Review: Dancing With The Cards (Michael Breggar)

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Review: Dancing With The Cards (Michael Breggar)

Postby EndersGame » Dec 26th, '18, 04:11

Dancing With the Cards (Michael Breggar)

Excellent presentation ideas for some terrific self-working magic


Self-working magic by Michael Breggar

Magician Michael Breggar has recently released his third collection of self-working magic, entitled Dancing With the Cards, and which is the subject of this review.

But wait a moment, self working magic doesn't exist, does it? At least, that's what Breggar argues in his essay "Without You, They're Just Tricks", which was published in his first book The Five Roads to Vegas. Michael has produced the Auto-Magic column for The Linking Ring magazine for several years, so he knows what he is talking about. This column is all about sharing professional and practical magic effects that are relatively sleight free. But the usual designation for these tricks as "self-working" isn't something that Michael is comfortable with, hence the term "auto-magic".

Self-working magic is often considered the ugly step child of magic, but Michael Breggar offers a more positive and optimistic assessment: he believes that these kinds of tricks provide the ideal terrain for magicians to explore what is truly important about strong magic, namely, good presentation. While the method of a trick might be self-working, true magic is never entirely self-working, and thought needs to go into good presentation to turn a mere "trick" into real and entertaining magic. Michael first agreed to take on the challenge of the Auto-Magic column for The Linking Ring magazine, because he wanted to help advance magic as an art form, by using self working tricks to force magicians to think about matters like how an effect is framed, and how to add originality and depth in the performance. It's his thesis that the art of magic lies in its presentation, and thus strong magic doesn't necessarily require sleight of hand. As he reminds us, performing magic is not a matter of going through simple mechanics like painting-by-numbers, but to reach the heights that it deserves as an art-form, it requires artistry in the presentation.


Breggar's previous books

The Auto-Magic column proved to be a big success, and soon Michael found himself being asked to write a book inspired by his columns, taking a couple of his best ones, and adding more original content along the same lines. That led to the publication of his first book The Five Roads to Vegas, a 48 page PDF published in 2017, which included eight effects, some ideas for variations, and a couple of short essays (one serving as the introduction, the other as the conclusion) that discuss how to approach self-working magic. The tricks include the excellent poker routine that gave the book its title, a great idea for an ACAAN routine, some other card tricks, and also some `self-workers' with coins and even a mentalist routine.

The sequel, Back to the Launching Pad, was published the same year, as a 54 page PDF. Once again the tricks that are taught have two important bookends that are well worth reading: a brief introduction that has some helpful things to say about self-working magic, and another essay entitled "Stuff You Don't Want To Read But Really Should", in which he explains his own approach to producing new magic effects, by starting with the presentation, and then working backwards by considering the method. The opening trick that gave the book its title is a real highlight, and offers a fresh approach to Paul Curry's classic "Out Of This World", where the spectator sorts out the red and black cards face-up while blindfolded, only to discover that they have actually sorted out cards with two different coloured backs. The surprising revelation of a card in "Drawn Conclusion" is also a favourite for many, including Breggar himself; but I especially loved the ingenious use of the 10-20 force in combination with a blank deck in "A Whole Empty Brain". Besides these three tricks, there's another half a dozen solid routines, including a book test, and a trick with a collection of mini cell phones with cartoon Emojis (printable pages provided).

People have been saying nice things about both of these books, because quite frankly, they deserve it. And so it means that there is good reason to greet with optimism Michael Breggar's latest book Dancing With the Cards, anticipating it to be of a similar calibre and style as its predecessors, and expecting its content to live up to the high standard of the two books that he's already published. Fortunately, it lives up to these expectations, and manages to clear the bar that Michael has set for himself by his previous titles.




Breggar's newest book consists of a 57 page PDF, but a few blank pages serve as buffers along the way, so the amount of content overall seems about similar to the two previous books. It contains 11 tricks altogether, along with a set of utility moves and tips, but in a small departure from his two previous books, this time around it's exclusively all card magic. The dancing theme ties everything together, as indicated clearly by the artwork on the front and back, and the book's subtitle: Amazing, professional card routines choreographed for people with two left feet.

A short introductory essay "I Won't Dance, Don't Ask Me" warms us up for what lies ahead, by discussing how a good magic routine needs to be structured just as a dance number is. Fred Astaire becomes Michael's model that we must strive to emulate in the world of magic: "Think of Fred Astaire dancing on the walls and ceiling in Royal Wedding. Yes, he was an amazing dancer, but he was a better performer. Some of his best routines involved the simplest of dance steps, but the choreography and filming took it to another level. That is the terpsichorean nutshell of “Auto-Magic.” We are instructed to do the same, but with a deck of cards: "Go dance on the ceiling."

The third trick in the book is perhaps the signature routine that best suits the title, because in "The Pasteboard Tango" Michael actually suggests playing music to accompany the dealing, and have the magician and spectator match each other card for card, like partners on the dance floor. It sounds a little corny when putting it in print, but it's this kind of unique approach to presentation that makes the material of Dancing With the Cards so much fun, and the fact that tricks like these leave a lasting impression with his spectators is proof enough of their success. So let's check out what kind of dance steps Michael has in mind for us, as we learn to go dance on the ceiling.


Sample Tricks

To give you an idea of the content, I'll give some detailed thoughts and reflections on the first four tricks in the book.

1. The Third Attribute: A thought-of card effect that seems like real mind-reading. Did I mention you need not touch the cards?

Comment: The presentation can really make this seem like a miracle. The deck can be genuinely shuffled, and the spectator cuts to any cut and remembers it, and then shuffles the two halves of the deck into each other - one face-up and the other face-down. They can cut as many times as they like. They remove any three face-down cards from the resulting mixed-up deck, and these are revealed and used to apparently divine their chosen card. The title of this effect has to do with the fact that each card has three attributes: colour, suit, and value, and these attributes of the revealed cards are compared with the selected card, although the spectator never says anything out loud, and in the end you are still able to reveal the exact identity of their card! Michael describes it as a magician fooler, and I'm not surprised - the key card can be a lowly method, but when used as an element in a routine like this, it is cleverly disguised and well-presented, and can really blow minds.

2. That Flippin’ Contest: A nice follow-up to The Third Attribute effect. A version of the classic “Sloppy Triumph” effect adds an element of relaxed comedy.

Comment: Sid Lorraine's "Slop Shuffle" effect is a classic, and Chris Kenner's "Sloppy Shuffle Triumph" has helped popularize this clever routine. Those familiar with it will know that the Slop Shuffle creates the illusion of the cards being shuffled face up and face down apparently haphazardly, and in an instant the entire deck can be restored into the same direction. When combined with revealing a selected card, it creates a Triumph effect. Breggar basically explains this routine, offering a simpler method of card control for the selection that those unfamiliar with standard sleights can easily manage. The nice thing about this trick is that it provides a very natural follow-up to the previous one, and I especially like the suggested presentation, where first you get the spectator to sort out the shuffled deck from the previous trick, timing him as he does so, and then follow-up by doing the same thing in only a couple of seconds - as well as revealing a selected card Triumph style.

3. The Pasteboard Tango: A shuffled deck is cut in half and the helper keeps either half. He randomly sets aside 5 or 6 cards in time to the playing music. You do the same. The random cards match!

Comment: This trick made me look up an included word in the dictionary: terpsichorean, which means "relating to dancing". If ever there was a trick that has to be considered the "title track" for this book it's this one. Michael notes that people who've seen him perform it often request it as the "Tango Trick", and there's so much fun by-play going on that many spectators won't even characterize it as a card trick! We've seen two halves of a deck riffle-shuffled face-up and face-down into each other earlier in this book, and that premise happens again here, although an extensive stack requires careful set-up. But the real fun only happens if you follow the presentation suggested: actually playing a tango on a music player, with the spectator dealing cards according to the beat, removing six cards individually at random points along the way; the magician matching his pace exactly with the other half of the deck. The six cards each has set aside turn out to be exactly matching mates; a result more remarkable than it really deserves, given that having the spectator separate the cards into face-up and face-down piles is simply undoing the previous riffle shuffle. But it's all about the presentation, and musical dealing will help erase the spectator's memory, obfuscate the method, while enhancing the entertainment all at once.

4. 52! This number represents the number of ways a full deck of 52 cards can be organized (more ways than the number of stars in the known universe. The spectator then makes several decisions based upon cards selected which ultimately leads her to a final selection. Despite the enormity of the odds, you have predicted this selection.

Comment: The strength here again is the presentation. Once you have the mechanics figured out, this trick can produce a surprising result given the apparent randomness, although it does have the downside of needing to have the spectator to quickly deal through the entire deck. Michael notes that besides the shuffle swap con that he describes, the method relies on the so-called `lazy countdown force' that powers the `Lazy Man’s Card Trick' (sometimes also called `The Lazy Magician'), which is given a lot of window dressing, adding to its appeal.


Remaining Tricks

As for the remaining content, here is how the ad copy summarizes the remaining tricks that are covered.

5. The (Un)Usual Suspects: “Card calling” routines are numerous and while the method described here is as old as the hills, this effect, where you name the cards selected by five volunteers, is as fresh as tomorrows’ news.

6. Occupation Hazard: A bit of black comedy in this routine that uses not playing cards, but cards on which you’ve written names of occupations that nobody ever wants. The routine is framed as an employment aptitude test and your assistant somehow manages to select the job that doesn’t involve anything grisly!!

7. Face Your Fears: Steinmeyer meets Freud. Your spectator looks through 25 cards which list common phobias. They find the thing that frightens them the most. After a complete shuffle of fears, they spell out the name of two phobias (which may or may not be theirs) -- but in the end, they wind up with the one card that correctly names their phobia. All the phobias are different and spell with different numbers of letters. Psychologically astounding (and assuredly upsetting!!)

8. The Wry Detector: This is my take on the classic “lie detector” routine. A card is selected and your volunteer can choose to lie or tell the truth about the three attributes of the selection. You have a little gadget though that not only helps you correctly identify the “real” selection but causes the “lied-about” card to turn over in an unused deck!

9. Unmarked Cards: One of my favorite openers. A spectator draws any card thought of on a blank card. Suddenly the blank deck from which the card was originally taken becomes fully printed and the spectator’s hand-drawn card lays between card with the same suit and same value.

10. My Favorite Things: You show a selection of coins and your helper examines then selects any one. Similarly, she selects a playing card and signs its face. Why is the coin your “favorite”? When turned over, it now bears a mini version of the selected card ... along with the spectator’s signature!

11. My Birthday Card: A self-working take on the classic “diary effect” made much more personal. And funny!

12. A Cup of Subtle Teas: Plus, a section on some great subtleties and “pro-tips,” and several of my favorite non-move moves!



My Thoughts

Cards, cards: Unlike the two previous books by Michael Breggar, this one is devoted entirely to card tricks. Given my own love for card tricks, I like the more focused content. The other two auto-magic titles have some great material, but some of the tricks are coin tricks or require other props, and while some will appreciate these additional dimensions, it will make the interest of others wane. In Dancing with the Cards, all the dancing is done with cards. So with a deck in hand, you're ready to explore all aspects of the book, and if you are a fan of card magic, that will give this book added appeal.

Presentation, presentation: Good magic isn't just about good technique and a good trick. To be transformed from an intellectual puzzle into something entertaining that astonishes and amazes, it needs to be well constructed and well presented. A good story executed with good showmanship is essential. And that's where these routines from Breggar really shine. Some of the ideas we've seen before, but Michael Breggar does a good job of dressing them up in a new way that makes them fresh and exciting for our audiences, and helps us come with a presentation that people will truly enjoy watching - and beg for more of the same! The real strength of this material lies no so much in the tricks themselves, but in the entire package Michael gives us: a trick that is relatively easy to learn, can be adapted to our own style, but most importantly comes with a wonderful and memorable presentation built in, ready for us to use and make our own.

Clear format: The format he uses is fairly consistent: after some words of introduction, he walks through the effect, including all the suggested patter. This part allows us to enjoy the magic from the perspective of the spectator, and it's only afterwards that he lets us in on the method, explaining the secret. In my view this approach works well, because it allows us to distinguish between method and effect, and heightens the importance of presentation, while giving some good suggestions for this at the same time. The book also contains some photos which do a good job of helping follow the explanations.

Conversational style: Unlike many older magic books, some of which had a very clinical style, Michael Breggar's writing is very conversational and laid back. As a result, reading his material has the feel of sitting on the couch alongside a seasoned magician, and listening to him as part of a friendly chat about magic. At times this means that he opts for sentence fragments and that he's willing to ignore the usual rules of grammar that might apply to a more technical work, in favour of a more relaxed approach. It took me a little to get used to, but I soon became accustomed to his style and learned to appreciate it.

Missing pieces: There were a few instances where the description of a trick wasn't quite as clear as it could be, and perhaps a more careful editor could have made the final result even more polished, although at no point having read the entire explanation was I completely lost. I did email Michael to clarify one or two things along the way, and quickly got the answers I needed. He asked me to mention that he is very accessible via email ( and is happy to answer any questions readers might have.

Self working: As Michael himself would be the first to argue, in a strict sense there's no such thing as self-working magic. All magic requires effort and work. But nonetheless this is a more or less accepted term used in magic circles, and the tricks in this volume definitely fall into that category for the most part. There are one or two small exceptions, but for the most part everything here is sleight free. At times Michael walks you through a false cut or simple control using a method without sleights, and if you do have some intermediate card handling skills you can easily adjust those to your favourite method. But the good news is that the material in this book is very accessible, and can be performed even by beginners who are willing to put in the effort needed to learn the routines properly.

Top tricks: It would be hard to pick my favourites from this new book, since there's a lot of strong material here, that is playful, fun, and entertaining, with strong presentation. I asked Michael which ones would be his own top choices, and he suggested "Unmarked Cards", "The Third Attribute", and "The (Un)Usual Suspects". These would certainly be among my own favourites as well, although "Face Your Fears" also deserves a real plug as well, due to the strong reactions and impressive response it tends to generate - an early version of this that was published in The Linking Ring sparked an unexpected flood of positive correspondence to Breggar.

Videos: From my personal correspondence with Michael Breggar, I have learned that plans are afoot to release videos that teach some of the effects from all his books. So clearly Mr Breggar has done something right, and is attracting the attention of publishers in the magic industry, and we can expect to see more great things from him in the near future!



I'm not the only one who is impressed by Breggar's work, so I also want to share some comments from others about this newest release, including some reactions from some familiar names in magic:

"Get. This. Book. If, that is, you enjoy uncluttered, entertaining magic with plenty of built in humor and eye-popping effects." - Anthony Vinson
"What a great book it is. I knew I was in for a treat as soon as I saw the clever cover." - Michel Potts
"I have read all three books by Michael Breggar and for me they are very enjoyable to read and the material there is easy enough to learn, so you can only concentrate to the presentation. 5 stars for all of them!" - Lasse Savola
"Michael Breggar's continuing contribution to magic is a revelation - commercial plots, devious methods and, most valuable, quirky and engaging presentations! Dancing With the Cards is a must read for card lovers everywhere!" - Liam Montier
"Michael provides recognizable forms for the simplicity and cleverness of the methods to secretly nourish the engaging and amusing themes he has chosen to anecdotally share—not as tricks per se but as congenial curiosities...which is a difference that truly makes a difference!" - Jon Racherbaumer
"Michael has given us a real gift with “Dancing With The Cards” in so many ways. . A delightful book of card tricks and I guarantee you will find something to put into your performing repertoire, even if it is a suggested move or subtlety. Highly recommended." - Scott Wells
"Really impressive! The tricks look great." - Paul Gordon



The material contained in Dancing With the Cards is generally strong, and there are some new approaches to familiar classics, as well as some original content. In many cases, the real strength and appeal of what is included lies in unique ideas for presentation, which has been well thought out and carefully constructed. Little wonder that Michael's previous books received the accolades of many reviewers; this one deserves the same. This is the kind of magic that is easy to learn, incredibly fun to perform, and most importantly, amazes and entertains while evoking a sense of wonder at the same time.

I warmly recommend this book to anyone who has a passion for card magic, and especially to those who are interested in some genuinely novel and interesting presentation ideas.

Want to learn more? Michael Breggar's books are available as PDF downloads from several online retailers, including Kaymar Magic as well as Penguin Magic:
- Five Roads to Vegas ($7)
- Back to the Launching Pad ($7)
- Dancing with the Cards ($14)


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