If you’ve ever seen a magician perform a card trick that TOTALLY baffled you…
… and you’d swear on your LIFE that they didn’t use any sleight of hand.
Well, it’s possible that they used something like a trick deck of cards or another gimmick.
Trick decks are designed to look just like an ordinary deck of cards, but they’re altered in unique ways that allow magicians to perform truly impossible feats.
The most common trick decks out there are:
- Invisible Deck
- Svengali Deck
- Mirage Deck
- Stripper Deck
- Brainwave Deck
- Rising Card or Haunted Deck
- One Way Force Deck
- Marked Decks
Below, I’ll explain what each one does, how to use it, and where to buy them.
1. Invisible deck
Effect: A spectator is invited to name any card in the deck — truly, it’s a completely free choice. The magician then insists that he knew what card the spectator would choose all along, and he can prove it.
He removes a deck of cards from his pocket, carefully takes them out of the case, and with no funny moves or sleight of hand, reveals there’s just one single card turned over face down among the other 51 face up cards… That card is the spectator’s freely thought of card.
Explanation: The Invisible Deck is probably one of the most powerful effects there is in all of card magic, when presented well.
When you see it in action, it’s absolutely impossible. There’s really no chance the magician could perform sleight of hand, no shuffling, no funny moves.
A spectator just names a card, and boom, it’s turned over in the deck.
This trick is one of the card tricks that made David Blaine famous, as he performed it in his early street magic specials, to insane reactions.
The Invisible Deck works by using the rough/smooth principle.
Half the cards (odd numbers) are turned one way in the deck, and half (even numbers) face the other way. The cards are aligned in back-to-back pairs adding up to 13 (9s with 4s, 10s with 3s, Ks with Ks), clubs with diamonds, spades with hearts.
The backs of each card are sprayed with a solution called roughing fluid, which allows the cards to cling to each other. If you spread through the cards gently, you’ll only see the face-up cards, and the face-down cards will stick to their mates.
But when the magician reaches the thought of card, he can simply apply a little pressure to reveal that one, single face-down card.
The Invisible Deck gets absolutely stunning reactions from people and is totally worth investing in (you can also make your own from non-Bicycle cards if you’d like).
2. Svengali Deck
Effect: A spectator freely chooses a card from a seemingly ordinary deck, then returns it to the pack. With no sleight of hand whatsoever, the magician makes the card appear anywhere in the deck — first on top, then on the bottom, then at various locations in the middle, seemingly all at once.
The magician then reveals that the entire deck has transformed into 52 copies of the spectator’s freely chosen card.
Explanation: The Svengali Deck can allow you to do some really cool effects.
It works on the long card/short card principle.
Half the deck is normal. Normal-sized cards with different values.
The other half of the deck consists of 26 copies of one single card (say, the 2 of Clubs). These “force cards” are slightly shaved and shorter than the normal cards.
When the magician thumbs through the pack one way, the deck appears normal. But thumb through it the opposite way, and you’ll only see the force card.
(Some Svengali decks use a blank force card, so you can make it look like the faces of all the cards have vanished.)
I think the overall effect of a Svengali Deck is less powerful than something like the Invisible Deck, but it’s more versatile and there’s a lot of room here to create your own routines using the basic principle.
3. Mirage Deck
The Mirage Deck is a hybrid of the Invisible and Svengali Decks, using both short card and rough/smooth principles to create amazing effects.
In practice, the Mirage Deck is nearly identical to a Svengali Deck, but there’s one key difference:
Using roughing fluid to hide the force card, you can actually spread through the cards fairly to show the deck as all normal.
This is a pretty excellent twist and, in my opinion, an improvement on the Svengali that takes the effects to a whole new level.
My only issue with the Mirage and Svengali Decks are that they are VERY clearly trick decks. There’s no other conclusion to draw from the performances.
So you better have a killer deck switch up your sleeve.
4. Stripper Deck
Effect: A participant freely chooses any card from the deck, then replaces it in the middle. The magician shuffles the cards face up into face down, fairly, and shows them to be all mixed. With one quick cut and a wave of his hands, all of the cards right themselves except for the one selected card.
Explanation: There are a lot of effects you can do with a stripper deck, including the Triumph variation described above.
You could do that exact same effect without a gimmicked deck, but the stripper deck makes it so, so, SO easy, and you can do this impossible trick (and others) with no sleight of hand at all.
A stripper deck is a normal deck of cards with one edge slightly shaved on a diagonal.
What that means is if all of the cards are aligned properly, it will look, feel, and handle like a normal deck of playing cards.
Take one card and turn it around, front to back (not upside down), and the corner of that card will jut out from the deck just enough for you to easily grab it and “strip” it out.
The applications are endless, and you can use the stripper principle with one card or many cards.
The stripper deck isn’t my favorite, because you can do most of these effects with good sleight of hand, but it can be handled, shuffled, and moderately examined by the audience, which is more than you can say about most trick decks.
5. Brainwave Deck
Effect: A spectator names any card from the deck — a totally free choice.
The magician removes a real deck of cards and spreads through them face down. Not only is the freely thought-of card the only card in the face-down deck that’s facing up, it’s also revealed to be the only card that has a different colored back.
Explanation: This is basically the Invisible Deck on steroids, but there’s a lot to like about this handling and the twist ending.
In the Brainwave Deck effect, you’re able to spread through all the cards face down and still locate the thought of card (the cards are in a simple and easy to remember stack order).
The color twist ending is also pretty fantastic and makes the whole trick even more visual and baffling. It sort of eliminates the idea that the magician could have used sleight of hand to achieve the effect.
The downside is that it’s a little harder to perform than the Invisible Deck, though not by much.
If you’ve been doing the Invisible Deck for a while and want to kick it up a notch, you’ll like this one.
Or learn how to make your own Brainwave Deck here.
6. Rising Card or Haunted Deck
Effect: Up to three different spectators freely select a playing card. All three are placed back into the deck in different spots.
The magician places the deck down in his hand, and without any touching or movement from him, the deck begins to MOVE. Slowly, hauntingly, the deck slides back and forth, spookily jutting all three chosen cards out by itself.
Explanation: In terms of visual card magic, it doesn’t get much better than this.
It’s called the Haunted Deck for a reason — it looks like the deck is doing some serious voodoo magic on its own!
As far as how the gimmick works, it involves some tricky thread work to push the cards out of the deck. You can find more detailed tutorials and explanations online, but you really have to see it to understand it.
You can actually make your own Haunted or Rising Card deck (where one card rises straight up out of the pack, as if levitating) using some thread and basic materials at home.
7. Force Decks
Effect: A spectator chooses a card freely from an ordinary-seeming deck of cards. No matter the selection, the magician is able to divine and reveal the card in any number of ways.
Explanation: This isn’t my favorite gimmicked deck of all time, as there are tons of ways to force a card that don’t require a trick deck.
But for certain effects, something like a One-Way Force Deck (an entire deck of one card, with maybe a few additional cards for “cover”) could come in handy.
Some versions of force decks involve uniquely printed cards, where the top half of each card is random and the bottom shows the force card, so depending on how you fan or display the deck, you can control what spectators see.
If you do have a cool idea for an effect using a force deck…
8. Marked Decks
Effect: Showing a completely ordinary deck of 52 different cards, a spectator freely selects any one of them. No matter the selection, the magician is able to name or reveal the card in any way he wishes.
Explanation: Marked decks, or any deck with a subtle key system on the back that lets the magician identify any card quickly without seeing its face, have a ton of applications.
However, there are few truly special, knockout effects that you can only do with a marked deck.
The good news is you can really be creative and devise your own methods of using a marking system, and otherwise, you can use these decks for all kinds of normal routines.
Most of them will be completely examinable and can be shuffled and handled by spectators without any suspicion.
Or look into specialty cards like Mint or Black Lions that have built-in marking systems.
Pros and cons of using trick decks of cards
Is it worth it to buy and use gimmicked cards?
Let’s break down some of the reasons to try them, and some reasons to stay away.
Pro: Achieve impossible effects
You can find lots of handlings to achieve an effect like the Invisible Deck with regular cards, and some are quite good, but nothing beats the gimmicked version.
Seeing this in action is a thing of beauty. Even when you know it’s a trick deck, it still looks magical. That’s how clean it is.
Con: Most can’t be examined
You’re often left quite “dirty” after using gimmicked cards. If someone wants to see the deck, they often can’t. Stripper decks and marked cards can withstand some scrutiny, but Invisible Decks, Svengali Decks, and Haunted Decks are completely unexaminable.
You’ll need to learn some deck switching or solid audience control to avoid getting yourself in a jam with these decks.
Pro: No sleight of hand
If you’re new to magic and struggling with performing your double lifts, card controls, and other sleights in front of an audience, you can do impossible magic quite easily with trick decks.
I’ll also add that the effects from things like the Mirage Deck or Haunted Deck are a lot more visual than you can usually achieve with cards.
Cons: Can be a crutch
Don’t find yourself leaning too heavily on your gimmicked tricks to the point that you’re neglecting actually learning the card trick basics you need for a solid foundation.
Learn a few basic moves and you can do endless tricks and routines. Most gimmicked decks can only do one basic effect.
Trick decks are a great tool to take your magic to the next level.
I absolutely LOVE the Invisible Deck, and the Brainwave is a fantastic visual twist on it that fascinates me.
But gimmicks shouldn’t be the foundation of your card magic.
Learn the basics, then add one or two of these into your routine for special occasions to really WOW people.
What are your favorite trick decks? What did I miss?
Hope this helps!