The beauty of card magic is that the entry requirement is very low. There's little investment, because all you need is a deck of playing cards - something almost everyone has in the house already. And while you certainly can learn complicated sleight of hand that requires technically difficult moves, there's a lot of wonderful card magic that doesn't require complex moves at all. Some excellent card magic is well within the reach of the complete beginner. Card magic has a rich heritage, so there is a wealth of wonderful material that is easy to learn, fun to perform, and entertaining to watch, material that is just waiting for you to discover it. But where are you going to find it? You already have the deck of cards, but where can get the tools you need to make your first steps into card magic, or to learn the techniques to help you progress beyond being a complete beginner?
The good news is that there is a fantastic amount of resources readily available, and I want to introduce you to some of the best. My advice is that you get a good book or a good video, because unfortunately the majority of magic that is taught on youtube won't help you learn good techniques. To get a solid start to your card magic, you need to sit at the feet of a skilled magician, by learning from a reliable book or video or perhaps both.
Many reliable titles could be mentioned, and this is not going to be a comprehensive list, so I don't want readers screaming about any of their personal favourites that I missed. This is primarily intended to help out people looking for a place to start, and all of the books and videos mentioned here will make a good point of entry, and are proven and respected resources.
Recommended VideosThese videos listed here are all geared towards teaching beginners from the ground up, so there's nothing here that is outside the reach of the genuine beginner. But you should take into consideration how serious you want your new hobby to be, because some of these videos are designed to make you dive more deeply into card magic, while others are intended to get the novice performing easy material right away.
Card Tricks & More Card TricksWhat if you want to get straight to the tricks, without first needing to first learn all the fundamentals of card magic? There are some excellent videos available which are focused at the beginner and sub-intermediate level, and will get you straight into performing some strong card magic, without knuckle-busting moves.
● Ultimate Self Working Card Tricks series (Big Blind Media). Strictly speaking there's no such thing as self-working card magic, because no tricks are entirely automatic. There's always a sequence of things you need to remember, say, and present well. But "self-working" is a common designation in magic for card tricks that are basically sleight-free. The advantage of these card tricks is that they allow you to focus on your presentation and performance, without needing to learn difficult sleights. They're a great way to enjoy card magic at a relatively easy entry point. The tricks in these videos are not your standard "21 card trick" type of effects, because some wonderful, strong, and powerful magic has come out over the years in the self-working category. This series of DVDs from Big Blind Media is among the best you'll find, with super high production values and clear instruction. Volume 1 was released in 2012, and several volumes came afterwards in the following years. Each DVD contains about a dozen different tricks from various creators of magic, with each trick first being performed to spectators and then taught. You'll find quite a few performance videos from this series on youtube, so you can get a taste in advance of what you'll be learning - and it's good stuff!
● Easy to Master Card Miracles series (Michael Ammar). Michael Ammar is considered one of the most influential magicians of the late 20th century, and he has also earned a reputation for being one of the all-time best teachers of magic. This set of DVDs started coming out in the 1990s and 2000s, and is still highly regarded today for the wealth of solid and classic tricks from top magicians that are included. Nine videos were released altogether, and while Volumes 1 to 6 are often regarded as having the strongest material, they are all very good. As one magician puts it: "I spent ages looking through books to find best tricks. Then Michael Ammar hands them out on a silver platter in this series!" These are top quality tricks, a greatest hit collection of the best of the best, taught by one of the best. Michael also teaches the sleights needed to perform these tricks, as well as the patter and presentation. This set is not quite for complete novices, and is probably between beginner and intermediate level, because many of these tricks do require some basic sleight of hand. Mr Ammar will teach you all you need to know, but more practice will be required to master the tricks in this collection than the ones in the Self-Working series from Big Blind Media. But you will learn some time-tested classics of card magic, and some super strong material you'll be performing for the rest of your life!
Basic Card Fundamentals & Some Card TricksRather than diving straight into learning some tricks, you might want to have a more systematic approach to your instruction. The videos in this category each run for around two or three hours, and in the process will teach you some selected fundamentals of card magic, as well as half a dozen strong tricks you can learn. So they're a great place to start if you don't want to make too much of a commitment, and yet want to learn the essentials of some basic card controls, shuffles, and sleights, along with a few really good card tricks that you can use to entertain family and friends.
● Crash Course in Sleight of Hand Card Tricks (Ellusionist). This video is a popular choice that is designed to be a quick start into card magic. For the most part, it goes beyond "self-working" magic, by teaching you the essentials of card handling. In the process it teaches five different tricks: Card in Hand, Here Then There, Heat, Fastest Trick On Earth, and Out of Sight. But more importantly, it also teaches some of the basic sleights that are the building blocks of card magic, like basic cuts and controls. Mastering the material in this video will require some practice, but it is an excellent short course, and you'll be performing some great card tricks once you're done.
● Born to Perform Card Magic (Oz Pearlman). The original version of this DVD was released in 2003, and ever since then it has proven very popular and is often recommended for newbies. The overall instruction covers more ground than the Ellusionist DVD, and includes basic card fundamentals like breaks, controls, forces, palms, cuts, and flourishes, along with four strong routines: Ultimate Transpo, Two Card Monte, Biddle Trick, and Ambitious Card in just under 2 hours of material. An updated and expanded version was released in 2013, and that's the one that's on the market today. It's nearly twice as long, and adds two more routines (Card to Mouth and Slop Shuffle) as well.
Both of these videos are very good choices if you just want to purchase a single video, to get started with learning some sleights and a few strong tricks, and they are certain to give you a terrific kick-start with card magic.
Complete Card Fundamentals & Many Card TricksIf you want to approach your study of card magic a little more seriously, and cover all the fundamentals, rather than just a small selection of hand-picked basics, then you'll want a video course like the ones in this category. These cover all the basics thoroughly, and will also teach you more than two dozen good tricks in the process. You'll need to spend a little more money, but it will be well worth it, and you'll have many hours of viewing and learning ahead! Certainly the videos in the previous category are decent if you want to give your magic a real kick-start. But they are also somewhat limited in their scope, because there's only so much you can cover in 2-3 hours of material. So if you want to invest in something that will give you little more mileage, and will take you a little further in your journey into the world of card magic, that's where these videos come in.
● Card College 1 & 2 - Personal Instruction: The Complete Course (Roberto Giobbi). This video course was originally sold as a set of 4 DVDs with nearly 8 hours of instruction, but is now available as a digital download via Roberto Giobbi's website. You can buy the 23 individual chapters/lessons for €4.95 each - download the first one for free as a sample (link) - or you can get excellent savings by purchasing all 23 lessons as a package for €49.95. It's very good value given the amount and quality of the content, and you'll learn enough here to keep you busy for years. Giobbi is an excellent teacher, with real insight into how magic works, and he teaches all the fundamentals of card magic as well as tricks that apply what you've learned along the way. Giobbi's Card College series of books is also highly regarded, and this video course is based on the books, but is intended to be used independently. It's truly outstanding, and would easily be my #1 recommendation.
● Royal Road to Card Magic (R. Paul Wilson). The Royal Road to Card Magic by Jean Hugard and Frederick Braue is considered to be a classic text book in learning the fundamentals of card magic. In this set of 5 DVDs, R. Paul Wilson goes systematically through nearly all the material of the book, including many of the excellent tricks that utilize the different sleights taught. It's a very good companion to the book, and is generally regarded as superior to other videos that teach the material of the book, such as the DVDs featuring Rudy Hunter.
Recommended BooksWhile videos are excellent because they show you how to do the actual moves required, books do have some advantages over videos. For one thing, one book typically contains far more content than one video ever could cover. Learning card tricks from books also forces you to develop your own style, by avoiding the common mistake of just copying the persona of the video instructor. At any rate, the titles listed here are all time tested and come highly recommended.
Techniques & Tricks - General MagicSeveral books that also serve as more general introductions to the world of magic for beginners also contain excellent chapters on card magic. Even some of the older texts are still relevant today - although some of the classics like the Amateur Magician's Handbook by Henry Hay and The Magic Book by Harry Lorayne are no longer in print and are not easy to obtain. Here are some more recent titles I'd suggest:
● Magic: The Complete Course (Joshua Jay). This is a much newer book, and while it doesn't have much content as Wilson's book below, it does have colour photos, glossy pages, and even comes with a companion DVD that teaches some of the tricks included in the book. The card trick section isn't big, but what's included is very good.
● Magic for Dummies (David Pogue). This book is much better than its title would suggest. It also has some very solid routines, which isn't surprising given that numerous top magicians served as consultants in the making of it. The card trick section is particularly solid.
● Complete Course in Magic (Mark Wilson). This classic book has been reprinted many times, as a testament to its excellence. Even though it is slightly old, it can still be highly recommended, given the treasure trove of solid material found in its pages. It teaches techniques and tricks, includes ample black-and-white illustrations, and covers a lot of excellent content besides a massive section on card magic and techniques.
Techniques & Tricks - Card MagicWhat about books dedicated specifically and exclusively to card magic? There are plenty to recommend, and these would be my top recommendations:
● Card College Light, Lighter, and Lightest (Roberto Giobbi). These three books on self-working card magic contain some fantastic tricks. They are well routined, and the real value lies in the excellent presentation ideas and patter that Giobbi teaches. Definitely one of the best places for a beginner to start with card magic.
● Self-Working Card Tricks series (Karl Fulves). These books have been out for a while, but are excellent for the beginner. There are some real gems to be found in their pages. They're also very inexpensive and readily available.
● Magic With Cards (Frank Garcia & George Schindler). This title first appeared in 1975, and was reprinted in 1993. Used and new copies can be purchased extremely cheap on the secondary market. It is self-described as containing 113 easy-to-perform miracles, and there is some great content here that is easy to learn. It was my own entry way into card magic, and I still often use and recommend it.
● The Royal Road to Card Magic (Jean Hugard & Frederick Braue). If you want to get more serious about your card magic, this is the classic text that almost everyone will recommend at some point. It is somewhat dated, but it does a wonderful job of teaching sleights, as well as tricks that apply them. It is regarded as a classic for a reason, is still in print and is readily available at a low price. It's especially good to work through this book using a teaching DVD (e.g. the one by R. Paul Wilson) as a companion.
● Card College 1 and Card College 2 (Roberto Giobbi). These two books are the basis for the previously mentioned and excellent video course of the same name. Giobbi is a well respected teacher of card magic who is highly regarded because of this series of books. This series is the best modern alternative to The Royal Road for studying the fundamentals of card magic and for mastering a good set of tricks at the same time.
Showmanship & Trick DesignIf you want to make real progress with your card magic, you'll want to learn more than the fundamentals of card handling/control, and some tricks. Good magic is about much more than just the techniques and the tricks, because you'll also need to know how to present them in a way that makes them seem impossible and entertaining.
● Strong Magic (Darwin Ortiz). Darwin Ortiz has written a couple of outstanding books about these areas, and the subtitle of this book tells you what to expect: "Creative Showmanship for the Close-Up Magician". It has rightly been applauded for being an outstanding work on the subject of showmanship in magic, and is widely regarded as a modern classic on the subject. Darwin's first love is card magic, and so his books also emphasize this in the many helpful examples that accompany his writing.
● Designing Miracles (Darwin Ortiz). This is is subtitled "Creating the Illusion of Impossibility", and is a follow-up to his earlier book, Strong Magic. It addresses another often-overlooked element of magic besides showmanship, namely the design of a magical effect, and how it is constructed in a way that it produces maximum astonishment. Like its predecessor Strong Magic, it's fantastic, and will help you improve your card magic enormously.
● Maximum Entertainment (Ken Weber). This belongs in a similar category to the above two titles, and also deserves mention here. It also covers all the essentials of good showmanship, and everything else you need to be thinking about when performing magic.
Books like these won't teach you a single trick, but they will certainly help you make all the ones you do know much better. These three titles have single-handedly improved my card magic more than any other magic books I've ever read. There's plenty of resources that do a good job of teaching you the mechanics of magic, but for a routine really to feel magical, it requires good presentation and construction, and that's what these books are all about.
Final ThoughtsSo there you have it - more than enough recommendations to get you started. Naturally these are just my personal suggestions, and other worthy candidates could equally be mentioned alongside them. But I am confident you'll find that the ones I have recommended are time tested and are commonly agreed to be among the very best. And while they are all suitable for beginners, it's not just beginners that will profit from them. Many experienced magicians make a habit of revisiting classics like these in order to fine-tune their skills, and will even find tricks in these teaching materials that they incorporate into their working repertoire!
With reliable coaches like the ones you'll find in these videos and books, you are well on your way to learning some great card magic, and amazing your friends and family. So why not grab a good deck of cards, and get started today!
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known and highly respected reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, cardistry, and card collecting, and has reviewed several hundred boardgames and hundreds of different decks of playing cards. You can see a complete list of his game reviews here, and his playing card reviews here. He is considered an authority on playing cards and has written extensively about their design, history, and function, and has many contacts within the playing card and board game industries. You can view his previous articles about playing cards here. In his spare time he also volunteers with local youth to teach them the art of cardistry and card magic.