What this is all about

I seem to have an obsession with making new blogs. I think it has something to do with my belief that someone might care?

So what this is all about. This blog is going to chronicle the design of a course. Particularly, the course is about Magic: the Gathering, the card game. I’m thinking it might one day turn into the class page as well. So a little history about this.

At the end of winter quarter my freshmen year, Tom, the guy next door, brought his Magic cards from home to sell. I myself had played for 2-3 years until quitting mid-senior year in high school. I was very excited and soon, we had a play group in Tom’s room. Tom and I both play at a proficient and knowledgeable level, having both read articles and been familiar with some of the theory of the game. One of the silly ideas we threw around was teaching a class on the game. By that summer, we got the idea that we could teach a student-initiated course here at Stanford on it. We threw together an early syllabus and applied the fall of our sophomore year. Although we brought in a lot of interesting topics, the class still felt like something cobbled together to justify playing Magic. As such, we were rejected by the committee.

But we weren’t going to be blown off so easily. This spring, 2 quarters later, we re-applied with a new syllabus. This time, we changed out a lot of the Magic readings in favor of academic readings and re-designed the class so that the topics formed a more cohesive set. We moved from a course about Magic to a course that used Magic as a teaching tool for a lot of interesting topics. We worked to make the syllabus much more rigorous and were rewarded with apparently enthusiastic response from the faculty committee and approval to teach the class this fall.

So the purpose of this class is what I mentioned about: to find an interesting way to talk about what we consider interesting concepts using Magic instead of the stock examples. It’s actually amazing how closely the concepts of Magic are tied to real things. As such, the class is going to be meant for new or casual Magic players looking for something fun to do while getting a survey of a couple topics. These include:

Statistic & Probability – these are better known as the “mana curve” and “deck thinning” in Magic. Magic is a game where two players draw cards out of their deck. Trying to figure out when a card is going to be drawn and with what chance is absolutely stats.

Game Design – this one should be pretty obvious. Magic is a game. People design it. Thus, game design. Fortunately, Wizards of the Coast has had 2 excellent weekly columns on it: research & development in “Latest Developments” and design in “Making Magic.”

Game Theory – another one that is basically built into the name. Game Theory is about making decisions based on the decisions of others. That’s pretty critical in Magic because you’re constantly making choices based on what your opponent is doing.

Epistemic Logic – this is what you’re trying to do when you read your opponent or signaling in drafting. It’s the logic of knowledge. This has a lot of parts, but the part that I have exposure to deals with what agents know, what they know about what others know, etc. There’s some really interesting work formalizing this that we can apply to Magic

Graph Theory – this is the idea of a deck having good synergy. I personally am not doing the work for this, but the idea is that we can attempt to use graphs to represent decks and determine how effective it is based on what sort of topological surfaces the graph can be mapped onto.

Artificial Intelligence – honestly, this is just my chance to show off some of what I know about game AI. It’s reasonable to think that if a computer can play chess, it can play magic.

Of course, all this is gone into much more depth in the syllabus. I’m actually hoping that a lot of people will take a look at that and comment on it. The disclaimer is that I’m not an expert on any of this stuff. Far from. Instead, most of the academic stuff is going to be at a college 101 level. Thus, I’m likely misinterpreting/making mistakes on much of it.

So we’re going to meta out a level right now. This blog is about this class. What you’re likely to see on this page is just our research and progress in the class. That might include

  • decklists of beginner decks that we’re building
  • interesting articles we find around the internet
  • slides from presentations we’re putting together

Hopefully, Tom will be posting stuff as well, but he’s probably not as blog-crazy as I am. Which is a good thing, in some ways.

Since we’re just starting now (Tom just got back into the country), it’ll probably be slow in the near future. In the meantime, I posted some links on the right of some of the sources we’re using.

2 Responses to “What this is all about”

  1. Brad says:


    Just curious how the class went. As an instructional gaming specialist in education, I am interested in what you did and how it went. I have long held the idea of doing an intersession class like this and would like to see what your advisors or supervisors thought.



  2. kevin says:

    Glad to hear you’re interested in doing something similar! Overall, it went really well. We had a few people really get into the game afterwards, I think, though most ended up dropping Magic soon after. Despite that, the response on the lectures and material was very positive, and I thinkt hat the final papers indicated that people were engaged and willing to think about something interesting (especially considering that the final paper was kind of presented as a throwaway only necessary to make things legit).

    We didn’t get a lot of feedback from the advisors afterwards, but when we submitted our proposal, the committee was very enthusiastic about what we were doing, and our faculty advisor seemed happy to help out as well.

    Let me know if you have more specific questions. Feel free to contact me directly (shouldn’t be too hard to find my email) if you have more specific questions that I could help with.

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