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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Deck the Halls » » Pictorial Review: The Tendril Trilogy part 1 - The Original (Encarded) (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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I've had people ask me more than once whether custom playing cards can be expensive. The answer is: not necessarily. Most decks over at Rare Playing Cards cost around $10-15, and you can get some amazing playing cards at that price (examples here). But they certainly can be expensive too.

Take for example the original Tendril deck, created by graphic designer Paul Carpenter (pictured below with some of his cards), and the deck which launched his brand Encarded. At the time of writing this article, there's just a handful available on eBay, and they're all listed for at least $100 each. Yes, seriously! The Tendril deck was created in 2012 with the help of crowd-funding, with just 5,000 copies made, never to be reprinted. At the time, it broke the Kickstarter record for the highest funding for a playing card project. As part of this, backers could pledge to get these decks for under $10 each. But since then, prices for this deck have gone through the roof.


So why so was the Tendril deck so successful? Certainly it did have some unique features in playing card design, that are very attractive, and even more so at the time it was released for funding:
- Black deck: Black decks always get attention because of their unusual colour, especially if combined well with other elements.
- Shadow borders: While beautiful, black decks tend to wear quickly on the edges. Tendril was a black deck where the edges faded to light gray, to minimize the negative effect of wear. These borders were also welcome for magicians, who rely on face-down cards remaining hidden in the pack.
- Face patterns: It's common to have patterns on the back of a deck, but why not also have patterns on the front of the cards? Tendril has a subtle variation of the back design on the actual card faces.
- Organic symmetry: While many custom decks feature obvious symmetry on the card backs, Tendril has a design that looks completely random, and yet is actually mirrored/symmetrical.
- Other elements: Other notable features about the Tendril deck included the fact that the artwork for the court cards was all custom and designed from scratch, as was the design of the pips. The deck was also printed in USPCC's highest quality (Bee Casino stock, Magic finish), and came with two gaff cards, so it was a quality product all-round.
- Good timing: The Tendril deck came out just as Kickstarter was really starting to take off. So it was before the glut of custom designs that now are found in an abundance on crowd-funding platforms. Pioneers like Paul Carpenter were able to reap the rewards by publishing a good design, and capitalize on a market that was looking for something new and exciting, and where the marketplace wasn't yet flooded with competition.


Obviously all these elements came together perfectly, creating a deck with big appeal for card flourishers, magicians, and collectors. It was beautiful and practical, all at once. To borrow the paradoxical language of the ad copy: "Dark, yet colorful. Symmetrical, yet not. Sinister, yet inviting." And it was also very cheap. Kickstarter supporters could pick up the deck for very cheap at the time. And now just five years later it's become of those rare hard-to-find decks, with a price-tag of well over $100!

But not every deck has to be expensive. After that initial record-breaking success, Encarded has gone on to produce nearly 30,000 decks of custom playing cards. The original Tendril deck has inspired what has now become a Tendril trilogy, with the addition of two other decks in the series: Tendril Nightfall, and Tendril Ascendant. And now here's the best bit - right now you can pick up each of these two decks for around $12 from the designer. That's right, for just a bit more than ten bucks a deck, you can pick up a completely custom and beautiful deck like the original Tendril one, without breaking the bank.



In this review, I want to share with you something about the Tendril trilogy, and briefly tell you a bit more about Encarded and what they've produced, with a special focus on reviewing the three Tendril decks of playing cards.


Let's start with the original Tendril deck that started this all. It's now highly sought after, and very hard to get without spending quite a bit of money, because it has proven to be a real collector's item. Certainly Paul Carpenter is indebted to this design for helping him establish a real following!


Here's a look at both sides of the tuck-box.


The card back design was inspired by Costa Rican rain forests. As Paul explains:

"In our various travels, one place has stuck in our minds as being a wonderful mix of opposites. The rain forests of Costa Rica present you with such varied environments, and Tendril tries to capture some of the beauty and mystery that I’ve found there. In the span of 24 hours, you can see amazing, eye-popping colors: the bluest of skies, the deepest of green leafs, the most shocking pink flowers. As day tapers off into night, the blackness can become absolute and what was a gorgeous and inviting atmosphere a few short hours earlier now becomes a quiet place of hushed danger. I wanted Tendril to have that mix of visual elements. Black, yet not. Dark, yet colorful. Inviting, yet sinister."


The card back is strangely hypnotic and yet enchanting, and feels like it is inviting you into a mysterious new world.

Meanwhile the tendril patterns emerge again on the face of the Ace of Spades.


I just love the combination of beautiful colours here!


It reminds me somewhat of the scratched art projects I did in school, with one colour melting into another - just stunning!


The two main colours of the deck are orange-red and a lime-yellow-green.


The number cards feature the same tendril artwork as a soft background, and custom pips.


Finally, here are the two stunning jokers, which look amazing when twirled and spun.


Altogether it's an eerie, hypnotic, and yet enchanting feel, with a haunting and nocturnal beauty!


Here's part of an uncut sheet, which gives somewhat of an overview of the entire deck.


Not everyone will appreciate it, but clearly it captured the attention and delight of collectors and cardists when it first came out, being both visually shocking and charming, and yet quite suitable for magic and cardistry, and for general use.

* * * CONCLUSIONS * * *

Glowing: The whole feel of the Tendril trilogy decks is a sense of luminescence. They feature a very unusual set of colours, that feel simultaneously jarring and yet relaxing at the same time. It's a paradoxical combination of being boldly striking and yet pleasantly calming. The neon colours gives the sense that the pips on the cards are glowing, and looks fantastic!

Eye-catching: Even though I've seen a lot of custom decks of playing cards, there was something immediately eye-catching about the Tendril design. It features an unusual design, particularly on the card backs, but this is enhanced by the striking choice of colours used for the card backs and faces, especially the dominant use of black as a background, against which vivid colours stand out brightly, with the colours themselves flowing into one another rather than being static. The effect is hard to describe, especially if one sees it first-hand - it is oddly hypnotic and at the same time ethereal. While it won't be to everyone's taste, there's no disputing the fact that this is a very eye-catching design!

Creative: Paul Carpenter is a man of creativity, who likes experimenting and trying new things. He describes his own passion for playing card design as follows: "I like to pursue new ideas, trying things that other designers might not have thought of. Holding a deck of custom cards in your hands is a wonderfully tactile experience, and I want to bring a little sense of wonder to each deck I make." This creativity is certainly evident in the Tendril trilogy that fuelled the beginning of Encarded. Fortunately there's no reason to think that he's lost this creativity, and whenever he releases a new design it immediately attracts a lot of interest.

Trilogy: I especially like the fact that the two sequels not only build on the success of the original Tendril deck, but also its design. There is a unity of style that binds them together, especially the close relationship that Tendril Nightfall has with the first deck. Of the two sequels, I probably like the Nightfall deck the best, for this reason, but they are both excellent, and the flourescent yellow-green of the Tendril Ascendant has a lively spring-time feel that many will appreciate.

Quality: There's a lot of debate about handling of different decks in playing card circles. But the truth of the matter is that if a deck is produced by United States Playing Card Company, there's not going to be many differences in quality. The only real choices designers have are whether a deck is smooth or embossed, and the vast majority select the embossed option, since it is the one that produces an air-cushion style finish that is optimal for good handling. Aside from that the only other significant choice to be made is whether to use Standard/Bicycle stock, or to use the slightly thicker and higher quality Bee Casino stock. The Tendril decks use the latter, and so they are very well produced, effectively at the highest USPCC standards possible. For some of his other decks, Paul has used Expert Playing Card Company as the printer. I personally havea lot of experience with EPCC decks, and can confidently affirm that their quality is equal to or higher than USPCC decks. In other words, all Encarded decks are going to be quality playing cards.

Inexpensive: While the limited edition decks might be out of the reach of some people's budgets, the prices for the Tendril sequels are very reasonable, especially compared with the prices of other custom playing cards in the market right now. And certainly they are a bargain when compared with the large figures that the original Tendril deck is commanding on the secondary market right now!

Record-breaking: When the original Tendril deck was released on Kickstarter in early 2012, it easily achieved its goal of $20,000, and went on to reach a total funding level of $41,648, with over 1000 backers. At the time, this was easily a record for the highest amount of funding ever for a set of playing cards, crushing the previous best result. Some consider this deck to have played a role in beginning the playing card revolution on Kickstarter that followed in the years afterwards. After this hit, the word was out that Kickstarter was a viable platform for quality projects, and so collectors and magicians began flocking to this crowd-funding platform in search of other hidden gems. It's a result of successes like the Tendril story, that talented independent designers were finding themselves able to tap into a market that previously was monopolized by big publishers such as Ellusionist, Theory11 and Blue Crown.

Enterprising: The man behind Encarded is Paul Carpenter, who has a background in graphic design. His interests include collecting playing cards, cardistry, and simple sleight of hand, as well as outdoor activities around his home in Florida. He founded his company Encarded already in 2011, but it was on the strength of his Tendril success that he was able to go on to future successes. His Kickstarter for the original Tendril effectively and successfully launched Encarded as a viable enterprise, and since then he's created numerous Encarded projects, many of which are produced in limited numbers, and sought after by collectors.

Other decks: Clearly a talented individual, Paul has also produced numerous other designs under the Encarded label, including Aurum, Deco, Zenith, Chancellor, Celestial and more. Many of these classy playing cards are in high demand, so if his style appeals to you, you'll want to keep an eye for his future projects.

Where can you get them? The best place to look is at Encarded's website.




Are the Tendril decks of playing cards for you? The original Tendril deck is probably out of reach for most of us, but fortunately you don't have to sell one of your kidneys before having enough money to buy one of the two sequels that completed the trilogy of Tendril decks. Paul Carpenter's style is unique, and the unusual colour choices and eye-catching design make for very striking and memorable decks, that instantly leave a positive impression on most people who see them.

I am happy to have come across Encarded, and glad to recommend Paul's work to anyone who enjoys quality playing cards!


Want to learn more? Encarded:

Direct links for the decks featured in this review:
Tendril Nightfall:
Tendril Ascendant:


BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame - click here to see all my pictorial reviews: => Magic Reviews <==> Playing Card Reviews <==> Board Game Reviews <==
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