Editorial: So You Want To Design Some Art Cards?

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Editorial: So You Want To Design Some Art Cards?

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?

Editorial: So You Want To Design Some Art Cards? Reviewed by Ivan on 8/21/2013 Rating: 5


  1. Great editorial with some fantastic insight!

  2. I disagree. I think using playing cards as a medium is fine. I assume the cards are intended to be used as art, and not as a playable deck. There's nothing wrong with that if you know what you're getting. I personally ordered a deck and an uncut sheet of The Ultimate Deck.

    I'm brand new to collecting cards, but to me there is too much emphasis on the back of the card. I'm interested in a nice fresh look on every card, maybe a new pip design or layout that I find interesting. Just a standard deck of cards with a different back and maybe a custom A of spades just isn't that interesting to me.

  3. I have to respect your opinion. I think a lot of people would agree with you. I may be in the minority here. While I love the concept of an art deck, I think they are executed poorly. The intention of why someone buys a deck is always different but I still think there should be effort to incorporate the indices and pips better. I am all for custom faces and beautiful artwork but if the indices and ranks are unrecognizable, I think the point of it being a playing card is deflated. You are right though, people need to know what they are getting and if that is what they like then no one can take that away from them. As a card player these decks might not be for them.

    Thanks for your comment!


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