I was fortunate to get an pre-release Artifice deck. These cards are beautiful – elegant and sophisticated. I love the backs with their silver on blue & black color scheme. The use of the different colors provides a simplicity based on the contrast of the silver against the blue & black with an added complexity when you focus on the blue tapestry against the black background. The edges on the top, bottom and sides beautifully fade from blue and silver to a black border. The faces of the cards are equally distinct. The hearts and diamonds are a deeper red color, tending toward burgundy (much like the color of the reds on the Arcane decks). The numbers and letters as well as the pips on the indexes are smaller than the standard Bicycle cards. The pips on the spot cards are also smaller than the standard Bicycle pips. At first that seemed strange to me, but after playing with the Artifice deck for a while, the standard Bicycle cards now seem to look crowded. The pips are less detailed – the point of the heart is more rounded, the bottom of the clubs and spades doesn’t have the same cut-away as standard Bicycles and the lines on sides of the diamonds are more straight than curved. The design of the court cards mirrors the elegance of the back of the deck. The frame around the royalty is gone. The designs use beautiful shades of blue, green and red along with black to make works of art. There is a deep, rich feel to the colors. I cannot describe how good these look. The Ace of Spades fits perfectly with the rest of the deck. It is simple at first glance but as you look closer you see its intricacies. The top of the spade is made from a steel grey ribbon which starts in a scroll and comes to a point. The ribbon casts a light grey shadow of scrollwork. The bottom of the spade is two derringers set barrel to barrel. The joker is a sketch of a fedora-wearing cardsharp, complete with a vest and cufflinks and a card behind his back. The sketch is black, charcoal and white with subtle shadings of blue. Yeah, there is the joker reveal, but it is so subtle that you would miss it if you didn’t know where to look. The most distinguishable characteristic of the faces is that they are white. That’s right, black border on the back and a white face. Holding a spread with a reversed card in it is difficult, unless it is at the bottom of the deck. Elmsley counts are proving to be more difficult than I expected (but if I can get it down, Twisting the Aces would look amazing). However, effects such as John Bannon’s Play it Straight Triumph or Aaron’s Fisher’s Search and Destroy – where you want the audience to see the reversed cards – look amazing based on the contrast between the faces and the backs. I’m not an expert about how cards perform in any way (I can perform with any deck and I’m not about fancy flourishes), but I’ll give this a try. This deck has the new Performance Coating and handles fine – heck, it even makes my fan look good. The cards are slick out of the box, have a good feel and “new deck smell” to them. The cards handle the way you expect any custom deck to handle. The stock reminds me of the Arcane stock. However, a side by side comparison makes me think that the Artifice deck is about a card’s width thinner than the Arcane deck and two cards thinner than the Masters deck. The deck even seems thinner than standard Bicycles. [NOTE: all comparisons are based on putting shrink wrapped decks next to each other – so it might be the cards or the boxes or a combination of both]. When I first saw pictures of this deck, my reaction is that I might have found a new performance deck. I was right.