All Magic Tricks Fall into The Same 8 Basic Categories

You already know that there are thousands of magic tricks. But were you aware there are only eight different types of magic tricks? There is nothing new under the sun.

According to Jon Finch, magician in Indianapolis, Only eight fundamental categories comprise all magic tricks you've ever seen.

Each class describes a certain type of experiment, test, effect, or trick, and by understanding just a little bit about each effect you can easily focus your efforts on learning tricks from that category within the others.

For the sake of variety, if you're going to perform 8 tricks to the same audience, you may not want all 8 tricks to be of the same category-for example, penetrations (that’s one of the eight categories).

There is a school of thought in the performance of magic and mentalism that there should be variety in your act. For example, Uri Geller, one of the most famous mentalists of the 20th century, displayed a variety of abilities.

Geller bent spoons with his mind, he duplicated drawings unseen, he stopped clocks with his mind, and influenced an entire audience to select a certain drawing, etc. 

Another school of thought contrary to the first is that you should display a clearly defined ability, e.g., influence. If your persona is that you are outstanding at influencing people to think certain things and do certain things, then you should not include a spoon bending bit in your show, as that would be incongruent.

This is true for 99% of performers.

They see David Blaine or Derek Dingle is a great sleight of hand artist with playing cards. Then he "reads their minds," even using a deck of playing cards to do so.

And they believe he can read minds!

Here’s a good example of this, where immediately after David Blaine throws the guy’s selected playing card through a glass window, the guy exclaims that Blaine can read his mind:

This happened multiple times on Blaine's first TV special, and Derek Dingle did the same thing with Barbara Walters (after doing impressive sleight of hand with cards, he then told her to think of one from a fanned out pack of cards. He correctly guessed which she was thinking of, and she said,

"The card magic I can understand, but when you read my mind!

Consider the implications of this lazy thinking displayed by Barbara Walters. It is universal. I've been performing magic for 20 years, and I've heard only two people (one of them a 7 year old boy) have such a fantastic mind that they concluded, "Well, I know you are skillful with your hands, so the mindreading must have somehow happened using the skill you have with your hands." Remarkable!

From a wealth of experience, personal and impersonal, I have found that a lay audience simply doesn't give a crap about logical inconsistencies.

If we look at the greatest (commercially most successful) performers of the last century and this one, we'll notice a clear pattern of disregard for this "persona congruence" idea.

Dunninger, The Amazing Kreskin, Al Koran, and Derren Brown (hands down the most innovative and greatest performer of the 21st century) all displayed a hodgepodge of abilities unexplained by their past. All of them (aside from Blaine) presented as mentalists, and all of them sprinkled in magic effects into their mentalism shows.

The strict school of thought that a mentalist should not do what is clearly a magic trick--at the risk of tipping the audience that he's actually just a trickster--simply does not hold up.

So let's take a peek into what each category does and see a few examples that best represent them. The last two listed (7 and 8) are the strongest in terms of impossibility, onlooker envy (the degree to which onlookers want the ability), and impact.

  1. Production effects. The opposite of vanishing an object is a production. When the magician shows an empty box, handkerchief, or hand, and then in a flash "produces" a ball, or a rose, or a bunny. This is the opposite of Vanishing.


    Pulling a dove out of thin air.
    Drawing a coin from a child's ear.

  2. Vanishing. This is the opposite of Production.
    - Examples:

    Revealing a vacant box following your assistant
    had just recently entered it.
    Making a bird vanish within a cage.

  3. Transformation. When the magician transforms an object from one state into another. This is achieved via a combination of Production and Vanishing.

    - Examples:

    Running a yellow handkerchief through a fist,
    and it comes out a red handkerchief.
    A black card changes into a black card.

  4. Restoration. When the magician takes an object, destroys it, and then makes it whole.

    - Examples:

    Tearing a playing card apart, waving hands over it,
    then restoring the card to its untorn condition.
    Sawing a lady in half, then putting her back together.

  5. Teleportation effects involve the magician transferring an object from its original location to a different location. This impact also encompasses two objects changing location with every other (double teleportation).

    - Examples:

    The card that your participant only placed inside your deck
    is actually the card on your pocket.
    Your helper that entered the cupboard is shown to be
    from the audience.

  6. Penetration consequences involve the magician carrying a completely good object and passing it through another completely solid item.

    - Examples:

    Thrusting a pencil through the center of a quarter.
    Escaping from a locked container.
    Sawing a lady in half.

  7. Levitation effects involve the magician creating the illusion that a thing or themselves are floating.

    - Examples:

    David Blaine hovering several inches off of the ground.
    Floating a coin or finger ring above your hand.

  8. Mentalism. These effects include telepathy, telekinesis, influence, and predictions. Of all magic tricks, these are the strongest effects; predictions being the strongest effect of them all in terms of impossibility and impact.

    - Examples:

    Knowing the card your participant has chosen.
    Describing a picture your participant has drawn
    while your back was turned against her.

There are plenty of magicians that specialize in one kind of impact over another, but many magicians are well versed in merging the different effects in their acts to supply a diverse pattern to the show.

Many routines encompass multiple effects in one, such as one of the earliest magic tricks in history, the Cups & Balls. This utilizes aspects from Production, Vanishing, Transformation, Teleportation, and Penetration-a deadly trick in the right magicians hands.

Focus in on any category, and you'll find thousands of effects within that category. Focus in on any effect, and you'll find hundreds of variations of that effect. Focus in on any variation, and you'll find dozens--sometimes hundreds--of iterations of that variation.

For this reason it is foolish to say, "Oh I've seen that trick before," when a magician says, "Pick a card."

I've personally heard this before--sometimes even when I simply pull out a deck of cards! 

Even if I do begin with, "pick a card," I almost never proceed with simply discovering that card and revealing it. There are literally a thousand directions I can go.

I might make the card change into a different card in their hand. I might make the card shoot out of the deck (which is one way to reveal the card--there are hundreds of ways to reveal a discovered card). I might make the card jump to an impossible location (my mouth, my pocket, the spectator's pocket, under the saltshaker, under the spectator's cup of coffee, folded up and inside the clock hanging on a get the idea--hundreds of effects within the 'card to impossible location' plot, and few of them are achieved with the same method).

I might rip the card into four pieces and then restore it. I could go on.

The same is true of levitation effects and mentalism effects. The premise of the effect is usually something along the lines of--telepathy, body language, NLP, or some other BS. That is the mechanism in the minds of the audience (not helped by the performer, who includes references to such mechanisms in his patter). Though the premises of the working of the effect are a few dozen, the actual modus operandi number in the thousands.