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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Deck the Halls » » Pictorial Review: The Tendril Trilogy part 3 - Non-Tendrils (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. Encarded has also produced some other great decks, including some affordable ones, but also some more exotic limited editions. In this review, I'll cover a couple of these decks, and give some closing thoughts about the Tendril trilogy and about the other playing cards produced by Paul Carpenter's Encarded.



Paul is a designer with many talents, and he's put these talents to good use by making other beautiful designs under the Encarded label.


I'll start with the cheapest deck that Paul sells, which is something he calls Encarded Standard. As I'm writing this, the current price point for this deck is around $8.


It's deliberately designed to be a very affordable and usable deck. The court cards are styled on classic faces, but with a completely reworked and custom look. But beyond this, the degree of customization in the entire deck is minimal, to ensure that the overall look is easily recognizable and functional.


The first edition of Encarded Standarded was printed in 2014 with a classic blue tuck box and card backs. The box has a very neat and clean look, and yet an elegant touch with the addition of silver foil and subtle embossed features, while the back of the box has a patterned design not unlike the card-backs, but with inverted colours.


These cards were printed by the Expert Playing Card Company in their Master finish, which is the equivalent of the Diamond finish from Legends Playing Card Company (see my detailed review of their finishes here). These cards are thinner and snappier than a typical USPCC produced deck, but are also more durable, have much cleaner edges, and shuffle, fan, and handle beautifully.


The Celestial deck is a good example of one of the limited releases from Encarded. Only 1000 individually numbered decks were produced, and like many of Paul Carpenter's other limited releases, these tend to be snapped up quickly by collectors and fans of his style.

The tuck box is absolutely exquisite, with embossing, a combination of pearlescent white and metallic red foils, and an individually numbered seal that collectors will appreciate.


The name already hints at the inspiration of the design, which captures elements of ancient astronomers, their instruments and charts, probing a limitless expanse.

The court cards showcase a deliberate attempt to work with a classic and familiar look, but with a minimalist use of colours that emphasizes the polished design of the characters themselves, while the delicate borders and the fine detail below the indices creates a sense of refinement and style.


The red card backs have a simple and practical design that captures the thematic elements of astronomy instruments from ancient times.


These cards were also produced by Expert Playing Company, but in their Classic finish, which will feel softer and more familiar than the Master finish, and is a popular choice for many decks these days.


Many other examples could be given of the terrific decks that Paul has produced in limited numbers under the Encarded label, including Aurum, Deco, Zenith, Chancellor, more. I'll not cover these here, since the focus of this review is the Tendril Trilogy, which was more widely produced and more readily available. But if you do like the look of what you see here, definitely consider following Encarded, so that you can be among the hungry few who quickly gobble up the quality limited editions of Paul's beautiful designs.


* * * 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 Encarded 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, Tendril Nightfall & Tendril Ascendant. Paul Carpenter's style is unique, and the unusual colour choices and eye-catching design of the Tendril trilogy make for very striking and memorable decks, that instantly leave a positive impression on most people who see them. His other decks continue the trend of creative and beautiful designs, and his limited editions are definitely something that collectors would appreciate.

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: http://www.encarded.com

Direct links for the decks featured in this review:
Tendril Nightfall: https://encarded.com/collections/playing......ightfall
Tendril Ascendant: https://encarded.com/collections/playing......scendant
Encarded Standard: https://encarded.com/products/encarded-s......-edition
Celestial Red: https://encarded.com/products/celestial-red-edition

The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Deck the Halls » » Pictorial Review: The Tendril Trilogy part 3 - Non-Tendrils (Encarded) (0 Likes)
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