Review: The Vault - Placebo (Mark Calabrese)

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Review: The Vault - Placebo (Mark Calabrese)

Postby EndersGame » Sep 15th, '18, 09:09

The Vault - Placebo (Mark Calabrese)

A spectator blindly reverses any named card in the deck


The premise of this trick is fantastic. It can be done entirely impromptu with a borrowed shuffled deck. A spectator names any card in the deck. Then behind their back they reverse a single card in the deck. Without the magician touching the deck, they look through the deck and discover that only one card in the entire deck is reversed - their named card!

Placebo was created by Mark Calabrese, a close-up magician who has been performing professionally for 15 years. But he's also a proven magic creator and consultant, and is well respected for the creative magic he has come up with. He's had some real hits already, and today I'm taking a look at his contribution to card magic with "Placebo", which has been spotlighted courtesy of "The Vault" series by Bro Gilbert.

Here's the official trailer for the effect, with some introductory remarks from The Vault with Bro Gilbert, a performance and commentary by Mark, and also a heavily edited performance by Chris Ramsay - see here:



Here's how the ad copy describes the routine:

"Imagine the following. Borrow a shuffled deck and have the spectator name aloud ANY card. Give them the deck and have them take the cards behind their back, turn over one card, and then cut the cards before handing them back to you. You spread the deck to show the one reversed card in the deck - their selected card! Seems too good to be true? Mark Calabrese has developed a way of doing just that and more."

Does that sound too good to be true? As you can see from the performance in the video clip above, that's exactly how the trick looks when performed, right? But does this trick really stand up to what the marketing materials claim, namely that it is "completely impromptu, for beginners and workers, no weird moves, borrowed and shuffled deck, freely named card, spectator can do all of the work!? Let's take a closer look and find out.



What you get for around $9 is an instant digital download of the video, which demonstrates and teaches the routine. You can play the video via streaming, or download it in *.mp4 format to view on your computer with any video program. The entire video is around 24 minutes long, and the downloaded file is about 100MB in total size.

The video consists of Mark himself performing the effect to a spectator (Chris), and then running through all details of the routine with Chris. The sound quality is good, and the filming has been well done, with multiple camera angles, including close-ups of the hands and cards where necessary.



Obviously I don't want to tip the method, but if you are considering picking this up, you do need to know that Mark teaches two different ways to do this trick:

Method #1: This is completely impromptu, and the spectator can genuinely do all the handling once you give them the deck. However, there is a moment where you need to accomplish some dirty work when they have the deck in their hands, which relies on making the spectator a little confused, or at least affirming a false memory.

Method #2: This is also impromptu, and completely eliminates the "dirty work" when the spectator has the deck in his hands. However, you can't let the spectator reveal the reversed card, but you need to do this yourself, and you are left somewhat dirty at the end - although Mark does cover a large number of ways you can accomplish the clean-up.



So let's see how the claims about this trick stand up: Impromptu? Yes. Borrowed shuffled deck? Yes. Freely named card? Yes. For beginners and workers? Yes.

No weird moves ... spectator can do all of the work? Well, not quite. Method #1 does require a weird move, or at least a confusing moment where you need to accomplish something that is a little clunky. And Method #2 does require that you take the deck out of the spectator's hand for the final reveal. So there is a way to do the trick with no weird moves (Method #2), and there is a way to do the trick where the spectator can do all the work (Method #1), but not both at the same time. The official video demo, by the way, shows the trick being performed with Method #2. You can see another performance of the routine which uses Method #1 here.

I find myself somewhat conflicted about this trick. It's straight forward and simple, and does apparently accomplish a miracle. But you can't have the best of both worlds at once, and there's always some compromise, in order to accomplish the magic, with both methods:

a) Method #1 has the advantage that the spectator can do all the handling, and also do the final reveal, to emphasize that you aren't doing sleight of hand. But it comes at a cost: to accomplish it, this relies on creating some confusion, and the way that happens is somewhat odd. Good magic should never be confusing, but it should always be very clear in the spectator's mind what is happening. In fact, with some very aware spectators, they may even catch you out, and insist that you are mistaken in what you are saying. There's also a risk that surrounding spectators might see something they shouldn't, and corroborate what your spectator is saying. So Method #1 is best reserved for a one-on-one performance, but even then you need to be fairly confident that you can get your spectator through the one critical moment smoothly.

b) Method #2 has the advantage that it entirely eliminates the need for a confusing moment, plus it can be performed in a group, and there's genuinely no funny moves that spectators might observe. But it too comes at a cost: to accomplish this, because you can't let the spectator do the final reveal. What's more, some skill with the cards is necessary, because there is a risk that you might give something away when doing this reveal. And you're also left with a dirty deck, which is not ideal, especially if you are giving the deck back to the spectator or are going on to perform some more card tricks with the same deck. Mark does cover possible and clever ways to do this clean up unnoticed, but it's still not an ideal conclusion.

So which method is better? Method #1 is easier to perform, since Method #2 does require a greater proficiency with card handling. But Method #1 is also more risky and even though the magic all happens in the spectator's hands, the fact that he is potentially confused about some aspects will reduce the impact of the magic. It might work for laymen, but definitely won't fool magicians. I suspect that is why in the demo video we see both Mark Calabrese and Chris Ramsay using Method #2, simply because it is safer, and when well executed, completely convincing and baffling. A good magician should be able to handle the clean-up just fine.



Despite my reservations, Placebo has generally generated positive responses, including comments like the following:

"What you see in the trailer is EXACTLY what you get. It's one of those effects which is incredibly straight forward, can be done with a borrowed deck and with proper handling can be a huge fooler. " - Shawn Mullins
"This is a must-have! I've been using it ever since I got it and it will never get old." - Carlos Garces
"I'm absolutely beginner in magic trick and this video is perfect for me. Few minutes of practice and i show it to my wife with very good reaction." - Massimo
"When this goes off without a hitch (very often, only ever fails if the spectator becomes confused) it will completely blow their minds." - Anon
"Pleasantly surprised ... A great improvement on a classic effect. Well worth the money." - Timothy Pratt
"This effect is very clean... any card can be named. I like the second method ... It happens in a very clean way." - entermagic
"An easy and uncomplicated trick to master with minimum of skills." - Anon
"Mark teaches two methods and I think I prefer the second method. It's cleaner in presentation but requires a little cleanup at the end." - egoli
"This is now my 3 rd favourite card trick." - Anon
"I really like this effect. The reactions from the spec is priceless. ... The teaching is very clear. And I think I'm going to use this a lot!" - danil tan



This trick has a lot going for it and there's a lot that recommends it. Real strengths are the fact that it's impromptu, can be performed with a borrowed shuffled deck, and that the spectator can genuinely name any card. Unlike other methods that use a gimmick, nothing of the sort is used here.

The fact that Mark teaches two different methods also means that you have some choice about how to perform this. Beginners will probably gravitate to the first method, which does appear to be a genuinely new idea, but isn't a magician fooler and does have some real weaknesses. While Method #1 might prove successful more often than not, I think that if that was my only option, there are better tricks I'd perform ahead of this one.

Fortunately Method #2 is a good alternative. Those with some basic skills with cards and magic will probably prefer the second method, which is more reliable, although I'm not entirely sure it's something brand new. Even though it means that not everything is examinable when the trick is done, and that the performer needs to reveal the cards at the end, I think it is safer and stronger when performed that way, and it's something I can recommend. If you like what you see in the demo video, that's exactly what you're seeing, and considering that it's quite straight forward to perform, it can have a strong impact for very little work.

When pulled off successfully, your spectator's mind will really be blown. After all, they named a card - any card - and that's the only one reversed in the deck, which they reversed themselves? Incredible!

Want to learn more? Mark Calabrese's Placebo is available as a digital download from your favorite Murphy's Magic retailer:
Murphy's Magic:
Vanishing Inc Magic: ... t-placebo/


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