This editorial or opinion post was basically brought on by our latest deck review, Stranger & Stranger's The Ultimate Deck.
As of the past couple of days I have been thinking about the concept of an art deck, which is a specific playing card deck style that I feel can use some readjusting. If you aren't familiar, an art deck is traditionally a deck of cards with a heavy, heavy focus on the art of the cards. It goes beyond a standard custom deck and usually each card in the deck features different art. Since I have been a collector, I think the "art deck" is my least favorite type of deck for one main reason: the playing card aspect is almost always an after thought.
As a lover of playing card design, I have always been fond of the rules associated with card design; including but not limited to the following aspects of a deck: two-way design, suicide king and other specific royal cards, indices and pip placement/identification, Ace Of Spades, hierarchy (when a royal court card is designed to look weaker than a 7 of clubs). A lot of art decks are notorious for slaughtering those rules. The Ultimate Deck doesn't give a hoot about indices or card identification. Sure they put the indices in the right spots but looking at some of the cards I wonder how they even fit in with the design? Stranger & Stranger mainly focused on creating beautiful artwork and it is clear when fanning through the deck that there are cards that are unrecognizable. At the end of the day, if you just want to create beautiful artwork, just release 52 art prints. Why even try to use the playing card format if the deck is going to include cards that are extremely hard to use in play? I think it is because people think "playing cards are cool, why not combine awesome artwork and playing cards? Light bulb moment." What they don't get is that they aren't cool if you can't read them or use them. Collectors who do not open their decks may disagree.
With all that said, playing card design rules can be broken but I feel it must be done tastefully, smart or have some historical reasoning behind the rule break. I think it is safe to say that the majority of active playing card enthusiasts feel the same whether they want to believe it or not. A lot of art decks just do away with designing art that leaves room for certain aspects of a playing card that should be kept in tact. They keep everything that isn't essential to a deck of cards and throw away everything they know to be true because "their art is killer." What they end up killing is the concept of a playing card. If you do away with every rule in the book except one, that one rule should be that when all is said and done, you end up with a playable deck....even if it is just going to be in a collector's collection unopened.
Art decks could be some of the coolest decks in all of creation if they were just playable. They are called 'playing cards' for a reason right?