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Review: Lawrence Sullivan and CARC's Legends Playing Cards


The Legends No. 852 playing cards are the result of a collaboration between Honk Kong Magician, Lawrence Sullivan, and Conjuring Arts Research Center.  The Legends No. 852 playing cards, which come in three colors - red, blue and green, were printed by a playing card factory in Taipei, Taiwan. The factory is mainly known for producing playing card decks for casinos in the Far East.  The design was commissioned out to designer Mark Stutzman, who has done with with David Blaine and most recently the Whispering Imps Playing Card project on Kickstarter. For UK and Europe fans the decks can be purchased from JP Playing Cards.  

Legends Playing Cards

With Legends Playing Cards, Conjuring Arts Research Center (CARC) and magician Lawrence Sullivan did what a lot or the majority of playing card companies/designers are afraid to do - they did not print their playing card project Legends No. 852 with United States Playing Card Company. In the industry, Bicycle is considered the standard and anything that doesn't have USPCC's signature on it, are considered by some to be sub-par or are at least put through some heavy skepticism. Some collectors, magicians and/or enthusiasts won't even give a non-USPCC deck a chance. This is what happens when a company has deep historical roots and a very long tradition making decks for some of the best magicians around. Kudos to the USPCC for becoming the giant that they are but TuckCase.com is here to see and prove if the Legends really have something to offer....

The specs:

Name: Legends No. 852 Playing Cards
Company: Conjuring Arts Research Center/Lawrence Sullivan
Release Date: Early 2013
Stock: Overseas Factory/Unknown 
Finish: Embossed
Colors: Red, Blue, Green - Standard court colors
Face: Standard
Size: Poker

On to the review...

Most folks will wonder how the Legends differ from USPCC stock, whether it be Bicycle or the thicker Bee stock. Because of that we will start the review describing the handling and feeling of the cards. The Legends No. 852 playing card stock is slightly thinner than standard Bicycle playing cards. However, the difference is within .5 to 1 card thickness difference. Although the cards are embossed similar to the air-cushion finish that USPCC cards have, the finish is somewhat glossier. Given the glossiness, one would think they are slippier than standard Bicycle cards but that just is not the case. There is almost a "magical" grip to these cards that fan and separate incredibly smooth when you want them to but stay together when you want them to. The edges are also smoother than USPCC cards.

When you first open the tuck case and pull out these cards you quickly notice that these cards have a varnish-like scent to them. After handling these cards for some time the scent does not go away but thankfully the scent does not transfer over to your hands.

The cards only come 54 in a box. They do not come with an ad card or an extra gaff card.

On to the design...

The overall design is not a showy or over the top design but rather it has a classic look and feel with some hidden details that make this deck more than your average playing card deck. The design is done in the same vein as standard Bicycle Rider Backs. Looking at the Legends one would not think the deck looks like a gimmick by any means like some other custom decks give. Despite all that, the Legends feature a design with enormous depth, detail and substance. At a quick glance the deck looks simple and not much different from a Rider back as each deck in the Legends series features one prominent back color - red, blue or green.

The front of the tuck case (as seen above) also includes "Legends" in standard placement with a crest-like symbol donning the majority of the front.  At closer inspection you will see the intricate detail added to these cards and tuck case. You can tell right away where the name of this deck comes from as the back design (both on tuck case and on actual card backs) includes fire-breathing dragons, fierce tigers and other beast-like creatures as well as a lot of fire that swirls in and out of the two-way design.

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The bottom of the tuck case includes a three of hearts reveal:

Legends Playing Cards

Speaking of reveals and as mentioned earlier, the deck design features some hidden details in the design. Coming with a QR Code equipped with a secret link in the flap of the tuck, the link unveils 8 riddles to be solved. These 8 riddles reveal elements that can be used for certain routines. The following riddles include:

  • One way to amaze is found on the tip of a wing

  • Riffle to stoke the flames of fire

  • In the heart of a blind man, the eight is king

  • Dragons reveal smoke and rubies

  • Pearl is to dragon as Koi is to waterfall

  • Hearts are found split in the embers

  • What language do computers understand?

  • An Lámh Fhoisteanach Abú

For the sake of this review, TuckCase.com will not directly go into pointing out each riddle but we will touch on some of the design elements they are calling out (It is up to the deck handler to put them together). These riddles certainly add to the "Legends" name and create somewhat of a legend or story out of the deck itself.

Legends Playing Cards

The Ace Of Spades continues the theme that the tuck case and back design set in motion by featuring a dragon prominently displayed within a spiked spade shape. The dragon's smokey breath exits the spade forming the deck's name "Legends" across the top. Unlike if the name of the deck was created with a separate banner or disconnected type, the use of the dragon's smoke to create the name of the deck is exceptionally creative as it ties the entire Ace together.

Legends Playing Cards Ace Of Spades

The Jokers feature an actual dragon simmering smoke. There is a city in the background, which is likely Hong Kong. The reason it is Hong Kong is because that is where deck creator Lawrence Sullivan resides. The 852 written in stone at the dragon's feet is actually the area code for Hong Kong. There is a man at the feet of the dragon which symbolizes somewhat of a "no fear" attitude.

Legends Playing Cards

One of the Jokers features a 2 of Spades reveal, which is quite difficult to read unless you really look close. Using it in a routine even may be difficult to point out to a spectator. There is also another interesting reveal that is the word "Ruby" designed right into the smoke of the dragon's breath. This element is also difficult to point out.

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The court cards are standard Anglo American in design and color but have custom faces and elements built in. The addition of the custom faces further differentiates this deck from standard Bicycle cards. Anything more custom would change the traditional feel of the deck.

Legends Playing Cards

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It is important to note that the indices are thick on top and thin on bottom, which creates an interesting but subtle one-way feel design to the cards.

Notice a few of the cards reversed to see the varying thicknesses....

Legends Playing Cards

Other than the one-way design, the number cards are standard.

Notes on Legends No. 852 Playing cards:

  • The No. 852 comes from the area code for Hong Kong, which is where Lawrence Sullivan is based.

  • The actual names of the deck colors are Porcelain Blue, Firecracker Red,  Jade Metallic Green.

  • The cards have a varnish-like scent to them that is much different than USPCC paper-like scent.

  • Very subtle one-way court and number cards.

  • The riddles that reveal different hidden design elements creates a depth to these cards that other cards do not have.

Final Assessment: Despite there being a giant in the industry, some people (Conjuring Arts and Lawrence Sullivan) feel there could be better. With Legends, they set out to find a better product and some may agree they found it. While claiming these cards are better or superior than a USPCC product can be considered fighting words, there is no doubt the Legends offer some stiff competition minus the slightly obnoxious varnish-like scent. Call it a David and Goliath story or some other tale of triumph over the giant, the Legends put up a fight and are here to stay providing magicians and card handler's an exciting alternative to the industries leading brand. It will be interesting to see new card decks produced out of the Taiwan factory that made these cards.

Final Score: 9.8/10

Editors Note: The Legends No. 852 were sent to TuckCase.com from JP Playing Cards in the UK. JP Playing Cards is a leading retailer of custom and standard playing cards in the UK.  
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