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Pictorial Review: Decks that take you to Wonderland and MagicLand

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A sense of childlike wonder

Children have a real sense of wonder.  There are few things more rewarding than doing something that fills a child with a sense of compelete amazement and awe.  It's this sense of wonder and amazement that many of us wish we could recapture as adults. And the good news is that this childlike wonder isn't as elusive as you might think.  There are ways in which we can rekindle those imaginative moments we've all experienced in our childhood.

Tool #1: The world of story

One tool that can help us regain that sense of wonder is literature.  A good story, and especially one with imaginative detail that tells a tale of the fantastic, can surprise us by taking us on a journey to a wonderful world that we can experience vicariously through the pages of the book we are reading. 

I've always loved stories of the fantastic, which bring one to fantastic lands populated with fantastic people and creatures, accompanied with a touch of the surreal.  These are exactly the elements that make up classic stories like Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, and of course the iconic Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  These are among my favourite children's stories, and they have a timeless quality about them that can cross the boundaries of age or culture, and have an appeal for readers of all times and places.  Every time I read them I feel a sense of the wonder I experienced as a child.

Tool #2: The world of magic

Another tool that can help us regain that sense of wonder is magic.  A well-performed magic trick presents us with an experience that is inexplicable and impossible.  When done well, there is only one way to explain what we have seen, and that is: magic.  Of course we know that a rational and logical explanation must exist, involving of sleight of hand and the trickery of the magician.  But for a few moments we allow ourselves to believe that magic is real, and that something wonderful has actually happened.

When it comes to magic, tricks with playing cards are arguably the easiest and most common way for magicians to evoke this sense of amazement and wonder. I've always enjoyed dabbling with card magic ever since I was a child, and still enjoy it today.  Whether I'm watching a slick performance on TV, or doing a simple routine myself for a child, playing cards can often be an important and effective tool in creating that childlike wonder all over again.

Magic man Will Roya's playing cards

In today's article, I'd like to visit the lands of wonder and magic with the help of two decks of playing cards, both of which have been created with the involvement of Will Roya of   Will knows a thing or two about creating a sense of wonder himself, because he's a professional magician from Las Vegas.

But in addition to his own magic career, which includes the creation of a number of magic products over the years, he also has a passion for creating custom playing cards.  He helps others get their projects crowdfunded, and offers services in consulting and fulfilment, with a real love and passion for creating decks of his own or helping other creators and artists bring their decks to fruition. Besides all that, he recently launched his PlayingCardDecks retail website in April 2017, which boasts a huge selection of over 1,000 different decks and related items (some of which are seen with a junior staffer in the photo below). 

Playing cards like these can certainly help us with our sense of wonder, and in this feature article I'll be covering two fine decks that Will has been instrumental in bringing to market.  With the first of these decks we'll join Alice down the rabbit-hole to Wonderland, and with the second of these decks we'll take a visit to the world of magic, with a deck that is geared especially for use by magicians.


Alice in Wonderland Playing Cards

This isn't the first time that the works of Lewis Carroll have become source material for a deck of custom playing cards. But with her brand new creation, Israeli graphic designer and illustrator Sasha Dounaevski certainly offers us something fresh, creative, and intriguing. 

Her Alice in Wonderland Playing Cards is currently being funded on Kickstarter, and I was fortunate enough to check out a prototype copy of this deck firsthand.

Sasha has been working on this deck for over two years, but Lewis Carroll's surreal story has been something that captured her imagination already in her childhood.  She has always wanted to draw illustrations for it, already when a student taking art classes.  Another thing that she found appealing about the Alice in Wonderland theme is that it is directly related to playing cards, making it a natural fit for a custom deck.

The tuck box cover shows the name of the deck, along with the Wonderland coat of arms, being held up by the Gryphon and The Mock Turtle.  The banner at the bottom reads "We're all mad here", while the side of the tuck box says "I like what I get".  The simple blue and white colour scheme is a main feature of the deck, and the minimalist use of colours ensures that all the focus is on the surreal artwork itself.

The tuck box flap will feature interior artwork picturing Alice falling into the rabbit hole.  This is a nice touch, because it's what we see first when we open the deck and begin our discovery of the deck's contents.  Besides a custom seal that reads "Are you to get in at all", the outside of the tuck box has this amusing and appropriate line: "Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.""

The card backs represent the garden that Alice wanted to get into, and feature a distinctive and symmetrical pattern with lots of shape, and yet also a great deal of detail inspired by the story.

As with most custom decks, the court cards are the real highlight of the deck. Each suit depicts a different set of characters, with the Jack, Queen and King having illustrations as follows:
Spades - The Dodo, The Caterpillar, The Cheshire Cat
Clubs - The Fish Footman, The Cook, The Duchess
Diamonds - The Mad Hare, The Dormouse, The Hatter
Hearts - The White Rabbit, The Queen of Hearts, The King of Hearts

While the black suited court cards have a blue background, the red suited court cards have more of a beige background, which helps distinguish the suits more clearly.

The style of the court cards fits nicely with the detail and minimalist colours of the card backs, seen here in a fan.

Sasha's style focuses on a linear drawing with fine lines.  This is a deliberately minimalist choice that reflects something of the absurdity and logic of the story, which is rich in imagination, and yet leaves plenty of scope for the reader to imagine details of your own. 

When she first began working on this deck, Sasha initially tried water-colours, but the childish, playful feel and minimalist style that she opted for in the end has proved to be a sensible choice that suits the story well.

The number cards are also customized with uniquely shaped pips in a non-standard arrangement, and also the addition of a symbol for each different suit, each of these also derived from the story, e.g. the pocket watch, the pepper pot.

The Aces also tell part of the story of Alice's adventures, with the Ace of Spades shown earlier picturing Alice arguing with Pigeon. 

Other Aces show Alice with the child that turned into a pig (Clubs), Alice at the mad tea-party (Diamonds), and Alice with a mallet-flamingo (Hearts).  It's indeed appropriate that Alice gets featured on multiple cards, since she is the recurring and central figure in this tale.

The Jokers feature special eats and drinks from the story: the "Drink Me" magical mixture and the "Eat Me" cake, which made Alice small and big respectively.

The deck will be printed by United States Playing Card Company, on their quality Bee Stock and with their standard air cushion style finish, which means that it will handle smoothly and well.

Since USPCC decks typically include two extra cards for a total of 56, the two bonus cards will be Alice in the White Rabbit's house, and the final scene in the Court - appropriately featuring lots of playing cards.

I appreciate how the Alice in Wonderland theme returns throughout all the aspects of this deck, including small details like words on the side of the tuck box, icons for each suit, as well as the obvious things like the characters from the Lewis Carroll story. is responsible for the fulfilment of this Kickstarter project, and they guarantee safe delivery, complete with emailed tracking information.


Runic Royalty Playing Cards

The Runic Royalty Playing Cards was created by Keith Glover with the help of Kickstarter, and has recently entered the wider market for purchase, although only a limited number of copies available.

It's a Bicycle branded deck, as is evident from the tuck box, which also features artwork from the Queen of Hearts in the deck.

The card backs have interwoven circular shapes as the main part of the design, filled with mysterious symbols and characters, to emphasize a sense of magic and mystery.

The oversized Ace of Spades adds to this sense of mystery, also being filled with a variety of symbols and icons.

Besides more than 17 years of professional graphic design experience, designer Keith Glover also loves the art of magic.  He designed this deck with the specific goal of creating something that magicians would want to use for close-up card magic. 

For this reason Keith opted for a relatively straight-forward and conservative style, retaining classic features of playing cards like the One-eyed Jacks and the Suicide King.  The use of stylish borders helps evoke a sense of sophistication and prevents too much negative space, but the overall look is one that is still familiar.

While the court cards do receive a fresh and original treatment in many respects, they are also very recognizable and playable, ensuring that they remain suitable for a deck geared to be used by magicians or card players.  At the same time the style that they capture reflects something that is consistent with the magical runes and marks found throughout the deck. Indeed, they look like characters that could have stepped right out of a fantasy novel filled with intrigue and mystery!

The detail in the artwork is remarkable.  Actually this deck was first created to have court cards with a one way design, which would showcase the details even more.  But obviously the more conventional two-way courts is a more popular and sensible choice for practical reasons.

It's especially worth noting how the artwork has details that include various magical symbols (none of which have any actual meaning in the real world, by the way), again strengthening the magical feel that this deck is intended to evoke.

To add to the feel of ancient magic, the cards themselves look like they were printed on background artwork that has the style of a faded ancient parchment.

The indices also have a rune-like feel to them, while the elongated pips also reflect a style consistent with what you might expect of ancient runes, while still maintaining the primary look of a traditional deck.

Two extra cards are included, one which lists the names of the Kickstarter supporters that helped make this project become a reality, and the other a gaff card (split King of Hearts / Queen of Clubs) that will a welcome ally in the hands of magicians looking to create astonishment by performing the impossible. 

The Jokers are colourful jesters, depicted in an energetic and yet mysterious style consistent with the rest of the deck.

This deck was printed by United States Playing Card Company, and has their standard air cushion finish for good and smooth handling. It was made in a limited edition of only 1000 copies, so not only is it suitable for magicians, but its limited numbers also make it attractive for collectors.


What do I think?

Wonderland: Sasha Dounaevski's Alice in Wonderland deck make an excellent contribution to the body of material that has been inspired by Lewis Carroll's writings.  Given the important role that playing cards have in Lewis Carroll's original tale, a custom deck like this is a natural fit for the Alice in Wonderland theme.  Sasha has done a terrific job in capturing the whimsical feel of Lewis Carroll's story in a deck of cards that is a delightful and beautiful homage to this classic work of literature.  As such, this deck of cards can help reignite our imagination and the wonder we might feel when journeying with Alice to Wonderland.  The project is just over 85% funded with around a dozen days remaining, and it would be a shame if it didn't quite make the target.  So I'm certainly hoping that with support from a few more backers it will see the light of day in the quality edition it deserves.

Magicland: The world of card magic is all about evoking a sense of wonder, and the card magician will want to choose carefully the tools he'll use to perform his tricks, in order to maximize the sense of astonishment he wants to create.  To do this well, having a deck that is overly customized is generally not considered a wise choice; not only could it cause suspicion and make spectators think it is a "trick deck", too much customization can get in the way of the magic by being a distraction, or by preventing the cards from being easily recognized and distinguished.  Keith Glover's Runic Royalty deck gets the balance right, by sticking close to the formula used in a traditional deck of cards, especially the style and colours of the pips, and yet using artwork for the court cards that looks imaginative and original.  What's more, the artwork actually enhances a sense of magic, with characters that look very much like they are associated with a world of magic, and by having runes and symbols that strengthen a sense of mystery.  The inclusion of a gaff card gives magicians an instant bonus tool to work with.  For those who specialize in creating astonishment with cards, this is a great deck to use.

Quality: Both of these decks are printed by United States Playing Card Company, makers of the well-known Bicycle brand, with their standard air cushion finish.  From a practical point of view, USPCC produced cards like these always handle well, and will last longer than a regular deck of cheap playing cards.  Even though Will Roya has an enormous range of decks in stock, I gather that he especially has a fondness for limited edition custom decks printed by USPCC, as these are, and I'm sure that their quality is one contributing factor in this.

PlayingCardDecks: I don't have much experience with aside from receiving an order of these two decks.  They arrived in a mail package that was well-packed to protect the decks.  I'm certainly impressed by the size of this new retailer's selection.  They even have a price matching guarantee which promises to beat a better price (from a major competitor with free shipping) by 10%. Certainly having more online retailers that specialize in a wide range of quality decks of playing cards can only be welcome for collectors and consumers, and it also says something positive about today's flourishing market and growing demand for custom decks.


Having a sense of wonder and astonishment isn't just important for children, but for us all.  Being able to rekindle those magical moments of amazement from childhood helps keep our spirits alive, and helps us face life with a smile on our face.

Playing cards can certainly help us with our sense of wonder, and these two decks of lovely playing cards are certainly one way to help us direct us to something enchanting, whether it be through the whimsical fantasy world of the classic Alice in Wonderland story, or through some fun card magic.  If you enjoy moments of wonder as I do, then perhaps one of these decks might be right for you as well.

Direct links for the decks featured in this review:
- Alice in Wonderland Playing Cards (Kickstarter) - Cost: $13
- Runic Royalty Playing Cards - Cost: $20

Want to learn more? 
- online store
- PlayingCardDecks on Facebook
- Will Roya on Facebook

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Re: Pictorial Review: Decks that take you to Wonderland and MagicLand
« Reply #1 on: October 08, 2017, 01:11:45 AM »


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Good news - the project for Alice in Wonderland Playing Cards is now fully funded!  There is just over a week to go with the Kickstarter, so there's still time to join the list of backers.  But this means that the deck will be printed, because it has crossed the line for the support level required. 

There's one more interesting thing about this deck that I should mention in addition to what I covered in my review.  The most recent update revealed that although all the court cards feature a mirror design, there is one small difference on each side.  I love it when designers include tiny puzzles like this!

Can you find what the difference is for each court card?  You can see them all in detail by checking out a PDF file available from the deck's designer here.

BoardGameGeek reviewer

====>Click here to see all my pictorial reviews of decks of playing cards <====
====>Click here to see all my pictorial reviews of magic tricks & videos <====
====>Click here to see all my pictorial reviews of card & board games <====

Want me to write a review of your playing cards?  Please contact me via Private Message.