True Hero Card Trick by Calvin Sze

Updated: Jul 14, 2019

The making of

If there was one thing I could tell myself as a young magician, one piece of advice, what would it be?

"It's not magic itself or the hours that you put into practicing moves every day that matters the most to you - but the paths towards magic that you will walk thru. You're gonna fail miserably in your life but as you find the ways out, you will find yourself developing strength and wisdom - the very same strength and wisdom necessary for designing miracles, both for your life and for your magic."

Have you ever gone through a nightmare in your life, been unable to break free, been haunted every night, until you get that wake up call - a click that allowed you to finally resolve that inner conflict, to let go of your torturing grudge? Either you meet this new girl and realize that your ex had been a burden in your heart for way too long since the breakup, or you're finally able to get past the tendency to keep your old garments in the closet. This day, this moment, you walk in the breeze, listen to the chirping and twittering of the songbirds. You just don't need anything else.

These inspiring encounters, these personal resolutions, you may view as mere anecdotes. But in educational theories, they are known as discovery learning, which, you might see, could be a painfully slow process. In order to actively discover and invent stuff, you’re going to need frequent collaborations. And that implies the prerequisite of building your own team so as to multiply the outcome of your creative process by brainstorming and supporting each team member.

The imaginary team

In Tobias Beckwith's Beyond Deception: The Theory and Practice of Creating Original Magic, there’s an imaginary team building technique which I, as an introverted sociopath, naturally came up with and practiced for several years before reading the book, although I have not applied it to magic until recently. The legendary Stewart James invented hundreds of card tricks in the last century by collaborating with his imaginary friends at home. Here, I will talk about a team that has been always there for you. You just didn’t pay attention to it. Another good new is: it’s not as ghostly as the ones mentioned above.

The affordable consultants

Magicians often take their magical libraries and collectibles as the major, even sole, sources of inspiration and originality but it is often stated that we should hang out with people out of our magic circles to get inspired. In search of laymen's opinion, my non-magician colleagues have become my magic consultants for the last few months. They helped me on problem solving as well as providing feedback on my acts; in turn, I created new magic for their enjoyment. I even shared with them some of the recent trends of magic and listened to what they thought as outsiders. Do not underestimate a layman's viewpoint and their expertise. Laymen aren’t meant to be fooled or blamed; they’re to be respected as intelligent beings, not only in the role as audiences but also as consultants. After asking ten laymen of different specialties for their opinion, you may already have gotten the outcome of a powerful creative team.

Here's how my team worked for me

This presentation was made possible since one of my colleagues showed up and asked me to create a magical presentation for the next school assembly on life education. She even made a suggestion for me to present a sucker effect so that someone will encourage me until I overcome - a thoughtful enough idea in laymen’s term but also cliched as hell. Nonetheless, it reminded me of how my students had a quarrel earlier after playing dodge-ball since one student could not figure out which side he was on.

So I offered her something else instead. I asked for technical support on finding images for me to make specially printed playing cards. Initially, I asked the male teachers for help because I thought they would be geeky on those things. They pointed me towards a female Arts teacher who then showed me an app that allowed me to design vivid cartoon characters within minutes. The next day, I grabbed a blank Bicycle deck from my bookshelf and made the cards. Every Visual Arts teacher came along to check them out and cheered. Excellent! I just had to fill my patter into the plot, which I already had in mind.


Jamy Ian Swiss, in his 2001's book Shattering Illusions, stated that card magic is more than what it appears to be. It represents gambling, gaming, chances, fate and destiny. That gave rise to a whole new world of imagination built upon the seemingly conjuring tricks. Card tricks are usually rejected by schools for obvious considerations and yet we could promote ethical values and teach our kids engaging, touching or even frightening stories with cards due to the complication of the genre. Just don't be limited by the designs of the decks readily available.

The new routine

  1. Start the story in which the teacher asks the students to dress up as heroes in a cosplay party. Meanwhile, spread through the deck and show the cards representing the teachers and students in their everyday clothing.

  2. Overhand shuffle. Talk about how four students gather and plan to be the stars for the party.

  3. Cut to the first transformed student. He is an archer! Place it face down, on the desk.

  4. Cut to the second transformed student. She's a cyborg! Place it face down, on the desk.

  5. Cut to the third transformed student. He's a prince! Place it face down, on the desk.

  6. Now, cut to the fourth student. Be surprised as you find that she has not dress up as a hero.

  7. Tell the story. The teacher says she needs encouragement. Let's have some team spirit because it is what makes people true heroes. Then, cast a shadow on the card as the kids cheer for her and reveal it. And yet, she is still not transformed - at all.

  8. Explain that it isn't like she could change her costume right away. She has totally forgotten to bring it. She just couldn't be a part of them, not on this day.

  9. The teacher explains to the students that true heroes are true heroes not because of what they put on but because of the inner virtues they possess, so it doesn't really matter what she's dressing.

  10. The polite audience will worry for you and try to convince themselves to accept your patter at this point as you muddle through but the honest child among them will wonder, "But what about the magic you have promised?"

  11. Ask the child to recap. Ask them what the teacher has said and as they say it, tell them the other three kids in the story have realized that they don't have to wear costumes to be friends or heroes. So they take off their costumes and reveal their true selves.

  12. Turn the three cards over and the three students in costumes are now wearing casual clothing, just like their oblivious friend.

The lesson

Our magicians' instinct told us to work on our crafts solitarily, especially keeping it away from "ordinary people". Although the card routine employed in this act had been sitting on my bookshelf for nearly two decades (and perhaps even longer on yours), it wasn’t until that morning when I was given a challenge to give a lesson that I could think of a brand-new presentation for a classic routine. And if my technical team wasn’t around, I might have let the idea slip away.

since 2018 by Calvin Sze