Talking Sci-Fi, Math, and Chaos with the Creator of 'Magic: The Gathering'


Anyone who has played Magic: The Gathering has had some version of this encounter: Someone gives you a deck and you play a couple games. You think, gee whiz, that’s fun, and the person who taught you how to play says they want to show you a couple more decks. More decks? You think, and then they explain that this game has been going on for years, that there are thousands of cards, and that you can make decks that do anything. You can win the game by creating one giant creature that takes all of your opponent’s life in one hit; you can destroy all of their resource-creating lands; you can remove all of the cards from their library, winning when they go to draw a card and cannot.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at


My biggest design challenge was: how do you prevent the person who buys the most cards from winning all the time? Which is similar to choosing your own cards in Poker. That was forefront in my mind through the development of Magic so that getting cards wasn’t as big an advantage as you think it is. So my solution there was to make it so that the common cards were very useful and very strong. The consequence of that was that when people bought a few decks they had a lot of powerful cards.

While I appreciate the relevance of common cards in competitive Magic, I’m going to have to call shenanigans on Garfield’s assertion here. The meta has always been driven by high value rares ever since the first set, and that continues to be the case today. The popularity of the Paupers format as of late (where you only play common cards) speaks to this ongoing issue. Top tier Magic is very much a rich person’s game, and I don’t doubt that Wizards likes it that way.


Yeah, maybe it was unintentional but black lotus and the mox cycle have always been game breakers at rare and that line is complete bullshit. The cost of the average deck in Modern rose 26% this year to $1040 and legacy is something bananas like $4000 (thanks dual lands!), even top tier pauper decks are hovering around $100 and that’s literally all commons. Constructed Magic just absolutely isn’t for those without a bunch of money to blow any, the community is in an uproar because a card only available through buying 100$ booster boxes as a promo is starting to show up as a 4-of in tournament play. Draft/Sealed/Cube etc. is another matter but if you want to build and bring your own deck instead of trying to make one out of a pile of random stuff I couldn’t honestly recommend anyone get into MTG.


Ugh, the dual lands issue is so dumb. Mana fixers should all be common to avoid the thing that has plagued Magic since the start, mana screw. Dual lands should be plentiful, naturally curbed by the max 4 per deck rule. Let’s not be precious with multi-color decks, it’s not like they don’t have inherent drawbacks versus mono-color deck construction.

If someone does want to get into constructed Magic at low cost, might I suggest MTG Arena? The lack of a secondary market has flattened the value of rares and you can make a Tier 1 deck fairly easily right out of the gate. You lose the physical and social aspects, sure, but for me it’s pretty much perfect.


I’d also throw in eternal, the card game by direwolf digital as an alright constructed magic alternative. It’s like mtg lite with a few new mechanics that play to it being 100% electronic and it’s not as random as HS is with the card effects. It also doesn’t have the usual WOTC is bad at digital vibe about it, you aren’t going to time out because your opponent is playing their combo deck too fast for the interface to keep up with the triggers on your end.