Magician Erik Mana
Filipino-born Erik Mana was raised in Toronto, Canada, where he now lives and works as a professional magician and mentalist. He also enjoys practicing cardistry, and is an avid card collector. In terms of his expertise in magic, it's enough to mention that he has produced 3 TV specials (Stranger, Mastermind, and Believe) in the Philippines, as well as countless live theatre shows. His skills include illusion, sleight of hand, hypnosis, pick pocketing, and mentalism. He turned professional already in 1989, touring Canada. In 1995 he embarked on a course of study of stage hypnosis, and this led him to develop a unique theatre show that incorporates magic, mentalism, and stage hypnosis. A move back to the Philippines in 2001 saw him successfully bringing magic to television and giving it mainstream attention in the country of his birth.
More recently he has returned to Toronto, where he began running a travelling boutique magic show called Mastermind Theatre, in which he brings magic and mentalism to an intimate setting of smaller audiences. His own description of the Mastermind Theatre is this: "An evening of strange magic and other weird skullduggery! Enter a room where reality bends, logic is compromised and your senses are deceived! Welcome to the Mastermind Theatre!"
You can also check his youtube channel (ErikManaMagic) to see some videos of his magic performances. For some fun, start by checking this video compilation of some of his clever Vine videos, which are highly entertaining.
Mana Playing Cards
So why Mana? In many cultures, "mana" is considered to be the energy or power that produces magic. Anyone familiar with the game Magic the Gathering will recognize the word! But this Filipino-Canadian magician not only produces his own magic, but has also produced a number of decks of custom playing cards. He already had some training in classical animation in high school, and even when developing his magic career, he continued to experiment with art, including the digital possibilities that opened up as a result of software like Corel Draw, Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects.
Erik created the Mana brand for two reasons: firstly to have his own working stock of playing cards; and secondly, to produce a quality deck that would be worthy of the magic and cardistry community. By calling it the "Mana Deck", he says it represents putting the power of magic in your hands. This deck has gained acclaim from collectors and magicians alike, including big names like Lee Asher and Bill Kalush.
Now unfortunately Erik is not currently involved in creating new designs for the playing card industry, because some of the projects he was involved with included elements of real innovation (e.g. innovative tuck box designs) that proved very ambitious, and this led to some real challenges in making these decks a reality. As such, this review is intended more of a retrospective look at the decks that Erik Mana contributed to the custom playing card industry, during the time where he was actively designing playing cards. While some of these decks may prove elusive to get, many are still available on the secondary market.
Erik Mana's decks
Since 2011, Erik Mana has produced several decks of custom playing cards. In this review I'd like to take at look especially at Erik's decks of Mana Playing Cards, as well as at the other two series he has made.
First of all there is his "Mana Playing Cards" series, which consists of three different decks:
- Mana Deck No. 1: Silver Oracle (2011)
- Mana Deck No. 2: Zinfandel & Indigo (2013)
- Mana Deck No. 3: Sybil (2014)
In addition, Erik has also created several other decks of playing cards:
- Verve series (2012)
- Buskers series (2015)
MANA PLAYING CARD SERIES
Mana Playing Cards No. 1 - Silver Oracle
The very first version of the Mana Deck was created and produced in 2011, and was called Silver Oracle.
An "Oracle" is considered to be a source of wise counsel commonly sought out for divination and precognition, and as such it says something about the roots of modern day mentalism.
The final design from the name, to the card backs, to the tuck box was a product of over 10 months of research, design, redesign and trial and error.
The final result was a deck of cards that possessed beautiful artwork, but also included elements with deep and enigmatic meanings - only a few of which were to be publicly revealed!
For example, the tuck box has a 3 of hearts card reveal on the side flaps, while the box lid has the Latin words Magus Per Mens Et Manus, which means something like "magician by mind and hand".
My favourite thing about this deck is the card-back. As Erik describes it: "The back exhibits a combination of ornate flourish designs as a reflection of all three art forms with its flowing swirls and organic movement. This deck reveals elements of circles to represent focus and unity and the number 3 is incorporated into the design as it represents growth and good fortune. "
Especially noteworthy, however, is that the design has a stunning 3D type effect, which makes it look as if the card back has layers that can be touched and felt! The 3D look is a remarkable and convincing illusion - suggestive of the other mysteries that this deck contains.
The original design of this deck was blue, but this was later changed to silver to reflect the fact that the deck was produced in limited numbers (a total of 5000 were produced), and thus was intended to make the deck look more exclusive and rare. Five metallic ink colours were used on the faces, backs, and box.
While the traditional court card designs were retained, each suit was given its own colour: Spades = purple; Hearts = red; Clubs = green; Diamonds = silver.
Along with the addition of gold accents, this helps give each suit its own spirit and character.
The number cards also have a traditional design. Meanwhile the Ace of Spades features flourishing swirls, and elements of three are present in its design (just as was the case with the back designs).
In many other decks the other Aces are neglected or overlooked, so to compensate for that, in this deck all four Aces have been given their own special framing.
Furthermore, all the red pips in this deck have been given more vibrance and energy than normal, by being printed in a metallic red.
Erik considers the "Oracle" edition of the Mana Deck to pay homage to three related art forms: magic, mentalism, and cardistry.
These influences are immediately apparent when looking at the Joker, which was designed in honour of cardists. It pictures a visual display of the Oracle Cut, which is Erik's variation of the Sybil cut with an `Angel' display.
This deck was designed by graphic artist Esez Campaña, in collaboration with Erik Mana. It was produced by Manila based Cutting Edge, which is sole distributor of USPCC products and several magic brands (e.g. Ellusionist and Theory11) in the Philippines.
Campana and Mana worked together in order to capture something of the spirit of a performer. In their words: "Both magician and artist worked together to develop a unique deck that would transcend time and would embody the true spirit of the performer. What they conjured was a fusion of old world elegance with modern day artistic flare to symbolize the new era of magic & cardistry with the respect and foundation of the magic of the past." The design process took over 10 months, and the result was a deck of cards with the beautiful artwork seen in the accompanying photos.
The deck was printed by USPCC, on 325 card stock with their usual "Magic Finish", which is preferred by many for the smooth fans and flourishes it enables. It has the usual modern cut (back to face) used by USPCC, which Erik prefers because "it allows for beautiful straight dribbles, perfect single hand faros and table faros, not to mention more accurate riffles, pinky counts and thumb counts." The finish and handling was exactly what was hoped for, with the deck fanning smoothly and evening, and the stock being crisp and yet springing well.
The deck was so successful that it was sold out within a week of its launch! It is now considered a collector's item, and typically goes for high prices on the secondary market.
Mana Playing Cards No. 2 - Zinfandel & Indigo
The second installment of the Mana Playing Card series comprised the two deck pair: Zinfandel and Indigo.
These decks were launched via Kickstarter in 2013, and consisted of two matching decks:
- Zinfandel: a red deck, in a black tuck box
- Indigo: a blue deck in a white tuck box
Both tuck boxes feature elegantly embossed designs, touched with gold and silver foil accents.
The back design of these decks (which is also featured on the reverse side of each tuck box) took the flourished vines and ornamental pieces of the first Silver Oracle deck as a starting point. But several changes were made to the original design, including curved borders instead of straight edges.
Geometric elements that make up the back design include the Flower of Life and the Tree of Life, as well as the Golden Ratio which is evident within the flourished vines. Gold and silver inks appear in the central circles, to add a sense of additional class and refinement.
The Zinfandel deck also used the colour of the card back for the red suits, as can be seen here with the Aces.
While the Indigo deck has a silver Ace of Spades that matches the foil accents of its tuck box, the Ace of Spades in the Zinfandel deck seen here is a gold metallic colour that matches the foil accents of Zinfandel tuck box.
Both the court cards and the suit pips for all the cards in these decks were customized.
Notice again how the Zinfandel colour emerges throughout this deck.
The Indigo deck uses the same colours for the heart/diamond pips, but for the court cards uses blue/silver instead of the red/gold.
But the most unique feature of these decks hasn't even been mentioned yet, namely that it has a secret code! Hidden in the deck are a series of riddles that need to be solved, which will ultimately reveal a secret marking system on the card backs.
Shown here are the Joker and the Riddle card that will help you begin this quest.
It's not easy to solve, but your own mind will be the key to the solution! I eventually managed to solve it, but it took a hint or two, and had me studying all the cards and tuck box of the deck very closely. It was very satisfying to finally crack the puzzle, and have my name added to the Wall of Fame as the 47th person to decode everything.
To uncover the code, you need to solve the riddles and collect the clues found within the deck. This will eventually will bring you to a link at Erik's website, where the final secrets of the deck's clever and hidden marking system are revealed and explained.
Once again this deck was also produced by USPCC, with their Bee Casino Stock, Magic Finish, and using four metallic inks. I have the Indigo deck, and it looks great and handles smoothly and satisfyingly.
Mana Playing Cards No. 3 - Sybil
The third and final design of the Mana Playing Card series is called Sybil. Given the success of the original Silver Oracle deck, this was originally conceived as a Gold version of the popular Oracle deck, although it ended up turning into two different decks, one blue and the other gold/platinum.
In Greek, sibyl is one of the words used to describe an oracle. The famous Sybil Cut card flourish is also one of cardistry's most fundamental moves, and was the inspiration behind the Erik's own Oracle Cut. In ancient times, sybils were often prophetesses who were sought out for divine advice. Playing cards have also been used in divination and magic across the ages.
So the word "sybil" has a dual meaning, pointing both to the flourish that is the foundation of many cardistry routines, and also to the magical uses of playing cards.
The main deck which was produced in the largest quantities is Sybil Livida, and is the one pictured here.
In the end, the Gold version of the deck became a limited edition, while the main unlimited edition that printed in larger numbers is blue. The “Livida” of the deck’s title refers to the blue-gray of the cards’ metallic ink, giving the deck a rich, luxurious design.
Despite the original plan, the deck ended up going through a greater evolution than just a new colour. Changes were also made to the back design, card faces, and tuck box.
The design of the card-backs clearly hark back to the design of the original Silver Oracle, but with some enhancements including a new frame design with thinner borders. Once again there's the illusion of a 3D look, which is very impressive to see first hand.
The custom Ace of Spades again uses elegant scroll-work, which proves to be an exquisite companion alongside the ornate details of the card backs
The court cards are classically inspired, but are custom-designed, with more modern looking faces for a fresh new look.
Unlike the Mana Deck No 2, the courts feature both red and blue colours, with the blue colour of course matching the card backs.
Here's a set of court cards for the Spades.
The number cards all have an artistic flourish below the pips, which really adds to the visual effect of fans and spreads beautifully.
I'm also a real fan of the pips. The diamonds have beautiful shape, and along with the hearts feature a shading effect rather than a single colour, giving a sense of depth and shape, while the design of the clubs is absolutely exquisite.
The two jokers feature Sybil herself. Somewhat surprisingly, a choice has been made to give the Joker a full-bleed vintage style background, which makes it really stand out from the rest of the deck.
Magicians will also appreciate that one of the Jokers has a three of hearts reveal.
But the most striking thing about this deck is the innovative cigarette-style tuck box.
This is also printed with Livida metallic ink and embossed with a silver foil accents for a real look of luxury.
It doesn't open and close as easily as I was expecting, and the cards can be a bit of a squeeze fitting back in. But the advantage is that it is incredibly unique, and it also won't open accidentally, with cards spilling in all directions at just the wrong moment!
One further change with this deck is that instead of being produced by USPCC, the playing cards were produced by Expert Playing Card Company, in their Master finish.
The Master finish from EPCC/LPCC features card-stock that is stiffer and thinner than Bicycle, but it is more durable and has more spring (see my review about cards from this publisher for more details), and it also helps give more shine to the metallic inks used in this deck.
In addition to the unlimited Livida version, two special editions of this deck were produced: Gold Reserve and Platinum Reserve, with only 1000 of each. These came with a signed and numbered certificate, and a holographic numbered seal.
The Gold and Platinum decks hark back to the silver metallic look of the original Silver Oracle deck, as is evident from the Gold deck seen here.
Notice the touches of metallic gold on the cards.
Unlike the Livida deck, which used blue for the court cards, those in this deck use gold.
Here's a look at the Platinum version:
Both the Silver and Platinum decks also come with the stylish cigarette style tuck box, but in matte black, with gold and silver foil accents, with these metallic colours also being used for the inside sleeve.
Here's how the cards from all three versions turned out:
One big challenge with the Sybil deck was its ambitious scope, given the unique tuck box and elements that placed higher than normal demands on the production process. The box alone required the manufacture of a special custom tuck box in China, plus the complication of requiring the combined efforts of two different printing companies (USPCC and EPCC) that don't normally work together.
There were real issues in fulfilling the project, which unfortunately was delivered very late to many backers. To my knowledge, sadly even now not all the kinks in fulfillment have been ironed out, which is regrettable considering how innovative this concept was, and how beautiful the deck turned out.
OTHER PLAYING CARDS
In between his work on the Mana Playing Cards, Erik has also been involved in creating two other projects.
The Verve series was produced in 2012 by House of Playing Cards, in three different colours, with the names: Elan Rouge, Brio Blue and Shine Yellow. Only 5000 of the red and blue versions were produced, and 2000 of the yellow versions.
The name Verve is a deliberate choice, because it means "having vigor, spirit, or enthusiasm."
1. Verve Elan Rouge
In designing this deck, Erik was inspired by the plush leather interior of luxury sports cars. He wanted to create a deck that would be at home in this environment: simple and elegant, yet exuding richness and quality.
In order to evoke a premium feel that would comfortable in a luxury sports car or high-stakes poker game, he went for a striking leather-look on the card backs, as seen here with cards from the Elan Rouge version.
The Joker features a striking sport-like striped design that is in harmony with the overall concept of this deck.
The court cards also feature the maroon colour that dominates this deck, and have a zinfandel/gold colour scheme that is reminiscent of the Mana No. 2 Zinfandel deck.
2. Verve Brio Blue
Meanwhile the Brio Blue deck features an elegant blue look, once again with an elegant sports-car style striped design for the Jokers shown here.
This emphasis on blue is also evident in the court cards, with gold and blue being the chief colours.
3. Verve Shine Yellow
Finally, here's a quick look at the Shine Yellow version of the Verve deck, which was produced in the most limited numbers, with just 2000 produced.
Once again the court cards look incredibly classy. The artwork is unchanged, but the red/gold of the Elan Rouge and blue/gold of the Brio Blue has now turned into a silver/gold, with black being a staple colour for each.
The Verve decks were produced by USPCC on their Bee Casino cardstock, with their usual Magic Finish, to ensure durability and smooth handling.
Busking has a long history, and it was also part of Erik's personal history, when he started out as a young magician. He met some amazing performers during summer festivals, and admired how they were masters of their craft, whether music, dance, painting, drama, magic, comedy, acrobatics or juggling. The Buskers deck was created in 2015 in honour of these artists, with their diverse talents and abilities, and in tribute to the happiness they bring audiences around the world.
The two versions of this deck are the Buskers Original Vintage (beige) and the Buskers Exclusive (black), which was a limited edition of only 1000 decks.
1. Buskers Original Vintage
The Buskers Original deck has a vintage design, with a nostalgic look. It was the first of Erik's designs that used a borderless back design, which is a simple hypnotic pattern that will appeal to many.
The court cards are hand drawn, and each represents a type of busker (e.g. magician, juggler, musician, mime, contortionist, etc).
Pictured here are The Escapist, The Divine, and The Conjuror.
The cards all have exquisite line decorations running down the sides of the cards.
The Joker figure incorporates a handy Three of Hearts reveal.
Over-sized and stylish pips are the order of the day for all our busking Aces, with the Ace of Spades being the natural leader.
This bonus diptych that comes with the deck captures the idea of how buskers perform their art "For the love".
2. Buskers Exclusive
The Exclusive Deck differs from the Original Vintage deck in that it has card-backs with a black design.
It also features some different artwork on the cards, such as a unique Ace of Spades.
Both decks were produced by the Expert Playing Company in their Master finish.
What do I think?
Innovation: In his range of Mana Playing Cards, Erik Mana has certainly been pushing the boundaries of his designs, with new ideas being incorporated in each successive incarnation of his deck. Each deck in this series has something special about it, beginning with the original Silver Oracle deck that has card-backs with a striking 3D effect. The Zinfandel and Indigo decks that followed both incorporate a secret code that needs to be solved by a series of clues and puzzles. Finally, the stunning Sybil deck has a unique cigarette style tuck box.
Magic: Erik is first and foremost a magician, and it's obvious that his playing cards are especially targeted towards practicing magicians. They are very elegant and functional, without too many distractions, to ensure that they are ideal for card magic or card games. In addition, good handling is important to him, and so he's opted for industry leaders like USPCC and EPCC to produce his decks. There are also small touches that show the influence and utility of magic, such as cards featuring "reveals" that magicians will be able to make use of, while the marking system that is subtly incorporated into the design of the Zinfandel and Indigo decks can especially be useful for card magic.
Fulfilment: With some of his decks, the fulfilment has gone quite smoothly as best as I can tell. However the unique designs of other decks has in some cases meant a reliance on numerous parties to work together to produce a project. Especially in the case of the Sybil deck, with its unusual tuck box design, these demanding requirements created extensive delays, and undoubtedly caused Erik a lot of stress that he would have liked to have avoided. As a result, there have been problems with the fulfilment of some of these projects. Right now the secondary market is the best source for these decks.
Style: All of Erik Mana's deck designs feature a very elegant and classy look, that will be right at home in the hands of a magician, on a poker table, or in a game of Cribbage. These are decks that aren't just for collectors to look at, but for magicians or gamers to use. Erik's original purpose in creating the Mana Playing Cards brand was closely linked to his own need for good decks of cards to use in performing magic, and this requirement has ensured that his playing cards are very practical and functional, and that the creativity of the designs never comes at the expense of clarity.
Quality: The initial decks for Mana Playing Cards were produced by industry leader United States Playing Card Company. With his final decks, however, Erik switched to Expert Playing Card Company (EPCC) for the printing of the cards. I'm a big fan of EPCC, and think their decks are in many respects at least the equal of USPCC cards, particularly in terms of the cut and durability. The handling of the Diamond/Master finish can take some getting used to if you only have experience with Bicycle style decks, but it is very durable, and feels thinner and stiffer than a regular deck, with a pleasant snap. The Damask/Classic finish is probably closer in feel and handling to a typical Bicycle deck, but there are those who prefer the Diamond/Master finish, and it is certainly a high quality product.
I love the cards I've seen from Erik Mana so far, his Mana Playing Cards series easily being the highlight. They are high quality cards that have a very beautiful design, especially on the card backs, while also being very practical and functional for card games or magic. Even though he has taken a break from creating new custom designs after the challenges he faced in fulfilling some of his last projects, I for one am hoping that he will come back from those disappointments with the wisdom and experience needed to continue to produce quality decks that match the calibre that he has published so far.
Meanwhile it remains true that Erik Mana has made some stylish contributions to the custom playing card market, and even though these may not all be the easiest decks to get hold of, they remain beautiful decks of quality playing cards that any magician or card player will enjoy having in their hands!
Want to learn more?
Erik Mana: www.erikmana.com
Mana Playing Cards: www.manaplayingcards.com
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