The impact of the first generation Virtuoso decksFew playing cards attract as much attention upon their release as the Virtuoso series of decks from Singaporean cardists The Virts. The story of the success of the Virtuoso cardistry brand goes back almost a decade, to the release of their very first deck in 2012. At the time, the concept of a cardistry deck was somewhat ground-breaking and revolutionary. A deck designed and optimized purely for cardistry? It was an industry first, and the outcome was completely uncertain. Would this venture even be financially viable? To many observers, it seemed to be a risky experiment, not likely to reap any rewards.
As it turned out, the very first Virtuoso deck, dubbed the Launch Edition, proved to be a stroke of genius. It led to several further Virtuoso releases which capitalized on the original success, but had slight alterations to its design, along with a variety of different colour combinations. Demand kept growing, and other creators and brands had to sit up and take notice, many following suit. The cardistry deck was soon firmly entrenched in the playing card industry as a separate entity in its own right. And the Virtuoso brand deserves a lot of credit for being the trailblazing pioneer along this road.
Today, cardistry itself has rapidly grown, and is the subject of a global boom. Cardistry decks are standard fare at playing card retailers. Of course cardistry itself predates The Virts. But the cardistry deck as a viable and independent product really began with that very first Virtuoso deck and its immediate offspring.
Since card flourishing is all about making a visual impact, the concept of a deck designed exclusively for cardistry seems rather obvious to us now. In hindsight, the idea of creating a deck of playing cards from the ground up that is geared to highlight visual aesthetics makes a lot of obvious sense. Because cardistry thrives on the visual appeal generated from the movement of cards in fans and moves, adding colour and geometry that accentuates every card flourish is inevitably going to enhance the look of the cards in motion.
In retrospect, we can all understand why this would be a Good Thing. Isn't it obvious that spins, cuts, pivots, and fans are going to look more impressive when performed with a deck designed specifically for cardistry? But at the time, the future of cardistry wasn't exactly certain, and the enormous popularity it now enjoys almost a decade later would have been hard to predict. Whether or not a cardistry specific deck was a feasible economic proposition was very much an open question. But it was one that The Virts were prepared to entertain and act upon.
To help with promotion, The Virts also released popular tutorials that featured their new decks, and taught popular moves like the Perfect Faro and Cascade. These instructional videos were of superb quality, both technically and in terms of content. But as good as they were, what really helped the success of the new decks were the viral videos that The Virts released to coincide with the appearance of each new deck. These were superbly produced, and really helped consumers embrace cardistry generally, and The Virts in particular.
The results speak for themselves. Following the enormous success of the red/black Virtuoso Launch Edition 2013 deck, we saw several new colour schemes and tweaked designs. Next came the blue/orange Virtuoso Summer Spring 2014 deck, the blue/red Virtuoso Summer Spring 2015 deck, the yellow/grey Virtuoso Summer Spring 2016 deck, and the green/grey Virtuoso Fall Winter 2017 deck. All of these decks appeared in relatively quick succession, and the Virtuoso brand was growing with each new release. They were also assigned a unique short-form designation corresponding to its full name, terms which collectors quickly embraced: e.g. SS14, SS15, SS16, and FW17. The Virts now look back at these decks as "Phase One". In their mind, these are their first generation of cardistry decks, and they represent the dawn of a new era, as cardistry grew from a niche subculture into a popular new art form. The Virts and their Virtuoso decks were certainly one of the drivers of this momentum.
The concept of the new Perspective SeriesBut then ... silence. The next Virtuoso release was highly anticipated by cardists, but ... nothing. The market was more than ready to throw money at The Virts for a new release, but none was forthcoming. Instead, what followed the FW17 deck was a relatively lengthy period of apparent inactivity from the brand. Until last year. Finally, in the middle of 2020, some teasers started dropping about a new deck. And eventually the highly anticipated Virtuoso P1 Limited Edition would hit the market.
To everyone's surprise the new Virtuoso deck was neither a Spring/Summer edition or a Fall/Winter edition. But that's because the originally inspired idea was ready to give birth to something new. If the Phase One concept is like a beam of light, then the next phase is about having this light enter a new dimension. Virtuoso was ready for their very first special edition, as part of what they call their new Perspective Series. The P1 deck is the first of this new series.
The information cards included with the new deck explain what the concept of the Virtuoso Perspective Series is about. The original beam of light now passes through a prism, and the result is that it creates new colours. This concept has shaped the look of the P1 deck, which The Virts are advertising as the very first deck of a Perspective Series.
The idea is to offer a perspective that intertwines the past and the future. The design of the card backs represents the "old", with a monochrome design in shades of grey, with strong echoes of the classic Virtuoso shapes that we're familiar with. Meanwhile the design of the card faces represents the "new". And just like what happens when light enters a prism and turns into bursts of colour on the other side, so the faces feature four main colours - red, blue, yellow, and green - one for each different suit. The new bursts from the old, and comes with the promise of even more vibrancy and colour. It's true of this deck, and it's also true of cardistry generally as an art-form. For The Virts, this isn't just about a deck, but about the evolution of cardistry itself.
I must admit that I find the depth of thought here rather clever and ambitious, even if it the packaging is understated. For those already familiar with the Virtuoso brand, the tuck box features a design that makes one feel immediately at home. The shades of black, white, and grey suggest something plain and unadorned, but peeking through the thumb tab is a hint of the new that lies inside, with a small burst of vibrant red, blue, yellow, and green. When I first held the tuck box in my hand, these snatches of colour made me eager to see inside, to find out where The Virts want to take us, in travelling through past, present, and future.
The card backs are somewhat of a surprise. Like many others, I am used to the vibrancy and colour of a Virtuoso deck. So the choice to opt for the low-key black, white, and grey of the tuck box for the card backs seems an unusual choice. I get the philosophy behind it, especially if this represents looking back at the past, but it is somewhat unexpected functionally.
The design of the card backs has also gone through more evolution than we've ever seen before. Fortunately the essential elements of the signature Virtuoso design that are enjoyed by card flourishers worldwide are still present: a circular shape in the center, surrounded with geometric triangular shapes. Thin borders help emphasize the triangular design. And with some imagination, you can even see how these triangular shapes are intended to represent triangular prisms, through which the light will shine. That's where the notion of perspective that is key to this new deck comes in. Because what first seems to be a 2D shape, actually represents a 3D shape. It is all a matter of perspective.
Taking things in a new directionFinally it is time to get to the other side of the cards, and move from the past into the future. This fusion of past and future, back and front, involves a real contrast, as we head from monochromatic greys and blacks into full colour on the other side. While we start with a 2D and almost minimalistic feel on the card backs, on the front of the cards we have something very different. This burst of colour, style, and shapes, represents something that is not just futuristic, but also represents a transition to something 3D.
More surprises lie in store. The circular shape we associate with the card backs has made a reappearance on the card faces. This makes thematic sense: when moving into the future, we don't want to lose everything from the past, but rather build on it. The new must not abandon the old, but must retain some sense of unity with it.
From this point the departures from the past are more drastic. Each suit gets its own colour (red, blue, yellow, green), and very little if anything of the original suit pips (spades, clubs, hearts, diamonds) is retained at all. Instead, each suit is assigned its own unique geometric shape: arrows, blades, crowns, and diamonds. On the cards valued 1 through 10, these coloured shapes or icons combine to produce a series of circles with an increasing number of icons that correspond to the value of the card. Jacks, Queens, and Kings vary this pattern by incorporating an additional ring of colour, reminiscent of that first seen with the Ace.
The indices are also strikingly unique. The innovative geometric suit icons are again used. And for the card values, there are some unexpected twists, with the Roman numeral X replacing the number 10 on both sides, while the Roman numeral V replaces the number 5 on one side only. It's hard to know exactly what motivated some of these choices, other than a desire to break free from past patterns and to produce something truly new and different.
In creating something new and different, the team at The Virts has succeeded. There are enough elements here that are drawn from the familiar shapes and patterns that long-time Virtuoso fans will recognize and appreciate, particularly the geometric design of the card backs. But for the rest, very little feels the same, other than the fact that this feels like a next level evolution of a cardistry deck. It's certainly not something you could ever use for playing a game of cards, or for card magic, nor would you want to.
The suitability of this deck for cardistry has generated mixed responses. Some love the changes from the old and familiar. But it's not surprising that others feel a measure of disappointment. If you're expecting the same old Virtuoso formula, with a geometric and colourful design ideal for cascades, springs, and waterfalls, this will immediately feel underwhelming. The card backs don't offer any colour in such flourishes, whereas the card faces feature a mix of changing colours and a very differently oriented design.
But that's because this deck wants us to break out from the usual patterns that we may have been using our Virtuoso decks for. Instead of cascades and dribbles, this is a deck that lends itself more to spins and twirls, or moves like Flicker or Hot Shot, as well as circular cuts. In fact, the deck is optimized for such flourishes, not just on the back, but also on the faces. The Under Pressure flourish looks especially terrific. And flipping a card from back to front creates a whole new visual effect as shades of grey turn into flashes of colour. It's very different, yes, but that doesn't make it inherently bad. It is just ... very different.
Evolving decks for an evolving art formMaybe what this deck is really doing is helping cardistry evolve. And let's face it, the evolution of cardistry is important. Since cardistry is an art form, then this art form is all about a form of creativity that is prepared to be adventurous and innovative. That's what The Virts were all about with their very first deck. And that's really what this new deck is about too. Traditionalists might not like it, but that's okay. To be creative, you have to be prepared to abandon the old and familiar paths once in a while.
We've already seen a lot of evolution in the world of playing cards. First we saw the arrival of cardistry decks, with The Virts as a leading force. When other playing card brands took inspiration from the success of the Virtuoso design, and created their own geometrical inspired decks, we saw cardistry continue to evolve. This second wave is arguably best represented by the decks created by the New Deck Order, which were advertised as "a new standard for cardistry: non standard playing cards". The New Deck Order playing cards dispensed with suits and values altogether, and brought us a deck of 52 identical cards. The backs and faces are different from one another, but aside from that each card is the same.
Other creators would soon join this non-standard party, with notable examples including the Cardistry Touch series, the Copag 310 Alpha Cardistry decks, and the Neon Bicycle Cardistry decks. Some of these are inexpensive and very affordable mass market decks, which might just help put cardistry playing cards into the hands of a new generation.
But trust The Virts to break from all previous formulas and bring us something different again. The Virtuoso P1 deck deviates from everything we've seen before. Judged purely as a cardistry deck, I'm not sure what to make of it. Perhaps I'm just a diehard old-school Virtuoso fan, because this is a very definite move away from the very things I liked about the "traditional" Virtuoso deck. Yet it retains just enough - particularly the geometric design of the card backs - to keep me from falling out of love entirely. I'm just not sure how practical the faces are for cardistry, and whether these individual pieces work together well enough as a single whole.
What's more, one thing I missed very much with this release is the amazing viral video that The Virts normally put out to accompany each newly released decks. Perhaps they themselves realized that with a deck like this, the scope was just a little more limited. Certainly the Virtuoso P1 is a deck that thrives on different types of cardistry moves. Moves that look flashy with the first generation Virtuoso Phase One decks won't look nearly as impressive with this new deck. But on the flip side, this new deck gives the potential to create new flourishes that look more impressive with the Virtuoso P1 than they would with the previous decks from The Virts.
But maybe in the end the Virtuoso P1 deck needs to be judged not so much as a cardistry deck, but in terms of what it represents as a symbol or metaphor of cardistry itself. Cardistry has grown and evolved, to the point that a cardistry-specific deck like this no longer represents the risk that a cardistry-specific deck once was. So the Virtuoso P1 deck is hitting the ground in a very different market than the original Virtuoso Launch Deck. The Virts have generated such a strong fan base, that they could now be guaranteed of an army of supporters, many of whom are prepared to purchase the next Virtuoso deck sight unseen. The success of the Virtuoso brand, and the success of the cardistry genre, means that right now the P1 deck was guaranteed to be a bestseller, regardless of how it actually looked or handled.
Of course the handling is great, as is the case with all the Virtuoso decks. The team at The Virts knew it would be a mistake to depart from that part of their proven formula. They've always been very tight-lipped about the exact details of their card stock and finishes, and this is no exception. It's a USPCC deck, but aside from that we're largely guessing about specifics, other than comparing with other decks and trying to figure out if there's a correlation with anything we've seen before.
I can report that it has very thin card-stock, much like the FW17 deck, which in turn is slightly thinner and softer than the SS16 deck. Certainly all the essentials for high performing card stock are present, with smooth spreads and fans, and very soft stock that handles well straight out of the box. Once you remove the four ad cards that come with the deck, the other 52 cards handle like a dream, and the Virtuoso P1 performs much like you'd expect from the very best crushed stock.
Final thoughtsAll in all, the story of the P1 deck is a very different one than the first Virtuoso deck that tentatively tested the market back in 2012. But clearly the world of cardistry is ready for ongoing evolution, as the art-form itself continues to mature and evolve. As such, this deck is a metaphor and symbol of the art form that it is intended to serve: a growing evolution, as cardistry heads into new territory, and discovers exciting and colourful new things.
And The Virts are prepared to reward those who join them on this ride, and who want to take risks and share their spirit of adventure. They recently announced a Crimson Edition of their P1 Foundations deck, which apparently adds splashes of colour somewhere - to the tuck box at least. Judging by the colour and the ad copy, it seems to look back even more to the past than the standard Virtuoso P1, because its colour palette evokes memories of the Virtuoso Launch Edition that started it all back in 2012.
But don't get too excited just yet, because availability of the Crimson Edition is extremely limited. This is the smallest print run ever produced by The Virts, and the decks aren't going to be released publicly or to wholesalers or retailers. It's an extremely exclusive release, limited only to those who pre-ordered the first P1 deck directly from The Virts. It doesn't take a genius to forecast that these might just command premium prices with collectors once these do eventually hit the secondary market.
Regardless of how you feel about the new P1 deck, I hope you'll join me in congratulating The Virts for what they've achieved and how they've inspired us. I'm glad they're back. And I look forward to what the future holds for cardistry. If the story that this deck is telling us is to be believed, the future is colourful and bright, and exciting new things lie ahead for cardistry.
Where to get them? You can still purchase the Virtuoso P1 Playing Cards at PlayingCardDecks (supplies are limited).
Want to get inspired to try cardistry? Check out some of the best viral videos produced by The Virts:
● Air Time, featuring the SS15 Virtuoso deck (2015)
● Versus, featuring the SS15 Virtuoso deck (2015)
● Liquid Paper, featuring the SS16 Virtuoso deck (2016)
● Rise, featuring the FW17 Virtuoso deck (2017)
Wanna see some cardists jamming with new deck? Check out these videos featuring the P1 Virtuoso deck (2021):
● Trailer video ● Fareez Yusop ● Cardistrybyemil ● Ninja Heaven23
● The Impact of Cardistry on the Playing Card Industry
● Non-Standard Playing Cards: A New Standard for Cardistry
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.