Do you need to break in a new deck? Ah, the sweet smell of a brand new deck of playing cards. There it is, a fresh arrival in the mail, now waiting on your kitchen table. It is taunting you in its shiny cellophane, begging to be opened. Inside, as you know, is the joy of discovery, the smell of newness, the feel of brand new playing cards, and the promise of future experiences. You can hardly wait! But do you need to break in your new deck first? If you want the handling to be smooth, are there any special steps you need to take to get your deck into optimum working condition for peak performance? Whether or not you even need to break in a deck depends on a number of factors. 1. Are you a professional magician, about to perform a gig? If so, then it's not likely that you want your first experience with a new deck of cards to be in the middle of a performance or when you're on stage. Ideally, you'll want to have at least given it a short test drive in advance, just to make sure it feels right, and has that gently worn and familiar feeling, so that it won't cause any issues during your performance. The last thing you want is a couple of cards to be stuck together, or to find some other issue with the deck. Obviously magicians won't want to perform with a tired and worn deck that is full of grime, because it makes a poor impression, so it is professionally important to use a deck that is brand new or near new. But when using that new deck, you don't want to have to worry about a less than optimal performance, so you do want it handling as best as it can from the moment your performance begins. You certainly don't want to be spending precious minutes fiddling with cellophane wrappers, or getting rid of the standard "new deck order". And are the cards too stiff? Too slippery? These are the two main issues you may find with a new deck, and are the kinds of things that you can address by breaking in a deck. For many professionals, it will be a personal thing as to whether or not a deck performs exactly the way you want fresh out of the box, or whether you prefer the slightly different handling that results from a slightly worn deck. But for the rest of us, unless our first drive with our deck is at some official event, the need to "break in" a deck is much less necessary. It will get broken in naturally simply by using it, so just go right ahead and put it to work. It's not like some new car that you need to handle gently for the first few kilometers, nor are you like a test pilot nervously taking a brand new plane on its first flight. Little can go wrong, and if you just use the deck for what it is intended for, everything will work out fine. 2. Who is the publisher, and what kind of deck is it? Decks from some publishers will perform just beautifully straight out of the box, and this can also depend on the card stock that is used. Many cardists like using a deck that feels soft, and typically a deck will become softer by sheer use, as pressure is applied to the cards in the course of shuffling and handling. A USPCC deck with their "Thin-Crush" stock will have this feel immediately from the box, whereas a deck with their thicker and higher grade Casino Bee stock may require some wearing in before the cards feel softer. The B9 True Linen stock from Cartamundi also has a very soft feel from the box as well, and many cardists will just love how this feels from the get go. In contrast, LPCC/EPCC decks with the Diamond/Master Finish will have a much stiffer feel from the outset, and this sense of snap and firmness isn't likely to change much despite intense use of the cards, given that these are intended to be much harder wearing and longer lasting cards. All this means that whether or not there's a need to break in a deck can depend on how it handles straight out of the box, which can vary according to the publisher and the kind of deck it is. So let's talk about the typical USPCC deck a little more, since that represents by far the majority of decks. Decks with their standard Bicycle stock and with their higher grade Casino Bee stock will both become softer over time, so it can be helpful to wear these in if that is important to you. This is largely a process that will occur naturally as you use the cards, so there's no need to artificially wear them in as such. But if it is very important to you that all the cards arrive at the same degree of softness at the same time, you might want to systematically go through a series of moves that puts all the cards through their paces in the same way. Certain decks will also be more slippery when they are first used, which is a result of the coating on the cards. Some use will see this wear slightly, and the cards won't quite slide as freely as they did initially, which is another reason some magicians will want to break in a deck first. On the other hand, other decks may perform worse over time, although this will largely be with decks from inferior publishers. These may appeal to spread and fan smoothly immediately from the box, but over time can quickly start clumping and be inconsistent. 3. How do you like your deck to feel and perform? For most people, a deck will slowly change its feel as it gets used. In some cases, a deck may perform worse as it wears, and fans and spreads that were initially super smooth and consistent may start becoming clumpy or less than optimal. But generally speaking, as a deck becomes slightly softer it can become more pleasant to use, and sometimes this can even mean that fans and spreads can improve. It also can become less slippery, and the cards will actually spread and fan a little more consistently and pleasantly. One thing about USPCC produced cards is that the edges of the cards can be somewhat rough after the cutting process. You can feel this by running your hand alongside the edge of a brand new deck, especially if you compare it to the super clean and smooth cut of a LPCC/EPCC produced deck. This will wear smoother with time, but there are things you can do to speed up this process. Recommendation To summarize, a deck that has been worn in slightly will generally perform better than a brand new deck - although there are exceptions. Cards will be less slippery, and spread evenly and smoothly, springs will be easier due to the cards being softer, faros will be more consistent (in both directions), and packets and double lifts can be formed more cleanly. This will happen naturally over time with any deck, so in many cases you don't need to do anything special - just go ahead and enjoy the cards, and they'll wear in automatically as you use them. But sometimes you do want to accelerate that process for performance reasons. In the next article we'll cover some of the steps you can take to do this properly. Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.com here.