A Critical Examination of Ellusionist's 2017 Holiday Gift Guide

I'm a big Ellusionist fan. It may not seem that way because I always have some comment to make about their latest mis-steps. But the reason I always have a comment to make is the same reason I'm a fan: they try. If you launched an online magic store in the early 2000s and you watched as Ellusionist and Penguin ate your lunch and you sat there wondering why you couldn't get any traction, it's likely because you just transplanted the brick and mortar magic shop model to an online presence. 

We like to romanticize the past, but let's face it, a lot of real world magic stores sucked shit. Many merely survived because they were the only magic store within a three hour's drive. That's not a business model that translates online. 

What Penguin and Ellusionist realized was that, in a crowded marketplace, you stand out with innovation and marketing. Did that lead to a lot of failed ideas? Sure, but it also brought on a ton of success as well.

Well, I don't know about that, Andy. Ellusionist just seems pretty ridiculous to me.

Let me ask you this, do you have pubic hair? You do? Okay, well then you're not their target audience.

You see, much like the producer behind the band Menudo

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Or serial child molester Earl Bradley


Ellusionist isn't really interested in you once you reach the age of, like, 14.

Not that they don't want you as a customer, they'll definitely still take your money, you're just not in the demo they're targeting.

This is evidenced in their giveaway this holiday season. Ellusionist wristbands.

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For every $50 you spend, you get one of these wristbands and, depending on which wristband you get, you get a specific prize as well. 

Andy, who would wear that garbage?

Read this ad copy. That will tell you.


It's for kids. In fact, it almost sounds like they transcribed the ramblings of that kid you went to school with who was a pathological liar.


So don't feel like you're out of the loop if Ellusionist's marketing schemes don't connect with you. They're not intended to, if you're an adult. 

In fact, I'd feel sorry for you if you're of voting age and you're like, "I can't wait to get my Ellusionist wristband!" I feel like the next stage in that thought process is you calling up their customer support and saying, "Yes, I was wondering if you make something with the same pattern, but in a noose size?" Because if you're a grown adult that's excited about wearing the Ellusionist logo and Daniel Madison's face on your wrist. Your future is pretty bleak.

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Let's look at a few of the other things Ellusionist has on their holiday gift guide

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I mentioned this trick in a previous post. I'll reiterate what I said there which is, I don't think it's a very good trick, but if you like what you see in the trailer, then I'm sure you'll be happy with the product. 

One thing you need to consider is this: does it make any sense to alter an object magically and the change it back to its normal condition? In this trick you "remove" an angel from one end of a playing card and then... you put it back exactly where it was. This is a wildly unsatisfying structure for a trick. It's almost the definition of pointless. 

I'm reminded of tricks where you, for example, link two rings torn out of playing card. Then you say, "In fact, the only way to get them apart is to tear one of the rings." And you tear one of the rings to separate them. Or Osterlind's coin in bottle where he magically puts a coin in a bottle and then says, "In fact, the only way to get the coin out is for me to break the bottle." And then he breaks the bottle!

This sort of structure suggests a misunderstanding of what it is that captures the imagination with these types of routines. If you're going to alter something "magically" so that it's somehow a unique or impossible object, don't go and undo that. "But I have to for the sake of the method," you say. Well, then it's not a good trick. 

Imagine a story where a guy finds a magic fairy in a field who's willing to grant him one wish. "I wish for true love," he says. The fairy makes a beautiful woman appear and she immediately falls madly in love with the man. "In fact," the fairy says, "this love is so true and powerful that the only way for me to end it is to kill her." And she pulls out a gun and blows the woman's fucking head off.

That is, essentially, the same sort of story you're telling when you change something in a magic way, and then change it back so that it's a normal object.

Venom Levitation System

This produces some of the most amazingly magical looking levitations and animations that I've ever seen. I definitely considered picking this up, even though the set-up sounds fairly convoluted (it's two thread reels instead of one). The only thing that kept me from getting this were the reviews on the Cafe that suggested the thread is really visible and you need to get a completely different thread for this to be useable. For $150 I don't want to have to re-jigger these things to get them to work properly. If anyone has had experience with this and can let me know if the supplied thread is good or if swapping out the thread is less horrendous than it sounds like it would be, let me know, because I do like how good this looks.

The Villain System

From what I can tell, this is pretty much Harry Robson's Roughing Sticks, but perhaps a different formulation and it comes with a download with a few effects on it. 

My question is, did Daniel Madison forget his phony backstory? He was supposed to be an underground gambling phenom who left the "biz" because he got busted for cheating and then had the shit kicked out of him by some toughs in the world of underground gambling. And now he's shilling roughing sticks? That seems a little off brand. Unless maybe he tried to ring in a Mental Photography Deck into one of his illegal games. Maybe that's why he got his ass beat. 

For reference, here's Harry Robson, the other big name in roughing sticks. From looking at him, it might be a stretch to associate such a product with general badassery.


As I said. Roughing sticks don't really seem on brand for Madison's character. What's next? Daniel Madison for Card-toon? "One of my proudest moments in the dingy world of high-stakes illegal gambling was when I was down 250 thousand dollars to Saudi Prince Majed bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. As he was gathering his stack of cash to leave, I said, 'Double or nothing. Would you believe me if I said I have a stickman on the back of this deck who can find your chosen card?'"

Chess Guess by Chris Ramsay

This is a "which hand" style of effect but with a chess piece rather than with a coin or something. I'm kind of worn out on the "which hand" stuff, and I don't want to carry around chess pieces, so it's not really my scene. But it looks like it should be good if that's what you're into.

I find this bit of the trailer a little odd. I'm pretty sure he says, "See, because you're a chess player, you think with your mind, right?"

"Hey... this guy's good! I do think with my mind!" 

That's some classic Chris Ramsay cold reading.

Madison Kitten Deck

I love the idea behind this deck. I think the execution could have been a little bit better, but I'll definitely be picking one up.

The idea is to make a gimmicked deck that looks like something that would be found at your grandma's house. 

When I first read about it, I was hoping for something like these.


That's what I think of when I think of an old cat deck. And I think I had been hoping it would be this kind of one-way back design. Maybe bridge size.

So when I saw the design they settled on and it didn't really capture the same spirit, I was a little bummed. But it's growing on me.


The box seems a little anachronistic. Like something you'd find at Spencer's Gifts, not in a grandmas junk drawer.


When I get my deck I'll probably ditch the box and wrap a few rubber bands around it instead. 

It's a marked deck and there are a couple of other gimmicks included as well. And it's just $9. So that seems like a pretty good deal. 

There you go. There are a few other items in the holiday guide. Some new decks that I have no comment on. A variation on Bob Farmer's Little Hand trick, but with a cat's paw. Not sure that's such a great idea, but I'll reserve judgment until it's actually released. And Clone which allows you to copy a spectator's signature on bills or cards. Obviously that could be an invaluable tool. I'm just waiting to hear if it's any good or not before shelling out $150.

So, all in all a kind of mixed bag. Definitely some interesting stuff, and some stuff that didn't do it for me. 

The preceding was a paid advertisement for Ellusionist.com.

No, I'm just messing with you. If Ellusionist had paid me to write this, I think there probably would have been a couple more positive reactions to the products released, and certainly one less reference comparing them to America's most prolific pedophile.