If you’re looking for a deck of cards to play a few quick games with friends or family, there’s not much to think about.
Just grab whatever’s on the shelf at Target!
(Chances are, you’ll end up with a standard deck of Bicycle or Bee cards in the U.S.)
But if you’re an afficianado, collector, or magician, you have SO many more choices when it comes to playing cards.
There are so many types of decks of cards to choose from these days, it’s a joy and privilege to shop them and collect lots of different decks.
Deck of cards can usually be broken down by:
- Card Size
- Standard or Custom
- Regular vs Gimmick
- Material & Finish
- Border Style
- Index Size
Let’s take a closer look at each type and learn more about all the choices available to you.
Size (Poker, Bridge, Jumbo & more)
You can buy specialty decks of cards in almost any size you can think of (as a gift, for corporate branding, etc.)
But usually, you’ll find these sizes of decks of cards in most stores or playing card retailers:
Most playing cards utilize the standard Poker size, which is about 2.5 inches wide and 3.5 inches tall.
Bridge sizes are slightly narrower than Poker size cards at 2.25 inches.
Magicians and comedians sometimes have a need for jumbo playing cards, either for humor or for fun magic reveals. Jumbo playing cards can be 5×7, 10.5×14.5, or other sizes in between.
Mini cards are another great magic or comedy prop, and usually measure in around 1.75 inches wide x 2.5 inches tall.
Standard vs Custom
This is a bit of a tough distinction to make these days with so many different decks of cards available.
But generally, your average person who wants a deck of cards around for casual play (and new magicians who are just learning some card trick basics), will stick to standard decks of cards.
By standard cards, I mean any deck you can easily buy in a grocery store or pharmacy like:
- Tally Ho
- And more
However, magicians and other playing card afficianados might prefer to stock their shelves with a few cool, custom decks.
Major manufacturers like the U.S. Playing Card Company make specialty decks with unique designs that appeal to magicians, as do boutique designers like Theory 11.
Some of my favorite custom decks of cards for magic are:
- Blue Monarch from Theory11
- Bicycle Dragon Back
- Bicycle Archangels
Regular vs Gaff or Gimmick
If you’re a collector, into casual or serious card game play, or just someone who likes cards, you’ll mostly want to stick with regular cards.
Regular cards have no secrets or gimmicks.
They are not to be confused with trick decks, which are for magicians only!
A trick deck is usually designed to look like a regular deck of cards (and often come manufactured in Bicycle or other common designs from the USPC), but is specially designed to accomplish amazing feats of magic.
The Svengali Deck, for example, allows the magician to show the deck as a regular deck of cards one minute — the next minute, every card in the deck has transformed into the same cards… the spectator’s free selection!
Some other great trick decks are:
Finish & Material
When it comes to what playing cards are actually made from (and coated with), the options are nearly limitless.
Most commercial decks of cards are made from a high-quality paper stock and coated with a smooth finish that allows for excellent handling of the deck (and prevents some wear and tear).
However, some common decks are made from, or dipped in, plastic. They don’t handle as well, but they hold up extremely well over time — plastic cards are great for the casual gamer.
You can also buy cards made from:
- Clear plastic
- And more
For magic and quality card handling, stick with paper cards with a high-quality finish.
However, specialty materials can be fun for collectors.
Bordered & Borderless
Lots of playing cards have a white (or other color) border around the edges of the back design.
The border looks great and creates visual separation between cards, which is useful in both magic and card games.
(You can look at a few cards in someone’s hand or on a table and quickly tell how many are there.)
Other cards are borderless, meaning the back design extends all the way to the edge of the card.
Borderless cards have lots of uses too, both for gambling demonstrations and cardistry.
Ultimately, it’s good to have both in your collection.
For more, see my guide to bordered vs borderless cards.
Jumbo Index vs Standard Index
The index is the part of the playing card that display the number or value of the card along with the suit (hearts, spades, clubs, or diamonds).
Most standard decks of cards use an index size that’s clear and easy to read, but not overly large.
Jumbo index cards, however, inflate the size of the index for people with visual impairments or anyone who prefers a larger “font,” so to speak.
Most card players and magicians prefer the look of the standard index size, so be sure to check the playing card box carefully so you don’t actually buy jumbo index cards.
If you’re a casual gamer or have trouble seeing objects close to your face, the jumbo index can be really helpful!
So many types of decks of cards to choose from, so little time!
For me, as a hobbyist magician, I cycle through a bunch of different decks from Bicycle and Theory 11.
Your standard Rider Back design is really hard to beat. They’re perfect for gaming, relatively cheap, and handle great for card tricks.
Some of the custom Theory11 decks are an absolute joy to handle and look at, with gorgeous designs and intricate details.
You can get most of my favorites on Amazon right here:
If you’re a collector, the options don’t end there. Try metal or wood cards, translucent cards, and more!