovation.

    I'll walk through these one by one, but I want to address a standard that bothers me across the board. All playing cards from all companies are becoming much more expensive. While the humble Bicycle deck has always hovered at the $4 mark, most custom decks have shot up from $7 per deck to $10-15 per deck. This is the major reason for this argument.

    First off, I'll cover the Fontaines as they are a big favorite amongst a cardists. These cards are produced in small batches, designed with solid colors, and feature two "f"s on the design. This deck retails at $15 (for the sold out pink one). The biggest issue with this deck is that it is too simple. No custom faces, the same back design, but still retains a massive hype for each launch. It seems odd (and kind of too easy) that Zach can just use paint bucket to create a new deck. It may have taken a while the first time he created the design, but now he could technically crank out a new color (a new deck) in less than a minute. You can call me out on this, but I think it's laziness. There's no experimentation and risk when a new Fontaine deck is released.

    The same can be said for the NOC deck, however I do applaud the use of a marking mechanism on the back. It's simple, but it has been shown to be useful in other card related art, like that done by Card Stories on Instagram.

    The same thing can be seen in Ellusionist's work (although they don't do this to all their decks) the Madison line, Artifice, Ltds, etc. are all copy paste versions of their previous work. There is a little more work that goes into some of these (there's differences between the art on the White Artifice deck and a green one for example). So overall it is a bit lazy, but there are some custom pips, and minor work in between decks that make up for it.

    You can rag on me for this, but I hold theory11 decks to a higher standard as they usually are (in my opinion) better than most other decks. We can expect a fancy tuckcase and back design to be standard with all t11 decks, however I do want to see more done with the fronts. Having nicer deck boxes and backs leads me to want equally nice fronts. The Contraband is a perfect deck both front, back, and box as it is a fully custom deck and therefore is worth the ever increasing $10 price tag. However, decks like the Citizen deck feel incomplete (to me) as the fronts aren't very different from the classic Bicycle design. I've inquired about why theory11 didn't use custom faces and the answer is that it was done by restraint, they didn't want it to be too ornate. If so, why doesn't theory11 own it, that is, why doesn't theory11 show us the faces before we buy. It seems "shady" that a design feature like this isn't advertised (the only advertised feature is the ace of spades which has a custom pip).

    I'll also cover the Virtuoso team and Encarded below as a contrast to my point.

    The Virtuoso deck seemed to be going the way of the Fontaines: color change on the backs with a cult following to eagerly consume it. However, the Virts deck is different in that it used custom faces that were modern recreations of the classic tired courts and pip layouts. The back introduced thinner borders over time and the colors were well done (I liked the fact that it was more than one solid color). This year the new SS 16 deck features a borderless design with a stripe on the faces. It looks different, better, and still awesome as ever.

    Encarded is by far my favorite deck designer. Unlike all the other companies, there is no quota to his work. The decks he creates are very limited, but the design is always different, and always nice to look at. Not all design are everyone's cup of tea, but I do respect that Paul takes a risk that people will not receive his work as well as the last one. Every aspect of the deck has been carefully planned out and appears so, which is something I believe is worth purchasing.

    Anyway, I wanted to know what you all think about this? Have I simply turned into an uptight/over-demanding card connoisseur? Or does my argument raise valid points? Let me know below. :)
    Gabriel Z., Lemon Citrus and ayswl like this.
  2. #2 Lyle Borders, Apr 23, 2016
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2016
    We don't typically do full custom fronts because we have roots in magic. Why does that matter? If you want a spectator to be 100% focused on your magic, and not wondering if you are using a trick deck, you need the playing cards to be as familiar and simple as possible. Why do people recommend performing with Bicycle playing cards so often? Nothing about Bikes raises ANY suspicion. The backs are familiar. The fronts are familiar. Bikes are what a deck of cards should be like. Most of our decks use a color modification of standard faces, simply to help make sure that your spectator isn't focusing 90% on your magic and 10% on your funny looking cards. In magic, you want the spectator to forget that there were cards to begin with. By keeping the fronts of the cards extremely familiar, and making the other elements of the deck look really nice, the spectator just sees a nice deck of cards, not something they need to watch out for.

    On the flip side of that coin, not everyone who shops at theory11 does magic, so our assortment is not all standard faced. Sentinels, JAQKs, Animal Kingdom, charity: water, Contraband, Union, Rarebit, MailChimp - these all have full custom faces. We have no shortage of decks that have full custom faces. It is just not all the decks. Heck, the original JAQKs and the Sentinels were among the earliest premium decks that featured fully custom faces - we pioneered that space. We also pioneered metallic inks, high end tuck cases with high quality papers, and foil on the actual playing cards. Not every deck we ever do is going to use every single innovation or option available, but we get our hands into all sorts of different options for our decks.

    We make decks for people to use, not just to stare at - function and form. Sometimes, function doesn't dictate needing every aspect to be totally revamped, and sometimes with specific artist schedules, it's simply not possible. but whenever we feel appropriate, we spare no expense in any and every way to make the best quality cards imaginable - and I think our work speaks for itself to that effect.

    Regarding photos - If you don't see custom faces on one of our decks, it is not full custom. It will have the standard Bicycle faces (with theory11 custom color scheme) every time. We WANT to show you any custom faces that exist. If there are custom faces, you will see them on the product page. If you don't see custom faces on the product page, they are not custom. No custom faces on the Citizen product page? They are standard. We tend not to waste product photography space on features that are the same on most of our other decks. If you ever have questions about a deck, ping our support team and they can let you know more before you purchase.

    I won't comment on any other specific playing card producing companies of people out there. I will say this - there is still plenty of room for innovation. While in general the playing card market isn't moving anywhere very fast (this happens in all markets) there are still innovators out there. Some of the Kickstarter decks I've seen in recent history are breathtaking.

    Before I finish, we have lots of really awesome new things coming soon, including something fully custom that Elite Members will be seeing VERY soon. If you are an Elite Member, keep your eyes on your email early next week. You don't want to miss it.

    Cerca Trova.

    // L
  3. Actually this opens room for discussion.
    I totally agree about the fontaines, basically what we get is a bicycle deck with a fancy desing at 15$ (4 times the price).
    Although the desing is captivating (i love it), a serie is made with little or no effort, and would still make the sold out.

    I am a admirer of playing cards, i enjoy the aesthetics, but aside of the design i'd like to get something more.
    For example: a new kind of stock, linen weaving, change of thickness, an actual finish which differ from the standard..
    (i'm just freestyling)
    Yes, i know the USPCC is not very flexible, and yes, i know that those modification have a cost, but aside from policies, if part of the expenses of the intricate design and embossing on the box is conveyed into innovation it would be superawesome.

    I don't know the specifies of each deck, so my thought are just based on subjective experience (and then retracted at any moment with further knowledge on the matter), and i'm definitely not into business, but T11, ellusionist and those other big brand are, and they are the only who can propose a difference.

    Just my two cents, from a person who actually own all these decks!

    It's a good post, some constructing criticism won't hurt anyone.

    I hope @Magic Orthodoxy will read this, he's like the living bible of playing cards, and may offer a useful thoughts on this one.

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