MAKING MAGIC WITH COLORED PLAYING CARDS
Under the helm of owner Rob Stiff, and located in South Dakota, Magic Makers is a company that is a magic wholesaler. In other words, they specialize in all kinds of magic related products, like magic tricks, decks of playing cards, instructional videos, pranks and novelty items, and more. Many of their products are imported from manufacturers in Asian countries including China, Taiwan and Thailand, which helps Rob achieve his goal of selling high quality products to retailers at low wholesale prices. As a result you'll find that Magic Makers products are stocked by magic retailers around the world, and they are also readily available to the mass market via sites like Amazon, often at a very reasonable price.
For examples of some of the magic products produced by Magic Makers, see the reviews I've published elsewhere, including the following effects: Instant Magician Kit; Packet Killer DVD & Gaff Deck; Ultimate Gaff Deck Kit; Game of Aces; Chase The Ace; and Magic Compass.
Rob Stiff brings something interesting to the business world of magic, because he also has experience and expertise in cinematography. For example, he was involved in the filming of the 2015 horror film "The Girl in the Photographs", for which he is credited as second unit director of photography.
His camera experience holds him in good stead with Magic Makers, and he has produced some of the most lavish and well-produced video trailers for magic effects that you'll ever see! See a collection of these impressive videos here. Many of them are like miniature movie shorts, and have been produced with a very high degree of professionalism!
But in this review, I'm especially interested in the decks of playing cards that Magic Makers produce. Now certainly they produce the regular and full range of trick decks that you'd expect from a magic wholesaler, like one-way decks, stripper decks, Svengali decks, Brainwave decks, Mental Photography decks, and more. Their specialty decks also include modern classics like the Invisible deck, and various marked decks. They also carry a number of excellent packet tricks, my favourite being Packet Killer, which comes with a complete gaff deck and a terrific instructional DVD featuring Simon Lovell. These will certainly be of interest to those who enjoy performing magic, whether professionally or as amateurs.
But in addition to the above, Magic Makers has also produced a number of colored Bicycle decks, and it's this range that I'll be focusing on in this review, as well as several other specialty decks they have created: the Black Spider and Black Scorpion decks, the Faded decks, and the Tetra deck. These will certainly be of interest to magicians as well, because each of these decks typically comes with gaff cards, plus information and links to free video tutorials about performing a magic effect with the deck. But these decks will also be of interest to the average person who enjoys playing card games, and just wants to enjoy an unusual-looking or attention-getting deck of playing cards that handles well and is of a good long-lasting quality.
COLORED REVERSED BACK DECKS
This series of colored decks are like standard Bicycle decks, except for the colors. The back of the playing cards features a color scheme that is the reverse of the normal colors, much like you'd expect from a negative photographic image. They have been produced in a range of colors, including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and black. I've just got the black and the orange decks, so those are the ones I'll be covering below.
Note that the ones currently available are actually second generation colored decks. The original colored decks from Magic Makers were the same, but had standard card backs that weren't in the reversed/negative colors. I do think the second generation decks with reversed backs are improvements, because it gives the back a look that is more consistent with the face cards, and it makes the entire deck (front and back) look more visually stunning.
Black Reversed Back
The Black Reversed Back Deck has the immediately familiar look of a traditional Bicycle deck, starting with the tuck box.
In many respects it looks like a standard Bicycle deck in black. But when we take a closer look we notice that all the colors are reversed and in the opposite place you'd expect.
So for example, the card backs look just like a red or blue backed rider-back deck, except what is normally white is now black, and what is normally red or blue is now white.
A similar effect has been applied to the face of the cards. These have an all-black canvas to complete the black look, and while the pips for the Hearts and Diamonds still are in their familiar red, the pips for the traditionally black suits of Spades and Clubs are now in white. This ensures good visual clarity, and yet makes for a very striking and different look, which contrasts sharply with the jet black of the cards themselves.
While the number cards will remind some of Ellusionist's Black Tiger deck, the court cards have a different and unique look. They use a simplified color scheme that relies on white, yellow, and red, again with a black background.
Besides your standard 52 cards, the Black Reversed Back deck comes with four gaff cards: a double face card (Joker & Queen of Hearts), a partial card, a card case gimmick card, and a blank face card.
The packaging provides a secret link that will give you all the information you need to maximize your use of these gaff cards. This is an excellent resource, that consists of several parts:
- downloadable PDF, containing a page of written instructions for using all four gaffs in simple routines.
- downloadable videos, with teaching materials for Card 56 (Elevator Card, aka the card case gimmick), and the Vanishing Deck effect.
Blank faced cards and double backers can be used for a wide range of wonderful effects, and the included instructions give you a simple routine for each to get you started. These gimmicked cards are considered staples in the world of gaff cards, and countless other routines can be found in magic books or resources available online.
Particularly interesting to me is the partial card, which can be used to create a vanishing deck effect. But my favourite card here is probably the card case gimmick card, which you can use to create the illusion that a card passes straight through a deck box. It's called "The Elevator Card", and a short performance and explanation video by Simon Lovell can be seen on Magic Makers page for this deck.
See the official video trailer for this decks, which also includes several great effects using the gaffs here.
Orange Reversed Back
The Orange Reversed Back Deck has a similar look to the Black Reversed Back deck, except with orange being the featured color on both the card backs and fronts.
The card backs have the standard rider-back design, but in orange, and again the colors have been reversed, so the borders are orange instead of white, and the rider-back design has also been reversed.
The face cards feature a full bleed vivid orange look, in which the traditionally red suits employ white for the pips, while black is used for the pips of the traditionally black suits.
The court cards again have the classic look, but have a full orange background, and a simplified color palette of white, yellow, red and black results in a whole new look!
Besides your standard 52 cards, the Orange Reversed Back deck comes with four extra cards: a double-face card (Jack of Spades & Four of Diamond), a double-backed card, a normal Joker, and an alternate Ace of Spades.
As with the Black deck, the packaging contains a secret link to a Magic Makers webpage with instructional materials. This brings you to a page with two videos featuring Rudy Hunter:
- a three minute clip explaining how to perform "A Changing Card" (using the double-facer)
- a five minute clip explaining how to perform "Double Card Prediction" (using the double-backer)
Both are very easy to learn and perform, and yet are quite powerful effects, especially for the amateur.
Besides the two decks covered above, there are also "reversed back" decks in different colors that are available, e.g. yellow, red, green, purple. Each deck comes with its own unique set of gaff cards and downloadable PDF with instructions.
For example, the four cards in the Red deck are a Joker, double index card with a black back, a red/black double backer, and a blank face card; tricks taught include a pocket to pocket transposition with two cards, and a more challenging effect called the 10:30 card trick, that does require knowledge of a special count. The Yellow deck includes a Joker, a blank face card, and the two gaff cards needed to perform the Million Dollar Monte (aka Three Card Ultimate Monte) routine - although only written instructions rather than a video are provided. The Green deck includes a Joker, a double backer, blank face card, double blank face card; and the PDF instructions detail a card printing effect, plus Ted Annemann's Initialed Card Telepathy, and a couple of other effects.
Here are some official video trailers for the reversed back decks in other colors: red, yellow, green, and blue.
BLACK SPIDER & SCORPION DECKS
The Black Spider and Black Scorpion decks take up where the Black Reversed Back deck left off, by adding new colors and twists on the proven formula of a striking black deck.
The Black Spider Deck will in many ways remind you of the Black Reversed Back deck.
The card backs have the standard rider-back design in reversed black, just like what we've seen previously already.
The face cards also use traditional artwork with white and red pips to contrast with the black background.
There's one exception to the expected look - instead of a center pip, the Ace of Spades has a Spider image that we'll be seeing more of in just a moment.
The court cards however are quite different, with red borders, and a color scheme that emphasizes red and blue instead of the red and yellow of the Black Reversed Back deck.
The biggest feature of this deck are the Spider cards. In addition to the 52 regular cards (which includes the above-mentioned custom Ace of Spades with a Spider image), there's a custom Joker which also has the Spider image, plus a double backer with an Ace of Spades on both sides (one with the Spider, one without). There's also a standard Ace of Clubs (white backed), which has a standard looking rider-back design on the card-back but is half-red and half-blue.
These Spider cards will be of great interest to magicians. A fairly basic routine with a simple force is provided, but most magicians will especially enjoy the more fun and powerful trick called "The Black Widow", which creates the illusion of the spiders appearing. Note that the level of difficulty for performing this would be intermediate rather than beginner.
Somewhat strangely, the link for the instruction page for this deck only has printed explanation for how to use the gaffs, and no video is included. There's also no instructions given for using the red/blue Ace of Clubs gaff card, although magicians can probably think of ways to use a card like this with a regular deck.
You can take a look at the Black Spider deck in the official video trailer here.
The Black Scorpion Deck takes the idea of the Black Reversed Back deck to the next level again.
Once again, we have card backs just like the Black Reversed Back deck, but the white is replaced with yellow. That's because this is basically a two-toned deck that uses just yellow and white besides of course the inky black. The distinction between traditionally black and red suits is clear enough with the use of yellow and black on the face cards.
One thing different about the court cards is the use of some blue. So they still have a royal look that doesn't appeal minimalistic, and yet this fits within the color theme used in the rest of the deck. The colors are very vibrant, and really "pop" against the jet black background.
Similar to the Black Spider deck, the Black Scorpion also has a unique Ace of Spades, which now features a bright yellow Scorpion image of a center pip.
Already mentioned is the custom Joker with the Scorpion that is part of the 52 cards you'd expect in a regular deck. But besides this you also get four other special cards. Firstly there are three gaffs that utilize the Scorpion: a custom Joker featuring the Scorpion, and two more Ace of Spades, each featuring a Scorpion holding a playing card, the first being a red backed card, the second being an Ace of Diamond. Naturally these are used for a magic routine, called "The Scorpion Card Grabber" (aka "Scavenging Scorpion"), which offers a fun way to reveal the spectator's selection of the Ace of Diamonds. This does require the use of a couple of elementary card sleights, and won't be suitable for a complete beginner.
The final gaff card is a unique card that does double duty as a 6 of Diamonds and a 9 of Clubs, and is used for a short comic prediction effect.
Just as with the Black Spider deck, all the instructions are written, and there are no video tutorials.
To see more of this deck, check out the two official video trailers here and here.
The idea of creating a deck that has a vintage look is not new, and there have been several takes on giving the traditional Bicycle rider-back deck a "distressed" and worn appearance, as is the case with these Faded decks from Magic Makers.
Faded Blue & Red
Arguably the most recognizable and familiar deck in the world is the classic Bicycle rider-back deck, typically available in red and blue. With the Faded series, this traditional look has gone through a speedy and artificial aging process, to create a thoroughly worn and vintage look, sometimes also referred to as a "distressed" look. The result is that the deck looks as it has been delivered across several decades, and yet despite the very real appearance of age, the cards themselves are in pristine condition!
Two versions of this deck have been created, both corresponding to the red and blue originals. Here's the Bicycle Rider Back Faded Red Deck.
And here's the matching Bicycle Rider Back Faded Blue Deck, which is identical except for the use of blue instead of red.
Here's a closeup of the card-back, showing the worn/distressed look, which is identical on all the card backs.
The faded look is applied not only to the card backs, but also to the tuck box, and of course to the faces of the cards as well.
Here's a closer look at the detail from the Ace of Spades.
In addition to the standard 52 card deck, you do get some extra cards with the Faded decks as well, including a single Joker with standard Bicycle artwork.
But best of all are the three cards needed to do the Million Dollar Monte routine (aka Ultimate Three Card Monte). There's the two gaffs and an extra three of clubs, so you can even remove these cards permanently from the deck and carry them around with you separately as a packet trick if you wish.
The secret link for this deck brings you to a Magic Makers page where you can download an instructional video for this effect. It's quite short, has no speaking in it, and runs at less than four minutes. So if you're unfamiliar with this effect, you'll need to check out some performances to see how stunning this routine can be. But it does do a good job of explaining the handling of the cards, which is one of the hardest aspects of this trick. The Ultimate Three Card Monte is an effect that I've personally enjoyed performing a lot over the years, because it can be quite mind-blowing for spectators, and is well worth the effort to learn well!
Fanning decks are typically designed to enhance the visual aesthetics of card flourishing, particular when fanning cards.
Tetra 4 Way Fanning
The Tetra 4 Way Fanning Deck has been produced with the card flourisher or cardist in mind.
The card faces are identical to a standard Bicycle deck. But the key feature are the card backs, which have bright and vivid colors in yellow, blue, red and green, to accentuate the eye-catching effect that it produces.
Especially important is the design. The back is divided into four quadrants, each a different color, and what this does is allow you to create four different colors of fan - depending on the orientation and direction of the deck when fanned.
For example, here the cards are being fanned one way to show yellow, and then a different way to show red.
Besides the standard 52 cards, this deck also comes with a few extras: one Joker, plus an extra Ace of Spades and Ace of Diamonds, and finally a blank faced gaff card.
The secret webpage from Magic Makers includes a six minute video where Rob Stiff demonstrates a few possible effects using these cards. The first of these takes advantage of the blank faced gaff, and gives the illusion of showing an entirely blank deck, and then showing that all the cards are now printed with standard faces. Rob then explains a couple of effects using the two duplicates, such as a simple Ambitious Card effect where a card placed in the center rises to the top; the other being a simple prediction effect. Both of these are very easy to perform for beginners, and offer a fun thing to do with the deck besides just fanning.
To get an idea of what this deck looks like in action, see these official video trailers here and here.
What do I think?
Gamer friendly: While custom decks can be very beautiful, it can happen that the degree of customization is such that the unusual aesthetics and design is a big distraction that hampers the playability and function of the cards, or makes the suits hard to distinguish. It can also happen that a custom deck has a polished and unique beauty that makes it a shame to risk having it damaged by wear and tear, and as a result it sits safely on the shelf of a collector - never to be used. The decks featured in this review have enough customization to make them interesting, and yet they have a classic look that makes them very much familiar to anyone who has experience with traditional cards. In other words, they're standard enough to be very playable for games, while still unique enough to stand out.
Magician friendly: At the same time, these decks are excellent choices for magicians, for similar reasons. Magicians don't want to be using something that looks so radically different from a normal deck that it screams "trick deck", or that the spectators are so distracted by the design of the cards themselves that the magic effect itself needs to compete for attention. These specialty decks get that balance just right. At one time it was common for magicians to stick to Bicycle decks, so as to avoid any suspicion, but we are now moving into a new era where a saturated market of crowdfunded custom playing cards has makes it more normal for magicians to be using custom decks of playing cards, and non-standard decks can also be used for magic without arousing suspicion. These decks still retain the Bicycle connection and design, and yet offer a fresh and colourful look that makes them eye-catching. These decks also come with gaff cards and video instructions for routines that magicians will really appreciate, so they have added extras that make them ideal for those with an interest in magic, even if you are just an amateur.
Instructional materials: One thing I really do appreciate these decks is that they not only come with some gaff cards, but they also give you written instructions for performing tricks with them. Better yet, they also include a secret link to video tutorials online that teach you how to perform some magic with the deck, and especially with the gaff cards included. For an experienced magician, these tricks might seem fairly basic. But for the person with relatively limited experience in the world of magic, they are fantastic, and will allow you to perform some real miracles. They aren't very difficult, and the instructions are easy to follow, and the card tricks themselves can be learned without any real difficulty. I only wish that videos were provided with every deck - for example, the Black Spider and Black Scorpion decks strangely only have printed instructions.
Bicycle brand: The Bicycle brand and rider-back design is instantly recognizable, and is a classic and reputed design. This gives these decks an immediate credibility and recognition factor. Even people who haven't seen these colored versions before will make the connection to the standard Bicycle deck, and this will make them quickly feel at home with these decks, despite the ways in which they differ from what they might be used to. The Bicycle brand also gives these products an element of official respectability - you get an immediate sense that they are something authentic, and not merely a home-made deck that someone has printed themselves.
Bicycle quality: The decks themselves have been manufactured and printed by the United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), an industry leader in the world of playing cards. That means that the quality of the printing and the cards themselves is excellent. Informed creators of playing cards will inevitably want to choose a reliable publisher, and USPCC is known to be one of the very best. Like other USPCC produced decks, these have durable cardstock, clear printing, and are a quality product. One challenge with full bleed black cards is that they can show signs of wear more quickly than white cards, but that's an issue with all black decks that isn't unique to these; and fortunately there are ways to deal with this (for example, see the Black Deck Book from Ellusionist for some good suggestions).
Handling: USPCC produced playing cards are known to be of very good quality in terms of handling, and it is a big reason why many magicians and card flourishers will only use Bicycle branded cards. They have the usual air cushion style embossing, plus a protective coating that makes them last longer, and handle nicely. As a result, the cards have just the right amount of friction so that they shuffle nicely, and spread and fan consistently and evenly. Magicians, cardists, and gamers alike will find these more than satisfactory, and certainly much better than the cheap and inferior decks typically found in department or corner stores.
Inexpensive: A deck of customized playing cards typically costs around $15 these days. Obviously the above decks don't have the same degree of customization as a more artistic deck, but this is also reflected in the lower price. Typically you can find the above decks online for around $5-10 each, which is very affordable for a quality deck of playing cards, especially if it includes extra gaff cards that can be used by magicians.
Availability: Because Magic Makers is a large wholesaler, their products are readily available from a range of websites and online retailers, including big names like Amazon. That means that if you see some cards here that you want to get for yourself, they're not going to be hard to get hold of.
So are the decks of playing cards from Magic Makers for you? These aren't glamorous works of art, like some custom playing cards today are. But they have just the right amount of customization to make them stand out and turn heads at the table, while at the same time they are familiar enough to be ideal for use in playing traditional card games, or in the hands of a magician. The extras that come with these decks will make them especially attractive to magicians, professional or amateur. But you certainly don't have to be interested in magic to enjoy these decks - they're great on their own as vibrant show-case decks that will stand out as memorable playing pieces for everyone who sees them.
So grab yourself a deck, and start making some magic of your own - whether performing some card tricks, or just playing some great card games with these!
Want to learn more? Magic Makers: www.magicmakersinc.com
Here are direct links for all the decks featured in this review:
- Black Reversed Back: Visit publisher page or purchase on Amazon
- Orange Reversed Back: Visit publisher page or purchase on Amazon
- Black Spider: Visit publisher page or purchase on Amazon
- Black Scorpion: Visit publisher page or purchase on Amazon
- Faded Blue: Visit publisher page or purchase on Amazon
- Faded Red: Visit publisher page or purchase on Amazon
- Tetra 4 Way: Visit publisher page or purchase on Amazon
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