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BrainWave deck


By Mike Matson

Now that you’ve had the chance to experience the power of the Invisible Deck, allow me to introduce you to a similar effect that operates on much the same principle yet provides you with an amazing kicker ending that will completely stun your audiences – The Brainwave Deck! As anyone who owns an Invisible deck knows the effect makes use of some subtle, simple math. The Invisible Deck can be performed without having to perform any mental calculations but most will find it beneficial to learn the basic formula required as it will benefit your understanding of the Si Stebbins system and allow you to perform some incredible magic with a normal deck of cards as well. For those who are less arithmetically-inclined, you will be happy to learn that the Brainwave Deck, requires absolutely no number-crunching on your part.

Watch A Demonstration

Much like the Invisible Deck, the Brainwave Deck cannot be shuffled, handled, or inspected by your audience as they will no-doubt discover the secret to its operation. Therefore, with both decks, the magician must remain in control of the cards and the magic takes place mainly in the magician’s hands. The benefit of the magician handling the deck throughout is that he or she can decide the pacing of the effect, how to build the tension, and control the moment of revelation to provide the most impact. However, with the Invisible Deck, this may lead some to believe you are so skilled with your hands as to quickly go through the deck, find the card someone just randomly named, and secretly turn that card upside-down using Ninja-like sleight of hand techniques without anyone noticing only to be revealed a moment later. If you have your audience believing you are that skilled, chances are good you have fooled them on a much deeper level and they are giving you far more credit than you deserve. The Brainwave Deck dispels any belief that you are simply turning the card over as you reveal it because the card they name is later shown to have come from a completely different deck with a totally contrasting back design! This proves you knew what card the spectator would randomly choose before they even named it! Here is what happens…

Watch A Demonstration

Any playing card is named aloud by a member of the audience. The deck is spread face-down and the named card is the only one that’s face-up. As a second climax to the trick, this card is turned face-down and shown that its back color is different from that of the rest of the deck, thus proving that that the magician really did know what the spectator would say in advance and didn’t just secretly turn the card over.” ~ Magicpedia

I believe this double climax makes the Brainwave Deck a superior effect. With the Invisible Deck, the card a person names is discovered face-down in a face-up deck whereas, with the Brainwave Deck, the card a person names is discovered to be face-up in a face down deck. This small distinction seems trivial yet some may argue that, with the Brainwave Deck, you sacrifice the suspense and dramatic tension of turning the face-down card face-up to reveal that it is indeed the selection. However, I feel the immediacy of seeing their named card face-up as the deck is being spread is far more shocking and makes the idea that you may have turned the card over using sleight of hand quite impossible. Plus, I believe sacrificing the moment of turning over the card to reveal its face in the Invisible Deck is worth the surprise kicker ending that the Brainwave Deck offers wherein their chosen card has a completely different colored back. You will have to make the decision for yourself as to which deck may best suit your needs and performance style.

The Brainwave Deck as we know it today is largely regarded as the creation of the most prolific master of modern close-up magic, Dai Vernon. Previously, Vernon created a forcing deck in the mid-1930s which was dubbed the ‘Brainwave Deck’ by Francis Carlyle, but later re-titled the ‘Atomic Deck’ by Faucett Ross in 1953. Dai Vernon published ‘Brain Wave Deck inThe Jinx No. 49, Oct. 1938, page 341 and later marketed the effect separately in November 1938. Vernon gives magician Paul Fox credit for the red/blue card back idea in 1932. Although, a letter published on Page 546 of the July, 1984 issue of Genii Magazine by Judson Brown written to Mr. William Larsen describes the Brainwave effect and how Judson had created the original concept years before Vernon popularized it. Judson Brown published his version, ‘A Super-Reverse Problem’ in the March, 1929 issue of Sphinx.

Earlier gimmicked decks that may have provided the foundation for the modern Brainwave Deck were Edward Bagshawe’s Reverso Deck (1921) and Optica Deck. Max Holden brought the Reverso Deck to the United States with some improvements and marketed it as ‘Sympathetic Reversed Cards’.

Watch A Demonstration

Variations of this effect include the Oddity Deck by Ed Marlo (1957), The Cerebral Undulation With A Bent-Over Mexican From the Mysteries of Mister E by Carl Langdon in the November 1958 issue of Genii (Brainwave effect where the odd-backed card is produced, then a card is named), Fred Lowe’s ‘Super Brainwave Deck’ (1969), Nick Trost’s ‘Eight Card Brainwave’ (1974), ‘One Card Brainwave’ by Steve Dushek (1982), B’Wave by Max Maven, Potassy-Wave Deck by Paul Potassy (2007), and Ralph W. Hull’s Flash Cards. J.B. Bobo went as far as to construct ‘Mini Brainwave’ using miniature playing cards.  The Complete Illustrated Book of Card Magic by Walter B. Gibson (1969) notes one interesting variation that uses the Svengali principle which is the subject of our next article!


Magicpedia – Genii Magazine

  • ‘Credit where Credit is Due or Birth of the Brainwave Deck’ by Peter Warlock in New Pentagram, vol. 12, no. 9, November 1980.
  • A History of the Brainwave Principle written by Karl Fulves (1983)


Michael Matson, 2016