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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.

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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*** SEMI-CUSTOMIZED DECKS ***

In this section I'll cover some decks that have less customization. Although they all have customized tuck boxes, card backs, jokers, and Ace of Spades, these three decks all have completely standard number cards.

In the case of the Mandalas deck, the colours are customized and so are the court cards; with the At The Table deck the court cards have traditional artwork but customized colours; while with the Magician Anonymous deck the courts are entirely standard as well. So as we progress three these three decks, the amount of customization will decrease, until we are left with a deck that looks fairly ordinary, aside from the card backs, Joker, and Ace of Spades.

These kinds of decks will especially be suitable for magicians or for people playing games, where too much customization will prove too much of a distraction, and where a simpler and more standard look is preferred.

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== MANDALAS ==

The deck of Mandalas Playing Cards is ideal for magicians and cardistry fans.

It begins with a very non-descript but elegant tuck box in a plain but shiny black. All black - except for the flap, which has Mandalas in a cursive script, and the back of the box, which has two mandalas in raised and glossy grey. The jet black tuck box exudes a sense of mystery, and begs to be opened.

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Mandalas have a long history in Hinduism and Buddhism, where they are used as symbols to represent the universe. But they are used more commonly outside of these eastern religions for geometric patterns that represent the universe as well. The mandala design is understood by many to capture spirituality, balance, and beauty.

Designer Damien O'Brien is a magician with a passion for magic, and for aesthetics. His name may be familiar to some of you from BBC's Killer Magic. You'll find his youtube channel here. In this unique deck of playing cards, he has brought together his interest in mandalas together with his interest in tattoo art.

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These mandala designs are what the deck is about - a sleek black look, with a straight forward design.

The card backs have the same design of twin mandalas. The position of these is excellent for cardistry, because they emphasize the trajectory of movement during cuts. The mandalas themselves consist of intricate patterns in a soft gray that isn't quite as bright as the white of the card borders.

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Speaking of the borders, these are much thinner than normal, which creates a very pleasing look, much better than the standard width borders, especially given the relatively plain card backs. The thin white contrast starkly with the black, and means that it has a much more pleasing look for spreads and fans.

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Certainly this deck still has some customization, and it is perhaps the most noticeable in the deck's signature card, the Ace of Spades. It's easily my favourite card in this deck, with an absolutely gorgeous design.

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The court cards can sometimes be the high point of a deck, but in this case the deck is seeking a somewhat subdued and darker look, and so the usual garish colour scheme for the court cards has been abandoned.

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Instead, all the court cards have the same basic colour scheme: red and black.

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But there is customization here too, even though the clothing style of the courts is completely standard within this simplified colour palette.

But the customization lies in the faces, which all feature faces from Damien's real world friends and family, many of whom are magicians, like Daniel Madison and his King of Diamonds counterpart shown here:

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Other notable figures featured in the Mandala court cards include Chris Ramsay as Jack of Hearts, Dee Christopher as King of Clubs, and Jeremy Griffith as King of Hearts. The queens are also all members of Damien's family, although the Queen of Hearts is Laura London.

Damien himself is featured as the King of Spades.

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The two Jokers pay tribute to one of the ideas that inspired this deck, tattooing.

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The likeness may elude some who are unfamiliar with body art, but what the image on the Jokers pictures is a dripping tattoo needle.

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Finally there are two gaff cards, a double backer, and a card which is blank on one side.

Aside from the court cards, most of the deck has a relatively standard look, although the red used for the traditionally red suits of Hearts and Diamonds is a deeper burgundy colour than normal, in keeping with the darker theme and tone of the deck.

In many respects this deck reminds me of the Madison Rounders Black, which has similar colours, card backs that are black also with two points of interest, and customized courts with inside references. But there are obvious differences as well, in that the Mandalas deck uses mandalas and thinner borders, and a higher degree of customization in the faces.

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This deck has been printed by USPCC, with their standard air cushion finish, which has embossing to ensure smooth handling and performance.

Here's a video trailer that shows off the Mandalas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPAG3uPhBkg


== AT THE TABLE ==

The At The Table Playing Cards are closely linked to the At The Table Live Lecture series, as is immediately evident from the tuck box.

I'll say some more about these online lectures below. This deck was produced as a tribute to the show, and was geared to be a functional deck especially suitable for performers.

Once again, Lance Miller (designer of the Fox Targets) was the designer involved.

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The wrap around design features a continuous tiling of diamond shapes. Aside from this it's a fairly ordinary tuck box without frills. Clearly this is intended to be a practical working deck, as is evident immediately from the outset.

The Ace of Spades has the classic Bicycle name and logo, but with a forest green look. The card backs repeat the tiled design featured on the tuck box.

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When you look closely one at the design of the tuck box and card backs, you'll notice that the lattice structure is actually composed of "AT" in tiny letters over and over. AT, is of course short for At the Table! Very clever.

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The deck goes out of its way to avoid any distraction, and so all the court cards appear in their traditional designs, but in a simplified colour palette that eliminates anything garish.

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Green and red are the two main colours of this deck. The traditionally black suits of Spades and Clubs are decorated with two tones of green, while the traditionall red suits of Hearts and Diamonds are decorated with two tones of red. It's very practical, and also looks elegant and satisfying.

The rest of the deck, including the number cards, is standard, although the colour of the red pips and indices is a deeper shade of red than normal, and is carried over from the colour used for the artwork on the court cards.

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The two matching Jokers are relatively plain, with the At The Table logo dominating an otherwise stark look.

The end result overall is a very practical and usable deck, ideal for a working magician or for a gamer who doesn't want any fuss, and yet wants a deck that is very pleasing on the eye, and has elements of style that you won't find in a standard Bicycle deck.

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The two additional cards (standard in a USPCC deck) are promotional cards for At The Table, and include information about a special offer, and advertising for the weekly At The Table show.

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The deck was produced by USPCC, and the quality is exactly what you'd expect from the highly respected producer of the quality Bicycle brand of decks.

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The At The Table show that this deck honours is a series of video lectures/tutorials from Murphy's Magic, which are delivered via a monthly subscription service. Each month two new videos are produced, which can be watched via streaming video, or obtained via instant download. The monthly subscription fee of $9.95 entitles subscribers to access these new lectures every month. In addition, all the past lectures are available for individual purchase from the At The Table webpage, and there are ways to get these on DVD as well if preferred.

The lecture series has been running since 2014, and by my count there are more than 100 lectures currently available, and many big names and top creators in magic have been part of the program. Typically each magician will go through the material of half a dozen effects or more, explaining and discussing various nuances to improve performance.

To learn more, see the separate review I posted of the At The Table show that features Rubik's Cube magician Steven Brundage. An overview of the contents of this lecture can be found on Murphy's website here, while my separate review on this episode can be found here.

Here's the official video trailer from Murphy's Magic for the Steven Brundage lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Z-4Gq_vamc

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== MAGICIAN ANONYMOUS ==

The Magician Anonymous Playing Cards is a classic deck that will especially be appreciated by magicians, because it is designed to be a tribute to the theatrical and mysterious side of magic.

Magic is much more than the mechanics of a trick - so much is about presentation and performance, and this deck honours that aspect of magic.

The front has a clever MA monogram (with an inverted A) as the main focus, along with the Magician Anonymous name.

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The tuck box features a very understated matt black, which makes the silver foil lettering used on the sides and back of the box look very elegant, and evokes a classy feel.

Like the card backs that we'll see shortly, the back of the tuck box features only the outlines of a masked face. This masked figure is known as the Guy Fawkes mask, and depicts the most well known figure that contributed to the Gunpowder Plot which attempted to blow up London's House of Lords in 1602. This stylized mask was popularized in the V for Vendetta graphic novel (1982) and the subsquent film (2005). In this deck, it captures the idea of anonymity and theatrics, and sets the stage for intrigue and mystery.

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This deck is all about anonymity and shadows. We don't even really know who Magician Anonymous is ... because they are anonymous! In fact the whole concept is highly reminiscent of the Masked Magician idea.

Who is Magician Anonymous? Little is known, except that Magician Anonymous is also the creator of an effect called "Tremble", which you can see here, and also of an effect called "An Unexpected Triumph", a remarkable Triumph routine you can see here. But of course even in those videos, our magician is masked and gloved!

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The back of the cards continue the look of intrigue, setting the stage for a magician to do his tricks.

Our two masked figures from the tuck box back return on the card backs, but the shadows are deeper and darker, and only a few highlights are visible in a white-grey, conveying a theatrical mask.

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The card backs also have extra thick white borders, and a charcoal black colour that is softer in tone from the black used on the card faces, and it matches the matt black of the tuck box.

The overall look sets a tone of minimalism, mystery, and intrigue. This all suits well the Anonymous Magician, whose presence is felt only by means of the outlines of his mask.

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Besides the monogrammed Ace of Spades, the rest of the deck is entirely standard.

In other words, there's the usual colours and artwork you'd expect to see in a Bicycle deck, with pips in the usual arrangement, shapes, and colours; also the court cards are standard.

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But there is one other exception beside the Ace of Spades: the Jokers.

These continue the shadow style theme, with well-dressed tie-clad figures in suits.

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They are face-less of course, to continue the anonymous theme, which this deck is all about.

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In the midst of all this anonymity, the signature Ace of Spades hasn't lost any class. It features an oversized black pip, with the Magician Anonymous monogram in the middle, and "anonymous" in small lettering below.

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This deck was produced by USPCC in their standard stock with an air-cushion finish. There are also two simple gaffs included for use by magicians: a double backer, and a blank card.

Collectors will likely look for a higher degree of customization that what is found here, and consider this a too straight-forward deck. But that's exactly why it will be most appreciated in the hands of a magician. One of its strengths is that it retains a classic and traditional look to make it instantly familiar for the eyes of spectators, but with just enough customization to add style and elegance, and a sense of mystery and intrigue. It looks discrete and professional, retaining enough of the familiar to be acceptable to a magician's audience, while still adding small touches of personality and sophistication, to add to the mystery without making spectators start to think it is a trick deck rather than a standard one.

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Here's the official video trailer for the deck from Magician Anonymous: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V75c6m6IU74


*** 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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RECOMENDATION

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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EndersGame
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Since I wrote this article, it has been pointed out to me that unlike the rest of the decks reviewed as part of this series, the Magician Anonymous Playing Cards was technically not produced by Murphy's Magic, although they do sell it and promote it. I've decided to leave it in, since obviously it is still a deck that is available from Murphy's, even if their team didn't personally produce it.

And for reference, here are all three articles in this review series:

Part 1 - Fully-customized decks from Murphy's Magic
Part 2 - Ultra-customized decks from Murphy's Magic
Part 3 - Semi-customized decks from Murphy's Magic
WillRoya
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Good reviews, thank you.
EndersGame
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Quote:
On Aug 19, 2017, WillRoya wrote:
Good reviews, thank you.


Thanks for the feedback!

If you're looking for a place to pick any of these up, one online retailer I can recommend is Rare Playing Cards.
WillRoya
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Thanks, I have all these cards, I run the website https://playingcarddecks.com/ . Really love your in depth reviews. Will look forward to your review on the new "Truth & Lies" series.
EndersGame
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On Aug 24, 2017, WillRoya wrote:
Really love your in depth reviews. Will look forward to your review on the new "Truth and Lies" series.


Thanks for the feedback!

Hopefully I'll get a chance to check out the "Truth and Lies" series some time in the not-too-distant future.
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