Magic: The Gathering is Turing complete

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Magic: The Gathering, Richard Garfield’s 1993 brainchild, is as computationally complex as its reputation suggests. A physics paper written by longtime player Alex Churchill, Stella Biderman of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Austin Herrick of the University of Pennsylvania argues that Magic is so mathematically complex that it is capable of recreating any computational function. The game is “Turing complete” in the parlance of computational theorists. Simply, the mechanics are complex enough, and there exists enough card variety that it’s possible (although statistically unlikely) to create a game in which the players have no options but to follow instructions to the end state. The equivalent of a cardboard handheld Turing Machine.

“It’s quite possible that Magic is the only tabletop game that’s Turing complete.”

It’s all a lot of math and hoo-haw that Ars Technica does a decent job of explaining to laypeople, but the summary is that Magic players can really lord it over Netrunner fans. Their game is scientifically better.