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EndersGame
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*** *** BRING ON THE MAGIC WITH MURPHY'S! *** ***

Murphy's Magic and Playing Cards

In this series of reviews, I'm covering the decks that have been produced by Murphy's Magic, a wholesale magic dealer founded by Mark Murphy in 1998. In addition to selling a wide range of magic products, Murphy's has also produced a number of decks of custom playing cards. All of these decks of playing cards are available from Murphy's Magic dealers, and since many retailers that sell magic or who specialize in custom playing cards often rely on Murphy's Magic for their products, this means that these decks should all be readily available from a variety of sources.

In this review series, I'm showcasing some of the successful playing card projects that Murphy's Magic has produced in the last few years. I'll be covering nine decks in total, which I've roughly categorized according to the amount of customization they have:
Part 1 - Full-customized decks: Fox Targets, Run, Revolution
Part 2 - Ultra-customized decks: Memento Mori, Memento Mori Blue, Darkfall
Part 3 - Semi-customized decks: Mandalas, At The Table, Magician Anonymous

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*** ULTRA-CUSTOMIZED DECKS ***

Like the three previous decks, the three decks of playing cards in this section are all fully customized. Card backs, court cards, face cards, jokers - the works - it's all completely redesigned.

However, unlike the three previous decks, these have been customized to the point where you're not likely to use them for playing games with, simply because they have colour schemes or artwork where it becomes difficult to distinguish between the suits easily. I've called them "ultra-customized" to reflect this, because the degree of customization has gone beyond what you'd consider normal.

That doesn't mean that these decks don't have a useful purpose; on the contrary, in most cases they have just been designed with a purpose other than playing games in mind. These decks emphasize colour and shapes, and so are especially suitable for cardistry and card flourishing.

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== MEMENTO MORI ==

The Memento Mori Playing Cards is a best selling deck that was created by noted magician and card flourisher Chris Ramsey, and it is bursting with visual beauty and colour. The artwork was designed by Adrian Valenzuela - you can see photos of his original design in his portfolio here.

And it's not hard to understand why this deck has proven so popular, from the moment the embossed and colourful tuck box is in your hand. Check out this stunning fan photo:

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This deck is truly a card flourisher's dream come true, and is particularly well-suited for cardistry, and for performing visual moves like the one shown here.

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The beauty of this deck already begins already with the elegant tuck box, which has a wrap-around design. The mosaic pattern actual depicts a skull shape - although it's not immediately evident, so it's unlikely to cause offense to anyone, and most people won't even realize that the artwork makes up a human head.

The Latin title of this deck, Memento Mori, means "remember your mortality", and the core idea of this deck is to convey something about the fleeting nature of life, and its origin and end.

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The card backs have a similar design to the box cover. I like how the design only appears on the opposite corners, because it gives possibilities for interesting visual effects when fanning or springing.

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The court cards have geometric patterns with lines and shapes that are a similar style to the artwork on the card backs and tuck box, with coloured shapes being a key feature of the design.

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This style corresponds closely to the colours and design of the card-backs.

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The number cards continue this style. There is a distinction between the traditionally red suits and the traditionally black suits, with the Spades and Clubs have a palette dominated by the colour purple, while the Hearts and Diamonds have a vibrant palette dominated by the colour pink.

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For some people, the overlap of colours might make this a deck that isn't the most playable deck - although the indices are still clear enough if you really did want to use it for playing games.

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But this deck will sparkle best in the hand of a card flourisher. Given Chris Ramsay's involvement in the creation of this deck, it's little wonder that it is a beautiful deck for cardistry!

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It sure looks beautiful on a table, and in action, and will especially appeal to the cardistry fan!

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To see these cards in action, here's the official video trailer, featuring Chris Ramsay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byAe7kn8zxw


== MEMENTO MORI - BLUE ==

This sequel, Memento Mori Blue Playing Cards features exactly the same design, but a more subdued colour palette, with cooler blues throughout.

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Like the original, the elegant tuck box has a wrap-around design with the skull shape.

The card backs return to the design on the box cover, with its ice-cold look, and the pattern on opposite corners again gives interesting possibilities for card flourishing.

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There are thin borders, and the skull image is central.

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The court cards have the same geometric patterns with lines and shapes as the original deck, matching the card backs and tuck box. In this case, however, the shapes are all different hues of blue.

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The style of the courts corresponds closely to the colours, feel and design of the card-backs. The overall impression is a sense of a figure, but without details. Thematically, this reflects the idea of being between life and death. Stylistically, this is because this deck is more about evoking a sense of colour and shape.

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The number cards match this style closely as well, while the Joker shows the Chris Ramsay logo.

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In the original deck the traditionally red and black suits were distinguished by using separate palettes emphasizing purple (spades and clubs) and pink (hearts and diamond) respectively. In this follow-up, however, the same colour palette is used for all the suits.

The result is that all the face cards have a similar tone of colour, and in many respects the colder look produced by this actually fits better with the theme of mortality that the deck embodies. It also reminds me a little of the Frostbite deck, which has a similar palette and is also geared towards cardistry.

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I noticed that the 10 of Spades has one index that seems slightly out of place, but aside from that everything about this deck looks just perfect.

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The similar colour and shapes means that this a deck isn't the most playable deck. But that's not really a weakness, because this deck will perform best in the hands of a cardist putting it through the paces of card flourishing.

Magicians may also find ways to use it in tandem with the original deck to perform unique colour changes that could really prove mind-blowing.

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You can also see this deck in action in the official video trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TisGrZlatqU


== DARKFALL ==

From vibrant colours of Memento Mori, we transition into night, with the Darkfall Playing Cards.

Like several others reviewed in this feature article, this deck was created by Jason Brumbalow and illustrated by Abraham Garcia.

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Darkfall is a dark looking deck inside and out, and the darkness begins with our all-black tuck box.

Despite its dark look, the box does hold multiple secrets that the attentive observer will pick up. First of all, there's a very detailed and tactile embossed design, with light grey image featuring the Ace of Spades inspired artwork that incorporates a raven.

The reverse side of the box has artwork that matches the card backs, with a light grey chain-link style tiled design, and two ornate diamond shaped pips. Each of these pips is the result of combining a square with two triangles, and incorporates our raven companion. We're going to see a lot of the raven in this deck, given its long-time association with night!

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This deck is black - all black. The official promo video for the deck explains why, because it introduces us to a gritty nightscape city scene, where street artists use the cover of night to turn an urban playground into their canvas.

As the ad copy says, "the Darkfall Playing Cards are a respectful nod to the street artists who charge into the darkness to imprint their brand on the city. A pulsing infusion of symbology, style and unforgiving passion, Darkfall was created for those who laugh in the face of uncertainty in order to carve their mark onto the world."

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The card backs are exactly what the tuck case has prepared us for: the same image as the back of the box, but with a bolder jet black colour against the background of which the light grey design and images stand out more clearly. The black borders of the card backs serve as an enclosure for the main design, which appear to depict a chain-link style fence - representing precisely the kinds of restrictions that street artists must use the cover of night to navigate past.

It's also a one-way back design, due to the ravens all facing the same direction.

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The Ace of Spades also repeats the design on the tuck box cover. There's lots of symbolism here - including a seeing eye, and a raven on a platform, for example - all open to interpretation.

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There's a few things that immediately strike us here, including the fact that this deck offers jet black faces as well as backs. Also noteworthy here are the small pips on the indices, which feature an unusual letter style, especially in the case of A for Ace.

All the court cards are entirely customized, and while they have a traditional look, they use white/grey style line drawings to picture our royalty. Against the inky black background, the contrast is striking.

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As for the pips and indices, they are the same colour grey for all the suits, the result being that the distinction between the traditionally red and black suits is not at all immediately obvious.

This, along with the choice to use non-conventional and unusual pip shapes (especially the diamonds) and a semi-cryptic font, make this a deck that is not ideal for playing games of cards, or for performing magic, since the cards aren't easily and quickly identified.

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But they sure do look pretty, especially the court cards with their white/grey line drawings on black. The entire deck has a very unified look both front and back and throughout.

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The matching Jokers continue the dark industrial theme, and one has a King of Clubs reveal. The gas-mask figures seen here also populate the promotional video, and suggest something about being hidden, as well as reflecting the urban context that the deck captures. The imagery and symbols also have some connection with the themes from the Revolution deck, which was created by the same producer and the same artist.

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The two additional cards provided in this USPCC produced deck are both interesting gaffs - a white Ace of Spades that could be used to perform an interesting colour change, and a gaffed 3 of Hearts with a Queen of Hearts reveal built into one of the pips.

It's a pity there's no link to a website which gives a simple routine that could take advantage of these unique cards. But perhaps that's just because this deck doesn't really know what it's trying to be. It's less than optimal for card games and for magic, since the minimalist colour scheme and unusual pips/fonts makes it hard to distinguish between the cards at a glance. I like the idea of a tribute to night-time street artists, but the problem is that the veil of darkness also makes it impossible for us to appreciate their craft.

Being impractical for games or magic, leaves Darkfall for the hands of cardists. Admittedly, the back design with singular shapes designed on either end is something seen quite often in card flourishing, and it can emphasize cuts and spins.

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Having black on both sides also means that nicks and chips will quickly show up - but that's normal for any black deck.

And everything about this deck does work together thematically, so those who are attracted to the underground street art theme, may enjoy having a deck like this in their collection.

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To get a sense of the underground and urban feel of this deck, check out the official video trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7vuBv0A0Dg


*** CONCLUSIONS ***

WHAT DO I THINK?

Gamer friendly: Some decks of custom playing cards are geared very much to collectors, and end up being consigned to collect dust on a shelf, or to remain in shrink-wrap in a drawer. That's not the case with the decks from Murphy's Magic. It's clear from the outset that these are decks of playing cards that are designed to be used, whether in the hands of a cardist or magician, or a gamer playing poker or some other card game. In most cases, these decks not only look beautiful, but are also very functional, and the degree of customization is not such that they won't be recognizable or playable by the average person.

Magician friendly: For the same reason, these decks are superb to use for magic. This is particularly the case with some of the decks, which have been created with the magician in mind, as is evident from the additional cards that are included. Perhaps the best example is the Run deck, which comes with two gaff cards, and a secret URL that has two free video downloads of tutorials teaching you two great routines you can use the gaffs for. Having said that, this is certainly by no means a magician-only deck, because the theme and look of the deck will work equally well for your weekly poker night!

Range of customization: One thing I appreciate about the decks in the Murphy's Magic range is the diverse styles, and varied degree of customization. If you want a deck with faces that look very close to a standard Bicycle deck, and just a different card back, there's a deck for you: Magician Anonymous. On the other hand, if you're looking for something where everything has been customized, including the look and orientation of the pips on the number cards, the court cards, and every other aspect, there are decks for you: Fox Targets, Run, and Revolution.

Thoughtful design: In the case of the highly customized decks in particular, it is incredible how much thought has gone into the design. This is particularly the case with the Fox Targets, Run, and Revolution decks, which are probably my personal favourites from all of the above decks for this reason. I love the fact that not only are these completely customized, but that the designers have carefully considered all aspects of the design, and that there's an incredible amount of symbols and icons and stories that have been incorporated wherever possible. This makes these decks full of meaning and significance, and I enjoy exploring and admiring this.

Printing: Most of these decks have been printed by United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), makers of the reputable Bicycle brand. USPCC does an excellent job in producing quality cards, and the printing registration is usually good. I noticed a couple of instances with the above decks that the sizes of the borders weren't entirely consistent and even, one side at times being slightly wider than the other. Admittedly, most people will never notice this! But this does happen occasionally with USPCC-produced cards, although fortunately it's not common. But in my experience this issue almost never happens with decks printed in Taiwan, such as those by Expert Playing Cards (EPCC) and Legends Playing Cards. Both the Fox Targets and Revolution decks were printed by EPCC, and the printing quality and cut of these decks in particular is outstanding; these also have super smooth edges as a result of EPCC's cleaner and neater `diamond cut'.

Handling: Both USPCC and EPCC are industry leaders in the world of playing cards, and so the cards they produce are superb quality in terms of handling. The USPCC cards have an air cushion style embossing and magic finish/coating that handles beautifully, while the EPCC cards have an embossing and coating that produces a similar result. In all cases, this means that the cards handle very smoothly, shuffle very well, and spread and fan consistently and evenly, with just the right amount of friction. They also tend to be durable, and continue to perform well over a long period of time. Magicians, cardists, and gamers will all find the handling very pleasing and second-to-none.

Professional: One thing I'm really impressed with is the polished marketing that Murphy's uses to promote these decks. Murphy's Magic has to be a front-line industry leader in this regard, producing very impressive video trailers for their in-house decks. Typically these are about 2 minutes long, and feature amazing cinematography, visuals, along with appropriate music and voice-overs. These videos are really slick, and do a great job of conveying the flavour and theme of a deck, as well as showing what the deck looks like in action.

Lectures: Having a deck of cards is just the beginning - you also need things to do with it. Almost everyone will have use for a lovely deck of playing cards to play games with. But if you do enjoy tinkering with magic or want to expand your horizons, definitely check out the At The Table lectures.

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RECOMMENDATION

So are the decks of playing cards from Murphy's Magic for you? While some of their decks will especially have appeal to cardists (e.g. Memento Mori), for most of us, these are ideal and quality decks that are perfect to use for playing card games, or if you're a magician, for doing card tricks. You can also choose the amount of customization that you prefer.

So if you're looking for cards that are high quality in terms of looks and handling, the decks from Murphy's Magic definitely fit the bill. Even Murphy's Law couldn't stop me from being a happy customer!

The decks reviewed above are all available at your favorite Murphy’s Magic retailer. Want to learn more? Murphy's Magic: www.murphysmagic.com

Here are direct links for all the decks featured in this review series:
- Fox Targets: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=59119
- Run: https://www.murphysmagic.com/Product.aspx?id=53842
- Revolution: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=58533
- Memento Mori: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=57265
- Memento Mori Blue: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=59438
- Darkfall: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=56651
- Mandalas: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=58314
- At the Table: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=54437
- Magician Anonymous: https://www.murphysmagic.com/Product.aspx?id=55788
- At The Table Experience: www.murphysmagic.com/atthetable/

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