Review: Artisan Playing Cards by Theory 11

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Review: Artisan Playing Cards by Theory 11

This review will feature both the White Artisan Playing Cards and the Black Artisan Playing cards. Review taken from the archive of TuckCase.

Designed by South African Designer Simon Frouws, Theory 11's Artisan Playing Cards are the epitome of elegance. Initially released in 2012 as a single Black Edition Artisan deck, Theory 11 just released the second (final?) deck of the series, the White Edition Artisan Playing Cards.

The specs:

Name: Theory 11 Black Edition Artisan Playing Cards/White Edition Artisan
Company: Theory 11
Release Date: November 23, 2012/May 10, 2013
Stock: FSC-certified stock
Finish:  Eco Finish
Colors: Black, Gold, Deep red, White
Face: Standard
Size: Poker

Despite being distributed by a company that focuses on magic and performance, the description and the background given out about these cards focuses on "environmentally friendly" lingo. This is not a bad thing as Theory 11 does this with a lot of their decks that are quality performing products but I would appreciate more info about the finish and actual stock used. So far all we are told by Theory 11 is the following:
 "...these premium, luxury playing cards feature elegant gold foil hot stamped onto ultra-lux black paper derived from sustainable forests....produced at The United States Playing Card Company using FSC-certified papers derived from sustainable forests, vegetable-based inks and starch-based laminates. The result is a durable finish that respects the environment." 
We know one thing, these are the cards for the environmentally conscious magician or card player.

Most will wonder what the main differences are between the Black Edition Artisan and the White Edition Artisan. The obvious difference in these cards is the main color template - black and white. Beyond that, the White Edition cards use a metallic gold ink in their cards while the Black Edition uses more of a yellow gold.

Surprisingly, I would have thought the Black Edition would have the darker gold/metallic gold and the White Edition would have the white gold ink to match their theme of light or dark. I do, however, like the light to dark/dark to light contrast that the colors add to the decks. The designs are exactly the same other than that.

The decks come with 56 cards. The two additional cards are an ad card and a double back. The  Jokers are not differentiated at all with no reveal added anywhere on the decks. The overall design of the Artisan Playing Cards is impeccable. It is not too showy or glitzy, which is great because something over the top can tend to make the whole project look gaudy. And it is by far from a minimalist design. Both decks have an equal balance of style through the back design, face cards, and Jokers. The first editions of both the White and Black Edition Artisan Playing Cards come with a matte finish with gold (white) and gold/white embossing (black) on the tuck cases.

The duel-directional or two way back design features a white border on both decks with an overall design that is reminiscent of an American money note. Defined patterned borders, emblems and Latin phrases. The centerpiece of the back design is an intertwined G and A inside an emblem that I suppose stands for Artisan and Guild, which compliments the phrase "The Guild of Artisans." I do not believe this is for any particular group but more of a general homage to all artists - magicians included.

In the photo above featuring the Ace of Spades there is an added design element that is included on both of these decks that display the Edition Number or the month the decks were printed. I like this element because it is an obvious way of letting the deck holder know what edition they have and it is an element that most playing cards don't have. First edition Black decks will have 11/12 and first edition White decks will have 04-13. It is interesting to note the difference in the way the date is displayed. The design of the actual Ace of Spades takes the same elements of the back design inside a large spade. Design consistency is played out perfectly here.
The Joker features the "Jolly Joker" that appears to be juggling the four suits within a tight and circular emblem/logo. It is unfortunate the Jokers feature no reveal or any differentiation. It would have been cool to see more done with the "Jolly Joker" character. Instead of an emblem, one Joker could have been presented outside an emblem in a traditional pose similar to the Bicycle Standard 808 Joker. Given this deck is heavy on paying homage to design and artistry it is slightly disappointing they underutilized the second Joker.

Face Cards all follow the Standard playing card design but integrate the deep reds, golds, black and white color palette used in the Joker cards above. Number cards are similar to a Standard deck as well but use deeper reds for the hearts and diamonds.

As far as performance goes they are not as slippery as the Performance Coating finish cards that Ellusionist features on their decks just to give a comparison  However, they perform, fan, spread, shuffle and cut nicely. The only hang up is that the edges are not as smooth as I would have hoped for. This is specifically concerning the White Edition Artisan where I can see where the machine cut the cards down from sheets to decks. It is very minor but noticeable. As far as durability goes they will last as long as any Bicycle Standard deck.
Notes on the Artisan Playing Cards:

+ The Black Edition Artisan Playing Cards were released in November 2012.

+ The White Edition Artisan Playing Cards were released in May 2013.

+ Despite the hype, these playing cards are not Limited Edition Playing Cards and will be available until further notice.

+ Designed by Simon Frouws.

+ Marketing focuses on environmentally friendly production instead of performance.

Final Assessment:

These cards are all design first and performance second. I think if magicians are looking for an incredibly designed deck of cards to show off with they can't lose with this deck. They have the same feel as a Bicycle Standard deck so if that is what you practice with these will feel natural in your hands. However, I would not recommend practicing with this deck in order to preserve the deck longer than a Standard deck of cards. Why waste such a beautiful deck on practice? With all that said, Theory 11 seems to write their descriptions with the gift buyer, collector and environmentally conscious person in mind. I do not know who they are targeting but it almost definitely doesn't seem like the magician or card player that focuses on durability and performance.

Final Score: 9.5/10 

Review: Artisan Playing Cards by Theory 11 Reviewed by Ivan on 10/09/2014 Rating: 5


  1. [...] – an all black design as well as a white design. This deck is what you get when you combine Theory 11 Artisans and Bicycle Jekyll and Hyde - elegance, victorian, dark and powerful. In fact, the Ace of Spades [...]

  2. this are sick!


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