Things By Simon

A Novice With a Svengali Deck

Drawing Room DeceptionsThere are many things that can be frustrating in the field of magic and illusion. One of them is how a relative beginner can sometimes get a stronger audience reaction than a seasoned professional just by simple use of a well-engineered secret device.

Guy Hollingworth put it eloquently in his book Drawing Room Deceptions:

In the following few years I found it extremely unfair that having muddled through a technical monstrosity of a trick, involving shifts, palms, false deals and the like, I could be upstaged by a novice with a Svengali pack.

(For those who don’t know, a Svengali deck is a commonly available trick deck of cards. It’s actually a brilliantly clever device, but which has been robbed of much of its power by being sold in nearly every beginner magic kit in existence. The other terms in the quote all refer to difficult sleight-of-hand techniques.)

I remember reading that quote a long time ago, and thinking that it implied a fairly straightforward solution.

Specifically: take a similar amount of experience and effort required to master the ‘technical monstrosity’, and apply it to using a Svengali deck in the most effective possible way. If a novice with a Svengali deck can upstage a master without one, just imagine what effect a master with a Svengali deck could achieve.

In most fields, if results are your primary concern, it pays to use the most powerful tools available to you.

These could be sleights, gimmicks, or even secret confederates, depending on your point of view. In most cases, the audience doesn’t know the difference between a difficult sleight and a cleverly used trick prop.

All they have to judge you on is the overall effect.

There are definitely advantages to being able to perform with sleight of hand alone. There are also motivations beyond just the audience’s response. Some performers are motivated just as much by the challenge of the material, their own amusement, or the respect of their difficult-technique-loving peers.

But if your primary motivation is to impress and entertain a lay audience, worrying about what other magicians think of your material is not a productive use of your time.

Hence I think it’s dangerous to get hung up on the caché that comes from performing technically difficult material. It is absolutely important to learn your chops well, but also consider using the most powerful devices and utilities at your disposal.

Otherwise you can all too easily be upstaged by that novice with their Svengali deck.




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