LEARN AT AN EXPERT LEVEL
As a full-time magician, I only use the best playing cards for magic. Sleight of hand card magic is my passion, so I have tried out many different decks of cards.
The absolute best playing cards for magic are the Gold Standard Bicycle Playing Cards by Richard Turner. The back design is Rider Backs, the most recognizable cards in the world. These cards are nice and soft and ready to go right out of the box and don’t require much breaking in. They have an air cushion finish which allows the cards to glide against each other effortlessly.
I’m going to give you details on why these decks are the absolute best and talk about a bunch of other decks, some I like, some I don’t like. Keep reading!
Best Playing Cards
Everyone has handled playing cards in their life. Whether card games or learning a basic card trick, everybody is familiar with a deck of cards. I remember my grandparents had some old Bicycle Rider decks in their cabinet which probably were there for 40 years. When I bring out a deck I want people to recognize them. I want everyone to know it is a normal and standard pack of playing cards they could buy at their local store.
When you perform card tricks your spectators need to know the cards are not the magic, you are the magic. I want to get the credit. The last thing I want to hear someone say is “where did you get those cards” or “if I had those cards I could do those tricks.” It is sort of like telling a concert pianist you could play the same music if you had that piano.
For this reason I use the most recognizable decks in the world, Bicycle Rider Back Playing Cards. These cards are made by the United States Playing Card Company (USPCC) and can be bought anywhere- supermarkets, convenience stores, etc. These cards are made with an air cushion finish which is ideal for shuffling, fanning, and spreading cards.
I only use red backed playing cards. One of my idols, Dai Vernon, the man who modernized close up card magic, said red backed cards, as compared to blue backed cards, are more appealing to the eye. I agree with him. Red backed playing cards contrast better than blue backed cards.
Cards are made in two sizes, standard poker size, and a little smaller- bridge size. I only use poker size cards. If you have very small hands it is ok to use bridge size cards. Nobody knows the difference.
I used to buy decks of Bicycle Playing Cards at Costco. They were sold in bricks of 12 decks- 6 red and 6 blue. I used to open up the box and switch out the 6 blue decks for 6 red decks. I always wondered what the person who bought the blue decks thought when they got home and realized they had no red decks. Costco still sells Bicycle Playing cards.
Costco decks are very inexpensive, about $1 each. The quality of the cards is extremely unreliable and the cards are usually pretty stiff. I heard that Bicycle had a deal with Costco and sent them their worst quality card stock. This explains the price. When I opened the deck and took the cards out of the box they had to be broken in. It was a big process. Being a full time magician I go through a lot of decks. It was a real pain.
Richard Turner, the famous card expert, who is blind, developed the Gold Standard Bicycle Playing Cards. They look exactly like any other deck of Bicycle Rider Back Playing cards yet the quality is incredible. They are printed on the best card stock Bicycle makes. The cards are soft and ready to go right out of the box. This means you don’t have to spend a ton of time breaking in the cards.
The quality of these decks is always dependable and they handle like a dream. I do prefer to work the deck in a little bit before performing with them. I find it gives me a little more control of the cards. Most of the time I will use a deck for about a week, depending on my performance schedule. If you want to learn an amazing 4 Ace Trick, and see these cards in action, click here.
I buy the Turner Gold Standard Decks from Penguin Magic. They should last you a while. I consider these cards well worth it. I guarantee once you start using these cards you will never use another deck. These cards are also made with blue backs.
Best Cards for Sleight of Hand
All good card magic is based on sleight of hand. Anyone into card magic, or should I say anyone obsessed with card magic like I am, practices sleight of hand continuously. Sleight of hand is not easy so you might as well use the right tools. I can always count on these decks for all the sleight of hand card moves I perform. I am putting a video below of me performing a ton of card tricks with the Turner Gold Standard Bicycle Playing Cards at a real event.
Tally-Ho Playing Cards
Another amazing deck of cards, also made by the USPCC, is the Tally-Ho’s. There are 2 types, Fan Backs and Circle Backs. Both are awesome. I love how these cards feel and handle. I also get them at Penguin Magic, they cost $4.24 per deck. These back designs are much nicer, in my opinion, than the Bicycle Rider Backs.
The only reason I don’t use Tally-Ho playing cards and stick with Bicycle Rider backs is because most gimmicked cards that are made for magic tricks are printed on Bicycle Rider Backs. Cleverly using gimmicks opens up a lot of doors to many amazing card miracles. You always want the backs of your cards to match.
“Bee” Standard Playing Cards
Another amazing deck of cards are the Bee backed cards. These cards are also made by the USPCC. They feel amazing and are pretty well known. The only drawback for card magic is that they have no borders. The design goes all the way to the edge. For certain sleight of hand techniques this is not good, for example if you secretly have a card reversed in the deck.
These cards are specifically produced for casinos. They are great for performing gambling routines and perfect for poker games. If you want to do a move called the second deal, where you take the 2nd card as opposed to the top card, these are the cards you want to use. I use these cards for 3 card monte demonstrations, a gambling scam that used to be played on the streets of Manhattan.
Different Back Designs
There are many different back designs available today. Bicycle Rider Backs come in every color imaginable. In addition there are so many different decks being custom made. Many of these decks look amazing. Yet they are not well known by the public. That is my biggest concern so I stay away from all of these decks. Also a busy back design is distracting when performing card magic.
Sometimes I will perform at an event and they will custom print their logo on decks of cards. A popular company that makes affordable custom decks is Gemaco. These cards are terrible. The cards don’t spread well and the weight of the cards isn’t good. On the rare occasion where I need to perform with these decks it is somewhat limiting in the sleight of hand card moves I perform.
Best Playing Cards for Cardistry
Cardistry is something that has become huge in the past 10 years. It is very different than card magic. It is card manipulation, card flourishes, sort of like juggling. This is an art form and is very difficult. It is very nice to watch. For this you want thinner cards that have a cool back design. It adds to the overall aesthetic. I am not an expert in this area so I cannot tell you the best decks for this purpose.