The past, present and the future as well
The cards, the cards, just take three!
Take a little trip into your future with me!"
A form of Ancient Artifact, Cards of Power are small, rigid pieces of paper or cardboard which possess paranormal or magical powers. The abilities they possess vary widely from one narrative to another. In some works, they can summon creatures or monsters. In others, they are used to cast spells or as a Transformation Trinket. They are also often tarot cards and may use Tarot Motifs. If the cards are always shuffled, this can be a way to create risk in casting spells - you know you'll get something, but it's impossible to know what.
Compare Death Dealer, when the cards are used as physical weapons.
For a version specific to video games, see Fight Like a Card Player.
- Cardfight!! Vanguard: The cards allow access to another realm from which you can summon the monsters/characters (though you also need a special ability to use the cards in this way).
- The Clow cards in Cardcaptor Sakura contain magical spirits and each card allows the main character to have access to various types of powers such as Playing with Fire or Making a Splash. Arguably are one of the Trope Codifiers due the series popularity and memorability.
- Hitomi Kanzaki from The Vision of Escaflowne uses Tarot cards for what she thinks is ordinary fortune-telling. However, while she is on Gaea, her psychic talent actually creates the future she foretells.
- Fairy Tail: Cana is capable of using her cards to create magical explosions, water geysers, scantily-dressed women and at least once uses them to put a person to sleep. She usually throws them like shurikens but can also imprison people inside them.
- Negima! Magister Negi Magi: When a mage and his partner form a Pactio, the partner receives a card that allows them to summon a powerful artifact, such as Asuna's fan/sword and Nodoka's magic diary.
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: Naturally, for an anime based on a card-fighting game. In that world, cards played summon a monster in a field that fights the opponent's creature. Most of the time, they're just big holograms; sometimes, though, they're all too real.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V takes this trope to its logical conclusion with the Duelist Chojiro Tokumatsu, whose monsters mostly resemble Hanafuda cards.
- Digimon Tamers: A drawing of a Digimon created by Takato went through his D-Ark/D-Power's card swiper, causing the Digimon portrayed, Guilmon, to become real. Otherwise it usually servers to either power up or Digivolve their Digimon by swiping the appropriate card through their own D-Ark/D-Power Digivices.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, Chrono eventually gets a Storage Device Durandal, that has a card form when on standby.
- In Bleach, one minor Bount villain could summon traps from a distance using what looking suspiciously like a Trading Card Game.
- Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA: The Class Cards can be 'Included' into Magic Wand to a transform it into a Noble Phantasm, a weapon corresponding to the Heroic Spirit the card is based off of, or 'Installed' into the mage, temporarily granting the user access to the Heroic Spirit's abilities instead.
- Used in at least two different ways in Hunter × Hunter:
- Shikaku can create cards that can summon things. Appropriately, he calls it "Culdcept: Yu-Gi-Oh!," though he's killed off before he ever actually uses it onscreen. However, Prince Benjamin now has this ability through Power Copying.
- Mizaistom weaponizes sports penalty cards. He creates rules for his enemies, and said cards take effect only when broken. When he holds up the yellow card, his enemies are prevented from moving, though they can still speak. When he holds up the red card, they are "expelled," according to Mizaistom, though what this means, exactly, is unknown.
- In One Piece, Basil Hawkins has a deck of tarot cards, which, when presented during a battle, creates a variety of different effects depending on which card he draws and whether he draws it rightside-up or upside-down. Since some of them benefit himself and some of them benefit his opponents, and Hawkins cannot know the order of the cards to use them, doing so turns any battle into a Luck-Based Mission. However, Hawkins has memorized all of the effects and is well-prepared for any of them to come up, especially the ones that put him at a disadvantage. Outside of battle, Hawkins can also use the tarot cards to accurately predict the odds of anything he wants; this is how he's lasted so long in the dangerous New World region and how he's never been caught by the authorities.
- Lucifer: The Basanos; a magical set of tarot cards with the power of prophecy (amongst other things), created by the angel Meleos. Not merely magical, but also sentient. The Basanos also have a few more Arcana than a standard Tarot deck, including several cards representing major angels such as Lucifer (as The Lightbringer, not The Devil).
- Vampirella: The villain Von Kreist sealed a piece of his soul in a deck of cards and had his descendant transfer that piece into Vampirella's friend Sofia.
- In Roger Zelazny's The Chronicles of Amber novels, the royalty of Amber uses Tarot cards for communication and teleportation.
- Warhammer 40,000 works such as The Last Chancers and Ciaphas Cain often make mention of the Emperor's Tarot, a special tarot deck used by psychically-attuned Imperial agents believed to have genuine precognitive powers thanks to a link with the God-Emperor himself. In Ian Watson's Inquisition War trilogy we see how it works - each card is a screen featuring images that alter based on the one using them and the situation. When Draco does a reading in Inquisitor, the Daemon card took the form of a Hydra and the Harlequin card took that of Zephro Carnelian.
- In the novel The Greater Trumps by Charles Williams (obscure Inkling and friend of C. S. Lewis), the original Tarot deck can be used to control the elements (with the suit cards) and has even more profound, if obscure, powers in the trump cards.
- The Demigod Diaries: Alabaster's Mistforms seem to be held within cards when they're not in use.
- Three separate Kamen Rider series use this trope in different ways:
- In Kamen Rider Ryuki (and by extension its Western adaptation Kamen Rider Dragon Knight), the Advent Cards are part of the contract formed with the Mirror Monsters and let them do things like summon equipment and perform Finishing Moves.
- In Kamen Rider Blade, the Rouze Cards serve a dual purpose: it's how the Riders seal away the Undead, and once sealed the Riders can draw upon their powers to get Status Buffs and, again, perform finishing moves.
- In Kamen Rider Decade, the Rider Cards let Decade use the forms and abilities of the nine previous Kamen Riders, transform them into giant weapons or, you guessed it, perform finishing moves.
- Tensou Sentai Goseiger has the heroes insert cards into their Tensouder to cast spells, as does its counterpart Power Rangers Megaforce.
- In Kamen Rider × Super Sentai: Super Hero Taisen, the Goseigers even loan some of their cards to the aforementioned Kamen Riders to help them deal with a powerful enemy.
- Ultraman Orb uses this as its Merchandise-Driven element. Both Gai Kurenai and Jugglus Juggler use cards that respectively contain the powers of Ultramen and monsters, with Juggler calling forth villains for Gai to fight by using two Ultra cards to become a hero with the combined powers of both.
- In Bar Karma, the magic card deck shows three possible outcomes or "timelines" for its patrons, who wandered into the bar mysteriously, because their decisions will dictate the direction of their destiny. In most cases, many lives will be at stake in order for a patron to be drawn into the bar.
- The front cover of the Blue Öyster Cult's Agents of Fortune album shows a sinister Dealer spraying out Cards of Power.
The flash of his cards was sprayed with red!
- Their earlier song Hot Rails To Hell is variably about a card game resulting in murder and mayhem, or else Cards Of Power dragging a gambler down to Hell.
- This trope naturally occurs in Nothing Is Sacred, what with it being a Yu-Gi-Oh! quest and all. In contrast to any of the show's standard protagonists, however, Stella Atlas is able to make use of her cards both in and out of battle. By expending a portion of her spiritual energy while using her Shadow Charm, she is able to manifest her cards in either world. This ability gives her access to a variety of useful spells, such as Swords of Revealing Light and Pot of Greed.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- The Deck of Many Things. Beneficial cards in the deck could grant the person drawing them great wealth, magic items, high social position or even Wishes. A baneful card could strip away wealth, cause a powerful demon or devil to hate the character or even cause the person who drew it to be instantly and irrevocably killed.
- Deck of Illusions: throwing down a card will create an illusionary monster, with a different monster for each card.
- Deck of Fortune Telling from the Ravenloft setting. When someone pulls a card out of the deck it will tell that person's future.
- Quarter Deck: When a card is drawn and shown to an opponent, the opponent may surrender.
- Sun Deck: Any card drawn from the deck will give off a bright light.
- Tarot Deck of Many Things: Like the regular Deck of Many Things but with a Tarot motif. The cards have beneficial or negative effects depending on whether they're right side up or upside down when drawn.
- Module X2 Castle Amber. In one room, the PCs can turn over special cards from a Tarot deck. Each card has a specific magical effect on the person who turns it over, such as The Moon (going insane), Death (make a Saving Throw or die), or The Fool (Feeblemind spell cast on character).
- Deadlands: Hucksters are The Weird West equivalent of mages; their 'spells' are based around poker hands, in keeping with the significance of poker cards and hands throughout the game rules. Justified in that each spell is literally a huckster playing cards with a demon to borrow/steal some of that demon's power.
- North Pole Publications' The Serpent Islands (a generic RPG adventure) had Ardol's Gateway Deck. These enchanted tarot-like plaques depicted various people or places. Intently gazing at the picture of a place would teleport the gazer to that place. Gazing at the picture of a person would open a Gate between the user and that person. Passage through the Gate was possible only with the permission of the person depicted.
- Shadowrun has the Sixth World Tarot, which has a physical real-world version available as well. In addition to fortunetelling usage, individual cards have powers that can be activated that range from granting temporary technomancer powers to a favor from Lofwyr.
- Magnus from the Baten Kaitos series are cards that are used to store the essence of objects within them. This allows characters to carry otherwise impractically heavy or cumbersome things and occasionally even intangible objects like "good times" or "chronic fatigue." These cards also form the basis of the game's battle system.
- Meena the Fortune Teller from Dragon Quest IV naturally had a Tarot Deck she could wield as her penultimate weapon for the chapter she and her sister star in. While the cards' stats are left wanting by more powerful weapons from chapter five, many players will keep them around rather than sell them for the various useful effects actually using the cards like an item in battle would have (such as the Sun card completely replenishing your party's hp and mp). Naturally, being a luck based item, there were also negative effects the deck could grant, most notably that of the Tower card.
- The early Persona games had, well, Personas, summoned from cards.
- Persona 3 subverts this though by favoring pseudo-suicide as a method of Persona summoning. However, Tarot Cards and related motifs are still hanging around, if mostly as a means to influence what monsters you can create through fusion, among other things.
- Persona 4 goes back to using cards directly, which the characters break to summon their Personas. Yu Narukami/MC crushes it in his hand, Yosuke slashes it with a kunai/dagger, etc.
- Persona 5 again relegates the Tarot Cards to mostly gameplay fluff in favor of masks.
- Dungeon Crawl plays this straight. Decks of magical cards are granted to followers of Nemelex Xobeh, god of cards, as they explore the Dungeon. There are three decks: destruction, which contain cards for attacking monsters, escape, which contains cards for fleeing or healing, and summoning, which contains cards for creating allies (most of the time, anyway).
- Super Paper Mario has Catch Cards, one of several categories of collectibles for 100% Completion. These can be collected either by finding them in certain shops or as treasure, or by throwing a blank card at an enemy and hoping it transforms into that enemy's likeness. The more copies of a particular enemy's card you own, the more damage you'll do against it.
- Twisted Fate in League of Legends fights with magical cards. His signature ability is imbuing his next attack with one of three effects: blue card (restores mana, deals the most damage), red card (area-of-effect damage and slow) and gold card (instant stun, deals the least damage). He also talks like a Southern poker player.
- Hearthstone: The card Deck of Wonders is based on the Deck of Many Things from Dungeons & Dragons. It shuffles five cards into your deck that cast random spells when drawn.
- Touhou Project makes use of Ofuda as per Japanese tradition, but the premise of the games fits more with this general trope. In Gensokyo, humans and youkai have agreed to settle disputes with non-lethal duels, using Spell Cards to create dazzling displays of danmaku for their opponent to deal with. Thus everyone maintains a healthy antagonism without anyone dying, youkai get a fair fight without having to worry about killing the Miko necessary for Gensokyo's continued existence, and spectators get one hell of a show.
- Final Fantasy
- Triple Triad cards from Final Fantasy VIII can be magically turned into magic items and spells. Monsters drop them, and you can polymorph a critter to a card bearing its likeness. The most common use for these miraculous cards, however, is playing the collectible card game of the same name.
- Part of the Astrologian's equipment in Final Fantasy XIV are a set of six tarot inspired cards linked to Fictional Constellations which can grant a Status Buff depending on the card.
- Final Fantasy Type-0's poster boy Ace mostly fights like a Death Dealer, but has the unique ability to "draw" cards in order to invoke a random effect between temporarily freezing his opponent, restoring HP or MP, or throwing an explosive card at his enemy.
- Septerra Core features these as the primary magic system. Each card is a spell unto itself, but you can have up to three party members use different cards all at the same time for a variety of Combination Attacks. The cards' four suits are each connected to one of the four gods in the game's backstory, and tend to have powers based on the gods' abilities in their myths.
- Castlevania: Circle of the Moon uses cards as its magic system. Attribute cards named for various monsters represent the elements and action cards named after the Roman pantheon (or the planets) represent various types of abilities. By combining the two, Nathan is able to cast spells that grant stat buffs, use special weapons, or even summon mythological creatures.
- In Battlerite, Zander's cards heal allies and buffs their defense. The cards can also damage enemies.
- In Sayonara Wild Hearts, tarot cards can become people, animals, obstacles, buildings, hover boards to traverse a dimensional space on, and vehicles to ride or weapons to wield.
- In Arcana, the main character is a Card Master who wields magical cards to cast spells or summon elemental spirits.
- This is how Jump Force adapts Yugi and Kaiba as fighting game characters, by using Duel Monsters cards as a form of Summon Magic.
- The King of Armello arrived in the land with a deck of mysterious cards capable of devastating power. The deck Players use during the course of the game is a copy of unknown origin, while the King continues wielding his own cards to summon Banes and riddle the land with Perils.
- Homestuck: The Midnight Crew's have playing cards that become weapons (and vice versa). In some cases, both individual and combinations of cards can becomes different things, with the whole deck becoming some kind of container that holds all the items.
- In Past Division, the tarocchi Lolli Rose channels her spells through a deck of tarot cards.
- Jackie Chan Adventures used Japanese Hanafuda as scrying tools in its fourth season.
- In Miraculous Ladybug, supervillain Jackady (Simon Says in the English dub) uses a magical deck of cards to control people.
- The Owl House: As a human, Luz can't cast magic the same way that witches do and instead relies on drawing glyphs onto things to cast spells. Late in Season 1, she starts carrying around several premade paper slips for this purpose, frequently holding these slips like a fan of cards.