What is a Svengali Deck? The Svengali Deck is one of the most popular magic trick deck of cards, and is considered a classic. In fact, you will find Svengali magic cards with a lot of beginner’s magic sets. It’s easier to use than learning most sleight of hand card magic, so it is a favorite for beginning magicians. Although, it doesn’t do everything for you, it does do a lot of the work and you can do so nice effects using a Svengali Deck that you couldn’t do with a regular deck of cards.
Let’s jump in and look at the Svengali Deck in detail!
What is a Svengali Deck?
A Svengali Deck was invented by Burling Hull and marketed by WD LeRoy in 1909. The Svengali Card Deck is a trick deck that features every other of the Svengali cards as the same card, such as the Ace of Spades. (But it can be any card). These alternating same cards are also cut short on the ends, by just a very tiny amount. So in a Svengali deck, you will have 26 short cards that are all of the same value, and 26 regular length cards. These short and regular cards will alternate throughout the pack.
This creates a particular effect that when the cards are riffled one way, those same cards are never seen. Instead, all the other different cards are seen, so the deck looks like a normal deck with many different cards. It can also give the effect that the certain card has vanished from the deck.
But, when the cards are riffled the opposite way, the opposite effect happens. Only those same cards are shown. It then presents the effect all the cards in the deck have turned into that one card. This is one of the stronger effects you can do with Svengali Deck. I remember seeing the guy in the magic store perform this effect for me when I was a kid. I was quite amazed at the time.
It can also be used to accomplish other tricks such as any card at any number, or similar effects in which the spectators card keeps showing up. (Similar to Ambitious Card). The card that keeps appearing is one of the alternating cards, which are all the same, but it gives the effect that it is the same card constantly showing up.
How to Use a Svengali Deck
When using a Svengali deck of cards, you must remember that you cannot do an overhand shuffle. The cards must stay in an order where every short card is followed exactly by one regular card, which is then followed by a short card, then a regular card, and so and so on. Remember that the short cards are the cards that will all be the same card.
So, if you were to do an overhand shuffle, as lay people will often do, you will disturb the alternating order. One thing you can do is cut the deck, by doing single cuts. This creates a cyclical cycle when just cutting the deck, so the alternating card order will never be disturbed.
Another, slightly more advanced way to shuffle is to just do a regular riffle shuffle, using the ends of the cards. Because of the way the Svengali deck is set up, the cards will always fall off your thumb in pairs. In when you shuffle the two side together like this in a riffle shuffle, they will always maintain the alternating order, even though it might not seem that it would. If you are a little more advanced, you could also choose to do a Charlier shuffle, which will also preserve the alternating card order.
When you are ready to have a card selected, you can do one of two things. You can either dribble the cards and have the spectator say “stop”. The top card of the pile will always be one of the short same cards. Or, you can riffle the pack with the ends toward the spectator and ask them to stick their finger into the pack whenever they like. Wherever they do, their finger will always be resting on top of one of the short, force cards.
You could use the Svengali as just a force. Or you can proceed to do other tricks with it.
Svengali Deck Tricks
Once the spectator has selected one of the short cards, looked at it, and returned it to the Svengali Deck, you can proceed with tricks. You can then shuffle or cut the cards as was mentioned earlier, making sure to preserve the alternating card order. You can even have the spectator cut the cards as well, as long as they do single cuts.
You can then proceed to locate the card in many different ways. One way might be to ask the spectator for a number between 1 and 52. If you have a short card on top of the deck to begin, then that means every odd number will have a short card as well. So if the spectator names an odd number, then you could just count down the cards, dealing them one by one, and show the card that you end on. Since you will end on an off number, you will always land on a short card, which will always be the same card as the spectator picked.
If an even number is named, then you just count down as before, but instead of flipping over the card you end on, deal that card to the top of the pile you are dealing. Then the card that is now remaining on top in your hands, will be a short card, and the same as the spectator’s chosen card.
You could also do the same by spelling down to the name of the card, as long as you keep track of how many letters are in the name. That way you will know which card to turn over.
Another thing you can do is have the spectator cut the deck, and the card that is left on top will be their card. As long as they cut the deck by grabbing the ends of the pack, then their card will be on top. You could also cut the deck into three separate piles. Have the spectator point to one of the piles, and the top card will be theirs, no matter which pile they point to. (Since all the piles will have a short card on top).
For a finale, one of the best tricks with a Svengali Deck, and my absolute favorite, is to place you of the short cards on the face of the pack. Then dribble the cards face up, and it will look like the entire deck turned into the spectator’s card! You can also do it by just riffling one end of the cards with your thumb into the other hand, while the cards are face up.
If you are really looking to learn some more Svengali tricks and handlings, the great Daryl has a DVD on the Svengali deck by Murphy’s Magic. Murphy’s Magic Essentials in Magic Svengali Deck – DVD by Daryl
You might also be interested in the Royal Magic 25 Amazing Magic Tricks with a Svengali Deck DVD but it does not get as good of reviews as the ones I mentioned previously. It does also include the trick deck though.
Svengali Deck Tutorial
Here is a Svengali Deck visual tutorial and also some tricks.
Svengali Deck Drawbacks
There are a couple of drawbacks to the Svengali deck. It’s good for beginning magicians, and is sometimes even used by professionals. But there are some limitations that come with it. First, you must always have the Svengali magic deck on you in order to perform. You cannot perform with an ordinary deck.
Second, the spectator cannot examine the deck, or they will learn the secret.
Third, you will be limited to only being able to perform Svengali card tricks with the deck. You won’t be able to do other normal deck card tricks.
Fourth, the Svengali Deck is sold in a lot of novelty shops now, so spectators might be more aware of the way it works than other magic tricks.
Svengali Deck Performance
You can get an idea of what a Svengali Deck performance would look like, as well as how to perform some of the tricks that were previously described, in these videos.
How Do You Setup a Svengali Deck?
A Svengali Deck is setup with every other card being a short card. The short card is the one that is all of the same value. You will alternate between regular card and short card throughout the deck.
Who Invented the Svengali Deck?
The Svengali Deck was created by Burling Hull in the early 1900’s.
The Reverse Svengali Deck
The Reverse Svengali deck is just like a regular Svengali magic deck, but instead of all of the duplicate cards being cut short, all the indifferent cards are cut short, and the duplicate cards are kept long. If functions like a normal Svengali, except that you dribble the cards face up in order to have a spectator call stop and choose a card. Everything is done in reverse in the orientation that you hold the deck from a normal Svengali.
Where to Buy a Svengali Deck
The Svengali deck is pretty common. You can find it at a lot of retailers. Magic shops will always carry the decks. You can also find it in novelty shops.
Online you can easily find a Bicycle Svengali Deck, which will look pretty authentic to a real deck. You can get these on Amazon or even Ebay. Also, online magic shops will also always have Svengali card decks to choose from.
Alternative Trick Decks
You might also want to consider looking at an Invisible Deck, as it also offers easy card magic for a beginner. It is one of the most popular trick decks of all time.