• Why do so many magicians perform magic with a deck of cards?

  • September 09, 2019

  • Mostly, because a deck of fifty-two playing cards (fifty-four if you include both jokers) represents randomness in its purest form. A deck of cards has also become entirely synonymous with magic to the point where every single magic kit contains at least one deck of cards. They are also an item that almost every single person has in their house and that they can easily understand since they will have most likely played at least a few card games.

    When starting the process of learning magic, most teachers and mentors will push their students towards a deck of cards. A deck of cards hold an entire world of possibilities within them. As I mentioned in a recent article, if you were to hold a properly shuffled deck of cards in your hands, the odds of them having ever been in that order before are infinitesimally small. A pack of cards beautifully capture a “battle” between the magician, and complete chaos. Cards are used to represent an eternal struggle to try and control chance and possibility that is presented in an easily digestible format for the spectator to comprehend and consume.

    As such, magicians start learning magic with a deck of cards as it is the easiest way to introduce a complete newcomer to the world of possibility that is contained within magic. There is nothing wrong for a new student to start learning coin magic straight off the bat; in fact, some of the greatest magicians do. Complete beginners though, need to be introduced to the more complex concepts that magicians must regularly wrestle with as gently as possible.

    Many card magic effects can be considered “self-working”. What this means is that they require no misdirection, no sleight of hand, no complex movements, but instead only need our new budding performer to learn a series of easy to repeat moves. These effects can be used as the frame around which the tutor provides information on those crucial but seemingly insignificant factors that make for a great magic effect such as presentation, card handling and the patter that brings it all together. This is like learning a straightforward cover of a famous song on the guitar, which for me was Smoke on the Water.

    One of my favourite magicians, Michael Vincent, uses the analogy by saying that a deck of cards is simply the piano he can carry in his pocket.

    Once the student is comfortable with some of these effects, they are better prepared to learn some more complicated effects that require a secret move or two, allowing for the introduction of misdirection and sleight of hand. In this manner, each bit of knowledge builds on the previous and allows the student to grow their understanding in an initially formulaic pattern.

    Later on, having come to grips with these foundational skills, it is that much easier for the student to move on to learning magic with anything they can get their hands on. Once the framework has been created for understanding how magic works in the most basic sense, it can be applied to anything in the world, allowing for the magician to perform any kind of magic effect.

    One of the primary reasons for magicians to use a deck of cards, though, is because audiences understand them. Everyone has seen, or handled a deck of cards, or played a game at some point. They are a universal commodity that unites spectators across the world. I was in an airport in China, on my way to Australia many years ago and while playing with a deck of cards, a few passersby stopped to watch. Without speaking a word of each other’s language, they were able to pick a card, lose it in the deck and have it appear in a series of different places. Because I couldn’t help myself, I fell into performing with the patter I would usually use, and the strangest thing would happen. With no English on their part or Chinese on mine, they would laugh at punch lines, gasp at reveals and applaud at the end of an effect. I put that down to magic more than my abilities as a multi-lingual card shark, but it still makes the point.


    Magic is a universal language, and the most uncomplicated dialect to speak is magic with a deck of cards.

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