My playing card collection has plenty of significant, cherished decks because of personal reasons — from the office seat in the new Geek Central, I can easily spy the deck that got me interested in collecting, the deck that got me through a bad year, the deck I used in my first paid magic gig, etc. There’s no better way to start a series of posts about my decks than with the Ghost, for a number of reasons.
The Ghost deck, designed by Ellusionist, is unique for its lack of color. The pips, court cards, aces and everything is black, except for the indices of the red cards. The cards were printed on UV-500 cardstock, which handled so beautifully and really set Ellusionist head and shoulders above the competition, before the U.S. Playing Card Company went all bonkers with its cardstock options. Those were the days.
Yikes. After reading that last paragraph, it appears I need to offer full disclosure. I used to work for Ellusionist — I did so proudly from 2008 to February of this year. I got to watch some amazing decks get designed, from rough draft to final product.
But the Ghost deck was not one of those decks. It was the deck that led me to Ellusionist and magic. Before I found Ellusionist, I thought magic was nothing but trick cards and cheesy lines. I had no idea that Bill Malone, Larry Jennings, Dai Vernon, Slydini or even S.W. Erdnase existed. After discovering this deck’s existence, I must have watched this product video 500 times in the span of a month. The notion that such sleight of hand was possible blew me away.
The other thing that struck me about the Ghost deck, once I got a deck into my hands, was how well it handled. In a way, this is a trendsetting deck. Though it’s not the first custom deck, it is at the front of today’s golden era of custom cards. Before Ellusionist, card fans had to choose between performance and design. Great looking, artistically designed cards could be found fairly easily, but the quality was terrible. And card sharps had to settle for the boring, old cupids on the Rider back, in either red or blue.
The Ghost deck changed that. The black and white design, with its sparse reds and faded gray borders, changed the game for card design. The ace of spades featured an incredibly detailed design for a playing card — the first time I turned it upside down and spotted the snakes, I flipped out. The deck’s design arguably inspired the creation of many similar decks from companies such as Dan and Dave, Theory 11, Big Blind Media and even the USPCC.
The idea for the Ghost deck’s design started as an observation. An early draft of a gaff deck featured a few cards with a white Rider back design. Ellusionist founder Brad Christian and others noted that they looked freaking awesome, so they got to work on a full deck.
There are a few different versions of the deck boxes. The first print runs featured solid gray boxes and an almost apologetic line of text at the top: “Regular playing cards / A derivative of our standard Bicycle deck.” Later designs widely scrapped this sentence — seemed like it was there just to appease old fuddy-duddies who think people who see a card trick with anything other than red Riders will accuse you of trick cards. The redesigned box featured cool, tribal tattoo etchings on the side, a UPC reveal at the bottom and another reveal at the top.
There are also a couple of different versions of the deck. Similar to how Ellusionist started the current craze of custom cards, they also started the fad of limited release decks. The Black Ghost was printed in a run of 5,000, and never sold — decks were given away as bonuses and prizes. One of these babies will fetch more than $100 on eBay.
Cards have come a long way since then — my only problem with using the Ghost now is that the red and black cards don’t vary enough, and I really like color changing effects. But the Ghost is a first love in a new era of magic for me. I wouldn’t have learned how to perform sleight of hand if it hadn’t been for this deck.
And I’m seriously attached to this deck. I’m kind of susceptible to symbolism, and I latched on to the Ghost deck pretty fiercely. I have several versions of the deck, including a stainless steel card guard and a mini deck. My iPod is engraved with the phrase “mundus vult decipi,” the same message on the Joker cards. I brought a deck to my wedding. I wore a T-shirt featuring the ace underneath my tux (man, I hated losing that shirt in the tornado).
One other piece of coolness: One of the last things I did with the company was attend a planning meeting in January at Brad’s home near San Francisco. Former vice president Jason Brumbalow showed me an old card box with white pieces of paper glued to it. It was the prototype for the first Ghost deck. Seeing that prototype was oddly satisfying — that rough draft of a box is what led to me staring a whole new life in magic. I was changed because of that box.