*** MORE MARVELLOUS DECKS FROM MURPHY'S MAGIC ***
Murphy's Magic was formed by Mark Murphy in 1998, and it is strictly a wholesale magic dealer. That means: individuals can't purchase directly from Murphy's Magic, because they only sell in bulk quantities to authorized dealers. So if you see something on their site that you like, you can't purchase individual items directly from them, but need to ask your local magic dealer. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, because Murphy's Magic produces and sells an enormous range of magic products which they sell to magic dealers around the world, and they have a huge network of contacts in the retail industry. Their website is a terrific resource with tons of information about their products, which include all things magical: magic kits, magic tricks, card tricks, DVDs, books, gags & jokes, puzzles, juggling, playing cards, accessories, and more.
Murphy's Playing Cards
But what really interests me is the fact that Murphy's Magic also produces their own playing cards. Under the leadership of the director of New Product Development, Jason Brumbalow, multiple decks of playing cards have been developed for Murphy's Magic. In this review series I'll be covering some of their specialty playing cards, including the Wonder deck, Tangram deck, and Papilio Ulysses deck, which is their newest release. But they also sell a wide range of playing cards from other publishers, and I'll also be reviewing one of the other decks they stock, namely the Blue Steel deck from Bocopo. 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.
*** DESIGNS BY KIRAN KURUVITHADAM ***
Tangram Playing Cards
Tangram Playing Cards was a project created by KKD Playing Cards. The acronym KKD refers to designer Kiran Kuruvithadam, who lives in Switzerland. It was produced by Murphy's Magic, and is a relatively new release that has only recently hit the market.
When I first saw this deck, the first thing I thought was: Why didn't someone think of this earlier? Perhaps someone did, but this is the first deck I've personally seen which uses tangrams as a theme throughout the deck.
Most people will already be familiar with the classic tangram, which is an ancient Chinese puzzle in which seven flat shapes (tans) are rearranged in to make different pictures, using all the pieces and without any overlapping. Here are some examples of tangram puzzles:
Tangrams have also been called "The Seven Stones of Wisdom" (as mentioned on the side of the tuck box), because it was said that mastering the seven pieces of this geometrical puzzle was key to the acquisition of wisdom. Many cardistry decks have explored geometric shapes (the famous Virtuoso being a well-known example), so a deck that works with geometric shapes inspired by tangrams is a very natural and obvious fit for cardistry. We've also seen puzzles and games brought to cards before - for example the Knights deck by Daniel Madison and Chris Ramsay has a chess theme, and this deck was a partial inspiration behind the Tangram deck - but applying the tangram puzzle to a deck of playing cards is both clever and new.
Called the "Sea Edition", this deck of playing cards employs the greens and blues of ocean colours throughout. The box cover features the basic tangram design where all the seven pieces have been placed into a square, above an aquatic horizon. As an extra thematic touch, the area surrounding the square is not plain white, but is a tiled arrangement of tiny tangram pieces in white and grey shades.
The card back continues the aquatic theme, with the rectangular shaped main panel representing a green-blue pool made up of geometric tangram shapes, with two fish being the prominent points of interest. Each fish (a tangram puzzle of its own!) has a trail of aqua water drops behind it, implying movement, and this also can accentuate swirls and patterns when doing flourishing manoeuvres.
As you'd expect, the court cards are completely customized, with the characters being composed entirely from the seven tangram shapes, with a mirror image of each as part of a two-way design.
Pips have been customized and created in a similar fashion from tangram pieces, to create a thoroughly custom and geometric look for the entire deck. They have been deliberately over-sized to ensure they are still recognizable.
This is especially evident with the signature Ace of Spades, which has been created entirely from the seven standard tangram pieces.
The deck includes two Jokers which feature tangram shapes formed into a sail-boat.
Cardists will immediately be drawn to this geometric design, but the good thing is that most non-cardists will immediately recognize the tangram shapes as well. This ensures that this is a very accessible deck that will speak to a variety of people, making it easier for cardists to showcase this deck even to those unfamiliar with strongly geometric designs.
Two extra cards come with the deck, one containing an actual tangram puzzle that you can cut into seven pieces. The other card has pictures of more than 20 tangram challenges to try, including sea-creatures like a turtle, crab, and angel fish, and land animals like a mouse, rabbit, monkey, and rooster.
This deck was printed by industry giant USPCC, so the cards handle smoothly as you'd expect, and should prove durable.
Papilio Playing Cards (1st & 2nd edition)
Papilio is the Latin word for butterfly, and KKD's Swiss designer Kiran Kuruvithadam came up with the first version of this deck in 2016, the original version of which was funded on Kickstarter.
Kiran's goal was to create an entirely custom deck inspired by the elegance of the butterfly, with custom illustrated court cards and custom pips in keeping with this theme. Fully customized Aces highlight the elegance of the butterfly theme, with pip designs inspired by butterfly wings.
The beautiful mirrored back design has a very recognizable and strong overall pattern, which is the hallmark of a well-designed card back. Yet close observation also rewards the viewer with all kinds of wonderful details, with an abundance of butterfly wings throughout. It's both elegant and beautiful, and there is a strong circular shape in the card center emerges during twirls.
Despite the customization, the overall design was based on a standard deck, because Kiran's intention from the outset was to come up with a design that was not only fresh, but also familiar. A deliberate attempt was made to ensure that the cards would be easily recognizable, and this is one of the strengths and appeal of this beautiful and elegant deck.
I especially like the look of the court cards, which use metallic ink and a limited colour palette to create a very elegant look, that is both fresh and familiar. Creating court cards that look somewhat standard and still customized is difficult to pull off well, but it's definitely worked here.
To ensure a relatively standard look, the number cards are almost completely traditional, but as a nod to the deck's butterfly theme, each has one customized pip which takes up the butterfly theme.
To ensure that the deck would be suitable for playing card games and for use in card magic, it also follows the classic formula of a 52 card deck with two matching jokers. The Jokers both feature a butterfly larva in a the form of a J.
Two gaff cards are also included, to offer extra appeal and potential for this deck in the hand of magicians. Kiran has a background in magic, so magicians will be glad to know that because this deck was designed by a magician, careful thought has gone into ensure that it can function well in a performance, and offer clarity and good handling.
The second edition was produced by DiFatti magic in a print-run of 2500, and only made some minor changes (e.g. thinner white borders, redesigned tuck box, addition of metallic inks).
See an official video trailer for version 2 of the deck here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=969Wcg0ga4U.
Papilio Ulysses Playing Cards
This third edition of the Papilio deck, Papilio Ulysses Playing Cards, has just been produced by Murphy's Magic. It was printed by United States Playing Card Company with a print-run of 3000, and this new edition of the deck now features aquatic/mint green as a central colour, which is already obvious from the new look of the tuck box.
In real life one might expect to spy the Papilio Ulysses in outdoor greenery, because that's where you'll find the creature that inspired this deck, the Papilio ulysses being a large blue swallowtail butterfly found in countries like Australia and Indonesia.
The side of the tuck box offers an inspirational phrase related to the theme: Alis volat propriis, which is Latin for "Fly with your own wings".
The main change with this version is that the black of the card-backs has been replaced by an aquatic/mint green. This has been printed with beautiful metallic ink which reflects in the light, and catches the eye much like the brilliance of the attractive butterfly wings that inspired it.
The pips on all the Aces pick up the butterfly theme, with intricate shapes that capture the delicacy of wings.
Touches of the aquatic/mint green colour have also been added to the court cards in places, to ensure a consistent look throughout the deck.
With touches of metallic gold combined with flashes of aquatic/mint green, the court cards look absolutely gorgeous!
Just as with the previous versions of the deck, the Papilio Playing Cards have been deliberately designed to look recognizable and functional.
However there are small elements that add sophistication and style. Like the earlier editions, the number cards are basically standard, with the exception of a single customized pip, with a gorgeous and intricate butterfly-wing style design.
Besides two Jokers (each of which also has a dash of aquatic/mint green), two gaff cards are included: a double backer, and a duplicate 7 of Hearts. There's a nice 7 of Hearts reveal on the tuck flap which gives added possibilities for magic routines with this extra card. Overall this makes this version a more `magician friendly' deck than the previous versions, and reflects the designers own interest in magic. The pips of the Aces have also been enlarged, making them even more suitable for ace-production routines.
To ensure a good handling experience, printing of all versions of the Papilio were by the United States Playing Card Company, makers of the famous Bicycle brand.
To see more, check out the official video trailer for Papilio Ulysses: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6xw2w3k_Bg.
*** CONCLUSIONS ***
What do I think?
Usable: Many custom playing cards that are published are especially geared towards collectors, and end up remaining in shrink-wrap or collecting dust. That's not what you'll find happening with these decks from Murphy's Magic, because it's obvious that these are decks of playing cards that are designed to be used. Whether in the hands of a cardist, magician, or card gamer, these decks are definitely created with the idea of people using them and playing with them. Not only do they look beautiful, but they are also very functional. Even though they all have some degree of customization, it is not to the point that the cards are rendered unplayable or unrecognizable to the average person.
Magician-friendly: Some of these decks are especially ideal for use by magicians. That's evident by the fact that additional cards for use as gaffs have been included with the Papilio Ulysses deck, for example, which also has a card reveal on the tuck box. The pips on this deck in particular have a hint of customization with a single pip featuring wing-style artwork, which adds enough to make the deck look sophisticated, yet without taking over the whole artwork for a totally customized and very unfamiliar look. The Blue Steel deck is also a very practical working class style deck that is straight-forward and simple, and yet adds a small element of class beyond a standard Bicycle deck.
Cardistry-friendly: Some of these decks are especially ideal for use by card flourishers. The bright colours and inspiring circular design of the Wonder deck will immediately grab the attention of cardists, who will see its potential for all kinds of flourishes, with the possibility it offers to create hynoptic and mind-bending moves. The Tangram deck not only has card backs optimized for twirls and spins, but has the added advantage that the card faces have been designed purely with geometric shapes, a style that lends itself particularly well for cardistry. While traditional pips and colours could distract from the movement of the card faces, the design of the Tangram cards actually promotes and accentuates and flourishes due to the creative design.
Wide range: I have previously reviewed more than half a dozen different decks produced by Murphy's Magic (link), and one thing I also appreciate about them is the wide range of diverse styles they offer. Some of their playing cards offer a high degree of customization while remaining fully playable and usable for card magic, while others are geared completely to cardistry, and yet others again are more traditional and conservative in style. If there's a style you're looking for or that suits your needs, they're almost certain to have something that will work for you, given the wide selection of decks they've created and that they offer.
Card quality: The decks I've seen from Murphy's Magic have all been of good quality. While their tuck cases can be quite spectacular (e.g. Run deck, Revolution deck), the decks featured in this article are more standard. The cards themselves are all printed by United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), who have earned a solid reputation as an industry leader through producing cards under their Bicycle brand. Their cards are consistently of solid quality, and feature excellent handling, due to their air cushion style embossing and magic finish/coating. As a result they handle smoothly, shuffle well, and work well for spreads and fans.
Affordable: With a recommended retail price of around US$10, these decks are typically cheaper than the usual deck of custom playing cards being produced these days. Most custom decks that are produced with the help of crowd-funding tend to cost $12-15 at a minimum, sometimes even much more. These decks from Murphy's Magic are not only practical, but they're also in a reasonable price range that makes them a more attractive for people looking for a customized deck that handles well and yet won't break the bank like some collectable playing cards will.
So are the decks of playing cards from Murphy's Magic for you? If you're looking for practical playing cards that you can actually use for playing card games, performing card magic, or for card flourishing, you'll almost certainly find something that fits the bill, especially given their wide selection.
With good looks and good handling, these decks continue Murphy's solid contribution to the custom playing card market, and I can continue to recommend them very positively.
The decks reviewed above are all available at your favourite Murphy’s Magic retailer. Want to learn more? Murphy's Magic: http://www.murphysmagic.com
Here are direct links for all the decks featured in this review:
- Tangram: http://www.murphysmagic.com/Product.aspx?id=60809
- Papilio Ulysses: https://www.murphysmagic.com/Product.aspx?id=60808
- Wonder: https://www.murphysmagic.com/Product.aspx?id=60594
- Blue Steel: https://www.murphysmagic.com/product.aspx?id=57513