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To a budding card magician or flourisher the sheer volume and variety of decks being sold and marketed on magic websites can be quite daunting. It can be difficult to separate the hype from the reality. You might think, Is this card truly worth $5.00 per deck? The answer to that question generally depends less on the deck and more on the performer. The key is to marry a performer's style and skill level with a deck that has characteristics that fit that performance style.
The rank beginner- For someone who has just started card magic or flourishing you need search no further than the Bicycle 808 Rider Back deck in either red,
or in blue
This the most common deck for magicians around the world and one of the most common decks for laymen around the world as well. It’s fans and spreads are above average but in just about every other card handling characteristics (stiffness, thickness, longevity) it is pretty average.
The day to day performer- For guys whose gigs take them through multiple performances of the same set (such as a table hopping environment, busking, trade shows, etc.) it is probably best to stick with the red and blue Rider Backed Bicycles. This is for two reasons. One they are fairly cheap and if you are doing signed card effects at each table you can go through a deck in short order. Two, there are more gaff cards produced on the Rider back than any other card. Purists might look down on those who use gaff cards but believe me, if you are a worker, anything that allows you to create amazing magic, especially if it reduces the amount of knuckle busting sleight of hand you need to perform, is fair game!
For magicians in this category who do want a higher quality deck you may want to check out the Bicycle 809 Mandolin back deck.
This is a deck that was created by and for magicians. The deck is made to look like a Rider Back upon casual inspection but there are subtle differences in the design that allow magicians to alter and gaff the back design (something that we cannot do anymore with the trademark protected design of the Rider Back.) In addition to the design work which was done by a team of designers led by Paul Harris, the legendary card expert and Gambling Expose’ artist, Richard Turner, was called in to help ensure the production quality of the card. What you will get is a high quality card with a traditional cut (more on that later) that by and large looks like the humble Rider back.
The “Card Guys”-(magician slang for card expert)- So you have decided that you want to be more than just a magician who does some card tricks. You want to excel and focus in card magic in some way or form. As you go through the process of becoming a “Card Guy” various styles will begin to influence you whether you focus on just the card magic, or flourishing, or explore both. There three main characteristics of a deck of cards to consider. Thickness, Stiffness, and Fanning. For the purpose of this guide there are also three main styles that I lump card guys in.
The Artists- Think of somebody with a real smooth style. As flourishers, artists tend to do lots of long spreads and spread catches, fan displays and catching cards in fans, long dribbles(like the Anaconda), and more classical “manipulation act” style (back palming etc.) flourishes. As magicians, artists tend to dominate the card table and gambling demos; guys who love second dealing, bottom dealing, difficult riffle stacking and shuffling sequences. Artists will most likely gravitate towards soft decks that fan exceptionally well.
Generalists- These are the guys who don’t necessarily focus on being smooth or powerful but may at times do a little of both. Generalists will most likely prefer a deck that performs similarly to a Bike Rider Back in fanning and stiffness.
The Workers- Think of somebody with a very powerful style. Guys who love knuckle busting moves and contorted fingers! As flourishers they tend to get into packet cuts like Sybil and Molecule aerial packet cuts and tosses. As magicians they tend to be attracted to modern card sleights. The basic DL is just way to boring for these guys. They will go for a Diving Board DL, Knockout DL, center doubles, Floop moves, Clip shifts, One handed pop-out moves, Venous traps, ect. The workers will generally gravitate towards stiffer decks that don’t necessarily fan the best (easy fanning decks can equal less control for certain doubling techniques and even some gliding techniques)
*Note on deck thickness* As far as I am concerned the thickness of the deck is entirely up to personal preference. I.E. Some “artists” will like thicker decks and some will prefer thinner. You just have to find out what works best for you. If you find yourself taking out 3 or 4 cards when practicing makes your sessions easier and more productive then look for a thinner deck. The Bee- Bee decks tend to be thinner than a Bike, softer than a Bike, and fan better than a Bike.
The Bicycle Rider Back Deck- See above! Style: Generalist The Tally Ho deck- A long time favorite among flourishers and magicians alike. Tally Hos perform almost just like a bike but there are some minor differences. They tend to be a tad thinner than a Bike, a tad stiffer, and fan a bit worse than a bike.
Style: Generalist and Workers
Hopefully by now you have an idea of what kind of style you might lump yourself in and which of the three major brands may best suit your style. What follows here is a list of some of the custom decks and obscure decks that are available at Penguin and which style they may best suit. Bulldog Squeezers- An excellent quality deck with a very retro look. Combine the stock of a Tally ho with the finish of a Bee! Thickness of a Tally Ho, stiffness of a Tally ho, and fanning of a Bee.
Style: Generalist and Artist.
Bicycle Guardian- A bold gothic look and high quality printing standards have made this Theory 11 card a favorite among flourishers and cardists. These cards are as thick as a bike and stiffer that a Tally Ho. They fan about as well as a bike.
Style: Generalists and Workers.
Bicycle 125 Anniversary edition- A retro design was given some extra pop with the use of metallic ink in this card. A thicker and stiffer stock than the Rider Backs and they fan better as well. You can get a 6 pack of these cards here:
Style: Generalists and Workers.
Sentinels- A Theory 11 card that uses lots of symbolic imagery in the back design and court cards. This would be an excellent deck for mentalists and bizarrests who perform card magic in their act. The stock is a bit stiffer than a Bike but about the same thickness. It will be hard to find a card that can fan better than these and yet maintain the same stiffness.
Style: these are one of the few cards that could honestly fit any style. Artists and Generalist (Though stiff enough to be a Worker these fan so smooth that they lose a bit of the control in some situations.)
deck ONE- Structurally these cards are almost the exact same as a Sentinel. So if you like how Sentinels feel but are looking for a more industrial look, then check out Homer Liwag’s deck ONE. The only other difference to a Sentinel is the extra beefy card box. It makes the cards difficult to fit into a card clip but the box is so burley you likely won’t need a card clip to protect your cards.
Artists and Generalist (Though stiff enough to be a Worker these fan so smooth that they lose a bit of the control in some situations.)
These decks are a good sample of most of the premium decks that Penguin carries. For more detailed buyers guide check out my Buyers Guide on the forums. There is a more comprehensive list of cards on the magic market and links to detailed reviews of each card.
Also keep your eye on the Penguin Front page and the Penguin Forums. Penguin does its best to get a good selection of quality cards and shopping for cards at Penguin often gets overlooked by card buyers. For instance, in the past Penguin has carried Dr. Leon cards, Split Spade Lions, and other premium cards and currently Penguin still has a supply of 1st edition deck ONEs!
(Thanks to Erik Cooper Ostresh for writing this awesome guide!)
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