The Ultimate Deck came out around the 2012 holiday season in a collaboration between the Buck twins and packaging design firm, Stranger & Stranger. The deck was created as a way for Stranger & Stranger to celebrate the 2012 work year as it was a pivotal year in new package design. The deck took over a year to produce as every single playing card in the deck contains a completely different custom design edge to to edge. Dubbed the "most expensive deck ever produced", The Ultimate Deck retails at a around $25 a pop.
Name: The Ultimate Deck
Company: Stanger & Stranger/Dan and Dave
Release Date: January 2013
Stock: Casino Bee
Finish: Air Cushion Finish
The tuck case comes with a classic black matte finish with glossy embossing. It features nostalgic design elements that give the impression of holding an ancient book. The centerpiece is a glossy silver embossed two-way "Stranger" given the effect to create the impression of it being a two-way design. The design, however, is not a two-way design. Underneath the centerpiece on both ends, the one-way design is made apparent. When turned one way it reads "Ultimate Deck" but when turned the other way it reads "Stranger & Stranger." Each side of the embossed centerpiece either reads, "NYC" or "LTN" as well.
The tuck case features a stamp-like seal that is reminiscent of very early decks printed by The United States Playing Card Company. The stamp is totally vintage but it fits in perfectly with the overall concept. The stamp reads "1994 Dead Man's Hand" which is the year the company formed.
The tuck case is a very strong element of the entire deck. It might be the strongest given the amount of detail that goes into it with the gloss on matte finish complete with embossing. The design of the tuck is unforgettable as the two way illusion is created without even being a true two-way. The dark but vintage feel that dresses the entire box sucks you in to a world of mystery just begging you to open the deck to explore its many caves.
Once you break through the stamp seal, you will be greeted with 56 completely custom designed playing cards. It is clear from the start that The Ultimate Deck is 100% an art deck and does not lend itself to be played with. Some of the designs are too over the top and get in the way of actual play. Not to mention the price point of this deck is far beyond something you'd want to dirty your hands on.
Below is an example where the numbers and indices get lost in the artwork: the King of Spades ....or "King of Bulls." The only way we know this is the King of Spades is because the other Kings have been accounted for.
The deck comes with one gaff card and an ad card. Interestingly enough, the gaff card is a "create your own card" which can be used to create any of the other cards in the deck. Since this deck will most likely not enter play, this gaff card somewhat falls flat.
The back design is a flat version of the art on the tuck case. Designed to look two-way at a glance, the back design is most definitely one way as mentioned earlier about the tuck.
Without detailing every card in the deck, we thought we would pull out some notable cards and discuss their place in the deck.
The Ace Of Spades is the arch of any deck but when it comes to The Ultimate Deck, the AoS just becomes another card in the deck. It doesn't seem like Stranger & Stranger gave any special treatment to some of the better known cards in a deck. In fact, the Seven of Clubs got the same amount of effort as the AoS. The AoS features a spade shaped tree complete with a serpent and a snake. In other words, the AoS features The Tree Of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The biblical theme in the AoS shows the depth in The Ultimate Deck. Each card has a story and opens up great possibilities when discussing or learning about the art.
While the tree is the focal point with it's bold red and green coloring, the card is complete with a weathered paper look almost as if it was taken out of the pages of an old book.
Stranger & Stranger did not skimp on creepy. In fact, a lot of the cards in this deck are creepy pieces of art. Beautiful but creepy. With that said, the designers nailed the Suicide King. One of the most mysterious cards in a deck of 52 has got to be the King of Hearts. Was the King stabbing himself or was he being stabbed? Stranger & Stranger answered the former. Complete with bleeding hearts, macabre and a skeleton monarch; The Ultimate Deck's King of Hearts takes no prisoners and has no fear completing a story that has long been discussed.
In order to contrast, Stranger & Stranger knew they couldn't just feature all creepy art so they added a little bit of funny. The King of Clubs depicts a King scolding a leprechaun. Let the chuckles begin. For starters, Leprechauns are funny and mystical beings. When they are getting in trouble by bearded monarchs, the scene is just hilarious.
Cute is probably the last adjective we would use to describe The Ultimate Deck but they managed to stuff it in. The Eight Of Hearts shows a little boy giving a little girl a valentine. Love is in the air as eight hearts float above the basket.
Given the small sample above, it is very clear that Stranger & Stranger created a deck that has a huge amount of artistic variety. The art on the cards features all different styles, themes and nothing is redundant or used more than once including the Jokers. It makes sense considering the amount and variety of product packaging they put out each year. The only thing consistent about The Ultimate Deck is that the artwork is great. As the artwork shines, it would have been the icing on the cake if the pips, numbers and indices were a bit more consistent throughout the deck. Let the artwork fly freely but don't make the pips and indices suffer in the process.
With that, we will not reveal or detail any more of the cards in this deck. Part of an art deck is so that is can be admired by the individual holder and we would like to respect that by only showing the few cards that were seen above.
Because this deck is an art deck, we did not handle it or break it in. We felt that after reviewing the cards and designs that the deck was not meant to be played with as much as it was meant to be admired.
Notes on The Ultimate Deck:
+ It is not clear how many designers worked on this deck but from the variety it looks as if the entire team was on board.
+ Stranger & Stranger primarily works on alcohol packaging but the ad card mentions that this project came to be to celebrate their expansion into other packaging markets.
+ Dan and Dave distribute The Ultimate Deck.
+ The deck is being sold on ebay for above the normal asking price.
The artwork is incredible. They have that in the bag. They also added some of the history of playing cards into their designs, which was nice to know they didn't neglect it. The work can be admired from more than just playing card fans. In fact, it is probably admired more by those that don't handle cards. Collectors, fan's of product packaging, marketers, Stranger & Stranger fans will jump on this deck. Heck, this deck has the ability to turn people on to the world of playing cards. From there, we hit a wall. Art decks are fun and hip and should be on every card collector's shelf but other than that, this deck is going nowhere. On certain cards, the pip and indices look like afterthoughts or look muddled. This deck would shine if the "playing card" art was more apparent and consistent. If the suits were even recognizable, the deck might be playable making this deck practical and beautiful. However, fanning through the cards, we see zero consistencies where there should be consistencies. Kudos to Stranger & Stranger on creating a work of art but next time they should pay attention to what makes a playing card, a playing card.
Final Score: 8.5/10