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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Deck the Halls » » Pictorial Review: The Tendril Trilogy part 2 - The Sequels (Encarded) (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Custom playing cards don't have to be expensive, but they certainly can be. Take for example the original Tendril deck created by graphic designer Paul Carpenter, which is the deck that launched his brand Encarded. When it was created in 2012, it broke the Kickstarter record for the highest funding for a playing card project at the time. Since then, prices for this deck have gone through the roof, and they typically go for well over $100 each on eBay right now.

So why so was the Tendril deck so successful? Certainly it did have some unique features in playing card design, including the fact that it had black borders with shadows that faded to light gray, plus an unusual and colourful flourescent style design on the card-backs, as well as very striking card faces that were completely custom. It was also printed in USPCC's highest quality, so the card quality was excellent. And perhaps most importantly, the Tendril deck came out just as Kickstarter was really starting to take off, and so it could tap into a market which looks very different from the one today, where crowd-funding platforms are flooded with custom designs. All these elements came together to create a deck that was perfect for card flourishers, magicians, and collectors. In the words of the ad copy: "Dark, yet colorful. Symmetrical, yet not. Sinister, yet inviting."

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, both of which are readily available for around $12 from the designer. So 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'll cover the two sequels to the original Tendril deck, and give some closing thoughts about the Tendril trilogy and about the other playing cards produced by Paul Carpenter's Encarded.



Given that the haunting beauty of this most unusual deck is going to be beyond the reach of most of us, what is a poor man to do? Well thankfully this unique set of playing cards has spawned two sequels, which together with it make up a trilogy. Pictured here is the original Tendril deck on the left, with the two follow-up decks besides it.


The names of the sequels are Tendril Nightfall and Tendril Ascendant


They were produced together, and these are the ones that are still readily available at a very reasonable price from Paul's Encarded website.



Here's how Paul himself describes the Tendril Nightfall deck: "Tendril: Nightfall playing cards are a mirror of the original from 2012. The original Tendril deck was designed as if you were in the tropical rainforest, peering up at the sun through the natural habitat. Nightfall is that same view, but time-shifted to the evening, when the moon is glowing and the light is cool and dark."

Even the box of the Nightfall version harks back to the design of the original Tendril deck, except that it has striking metallic blue foil accents. The matching styles of the boxes reflects a unity in design.

The tuck box also shows off the design of the card backs.


Unlike the original Tendril deck, this deck does have fully black bordered cards, so it's not immune to the issues that the original Tendril deck sought to avoid by having shadow borders, but it's also what helps differentiate this particular deck from it. Some have described it as a "colour negative" of the original, and that's a fair description. The design is unchanged, but the colour scheme has in some respects been reversed.


I particularly love the glowing moon of the card-backs, which evoke a sense of peering up at a night sky.

The tendrils also make an appearance on the Aces, but with less of a hypnotic colour scheme, and evoking a feeling of cool black light.


The colours of the face cards are quite similar to those of the original Tendril deck, but with a slightly adjusted palette to favour a slight emphasis towards green and orange. As mentioned already, the shadowed borders have been eliminated, but the tendril background artwork does features again. And this time the glow of the moonlight bursts through the card and appears on the card faces as well!


The number cards are similar styled, of course, and the pip design is unchanged from the original Tendril deck.


Finally, here's a look at the Joker from this version.


Much like the original, this is a beautiful and original looking deck, and a worthy companion and follow-up!



You can immediately tell by looking at the deck box that this final member of the Tendril trilogy has a different feel. In the Tendril Ascendant deck, the tendrils are still present, and the tuck box still has a dark and broody look, but there are some vibrant greens that make an appearance.


Unlike the Tendril Nightfall deck, it departs more from the original Tendril design, by incorporating various refinements, while still retaining the organic symmetrical feel of the original. The line work is more influenced by spheres. As Paul describes it:

"Its design incorporates all the refinements that we have learned over the years and mixes those with the organic symmetry first seen in Tendril. The colors are bold, the borders are intense, the faces are dark and the level of detail has been increased."

The card-back in particular has undergone some changes.


While a different colour scheme has been used, particularly the flourescent styled borders, what remains a constant is what most people loved about the original Tendril deck: the fluid colours on the face cards, set against a black background.


Don't those court cards look stunning? Once again, the tendrils make an appearance on the card faces as well, as can be seen with these number cards, which have bolder and larger pips.


The two main colours of this deck are a flourescent or metallic style yellow/green, and bright blue.

These colours are also prominent in the Jokers, which feature interesting spiral/spherical shapes, and are very different from the machine-like cog of the other two versions of the Tendril deck.


Like the other decks in the series, it looks remarkable when spread in a fan.


* * * 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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