The Evolution Towards Non-Standard Playing CardsOver the last decade, the art of cardistry has exploded in popularity. And along with it, has come not merely an increased demand for playing cards that handle well, but a new demand for playing cards with artwork and designs that are optimized specifically for card flourishing. Cardistry decks are all about combining good handling with visual creativity and aesthetics, and the popularity of cardistry is such that the market can support a growing number of playing cards created just for cardists. There are some truly wonderful playing cards on the market today which meet the highest standards for performance and looks. They handle as smooth as butter, and are a feast for the eyes with their exotic color combinations and stylish visual designs, and can turn basic flourishes like fans and spreads into works of art.
But the visual appeal of decks designed exclusively for cardistry, such as the Virtuoso series from Singaporean cardists The Virts, is merely one stage in this development. Many other creators have followed suit, and some even took this to the next level. Jaspas Deck, the man at the head of the New Deck Order and the School of Cardistry, was one of the first to capitalize on this new trend, by creating a deck that abandoned conventional elements of playing cards altogether. By removing all values and pips from playing cards, he created a new type of deck, one intended purely for cardistry, and one that couldn't be used for playing card games even if you tried.
Jaspas was well-placed to create such a deck. He has been involved in card flourishing since 2003, and his credentials also include being crowned as the World Kardistry Champion in 2013-14. He's won several cardistry competitions, given lectures on cardistry, and has a strong following on social media. The fact that he has a university degree in Digital Film Making makes him well equipped to create the high quality and inspiring cardistry videos which have been key to his success. With the help of viral videos, and building on the success of his School of Cardistry tutorial videos, he produced a series of School of Cardistry decks, all of which had completely non-standard cards, and where all the cards in the deck were completely identical, with not a pip to be seen.
While the School of Cardistry decks may have been at the forefront of this new standard for cardistry, they are by no means alone. A number of other notable cardistry decks have adopted a similar approach, giving fans of cardistry several great options if you're looking for a deck of this type. So let's take a look at some of these revolutionary non-standard playing cards, which for some cardists are becoming the new standard for cardistry.
School of Cardistry decks● School of Cardistry V1
The box cover of the first edition of the School of Cardistry deck [see trailer video] introduces us to their novel concept: "fifty-two non-standard playing cards". The look of this original deck is a deliberate blend between the classic and the contemporary. The card backs feature hand-drawn images created with the help of Singaporean designer Marcus Lim, and feature cardistry moves as part of the design.
But the revolutionary aspect of this deck is of course with the card faces, which are all identical. The design for the faces is inspired by court cards, and the ad copy indicated that this was geared "to accentuate spinning flourishes, flowing movements, as well as large, multi-card displays." The abstract design ensures that cardistry displays have a unified and consistent look, and even fans, spreads, and twirls can capitalize on the face designs. To see this deck in action, check out the official trailer video, which features some stunning cardistry and videography.
With this unique design, cardistry was entering a new phase of development. As the New Deck Order team put it: "At the rate Cardistry is growing as an art, it’s about time we had something to call our own. A deck of cards made only for card flourishing." With this unusual deck, there was no chance that a cardist would be mistaken for a magician or a poker player. The identical cards would immediately become a point of interest, and help set you apart as someone dedicated to this new art form called cardistry. It's certainly deck made exclusively for card flourishing, even more so than the Virtuoso deck and others like it ever were.
● School of Cardistry V2
In conjunction with their second season of video tutorials, The New Deck Order released their School of Cardistry V2 deck [see trailer video], a new version of their deck of identical cards, featuring different colors and a different design. In my mind it improves the original concept by offering a design that looks less traditional in style. The backs have borders and a splash of black, to help emphasize flips and twirls.
Once again the card faces have the same design on the faces of all 52 cards, which helps make even a simple spread or fan look more visually pleasing. At the same time, the design still incorporates traditional aspects, such as a mandala consisting of elements inspired by court cards from a standard deck. The color scheme of the faces is bolder than the first version of the School of Cardistry deck, with a striking combination of black, orange, and blue colors. To really get an idea of the colors of this deck and see what this looks like when it's being put through its paces, don't miss the official trailer, which shows some impressive video footage and cardistry skills.
● School of Cardistry V3
The School of Cardistry V3 deck [see trailer video] was launched with the advent of the third season of the School of Cardistry tutorials, which featured expert cardists Leon Tai and Sebastian Goh. For the deck itself, the NDO team collaborated with a different designer, Edo Huang. The artwork on the vibrant green card backs makes spins look terrific, with a design that the New Deck Order calls "Beyond Borders". This concept relies on a circle design that is truncated by the edges of the cards, but becomes complete when the cards are spun.
Once again all the card faces are identical. The incorporate a center-indicator, which helps give a point of orientation for more advanced dexterity tricks like spins. The real benefit of having identical faces means that you can fan in both directions, and fanning looks good either way, whether using the card-backs or the faces. There's also consistency in how the cards look when springing them from hand-to-hand, regardless of which side of the cards are facing. The stunning promotional trailer for this deck features some amazing cardistry being performed by Jaspas himself.
● School of Cardistry V4
The School of Cardistry V4 deck [see trailer video] continues the "Beyond Borders" concept, this time featuring spirals that extend beyond the edges of the card backs. It employs two very vibrant colors that lend themselves well to card flourishing: the Pantone color Ultra Violet, and its split complementary color: Orange. The alternating colors of the spirals especially lend themselves well to pirouettes and spins, which give the illusion of changing colors.
But the signature element that we're looking for here is especially with the faces, which are all a matching non-standard design. Two opposite corners feature the vibrant purple, which helps accentuate fans. The convenient center-indicator again returns, along with two arrow styled icons. Card flourishers will find many ways to take advantage of this cardistry optimized design.
● School of Cardistry V5
For the School of Cardistry V5 deck [see trailer video], the New Deck Order worked with the South Korean design group ITS Team. As a result, the back design is quite different in style than their previous decks. For the colors, they went with the Pantone color of the year, which in 2019 was Living Color, and paired it with a vibrant light blue.
The card faces are a one-way design that still has a mirrored look. As with the previous decks, the card faces are set on a white background, and use the same colors as the card backs, but have an entirely different look, in this case relying on a repeated pattern using the word "school".
Cardistry Touch decks● Origin Cardistry
The Cardistry Touch brand shot to fame in part due to the innovative and creative "swivel-box" tucks used for their decks. These feature a very novel mechanism somewhat reminiscent of cigarette style boxes, but in this case the box opens sideways by rotating along a bottom corner. The Origin Cardistry deck [see trailer video] was the first deck produced by Cardistry Touch in 2016. They partnered with Cartamundi in the making of the deck, and the C9 cardstock used is a premium stock considered to be a high end paper that has been used for very few decks.
The creative team behind this deck challenged all existing conventions, and they even decided to include only 51 cards in the deck, believing that an odd number was more optimal for faro shuffles. The card backs feature a geometric design that is based on a tiled arrangement of miniature diamond shapes, in vibrant blue and pink colors. The card faces are all identical, employing miniature diamonds in the same colors, but on a white background, with borderless diagonal stripes on the edges of the cards, and several hexagonal and diamond-shaped blocks of color.
● Pulse Cardistry
Next up from Cardistry Touch and with the same swivel-box tuck boxes were two matching decks that were released in 2019, the Pulse Cardistry deck and the limited edition Pulse Blue Cardistry deck [see trailer video].
In many respects the concept of these decks is the same as the Origin Cardistry deck that preceded it, with the same style of tuck box, the same cardstock, and once again 51 identical cards. But the design is quite different, giving these decks quite a different look. The diagonal splashes of color look especially good in fans and spreads.
● DERIVE Cardistry
The DERIVE Cardistry deck [see trailer video] was the last deck to be printed with Cartamundi's premium C9 finish. While retaining their unique swivel box, from this point on Cardistry Touch switched to producing their decks with the United States Playing Card Company, using USPCC's popular crushed stock.
The back design uses a minimalist approach that employs a simple black and white color scheme, with wavy lines suggesting movement. Meanwhile the identical faces of all 51 cards use a similar pattern of lines, but infused with twin blue colors. Careful observation shows that it is actually a one-way design, but the Cardistry Touch crew describe it as "partial asymmetry", because there's enough mirroring happening that fans will be unaffected.
The DERIVE Collection [see trailer video] was a later release that consists of three decks: Honey, Pepper, and Prune. With this series the graphic design of the first DERIVE deck is retained, but it is simply given a fresh coat of paint with some vibrant new colors, thus producing an entirely different look.
● ESPC_THIS 2020 Cardistry
Continuing on with their series of cardistry decks, Cardistry Touch's ESPC_THIS Cardistry deck [see review video] features a more complex graphic design that is inspired by tech-wear and street-wear.
Partial asymmetry returns in the form of a vertical band of changing color on the card backs, and an incomplete geometric shape in the center of the card faces. The overall look is darker, and geared to evoking a more underground style that uses futuristic graphics and shapes. As with the later DERIVE decks, the printing is by USPCC on their crushed stock, but all the cards are identical., and it comes packaged in Cardistry Touch's signature style swivel box.
In-house decks● Copag 310 Alpha Cardistry
Several of the biggest printers in the playing card industry have sought to capitalize on the cardistry trend by creating in-house decks styled after the NDO decks with identical cards. Cartamundi has been making more of an impact in the custom playing card market in recent years, and their B9 True Linen finish has proven especially popular with cardists, due to its soft handling. So it was inevitable that Cartamundi would join the cardistry party and produce a deck with identical non-standard faces as well, hence their Copag 310 Alpha Cardistry deck [see trailer video].
It features a simple geometric design, geared to cardists, which is mirrored on the front and the back. But on one side the design is in white against a colored background, while on the other side the design is in colors against a white background. The creators made a somewhat unusual choice to go with a one-way design, and because the cards are borderless, you'll see either red or blue depending on the orientation of the cards. While the original deck features red and blue as the primary colors, the follow-up Copag 310 Alpha Orange Cardistry deck [see trailer video] relies on the same design, but with vibrant red and yellow colors. Orange is the central color, giving a very different look.
● Neon Bicycle Cardistry
Big name printer USPCC was also keen to come to the party with a cardistry deck in the non-standard style. Their contribution to this genre comes in the form of their Neon Bicycle Cardistry decks, which are now available in three different colorways. The first deck to be released was the Neon Cardistry deck [see trailer video].
Subsequent releases were the Neon Orange Bump Cardistry deck [see trailer video] and Neon Blue Aurora Cardistry deck. All of these decks feature the same graphic design, with the only difference being the colors. The card backs have a geometric design with white borders. The faces are largely white, with splashes of color on the corners and sides that help create lines of color in fans, spreads, and twirls. Once again, there are of course no numbers or pips to be seen, although there is a hexagon in the middle that functions as a center-indicator.
Bocopo decks● The Moon Cardistry
Bocopo Playing Cards have produced a lot of cardistry decks that won't break the bank, due to their reasonable price-point and attractive colors. With The Moon Cardistry deck [see review video], Bocopo hopped on the bandwagon of the non-standard trend, also following the model of a deck that dispenses completely with suits and numbers on the faces.
The night sky is captured with a jet black background on both sides of the cards, with a golden moon central on the backs and on the faces. The main thing that distinguishes the fronts from the backs are the borders. On one side there are beige colored corners that lend themselves well to fanning, while on the other side the opposite edges are in beige. Inspired by moonlight, this is a deck that has a unified feel, and offers a very different look than all the others featured so far.
● 2012 VP113 Cardistry
The unusual name of these decks is taken from the name of the dwarf planet 2012VP133, also known by its nickname "Biden". It was first observed by two American astronomers in 2012, and its discovery was announced in 2014. The first deck in this series is the 2012 VP113 Pink Cardistry deck. The surface of this dwarf planet is believed to have a pink tinge, hence the color of the original deck that is a tribute to it.
Matching the pink deck is its companion 2012 VP113 Mint Cardistry deck [see trailer video], which has exactly the same artwork and design but in a vibrant mint blue color. For both decks, one side of the cards is reminiscent of the style and design of the Moon Cardistry deck. The other side of the cards, however, is dominated by a white background, on which is a very different design, and which has a strong space feel. Once again, all the cards in the deck are identical.
Other decks● Pure Cardistry
The Pure Cardistry Blue deck and Pure Cardistry Pink deck [see trailer video] are both from the House of Playing Cards, makers of the popular NOC series. The origin of the name NOC is in an acronym which stands for: Nothing Only color. Many cardists love the NOC decks, which typically feature just a single color splashed across the entire card back, with narrow white borders.
The Pure Cardistry decks take this to the next level, because the faces of the cards are identical to the card backs. In other words, you can flip the cards over, and you get exactly the same classic NOC look on both sides. Two different versions of this deck were made, one with a soft pink, the other with a light blue.
● Palette Cardistry
The Palette Cardistry deck [see trailer video] offers an entirely new take on the non-standard deck. From what I can tell this deck first appeared from WH Labs and Weston Hamilton under the name Swatch Playing Cards [see trailer video], and then had a larger release under the Palette name. It relies entirely on pastel colored hues for a very soft look. And it's very much a cardistry deck, because again it eliminates all references to values, suits, or indices. As the ad copy states, "Don't be bound by traditional faces and pips. Unleash your signature moves."
But what this deck does is mix things up, both on the front and the back. For the card backs, there are two large blocks of color, surrounded by borders of two more colors: blue, green, yellow, and pink. But the combinations of these colors varies, so you'll see a variety of colors as you shuffle through the deck. The card faces have an entirely different design. On a white background, there's a central colored block in the same pastel colors, while the standard indices have been turned into small blocks of color. This is a very creative approach that opens up new possibilities yet again.
For his Spud deck [see trailer video], creator Hoang Nguye credits the School of Cardistry decks among several inspirations. The back design features the clever palindrome "Spuds", which reads the same backwards or forwards.
While the text on the card backs is a white on a fresh green, the faces of the cards reverse the colors, with the same green set on a white background, but this time the green is combined with a bright yellow. A donut shaped circle dominates the middle of the faces, and when spun creates an optical illusion. Diagonal bands on opposite corners of the cards ensure that fans will create very different patterns depending on which way the deck is fanned. This deck was printed by EPCC, so it offers a different handling experience than what you'll find with many of the above decks that were printed by USPCC.
The Concept deck [see trailer video] was created by the creatives at Aroundsquare. It originally appeared in 2016, and was a deliberate attempt to "to break convention by dropping the traditional design language of playing cards." The goal was very much to design a deck intended purely for cardistry, by eliminating conventional suits and values, and instead produce a deck that functioned only for manipulating cards for producing visual effects.
All references to numbers, suits, and pips are dropped, with the aim of creating a whole that was larger than the sum of its parts: a deck where the cards work together when layered, fanned, flipped, and spread. To accomplish this, Aroundsquare made the choice to use big and bold blocks of color in a simple geometric pattern as part of a borderless design, with different colors on either side of the deck. The first version of this deck [see trailer video] had bright colors on one side and a dark greyscale on the other, while the version 2 deck shown in these images has purple and pink on one side, and blue and green on the other.
● Duo for You
Popular cardistry brand Lotusinhand engaged the community to determine the colors for their Duo for You deck [see trailer video], which had a print run of 1000 decks, in contrast with their experimental Arctic Duo deck [see trailer video] which had less than 20 made. The combination of red and black was the result, resulting in a color scheme reminiscent of the Virtuoso Launch edition. But unlike the Virtuoso decks, these playing cards have been stripped down of all detail, and reduced to four triangular blocks of color on each side. Diagonal lines run through the middle of the cards, with two red triangles and two white triangles on one side, and two white triangles and two black triangles on the other side.
The result is a very simple design, but it is surprisingly effective. Fans look particularly striking. The placement of the two white triangles ensures that both sides have a different look and feel, and depending on which way you hold the deck you'll end up with different results. It's so simple and yet eye-catching and ideal for cardistry, that you have to wonder why someone didn't think of this sooner!
Final thoughtsDue to the fact that they are geared exclusively to card flourishing, non-standard decks like these will only appeal to a very specific audience: cardistry fans. But anyone who enjoys cardistry will find it difficult to resist the temptation to find out what impact the designs on both sides of such decks will have on their repertoire, and to experiment with new moves that decks like these make possible as a result of their uniform faces.
These decks are also good starting points for someone who is wondering what cardistry is all about, and wants to give it a spin. It's much more fun trying to learn basic skills like fans and spreads when the visual effect is amplified by the visual beauty of a lovely deck that is optimized for such aesthetics. With the help of the many free video tutorials readily available online, a quality cardistry deck will give you all you need to try your hand at this new art form. You'll be amazed how easily you can impress your family and friends with basic moves that are not difficult to learn, when eye-catching decks like these are in your hands!
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known and respected reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, cardistry, and card collecting, and has reviewed several hundred boardgames and hundreds of different decks of playing cards. You can see a complete list of his game reviews here, and his playing card reviews here. He is considered an authority on playing cards and has written extensively about their design, history, and function, and has many contacts within the playing card and board game industries. You can view his previous articles about playing cards here. In his spare time he also volunteers with local youth to teach them the art of cardistry and card magic.