Within normal rules of collectible card game Magic: The Gathering a player may find themselves constrained to only a single legal course of action forward. It’s a situation players could craft to frustrate their opponents, though the victims usually break free after a few moves. But under a carefully crafted scenario, players would have no choice but to become the execution engine for a Turing-complete programming language written with Magic cards via techniques detailed in this paper.
One of the authors of this paper, [Alex Churchill], started working on this challenge in 2010. We covered an earlier iteration of his work here, and his own criticism that it was dependent on player cooperation. At various points, the game rules state a player “may” take certain actions and the construct falls apart if our player chooses the wrong thing. It would be as if a computer was built out of transistors that “may” switch as commanded or not, which would not be a very reliable method of computation.
To improve reliability of this particular Turing machine execution engine, the team combed through rules and cards to devise an encoding where the player is only ever presented with a single legal course forward. This ensures deterministic execution of the instruction stream, and now with proof of Turing-completeness in hand, we congratulate [Alex] on a successful conclusion to his decade-long quest.
We have a primer available for anyone who wants a refresher on Turing machines. They are utterly impractical but fun for hackers to build, and they are typically constructed of electronics and LEDs instead of ink on cardboard.
Via Ars Technica, who have presented their own analysis of this machine.
Main image: Unspecified set of Magic: The Gathering cards by [Robert] CC BY 2.0
Like many of us, [Michael Portera] was an avid trading card collector as a kid. Also like many of us, life got in the way, and the collections sat ignored in boxes until our mothers threatened to get rid of them (or skipped the threat altogether and sold them at a garage sale for next to nothing).
[Michael] was recently reunited with his collection of Magic cards, which vary in value as much as baseball or any other kind of collectible card. Now that his Friday nights are otherwise occupied, he decided to sell them off. But first, he had to know how much they’re worth.
Manually sorting and pricing hundreds of cards would take longer than he’d like, so he built a sorter to automate the process. It takes a stack of MtG cards and uses servos and little tires to move them, one by one, into position. A short Python script runs the servos, tells a Raspi 3 camera take a picture of each one, and uploads it to Amazon AWS. Once the pictures are there, [Michael] uses a second script to grab the card title text from the picture and fetch the value through TCGPlayer’s pricing API.
This machine probably isn’t for purists or people with a bunch of originals and re-issues of the same card. We probably should have mentioned that he took out all the Black Lotuses and other obviously valuable cards first. Someone still has to assess the condition of each card, but at two seconds per card, it’s quite the time
twister saver. Time Walk past the break to see it in action.
Tired of using dice or scratch paper for your life counter? Summon some Nixie tubes and make a cooler one.
Continue reading “Automatic MtG Card Sorter Separates Rags From Riches” →
If you really know your Magic the Gather and you’re a programming wiz you’ll appreciate this paper on building a functioning Turing Machine from Magic the Gathering cards. We’re sure you’re familiar with Turing Machines, which uses a rewritable strip to store and recall data. Most of the time we see these machines built as… machines. For instance, this dry-erase marker Turing Machine has long been on the top of our favorites list. But as The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson illustrates, there’s more than one way to skin this cat.
A complete list of the cards used in this machine can be found here. A little bit of preparation (casting to tweak abilities) goes into making sure the cards will work as called for in the Turing design. The tape is made of Ally tokens to the right of the head, and Zombie tokens to the left. The computational abilities of the head depend on the colors of the cards. It’s a bit too complex to paraphrase, but the design is based on this 2-state, 3-symbol setup whose rules are listed in the image above.
It’s going to take us a while to fully wrap our heads around this thing, but it’ll be fun getting to that point!
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.
Continue reading “Magic: The Gathering Nixie Life Counter” →