So You Want to Learn Card Magic?
What do David Blaine, Justin Willman, and David Copperfield have in common? Outside of money and TV shows, they do kick-ass card tricks. The best part is that most of the things they do are actually in your grasp once you understand the fundamentals of card magic. So grab a deck of playing cards (I recommend Bicycle or Superior Brand) and let’s get to work.
Let’s get good at the basics!
Like with any skill, magic is a constant refinement of the fundamentals. So where do we start learning the fundamentals? Learning card magic has never been easier with so many resources but the issue is that without proper guidance, the number of resources can seem a bit overwhelming. I want to hit on three topics I think every magician should spend more time thinking about, but maybe particularly useful to a beginner. These are three things I’m always learning about and trying to refine.
Ultimately magic is just storytelling. It’s not once upon a time - it’s about the here and now. And you need to hook them into the present moment and make them care about the playing cards. What are you demonstrating? Is it intuition? Sleight of hand? What are you doing?
As a writer, I have a lot of thought about what makes a good presentation, especially in card magic. It needs to be clear but still engaging. But how can you experiment with presentation if you don’t have anything to present? Enter self-working card tricks.
The less you have to do, the more you can spend time focusing on how to be engaging with your audience. Most self-working tricks rely on mathematical principles or special procedures. This means that the performer doesn’t have to do any complicated moves and can spend more time making the magic more engaging. The ability to present these self-working card tricks will carry over to all aspects of magic.
You can probably find self-working card tricks all over the internet but I want to offer two resources to get you started.
Card College Light series by Roberto Giobbi is a gold mine for these self-working miracles. John Bannon is also a master at creating interesting effects with minimal moves. Move Zero is an entire DVD set that teaches some of the strongest card magic that involves only the minimal knowledge of card magic.
Sleight of hand
This section could be a post just by itself. Sleight of hand is one of the biggest topics in card magic and can often be the scariest for those just starting out learning card magic. I want to first ease your mind and let you know that the best card magic often will only contain a small number of sleights.
In my opinion, the 80-20 rule still applies to card magic. Being able to perform 5 or 6 moves will set you up to do absolute miracles with a deck of cards. So where should you start?
Once again, Roberto Giobbi is one of the absolute greatest teachers of magic. His Card College series (not to be mistaken for the Card College Light series) will teach you everything you will ever need to know about card magic. Can they be a bit dry at times? Yes, but so is anything worth learning.
I also can't recommend the work of Ben Earl. Ben and his team over at Studio52 have two courses called Brilliant Basics. Ben walks you through step by step to make sleights look natural and effortless. These will be the building blocks to learning some really amazing magic. Can’t recommend his stuff enough.
Tricks are cool—principles are powerful.
Principles bring card magic together. You may know how to do a pass, but a memorized stack will elevate your magic. A second deal is a great way to switch a card but the ability to discretely place a key card can create an absolute miracle. Principles give card magic its shape.
These are the methods that are not mechanical. They are the underlying current that pushes the effect to a successful end. The most famous is the key card principle. You probably learned it from an uncle or drunk friend. You secretly placed a known card above (or below) an unknown selection. Once you understand it as a simple concept, you can play with different types of keys and means to place the key next to or close to the selection.
Once you fully understand a principle, you will be amazed at how it can be used. Christian Grace and Ollie Mealing are two of the best at taking principles and exploiting them in some clever and fooling card magic. I swear Ollie has more ways of placing a key card than you will ever need but they are always brilliant. Christian fools me every month. At this point, it’s a tad annoying!
I feel guilty for not recommending Marlo, Vernon, or Erdnase. But I'm old enough to realize that not everyone is a nerd like me. If you want to get good at card magic, it's about refining those three skills. You can easily refine those skills with just a few resources. Those resources will inevitably point back to them and maybe you will venture down that path. I know I did.
When I was 8, my dad taught me my first card trick. Unfortunately, it involved a palm and my tiny hands were incapable. So, feeling bad about that fact, my dad went to a library and checked out a book on self-working card tricks. I cherished that book and never returned it.
As I grew older, I learned how to palm and I did eventually learn the trick my dad showed me. I started using a memorized deck, which opens even more doors in card magic. I’ve performed for drunk friends and politicians.
But no matter what or where I was performing, it all came down to three things: sleight of hand, principles, and presentation. Learning magic has presented me with some really cool opportunities and has made me some of the most wonderful friends. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I have!