Long before the Portals trainer deck Kickstarter, I had been making prototype decks for multiple uses. At first they were strictly for magic. Acrylic came to me as an accident, when a family member was doing an art project and I tagged along. When asked if I wanted anything, I simply asked for a piece of acrylic cut out in the shape of a card. There weren’t any acrylic pieces that matched the thinness of a playing card amongst the numerous colors, and so I settled for the closest one, a dark red wine color.

Coming back, I asked for more of the acrylic playing cards and made a quick video called “Sample” using them:

At no time was I thinking that I would ever sell these; this was just a phase of my creative process outside of cardistry. It wasn’t until a few months later that I decided to see if people wanted these prototyped decks, which led to a Kickstarter. With a successful Kickstarter, I made a few more videos:

It was fascinating to see Cardistry moves done with something that wasn’t made from paper. At the first Cardistry-Con I brought two Wine trainer decks and filmed over a dozen flourishers using just one deck. The other one would be later on sold to Zach Mueller, who was the first to buy a trainer deck from me.

So what’s the point?

Will a trainer deck really help you become better at flourishing? In some ways, yes it will. In fact, you will wind up doing things you cannot do with a standard deck of cards. Sure, you can’t work on your spring, but now when you flourish you’ll start to notice details that might not have occurred to you before. For example, if I’m going to do Madonna, I might wonder how many packets need be broken up in my right hand when I start out the move. With a trainer deck, you will find that 3 packets will be broken up. Pretty simple. So now, can I prepare for a flourish before I even begin it. With a trainer deck you will realize that one of the packets breaks into two, so you’ll make note to prepare prepare an extra packet there before you begin. Now, when you use a deck of cards you will know to put an extra amount of cards in those specific areas as you begin breaking up the packets. What might have taken you weeks to realize can be done with a few attempts with a trainer deck.

Another example would be for the average beginner, someone struggling with the basics. The Revolution cut can be hard for them to learn with cards falling and bending. Give them a trainer deck, however, and this cut can be learned in less time. There’s no picking up cards or paying for expensive blue seal decks just for a simple move. All you need is just two packets. Ridiculously simple.

Lastly, let’s say you want to get creative. You want to make a three-packet flourish in less than a week, and need to get the basic moves down before you use a deck of cards. You want to utilize a new grip and don’t have time for dropping or crimping cards. Well, try a trainer deck. The deck is literally made for you to practice and get ideas, so if you have one, remember it’s not made to make you drift away from playing cards but is instead there to help you, whether you are lacking motivation or creativity.

It is understandable that if you want to get better with playing cards, you should just use playing cards. But if you want to get better at cardistry in general, there’s no rules on what you can use to practice. Imagine a brush with a few hairs. With it, of course, you can make a painting. Now imagine a brush with 52 hairs. With ease you can make the same painting. The same can go for the art of cardistry. It is the same painting, just done with a different brush.

So, what are some pros about using a trainer deck? Well first off, you won’t have to worry about anyone asking to see a magic trick. Instead their interest will be focused on what you are actually doing. Gone are the days of being scolded for bringing cards to school or getting strange stares from onlookers who think you and your friends are gambling. Instead you’ll get the wonderful conversational starter of “What are those?”

Some fun facts about the Portals trainer decks:

  • As they’re made of acrylic, they are incredibly strong. In a few videos, packets are bounced off the floor and the wall without any chips.
  • The cards have a unique ‘glow’ look to them, which you can see from this photo.
  • You can even make them on your own! Here’s a free tutorial I made on how you can build your own trainer decks from scratch:

All in all, the possibilities with these decks are endless. Maybe in the distant future trainer decks will become their own performance medium, instead of just a stepping-stone device. But in order for that to happen, people need to understand that these pieces of acrylic have the potential to stand by alone without the stigma that they must perform like cards. If you don’t have a deck, try one out. There are already plenty of colors to choose from with different packet counts 🙂

Check the decks out here!

About Jose Portals

Starting out as a stage magician, card manipulation was simple. Yet joining the world of cardistry changed my life. With the support of family and friends I've been able to make my own business and an app dedicated just towards the art. I look forward to creating more projects with the support of fellow cardists.