The Modest Proposal

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The Duelist Andy Jih

My early childhood magazine diet consisted primarily of Nintendo Power, Electronic Gaming Monthly, and GamePro. All of these monthlies showcased new video games that were to be released as well as reviews of recently released games. I eagerly devoured these magazines, but in retrospect they often functioned more as glorified ad platforms than as showcases for journalistic or academic periodical.

In 1994, I began playing the trading card game Magic: The Gathering (Magic, for short). In Magic, players have a deck of cards that they've collected and constructed that they then use to defeat their opponents. While most periodicals related to Magic at the time were price guides such as Scrye and InQuest, The Duelist set itself apart by providing my first glimpse into game design and production. Though The Duelist isn't innocent of being a marketing tool as it was published by Wizards of the Coast, the same company that published Magic, they provided an unprecedented view into the details of how the game was designed, the process by which the artists took a card's function and created concept art through finalized paintings, as well as details of the game's strategy itself. It was a refreshing change from other magazines that featured perfectly manicured screenshots of games that had been created by marketing departments.

In The Duelist, there was one regular column that I eagerly anticipated every month: "Magic: The Puzzling." At the end of every issue, Mark Rosewater, one of the head designers of Magic, would construct an elaborate game scenario that readers could solve. When my brother and I got each issue, we would immediately jump to "Magic: The Puzzling" to analyze the details of each puzzle. We got into heated debates about how cards worked, different approaches to solving each puzzle, and finally, when one of us had figured out the answer, he would tease the other about his inability to solve the puzzle.

When I first began playing Magic, my strategy often consisted of getting as many lands (cards that provide resources) into play and using these lands to summon the largest creature I had available to me. This strategy was very common for new players and for children; in layman's terms, the strategy meant getting a lot of money, spending same money to get the biggest weapon, and using that weapon to wipe out the other player. What "Magic: The Puzzling" did was open my eyes to the depth of Magic and by extension the complexity and beauty of game design as a whole. In order to solve these puzzles, the approach often required using cards that were fairly construed as useless. When these innocuous cards were combined with other cards though, they became absolutely critical and vital to winning. These subtle combinations highlighted and taught me the subtle nuances to various cards and the game as a whole.

I credit The Duelist and "Magic: The Puzzling" as being a great inspiration to me for becoming a more avid student of game design and production. With these puzzles, I began to understand the appeal of emergent game design. While any given card may have been created with a specific purpose in mind, the multiplicity of cards that have been created in Magic over the years has led to combinations of cards that create glorious serendipity that the game's original designers never intended.

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