What is Magic Orthodoxy?
There are many contributors to the playing card industry. It begins of course with the designers, in whose minds the genesis of a custom deck begins. Then there are publishers like Art of Play and crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, that team up with the creators to actually produce a deck. Next are the printers like USPCC, that make the physical deck by putting actual ink on paper. In many cases there are also retailers that act as a "middle man", whether it be an online website or a physical brick-and-mortar store. Finally there are the consumers, which consist of people like us who buy and use playing cards, and into whose hands the decks end up.
But can you think of an important category of contributors that have I missed? Reviewers. There's a number of established reviewers who play an active and important role in telling us about the latest and greatest decks, giving us our opinion about them. Of course everyone can review a deck, and it's important that we all have a voice in telling the world what we think about particular decks of playing cards - the more people that are part of this conversation the better! But there are some people who have turned reviewing into an art-form of its own, and have a dedicated and loyal following of readers or viewers who have come to trust their viewpoint, and value their perspective.
Among these reviewers, few are better known or appreciated than David, the man behind the popular youtube channel Magic Orthodoxy. David's channel is dedicated to reviews of playing cards and magic, reflecting two of his interests and hobbies. He posts a new review virtually every single weekday, and has a large following of fans, with more than 22,000 subscribers. As an indication of his success, his most popular video has racked up almost 130,000 views, and whenever he posts a new review, many loyal subscribers are quick to post comments. David was kind enough to agree to this interview, so that we can learn more about what he does, and so grow in our appreciation of what he's doing to help out the playing card industry.
For those who don't know anything about you, what can you tell us about yourself and your background? What you do for a day job, and/or what are some of your other interests besides playing cards?
I’m originally from California, but moved to Texas seven years ago to take a job as a Senior Pastor of a local church. I have always collected playing cards, long back before there were “custom” decks to collect. But since I was young, and I didn’t move in those circles (this was before the internet mind you) I had no idea there were other people who did it also.
But I have always been a collector. Like most kids, I probably started off with coins (but that’s expensive) and I later turned my interest into trading cards, movie cards and comic books. I also collect collectible card games, 3x3 speed cubes, and pretty much everything Star Wars. I am also a cosplayer and I build my own screen accurate costumes; this year I made a Star Wars episode 4 Han Solo costume.
What is the meaning and significance of your channel name "Magic Orthodoxy"?
Well, the word “magic” is self-explanatory and the word “orthodox” means “right” or “right practice.” I had grown tired of seeing card reviews always done exactly the same. When I first started out, card reviews were all done by cardists. The presenter would show you how the deck looked in a fan or a ribbon spread and then they would talk about how the deck “handled” like it was an Italian made Ferrari.
I set out to create a channel for people who were more like me, either Deck Collectors who wanted “information” about the cards or Magicians who would use the decks for performance. So the channel title is really a tongue in cheek moniker saying that I do reviews the “right way.”
How did you begin having an interest in playing cards?
I think because I was doing card tricks at a young age, eventually I needed to buy a new deck of cards when my old one wore out, so every time I was at the grocery store I’d eventually get another deck and that led me to discover the different types of decks on the market.
What are some of the things you especially enjoy about collecting and reviewing playing cards?
I enjoy seeing new artists and new innovations from the creative designers that continue to push the industry. Plus, I think as a collector the “community” that is built among other people is just as fun as the act of collecting itself.
What do your family and friends think of your interest in playing cards, magic, and doing video reviews?
Like I said above, I am a 50 year old Pastor who lives in a community of two thousand people, so in truth … that is my life. My online presence is a hobby and so it rarely comes up at all with my family or my friends.
Your oldest video review on your channel appears to be of the Vortex Deck [link] in March 2013, more than 5 years ago. When and how did you get started with doing video reviews?
There was a guy over on one of the card forums that had recently got the deck of AETHER playing cards (the Vortex deck) and he hated it and so he was offering to give it away for free. I reached out to him and said that I was interested in it. Mind you, I had no idea what the deck was, I just knew it was a custom deck and said that I would gladly take anything for free.
He said that he would mail it to me on one condition; that I’d have to do a review for it. I said ok, and when I got it in the mail, I made a quick video review on March 11, 2013 and threw it up on youtube. Later, the guy who gave me the deck said, “I didn’t mean for you to do a review on youtube, I just figured you’d say a couple of words on the forum!”
Five years later and people are still sending me decks to review.
How many video reviews of playing cards have you produced altogether as of now? How many subscribers do you currently have on your youtube channel, and how has this increased over the last year or two?
I have never been an overnight sensation. The popularity of my channel has always been a slow trickle. Keep in mind, my “audience” is very special. Because I don’t vlog, I don’t do tutorials, and I don’t do cardistry. I am an over-glorified “unboxer” of magic tricks and playing cards.
But, I have been doing video reviews since 2013 and I try to upload every day Monday to Friday. I try to include new decks and new magic every single week and every once in a while I will throw in a card game or a speed cube or something else that I am super into.
Right now I have over 22 thousand subscribers with a little over 1,300 videos.
How much work and time is involved in doing a video review? What kind of preparation or follow-up is required beside just filming the video itself?
Surprisingly very little, I am super low tech and low budget. I film everything with my camera phone on a tripod with a modified clip to hold it in place. Over the years I have been able to purchase some photography umbrellas and a clip on mic (all cheap Amazon purchases).
If it is a deck review I spend a few minutes on the web doing research, type it all up and then move everything into my studio and spend about 10 minutes recording in front of the camera. I then take everything to a second location and take all of my “glamour shots” and maybe that’s another 5 minutes?
I edit almost everything in the free video editing software that came with my PC and that’s another twenty or so minutes and I am done.
What is it that you especially enjoy most about doing video reviews? Given how prolific you are, what motivates you to keep this up?
What I like the most is bumping into people at random places who have seen my videos and then having them tell me how much they appreciate what I do. I think when people stop watching me, I will stop making videos.
How do you decide which decks to review?
It’s fifty-fifty. Half of the time designers or graphic design houses ask me to review cards. If I agree to it, they send it to me and those videos jump to the top of the list – because the sender and I have an agreement. But the rest of the time I just review the cards that I am personally buying for my own collection.
Where do you source the decks that you review? Do you have any sponsors that help out?
I think at this point, pretty much every major graphic design company (e.g. Ellusionist, Blue Crown etc) has sent me cards, but it doesn’t happen very often. Now, most of the cards I am sent are from designers on Kickstarter or smaller independents. But, the majority of the time I am purchasing my own cards.
What percentage of the decks that you review do you keep?
I only give away decks when I either get prototypes or extras, even though I do giveaways all of the time. I still “keep” every deck that I open. So at my house there are only two piles – the massive collection, or the giveaway pile.
Your video about Cartomancy and Playing Card Meanings [link] has almost double as many views as any of your other videos. What can you tell us about this particular video and why it is so popular?
I did those videos back when I was trying to reach more people, and to build my image. But I literally knew nothing about Cartomancy before filming. I just approached it like everything else I do, I did the research and then filmed it. But I think those videos are popular because of the subject matter. Fortune tellers have a huge following on YouTube.
How much feedback do you get from viewers, and what does this involve for you to keep up with all their comments or messages?
When I was just starting out, I read a lot of information about how to build your brand. One person said that you should always reply to every comment so that you build a rapport with your audience. So … that is what I have always done. Fortunately each video doesn’t get a lot of comments, so it doesn’t take too much of my time.
What do people seem to appreciate the most about your reviews?
I think my audience is so diverse, literally everyone seems to like (or hate) something different. That sounds like a better question to ask my subscribers.
Of all the videos you've ever produced, which one or two are you the most proud of and why?
Two stand out the most to me, either the Shin Lim review I did for his routine “The Dream Act” [link] or the one I did for Daniel Madison when he released “Erdnase by Madison” [link]. I think in both of those I found myself speaking more from the heart and I was really passionate about what I wanted to get across.
How many decks would you estimate that you currently have in your own collection?
I lost count at 1,000.
How do you organize and display your collection of playing cards?
I store them in cardboard “long boxes” used for sports card collecting. They are all in a cool dry place low to the ground. (I’ve made a few videos about that as well)
Do you have any special categories of decks that you focus on collecting, and what are your favorite types of decks to collect?
I collect playing cards … period. So there are no categories, but my favorite types of decks are either decks that “appear” to have an older more stylized look or decks that are super clean and devoid of any strong design.
What would the most valuable deck in your collection be, and what accounts for its value?
The Microsoft David Blaine deck is probably my most valuable and its value in all probability stems from its rarity.
Which deck (or decks) in your collection is your favorite, and why?
I have new favorites each month, but Paul Ruccio who designs the Jetsetter playing cards has always had a deck either been in my pocket, or by my nightstand.
What has been your favorite deck that has come out so far this year?
I really loved the Cobras that JP Games LTD released.
Do you have any thoughts on the explosion of custom playing cards that we are seeing today?
Like any medium it goes through periods of over saturation. The market gets flooded when designers “think” the fan base wants more cards. But most card collectors are young people with limited income – so buyers are always “choosy” about how they spend their money.
That’s where I come in. I try to be an unbiased reviewer and hopefully my six or seven minutes will help someone with their last fifteen dollars buy the deck that is just perfect for them.
What impact do you think crowdfunding like Kickstarter has had on playing cards and on collecting?
A lot. One of my first designer decks was a crowdfunded deck and at the time, I didn’t even know what Kickstarter was. I am probably on Kickstarter every day and have at least five or so decks in my queue.
What do you think are the qualities that make up a good deck of playing cards?
There are only two. Paper stock and design. After all, what else makes up a deck of cards other than the paper that is used and the ink that is put on the surface? Find a printing house that uses the paper you like, and find designers that you enjoy and you’ll never make a bad purchase.
What advice would you give someone just starting to collect playing cards today? If you wanted to suggest a couple of your videos that you think are particularly helpful or important, which ones would you recommend that we check out?
As with all of collecting, I always tell my audience to “pursue what you love.” I don’t want to be the voice of what people should buy or use. Never buy a deck of cards because someone else told you it was great for magic or cardistry, buy cards and magic that you love. When people ask me for advice when they’re just starting out, I always tell them to buy the things that they love.
You also have an interest in magic, and have produced many reviews on card magic and other magic products. When did you start becoming interested in magic, and how did you get started?
My Dad got me into magic at a very young age and there was a local brick and mortar store in our neighborhood that I would visit each week.
You've even produced a number of card trick tutorials [link]. What can you tell us about your own experience with magic? How often do you perform magic, and in what contexts?
I am a hobby magician, so I only perform for family and friends. Once a year I am on stage for a four night performance in a local talent show. And then in another part of the year, I volunteer at my local elementary school teaching magic tricks to kids for about 3 months.
If you had to choose, what is your true love, and why: playing cards or magic?
Oh there is no way I could answer that ….
You're also active on a number of forums about playing cards and magic. Where else can we find you? Do you do any written articles or reviews at all?
I have written a few articles on my blog, but that’s not my focus. I post my reviews to four or five forums, about eight facebook groups, my own facebook page, twitter and of course Instagram.
What is the best way to stay in touch with your latest reviews and work?
Subscribe or follow my social media channels.
Today we are blessed to live in time where there is constant news about the latest deck of custom playing cards that is being released. It is an exciting time, because it means that there's a steady stream of wonderful new decks appearing on the market on a regular basis, and many of these show evidence of new levels of creativity and imagination. But it also happens that mediocre decks make it into print. So if you are going to spend your hard-earned money on a new deck of cards, how can you make sure that you don't purchase something that will only be a disappointment when you open the box?
That's where reviewers like David with his Magic Orthodoxy channel come in, and provide us with an important service. Not only is David often at the cutting edge of the latest and greatest decks that are hitting the market, thereby helping us stay current and informed about the newest releases. But perhaps more importantly, he takes the time to show us what a new deck looks like, so that we can go into a purchasing decision well informed. To be fair, when watching his videos sometimes I feel like a kid in a candy store, because there are so many good decks being produced nowadays, and I love nearly all of them! But I've long learned that I can't have everything, and that it's important to make careful decisions. And David's videos do a great job of showing all the essentials about a deck, including the tuck box, the card backs, and the card faces. He even measures how thick the cards are with calipers, to give some objective data about how exactly they compare with other decks.
Because David is a very experienced collector, you know that his opinions and thoughts come from someone who knows what he's talking about, and has a wide range of decks he can compare with. He also realizes that selecting a custom deck is largely a matter of personal taste, and has a real ability to be objective in what he shares, so that we can also come to our own conclusions based on what we see.
Besides his interest in playing cards, David also shares another of my own interests: magic. So that means he can comment on playing cards not just from the perspective of a collector, but also as a magician. His magic reviews are also very helpful, and will be useful to other hobbyist magicians considering picking up the latest products. We all know that custom playing cards and magic products don't usually come cheap, so David does us a wonderful service of helping make our buying decisions more informed. David, thanks for agreeing to this interview, and here's to your next 20,000 subscribers and your next 1,300 videos!
Where to find Magic Orthodoxy? First of all head to his Youtube channel, but you can also find David at his website, and on social media including Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known reviewer of board games and playing cards.
He loves card games, card magic, and card collecting. You can see a complete list of his playing card reviews here.