A Misconception

By Joshua Jay - Sunday, October 25, 2020

Here’s something I think a lot of magicians would agree with--they might not admit it, but their buying patterns would indicate it’s true for many practitioners: the more interesting the method, the better the trick.

Let’s fix this fallacy straight away: the more interesting the effect, the better the trick.

I’ve been thinking about this a great deal as it relates to memorized deck magic.

An enormous appeal of memorized deck magic is the elegance of its methods. By assigning every card a stack number, a new world comes into a focus: a world of sunken keys, interlocking chains, and secret calculations. Stack magic tickles our brain in a new way, particularly since we’re all used to a steady diet of sleight-of-hand. It’s intoxicating to realize that we can manipulate a deck of cards in our minds as well as in our hands.

What often happens next, though, is troubling. We marvel over the wrong things. We’re impressed with elegant methods to find chosen cards, and we rank highest the effects that would fool us. We lose sight of what will amaze our audiences.

More often than not, the methods are more interesting than the effects. From the spectator’s point of view, nearly all impossible locations look the same: how the packets are cut and precisely when and what packets are shuffled are the sorts of details that magicians love to tinker with. But I’m unconvinced these details deserve more attention than the effect itself.

If you think I’m proving an obvious point—preaching to the choir—consider this: the subtle use of marked cards almost always improves (and sometimes replaces) more elegant but complex methods, and it renders most memorized deck effects stronger in performance. Yet in all my encounters and sessions with magicians, I can count on one hand the number of magicians who regularly employ a marked deck in their stack work. Another example: stack work is full of gambling material, but I would classify most of it as uninspiring. “But it works right out of stack,” one might argue, “as long as you switch cards 23 and 46 and do second deals on the third round of dealing.” The question we should be asking is fundamental: is this the most amazing effect of its kind that I can perform for an audience?

Reader comments:


Monday, 26 October 2020 00:01 AM - Reply to this comment

100% agree. It’s easy to be seduced by clever methods and difficult sleight of hand. If the end effect is the same from a spectators perspective then they won’t care how elegant and clever the method is. Unless it makes the effect stronger clever methods are only useful for fooling other magicians. Context and presentation are far more important than the method??


Monday, 26 October 2020 16:51 PM - Reply to this comment

Never forget the lesson learned by Derek Dingle doing a half hour of close-up for Barbara Walters, at the end she said, “I can understand how you did all the other magic, but how was it that my thought of card was the only face up card in that sealed deck!

Thursday, 29 October 2020 20:48 PM

Well said.


Tuesday, 27 October 2020 22:37 PM - Reply to this comment

You pros have to look at magic through the opposite end of the telescope from us amateurs. For you, it HAS to be effect first, method second. For us amateurs, we have the luxury to bask in method, at least some of the time. As a hobby, magic prioritizes pleasing the performer; as a professional, you cannot afford the same degree of self-indulgence. In my defense, and in that of other devoted amateurs, we don't lose sight of effect and our audience, it's just that we can afford to.


Tuesday, 03 November 2020 12:24 PM

OK, this might possibly be the best comment I have ever read on here. That is right! As hobbyists, we have the "luxury" of "basking" in the method. Let's luxuriate in the method. Because it is, indeed, a luxury hobbyists enjoy.


Friday, 06 November 2020 09:44 AM - Reply to this comment

I rate an effect by two things. Firstly, how amazed I am by the effect, and secondly, by disappointment. I love a sneaky method, but the more disappointed I am when I discover how a trick is done the better. The disappointment gap is the distance between how amazing/magical a trick looks to the audience and how dull and practical it is to execute. Execution and performance are different. A trick that is simple and practical gives you the space not to worry about moves and concentrate on the performance. It is important to remember that "magical" and "practical" are opposites. The real trick is turning one into the other. Bring on the disappointment!


Saturday, 07 November 2020 20:51 PM - Reply to this comment

Interesting post. Seems like you’ve completely changed your mind since your dvd “methods in magic” where you discuss how method is the most interesting part of the trick.

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