Creating Playing Card Magic

Approx. 7 min. Read | Written by Lee Asher
Lee Asher's approach to creating your own playing card magic.

The Basics Of Creating Playing Card Magic

"How do you create card tricks?" - Anon

Card Trick Creation

So, you want to create magic? You may even want to sell that idea at some point.
In that pursuit, I'm sharing this approach to help you examine the intricacies of magic creation and underscore the importance of genuine innovation over superficial modifications. It's crucial to note that the processes presented here are specific to sleight-of-hand and may not universally apply.

Let's break down the key elements of card magic into four simple components:

  1. Effect
  2. Method
  3. Handling
  4. Plot

A breakdown like this facilitates a more transparent discussion about magic creation. Some might see this as a bit clinical, unlike the typical artistic process. I get that. It’s art. We’re artists. At the very least, we view it as a straightforward way to understand our thoughts objectively without letting emotion guide us.


The effect represents the fundamental concept of what's happening in a piece of magic — whether it's a vanish, appearance, transposition, or another magical occurrence, all summed up in a single word or short phrase. It's common for magicians to claim they've devised a 'new' effect, but the classification of magic effects is subjective. Different magicians might categorize effects in various ways. Agreeing with the combined lists of Robert Neale and Dariel Fitzkee, I believe there are approximately twenty-seven documented effects in all of magic, highlighting the challenge of creating something new. It's essential to distinguish 'effect' from 'method.' These two are distinct, as we'll explore shortly.


The method is the mechanism by which the magic happens. It’s the step-by-step guide, the particular moves and techniques, or the carefully timed actions that make everything work. Developing truly innovative methods can be challenging, requiring creativity and ingenuity. When someone claims a new effect, they often mean they've discovered a new way (or process) of achieving it. It's common to see people swapping the words effect and method around, and I'll admit, I've done it myself in my younger days without trying to sound too hypocritical. However, for the continued advancement of magic, we must refrain from making this error.


Handling involves the delicate nuances in executing the method. Take the Elmsley count, for example. Some magicians favor holding the cards at the fingertips as Elmsley taught, while others choose the mechanics grip, the Diaconis handling. The Elmsley count method stays consistent, yet the execution varies based on the favored grip. These nuances in execution are what we refer to as handling.

Now, a crucial point to note: when you begin combining multiple moves, it can alter how you handle the magic, but it might not necessarily introduce new methods or effects.


While adding a plot or story can enhance a magic performance, it's not mandatory. Some magic relies solely on the visual impact or the skillful execution of the method.

However, like a good story, magic benefits from a plot. You might perform a trick like Dai Vernon's Triumph. Still, you've altered the plot if you tell a story about the face-up cards being heavier than the face-down ones, and how they mysteriously right themselves when shaken, except for the chosen one. Vernon's original plot was that the audience member attempts to make it harder to find their card by mixing all the cards, face-up and face-down. Both effects, methods, and handlings are the same, but your story differs.

Can I Sell My Magic Based On Someone Else's Idea?

Are you considering claiming an idea in print or selling your magical creation? Ask yourself the following questions:

For new effects:

  • * Have I accurately identified the fundamental concept or essence of what's happening in the piece of magic I've created/modified?
  • * How does the new effect I'm proposing differ from existing magical occurrences, and does it fall within the already-recognized categories of magical effects?

For new methods:

  • * What steps or processes have I introduced or altered to achieve the effect, and how do they contribute to the magic happening?
  • * Is the mechanism by which the magic occurs well-defined and distinguishable from traditional methods?

For new handlings:

  • * In what ways have I nuanced the execution of the method, and does this handling contribute to the overall impact of the magic?

For new plots:

  • * How does the addition or alteration of a plot contribute to the overall experience of the magic performance?
  • * Is the narrative or story I've integrated aligned with the effect, and does it enhance the magical experience for the audience?


Armed with an understanding of these elements, addressing questions about creating and selling magic becomes more straightforward. Have you genuinely moved the ideas forward with any of these elements? Or are you just throwing moves together for the sake of handling? You may be ready to sell your idea if you can answer all these questions confidently. But more work might be ahead if you find yourself scratching your head.

Best of luck and happy creating!