The Marlo Tilt, also sometimes referred to as the Dai Vernon Depth Illusion (we’ll get into that briefly below), is a beautiful thing to behold.
It’s a visually deceptive card control that allows the magician to place a selected card second from the top of the deck — although it appears the card is being placed fairly in the middle.
This sets the magician up perfectly for a double lift.
The effect, often used in an Ambitious Card Routine is this:
The magician takes a freely selected card and places it into the middle of the pack. The spectator can see this happen — the card pushes its way into the middle of the deck visually before everything is squared.
Then with just a snap of the fingers, the magician turns over the top card of the deck to reveal the chosen card.
History of the Tilt (Marlo Tilt vs Dai Vernon Depth Illusion)
This move is almost exclusively referred to as the Marlo Tilt, or just the Tilt.
Its often credited to Ed Marlo, a famous card magician and creator from the mid-1900s.
However, the move itself has a long history and most magic buffs believe Dai Vernon deserves most of the credit for perfecting and publicizing the sleight.
In fact, Dai Vernon built off the work of earlier magicians like Hofsinzer and others who had toyed with the depth illusion idea. Though Vernon never published a description of the move, he (by all accounts) made it famous.
In his 1964 book “Further Magic of the Hands,” Ed Marlo himself even credits Vernon with beating him to the punch on innovating the sleight.
Marlo, however, was one of the main creators to come up with new subtleties and applications for the move.
So, to make a long story short, the move can be appropriately called the Marlo Tilt or the Vernon Depth Illusion — but most magicians simply known it by the Tilt.
(Thanks to the Magic Lineage Project for the rich and detailed history)
How to perform the Tilt (Tutorial)
There are plenty of different applications and subtleties involved in the Tilt, but here’s how to use it for its most basic purpose:
To seemingly insert a card into the middle of the deck, while in fact inserting it 2nd from the top — in position for a double lift.
- Begin with the cards in your mechanic’s grip
- While participants look at the selected card, or sign it (or undercover of any other misdirection), obtain a pinky break under the single top card
- The easiest way is to push the top card over with your thumb and pull it back on top of your pinky
- Release your thumb from the top of the pack and allow the card to “pop up” a bit
- Insert the flesh of your thumb into the gap that now appears between the top card and the rest of the pack
- You can use a little bit of your index finger to hold the front of the top card down, flush with the rest of the pack
- (You can use your free hand to assist and adjust as needed, especially with good misdirection)
- As far as angles go: You want the back of the top card pointing more or less right at people’s eyes and the deck held straight. If they see the side of the pack, you’ll flash.
- The illusion is that you’re simply holding the pack. They shouldn’t be able to see any gaps between the top card and the rest of the deck
- Take the selected card and slide it, face down, into the gap between the top card and the rest of the pack
- The rear-poke convincer is a great subtlety — before fully inserting the selected card, “poke out” a few cards from the middle of the deck using the selected card… almost as if you’re trying to get it into the middle but it won’t quite go
- Being mindful of your angles, now fully insert the selected card in the gap and square the deck completely
- Their card will be 2nd from the top, although from a front perspective, it REALLY looks like it went into the middle
Watch yourself perform this in the mirror and you’ll see why it works.
By creating a gap between the top card and the rest of the pack, you make the deck look thicker.
So from the right angle, when you insert a card at the bottom of that gap, it looks like you’re inserting it 20-some cards down.
The rear-poke convincer REALLY sells the illusion.
Another excellent subtlety you can add instead of the rear poke is the side break, better known as the Convincing Tilt by Daryl.
Use your mechanic’s grip thumb to pry the deck open somewhere in the middle, creating a gap along the side — WHILE maintaining the tilt on top.
(You’ll need to be proficient at the Tilt to pull this off smoothly.)
When you slide the selected card into the top gap (or better yet, slightly from the side), it will look for sure like it’s going into the space you’ve created in the middle of the deck.
Finally, another nice visual convincer is to bend the selected card slightly as you insert it into the Tilt gap.
Apply some pressure so the card bows — the front flat against the deck and the back a little higher.
It helps create even more depth from the right angles.
Common mistakes with the Tilt & tips
Having trouble with the Marlo Tilt? Getting busted using it?
Here are a couple of things you could be doing wrong:
You’re making the gap too large
The Tilt gap shouldn’t be a cavern.
It should be about a centimeter or so. Just enough to create the illusion of about 15-20 cards worth of depth.
If the gap is too large, you’ll have a heck of a time covering it with your thumb and fingers.
You’re not using a convincer
The rear poke subtlety and the Convincing Tilt concept do wonders for this illusion.
If you’re nervous about trying them, use a little verbal wordplay like:
“That’s about the middle, right? More or less?”
People will usually agree, giving you the confidence to move forward with the move and routine.
This move is ALL about angles. It’s literally an illusion.
If you flash the gap, you’re done. So practice in a mirror and make sure you’re aware of your angles at all times.
I like to point the front of the cards at people’s eyes and then angle it slightly down, but you can also point the deck downward even further (so the back of the cards is facing their eyes).
The downward angle sells the depth even better.
Better yet, you can alternate between these two angles when you’re well practiced, making it look like you have nothing to hide.
The Tilt is perfect for beginning an Ambitious Card Routine, and it’s a great move to set yourself up for a dramatic double lift reveal.
But there are endless applications.
What’s your favorite out-of-the-box way of using the Tilt?