‘JM’ writes: I’m always reading about people going crazy over collection playing cards… What does it have to do with magic? Isn’t it just like stamp collecting? Am I missing something here?
Expert reviewer, EndersGame is known for collecting and review decks of custom playing cards, and has been involved both with card magic and cardistry for quite some time, so we asked him to shed some light on this question. He identifies a number of different factors that have contributed to the rapid growth of the custom playing card market:
A big factor is the arrival of Kickstarter crowdfunding in 2012. Prior to this, the world of custom playing cards was small, and dominated by publishing companies like Ellusionist and Theory11. Kickstarter changed that, and caused the custom playing card industry to explode, so that today we live in an era where the market is flooded with all kinds of custom decks. Technology has reached a stage where the smart graphic designer can create a quality deck of playing cards from his desktop computer at home, then partner with quality printing companies, harness the marketing power of crowdfunding via Kickstarter, and produce a lovely deck of playing cards. I’ve documented this development in my article here: The life-changing Kickstarter success story of Tyler Deeb.
Another factor is the emergence of cardistry as a legitimate and separate art-form. Card flourishing comes with a unique set of requirements, and while this includes the high performance handling that magicians have always wanted, it adds to this the need for visuals that showcase the look of a deck of cards. As a result, we’ve seen the rise of custom playing cards which are designed exclusively for cardistry, and new decks keep appearing all the time to meet the needs and wants of cardists. Perhaps the most well-known example here is the Virtuoso deck, which was arguably the world’s first deck that was created specifically for card flourishing, as I documented in my article here: The world’s first ever cards created just for cardistry. An extreme example of this trend would be the School of Cardistry decks created by the New Deck Order, as shown here: The New Deck Order’s non-standard playing cards. Many of the decks produced by expert card flourishers Dan and Dave Buck under their “Art of Play” label would also fall into this category, as shown here: Playing cards for cardists from the Art of Play paradise.
Another factor driving the growing market for custom playing cards is the hobby of collecting playing cards. Some people just love the novelty of custom designs, and appreciate high end artwork and unique designs, and purchase playing cards simply for their beauty and uniqueness. It may seem odd to some, but some collectors will even keep these decks sealed in shrink-wrap, and never open them. Regardless of what you think about that, the reality is that collectors can never have enough, and this creates a demand that ensures that new designs will continue to find buyers. Popular designers like Robinson, Jackson, Jody Eklund, Steve Minty, Lorenzo Gaggiotti (Stockholm17), Alex Chin, and others have a legion of loyal fans who will back their new designs almost immediately, and so any Kickstarters these designers launch will almost always get funded immediately. Collectors are also attracted by novelty and bling, so anything different or out-of-the-ordinary will usually get support as well, especially in the wider market of the general public outside of magic, and for use in playing card games or even just as a novelty for the shelf.
Generally speaking, we are living in a time of affluence, and a lot of people have large amounts of disposable income. Not only are a lot of designs of custom playing cards hitting the market, but many cardists and magicians are in a position that they have money to spend beyond the needs of their day-to-day living costs. As a result, the cash is there to support this industry, and keep it going, and even make it grow. When people have money to spend, dangle something new and shiny in front of them, and they’ll buy it.
Magic is constantly evolving, and that’s true of the cards used by magicians as well. All of the above means that the market is being flooded with custom playing cards. Since they are so readily available, often at an affordable cost, we see this influence the magic profession as well. Over the last decade, the internet has had a huge impact on the world of magic, because video technology makes it easy for us to see video trailers of products, and performances of other magicians. Given the wide choice of custom playing cards available, some magicians are starting to use custom playing cards in their professional work. There was a time where it was seen as foolish to use a custom deck of cards instead of a standard Bicycle rider-back deck, because it would arouse suspicion that it was a trick deck. But that’s changing, and with some magicians starting to use custom decks, and performing magic in online videos and trailers, it’s becoming more normal for the rest of the world to start using custom decks in magic as well, and the general public starts to get more used to this as well. I suspect that this trend will continue. Magicians do have unique needs, so the degree of customization can’t be too significant – the cards need to look easily recognizable and familiar, so it is important that they are functional, and not be customized in the way a cardistry deck is. But as long as the cards are very clear and functional, a custom deck can be used. A bonus result of this is that it can make a customized marked deck look less suspicious, because people are becoming more used to a non-traditional deck being used more widely.
Everyone likes to personalize their magic. That’s important for your patter, your presentation, and your persona. It’s only a small step to extend this to your props, including the playing cards you use. Again, as long as they aren’t customized to the point that they distract from your magic, they can add small amounts of personality, style, and elegance to a performance. Even on a personal level, I find that it can be nice to change things up by playing around with a different deck of cards, just like someone might choose a different pair of shoes or shirt depending on their mood, or how they want to look. For example, a luxurious looking tuck box can add a real sense of sophistication and class to what you are doing, and if this fits with your performance style, this might actually strengthen your professionalism. So it can also depend on what you’re doing, and whether you are going for a slick, professional look in an intimate close-up setting, or a casual street magic approach – different decks might suit each situation, and while some would demand a traditional Bicycle deck, others might be stronger when using a custom deck of cards. You pick the right tool for the job you need to do. As such, I don’t see this development as a negative, because it adds potential for new elements in how you use the cards. Some of us like variety in aesthetics, and since magic is at bottom an art form, art can take into consideration elements like the visuals.
If you enjoyed this post about collecting playing cards, check out EndersGame’s playing card reviews here