This review is part of a three part series of pictorial reviews about the Virtuoso deck of playing cards:Virtuoso - 1. Introducing the group, their deck, and their art-formVirtuoso - 2. The world's first ever deck created just for cardistryVirtuoso - 3. The evolution of the world's best cardistry deckTHE VIRTUOSO SPRING/SUMMER 2016 DECK (SS16)
In an earlier review, I introduced the art of cardistry Virtuoso, also known as The Virts, a group of expert cardists from Singapore that was formed in 2009. With their videos, they inspired many to take up cardistry, which is the art of card flourishing. What began as a hobby, eventually turned into a business, as The Virts created the Virtuoso deck, a deck of playing cards designed specifically for cardistry. With its eye-catching design and visual aesthetics that were optimized for cardistry, it proved to be a big success.
The Virtuoso Spring/Summer 2016 deck, commonly referred to as the Virtuoso SS16, is the company's current deck of playing cards. In this review I'll show you what it looks like, and tell you what's so good about it.
So what's so special with this history-making deck? Well it's the first in the world designed especially for the purpose of cardistry. That means that the Virtuoso company has given full attention to two main things in particular: aesthetic beauty, and handling/performance for cardistry. Check out this video clip, which shows some highlights of the Virtuoso SS16 at its best, courtesy of The Virts, and judge for yourself:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0KSaqiv5C0
But this deck has a whole lot more benefits besides those two, so let's just run through some of the things that make it so appealing and attractive, and that are unique about the Virtuoso deck. 1. CARDISTRY-OPTIMIZED VISUAL AESTHETICS
Since this is the first deck designed specifically for cardistry, it comes as no surprise that the deck has been intentionally designed to look visually stunning when flourishing cards in various patterns. In other words, it makes any card flourish look instantly better, simply because it adds an immediate visual appeal due to the deck's design. Every shape and line was derived from the geometric movements of cardistry, improving the aesthetic beauty of fans, cuts, twirls, displays, and cascades. To use the company lingo: it features "Adaptive Aesthetics", which is a fancy way of saying that it has a functional back design that "adapts" to visually accentuate every card flourish. Traditional decks aren't designed with card flourishing in mind, and have back designs that don't at all lend themselves to cardistry moves; those with intricate designs become a blur, those with small graphics become invisible, those with repeating patterns become become a confusing mess.
The Virtuoso team began by breaking down card flourishes to their core movements and forms, and used what they learned to create a design that amplified those elements. As a result, the Adaptive Aesthetics of the Virtuoso deck is billed as a "versatile design architecture that gives appearance of swirling shapes, changing colors, and connecting patterns that makes everything you do look better than ever.
" The latest version has improved this further, as the ad copy says: "The new edge-to-edge back design not only magnifies each shape for maximum visibility; it liberates the cards to seamlessly merge with one another to establish new forms. The deeper lines further amplify every rotation, and accompanied with dashes of cadmium yellow, artfully wrap over to the faces to paint streaks of color when spread.
" A three colour palette is used to maximize the visual impact.
All that sounds impressive, but is it true? Well take a look at the pictures and videos, and judge for yourself. The reality is that the deck does look stunning, and certainly the graphic designs and colours of the cards have a lot to do with that. When fanned one way, the cards create a sweeping arc in one colour. You only need to fan the cards the other way, and the deck changes colour, and the triangles and intersecting colours create an instantly different look. The large shapes and long lines in different directions ensure that even the effect of small flourishes is amplified. Cascading cards and springs are particularly stunning, creating a blur of colour and streaking lines. When twirling cards, the rotations of spinning cards create a stroboscope effect, an effect that is heightened with the center circle in the design.
Before I held the deck in my hands, I knew in theory that it would improve the appearance of basic maneuvers, but I wasn't prepared for just how much it improves the look. Both I and a cardistry friend of mine who is quite serious about cardistry were just blown away by how stunning it looks when you're moving the cards. It's one thing to see photos of the cards being fanned or spread, but that really doesn't do justice to seeing the cards being spread on a table, or fanned in your hands. The motion just enhances the fluidity of the colours, and brings the deck to life. That's why you really need to watch some videos of this deck in action, to see what it can do. And even though I'd seen some of these clips beforehand, it turned out way better in real life than I was ever expecting. I'll say it already now: If you're into cardistry in any way at all, you need this deck.2. OTHER VISUAL DETAILS
But the desire to create a pleasing aesthetic for cardistry went beyond making a deck look beautiful in the middle of card flourishes. It had to look good even when it wasn't being used for card flourishes too, and had to be a beautiful stand-alone item starting with the tuck-box. So a lot of thinking went into other aspects of the design you see here. While the SS16 edition is the fourth model of the Virtuoso deck, already with the launch edition of 2013 much attention went to other small visual details like the following, which are still present in the most recent version:
- The tuck box had a wrap around design inspired by the cards themselves, and placing multiple tuck cases together creates a larger display.
- The Ace was created by tracing out the intersecting lines of the back design, the resulting Ace of Spades being beautifully geometric in shape as a result.
- The faces were illustrated by Morby Lin, one of Singapore's top illustrators, using many straight lines to stay congruent with the back design.
- The suits were given its own theme, providing a modern take on the classic French designs.
- The indices were condensed for more visual fanning.
- The court-cards were depicted in a minimalist fashion and without borders to enhance a continous visual effect during flourishes, or with thinner borders than normal to improve the look of fans.
- The pips on the card face are arranged in geometric rather than standard patterns in order to enhance the look with connecting patterns during cardistry
Wow - talk about attention to detail!3. ONGOING REFINEMENT
While the core concept of the Virtuoso deck remains the same, the company remains committed to improving its product. As a result, each time a new version was produced (and the SS16 is the fourth one), small refinements have been added. The most obvious changes are to the colour scheme, but there are other less obvious changes that nonetheless improve the overall look.
In 2015, the SS15 deck added a "Long Edge" color configuration, with the aim of taking the "Adaptive Aesthetics" to the next level.
In 2016, the SS16 deck added "deeper strobe lines for amplified rotations, and a back design that wraps around to the faces to create streaks of colour when spread". Removing the borders and creating an edge-to-edge design is certainly a noticeable improvement - I love that this means there are no distractions during fans and other maneuvers, and all the focus is on the colours. So by making small changes from year to year, the company keeps trying to make an already good deck even better. From what I've seen of the SS16 deck, it is the best yet in terms of graphic design, which is the result of the benefit of experience and refinement over time.4. HANDLING PERFORMANCE
The handling and quality of the cards has been optimized for cardistry. Cardists are very fussy about their decks. They need cards to be just the right thickness, have just the right weight, and just the right amount of friction to spread easily. To achieve this, the Virtuoso team have used a finish preferred by card flourishers. They've also ensured a balanced weight and feel, so that the deck fans with great control, splits into clean packets when cutting, has the right thickness for control, ensures that packets stay together when flying in the air, and has the optimal resistance for performing cuts and springs. The USPC's casino-grade Q1 standard is used to ensure that the deck clumps less. Although the precise specifications are a closely guarded secret, unlike some other cardistry decks on the market, the Virtuoso deck is NOT just a regular Bicycle deck with a different look, but has a carefully chosen set of specifications that make it optimal for cardistry. See, much more goes into making a good cardistry deck than most of us realize!
To the average person these kinds of details won't make much difference, but to the serious cardist, it can make all the difference between successfully pulling off a fancy or difficult move, or completely failing that move. Those who do a lot of cardistry have a great deal of positives to say about the handling and performance of the Virtuoso deck. I have a friend who is an accomplished magician and also has been developing his cardistry skills in recent months, and he just loves the handling of this deck. Unlike some other decks, it didn't need to be broken in, but performed beautifully right out of the box. According to him, he could noticed immediately the excellent quality of the deck, and how it indeed had optimal characteristics for cardistry.5. DURABILITY
I can't say too much about the durability, because I haven't had these cards long enough to comment decisively on it. However the Virtuoso team has themselves stated that they wanted to make a deck that didn't just handle well, but was durable as well. For the average person, it's hard to imagine wearing out a deck of cards. Certainly if you're just playing Hearts or Spades, and doing the occasional shuffling, it will be quite a while before the cards start showing wear. But if you're doing springing, dribbling cards, and more advanced moves involving packets, flying cards and more, on a consistent basis, the cards will quickly start to take a beating if they're of inferior quality.
From reports I've read, these cards do go the distance. If you're interested in taking a sneak look at the factory where they are made, there's a cool video here that shows some clips of the US Playing Card Company’s manufacturing facility, including some cardistry moves here
When you order decks directly from the publisher (here
), there are packages available that give you access to various different video tutorials that teach you how to do different flourishes and moves. Some tutorials and trailers for these tutorials can be found on the official youtube channel, thevirts
. This will be very welcome to the aspiring cardist. The first thing any newcomer to this art will want to do is watch some videos that teach you how to do these cool moves, and these tutorials will allow you to do just that.
First of all, if you are a complete beginner, you can start with some of Virtuoso's free tutorials here: http://home.thevirts.com/category/learn/tutorials/
There are two ways to get the current `paid' tutorial video packages that Virtuoso has available:
1. You can receive selected packages for free as bonus gifts that are bundled with purchases of more than one deck.
2. You can purchase selected packages as "add ons" whenever you purchase a deck.
While they are revamping the website, you can also just email the company via the website, and arrange to purchase the tutorials only.
Currently available for purchase (or as free bonus gifts, depending on how many decks you buy) are the following six tutorials:
The six packages that make up the entire "Summer Special Cardistry Collection" also have promo videos demonstrating what they look like:
- 7 Second Pirouette (video
- Rubix opener (video
- Strobe (video
- Flicker Shot (video
- Perfect Faro & Cascade (video
- Squeeze (not available separately) 7. LIMITED SEASONAL SUPPLY
The Virtuoso team has decided to opt for a business model revolving around each deck being a seasonal product, that is only available while supplies last, and that will never be produced again. Each version of the deck has used a three colour palette, made up of different colours. So that means they'll be coming out with a new model later this year, and I'm told that they're planning to produce a new version in the latter part of 2017. Previous models were quickly sold out, and often go for high prices online.
This does mean that availability can be a challenge. When I first visited the Virtuoso website and ordered my deck, it was available for sale. Since then, however, they've sold out, and now you need to add your name to their list to be notified of when the next version comes out. Fortunately there are other retailers that stock this deck (although I think then you won't get the video tutorials bundled with it). Previous editions are available on eBay, but the prices quickly start to sky-rocket as availability becomes limited. So get it while you can!8. DESIGNED FOR CARDISTRY
Sure, you could use this as a regular deck, to play poker or card games. It certainly looks cool and different, and the artwork is unusual, eye-catching, and attractive. But this is the only deck specifically designed for cardistry. That doesn't mean that it will automatically make you an expert at card flourishing. While the quality and style of this deck have no equal, the reality is that nothing will improve your cardistry more than simple and regular practice. But having a deck that improves the looks of your moves will not only make you appear more slick, but will also serve as a strong motivating factor, and incentive to work on your moves and develop your skill. There's nothing like having good tools to work with, and this is the best there is.
That also doesn't mean it's the only deck that can be used for cardistry. There are also other options to choose from. There's the minimalist Fontaine playing cards
by Zach Mueller, which are also popular with cardistry fans. Zach has been promoting them highly in his own cardistry videos, and has also been able to get them into other videos and even a film. While it's great to see him becoming successful, his cards are actually produced by US Playing Cards Company and feature the same handling quality as many other decks, unlike the Virtuoso deck which is uniquely made for cardistry. Zach's decks also don't at all have the colourful aesthetics or sleek geometrics of the Virtuoso deck, but then again there are those who like the minimalism of his style. Also popular are the Smoke and Mirrors playing cards
series by Dan & Dave, which look classy and also are minimalistic. But when it comes to a deck exclusively designed for cardistry, and with both the looks and handling qualities to match, the Virtuoso deck stands alone and unrivalled. Little wonder it continues to be the choice of may top Cardists around the world, due to its aesthetics, handling, and durability.9. ACCLAIM
There's no doubt that people who enjoy cardistry like the Virtuoso deck. Here are some testimonials and praise:
* "I am thoroughly convinced that the Adaptive Aesthetics design is a game-changer in the world of flourishing… It allows every move to reach its full potential, taking the geometrical natures of moves and expanding them. If you’re into flourishing at all, get this deck.
" – Ian Chandler
* "This deck will get your skills noticed... I think the Virtuoso deck design is the best design out there – it helps and improves almost any flourish you will do, it transforms them into something effortless, elegant and precise. This deck will change the look of your flourishes drastically, it might be made for cardistry but it will make your flourishes look like magic.
" – Tobias Levin
* "Opening up the first deck and watching the back design come to life, was truly an incredible experience – even simple stuff began to look awesome.
" – Oliver Søgård
* "I filmed a video with it almost immediately after I opened it up… and almost EVERY ONE commented on not just the flourishes, but the cards themselves! Everyone seems to love em! C’mon, how often do you see people commenting on a flourishing video about the CARDS?
" – Shua Millman
* "The Virtuoso Deck is my single favorite deck I have ever handled. Not only the Adaptive Aesthetics design, but the feel is perfect. I am so glad you guys made this breakthrough in flourishing.
" – Conor O’Kane
* "This deck actually makes card flourishes even easier. Since the stock is super thin and extremely durable, every cut and aerial gets executed with complete perfection.
" – Arsh Shah
* "Smooth like butter. Elegant enough to use in nice places, cool enough to use with celebrities.
" - Scott Perry
* "As a magician who is a closet flourisher, I think having a deck designed for flourishes gives the art a legitimacy. It is a “brand” for cardistry. A calling card for anyone interested in the art. What I love about the Virtuoso deck is the reason it was created.It expands on a already massive market of playing cards by offering something more than a beautiful design. Function. When I pick one up I immediately want to practice.
" - Tony Chang
* "Why is the Virts deck so good for cardists? As far as the handling is concerned, it is nothing short of a performer deck: the fans are very smooth, the packets stay well together for aerials and most of all, it is so durable that it stays in the perfect conditions for flourishing longer than you could think. For the design part, everything the Virts say about the adaptive aesthetics is actually true especially for my style of flourishing. My advice for any cardist is to get this deck and make the most out of it.
" - Anthony Chanut
You can read more testimonials here
I've had a lot of fun learning about cardistry in the process of reviewing this deck. And because I have a friend who is into cardistry, he's had a lot of fun putting this deck through it's paces, while I've had the pleasure of watching him and getting his insights on how the deck handled and looked. Within five minutes of pulling the deck out of the box and trying some of his cardistry moves, he confidently declared: "This is my new favourite deck!" And he was serious. It was amazing to see how silky smooth his moves looked. Even fairly common techniques like a card spread and a fan looked absolutely stunning! We were completely blown away by how much of an impact the deck made on standard manipulation that you see card handlers do regularly - this really increased how impressive they looked by tenfold. Card spins looked absolutely amazing due to the design of the card. And the colours look fantastic! We came in with high expectations from the pictures and videos we'd seen in advance, but the real thing turned out to be even way more impressive than we thought it would be.
The Virts have already inspired many people to take up a new hobby with their cardistry videos. Now with the creation of their own deck, they've inspired even more people to explore and develop this new art-form. With a proven track-record that reflects success and improvement for several years running, they are definitely the leader in this field. And because this is a company birthed from people passionate about the art and who are skilled performers themselves, we can be confident that these guys know what is needed in a good cardistry deck.
Due to its origin and intent, it's true that the Virtuoso deck will always be a deck that primarily appeals to cardistry fans as its main target audience. As a deck designed for their needs, it more than adequately serves its purpose, and has to be considered the top of the line product for that. Yet fortunately it's not a product that is outside the reach of the rest of us, and it's still a very accessible deck for anyone who is interested in basic cardistry, and wants to learn some elementary moves. If you are at all into cardistry, or even just enjoy doing a basic spread or fan, then you really need this deck - it will make moves like that seem like art.
But this deck can always be used in the same way as any deck: for playing card games. While decks do have their alternate uses, we can always fall back to what they were intended in the first place: games. So regardless of whether or not you're ever going to become an expert at card flourishing, this is still a deck you might want to pick up. At the very least it will be a good talking point. At worst, you can always use it to play Hearts!For more information about the SS16 Virtuoso deck featured in this review, and to be notified when the next version releases, visit Virtuoso's official website.The Virts - http://thevirts.com