Magic: The Gathering nixie life counter

Someone sent in a tip that pointed us to this Magic: The Gathering forum thread where a user named [DistortedDesigns] made a life counter for Magic: The Gathering out of Nixie tubes. While there’s not many details for this build, it’s just too cool to be forgotten in a single forum.

The project began by etching some plexiglas. There’s some earlier examples of [DistortedDesigns]‘ work that look very professional. The electronic are extremely simple – the 25 LEDs run off of 2 AA cells, and the nixies run off of 2 C cells. We were wondering when [DistortedDesigns] would drop the A-bomb, but it looks like this build doesn’t use a microcontroller.

The controls are back are toggle switches to power the LEDs and nixies. There are two knobs on the back, and from the write-up it’s pretty easy to infer that these are 10-position rotary switches. [DistortedDesigns] says, “the knobs in the back rotate around and supply power to each digit one at a time,” so with a transformer this seems like a very simple build.

It’s an excellent build that didn’t get enough attention when it’s author posted it. If you know of any under-appreciated builds, send it in send it in to our tip line.


  1. Aaron says:

    The only problem I can see with that is you could never use it in any kind of tournament, because you’d be so constantly mobbed by impressed passersby that you’d never have time to play the game. :D

  2. Hackerspacer says:

    100 life = stack overflow!

  3. macona says:

    C’mon, there are no lives involved with Magic.

  4. Andrew says:

    It does need a third digit, but it’s awesome anyway.

  5. Michael says:

    well thats just great but its a little big, and it doesnt count down how many “lives” you have, it counts down your life points you have remaining, cool build but a bit big for gameplay.

  6. jeicrash says:

    Looks like the knobs control the counters. neat design but needs some form of embededness. maybe add a webcam that looks at your cards and keeps track of stats via a small lcd screen, save the tubes for keeping score of wins/loses.

  7. jake says:

    do people still play this? i have a bunch of cards from like 10 years ago… can i sell them for some $$?

  8. Colecago says:

    99 life max? Must not be playing an elf deck with that broken Wellwisher card.

    Neat build though.

  9. jake says:

    actually, like 14 years ago… i’m getting old.

  10. Cole says:

    I was playing this last year at AIT

  11. andar_b says:

    The wife has a whole bunch of 2010 cards, I play a white/blue deck against her once in a while, rarely get over 30 life though.

  12. svofski says:

    Duh.. and I was thinking about
    Well, demoscene is dead, isn’t it?

  13. anyone says:


    Yeah, if you have a decent number of rare cards. If I recall each booster had 1 rare, so you ought to be able to get atleast some money if you have a decent number of cards. Mayber even tons of money.

  14. Daid says:

    Magic is still going. However, your old cards only have value as collectors items. Every edition increases the strength of the cards. So using old cards vs new cards will be a slaughter.

  15. Mike says:

    Gawd I love nixie stuff.

  16. Pup says:

    My DS homebrew life counter pales in comparison to this. :0

  17. fartface says:

    “So using old cards vs new cards will be a slaughter.”

    Only if you suck at playing.

    I regularly utterly own n00bs that think they can only play with the new cards. In fact I have a very old deck that I built that will nail most anyone in 3 turns… Poof you are dead. and no it does not use any banned cards.

  18. r_d says:

    You’re kidding about old cards being weaker, right?
    They aren’t even printing Counterspell anymore. Mono-blue control is forever crippled.

  19. paul says:


    for real! The list goes on, too: goblin grenade, sinkhole :D, dark ritual…

  20. Maxwell Mudd says:

    First, let me say, I’m not really a Magic fan. I do think the art is cool though. But this project is beautiful, well-done, and also useful to the game. Great job Magic Nerd!!!!

  21. kronos says:

    there needs to be a third nixie tube!
    at 56 life i play [Beacon of Immortality]

  22. j0z0r says:

    @Daid – The very first edition has some of the most powerful and broken cards in the whole game. I have a mono-red burn deck with old cards that can hold it’s own against any three decks with only new cards. If anything I ‘d say they try to balance it more with edition that comes out

  23. DudeGuy says:

    This is the nerdiest thing I’ve ever seen.

  24. Hack Cell says:

    LOL at drop the A-bomb and @DudeGuy

  25. Lennox says:

    This comment thread is hilarious. None of you know anything about MTG.

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