Friday, July 13, 2018

A question about Magic the Gathering rules timing

Not a question about card effect timing, but about the timing of the development of the rules!
This nifty article just came orbiting through my Twitter stream, about the history of Magic's rules. It has some delightful quotes:
The timing of spells is occasionally rather tricky. -- MtG rules, Revised, April 1994
Usually, figuring out what happens first in Magic is pretty easy. -- MtG rules, Fourth Edition, April 1995
However, I want to ask about this claim from the blog post:
Which takes us to the end of our journey, 5th edition. 5th was released in march 1997, and at this time professional magic tournaments was thriving. Hence, any ambiguity of the previous rules had been cleaned up or removed. The rules for timing however were more complex than ever.
-- Magnus de Laval, blog post, August 2014
You know what else happened that month? The release of the first big MtG videogame. (MicroProse, March 1997.)
The videogame included most of the cards through Fourth Edition, but operated under the brand-new 5thE rules:
That's because in Shandalar, the rules used are the official interpretations supplied by Wizards of the Coast. These up-to-date rules are ruthlessly enforced, and there is no room for negotiation, argument, intimidation of your opponent, or weaseling your way through loopholes.
Tough luck, all you whiny rules lawyers.
This version of Magic: The Gathering enforces the official Fifth Edition rules.
-- MtG game manual, MicroProse, 1997
I'm not sure when development started on the game. But in 1996 and 1997, the WOTC designers must fielded a steady stream of haggard MicroProse developers asking "But how do you resolve this corner case? How do the timing rules really work?"
My long-held theory is that the clarifications and cleanups of 5thE are not so much because of the tournaments, but rather because of the effort of making the videogame behave consistently.
If you've played any modern board/card game with a computer implementation, like Ascension or RFTG, you know that the computer version quickly becomes "the real version" in your head. The easiest way to answer rules questions at Game Night is to say "The videogame does it this way." So my gut feeling is that MtG must have been the first big example of this.
But I don't know for sure. I only played a bit of MtG in the earliest days; I was never involved with the tournament scene.
Can anybody say more about this development history?
The next MtG rules update, Sixth Edition (April 1999), completely revamped the timing algorithm. Which we can fairly call an algorithm at that point! 6thE spell resolution uses a "stack", in the programming sense. So the computer paradigm obviously had an influence on its development. But that's a couple of years after the change I'm asking about.


  1. Hopefully I'll save you some trouble: the unofficial history _Generation Decks_ by Titus Chalk does not so much as mention the MicroProse game. (No index, either. Shameful.)

  2. I wasn't sufficiently aware of Magic history to know that title, so thanks!

    I assume that this is not a refutal, just a gap in the book's information.