The first thing most people notice when looking at a Magic: The Gathering (MTG) card is usually the impressive art that realizes the creatures, sorceries, and other fantastical visions of an expansive fictional universe, now over 20 years old. But at its core, MTG is a strategy game about attacking, defending, planning, and power. The wonderful visuals aren’t required to enjoy the game. Players who have visual handicaps can smash life totals with big creatures too, they just have to get a little creative.
In a series of images posted to Imgur by MTG judge Imogen in Lancaster, England this week, a blind player named Richard gears up for a pre-release tournament with MTG’s latest set: Magic Origins. Richard used a device called a “brailler”–like a typewriter that impresses braille patterns onto objects, usually paper–to stamp tactile dots onto the sleeves that would hold his cards. By adding braille to the sleeves and not the cards themselves, Richard is able to avoid damaging his cards, can have his deck certified for tournament play, and doesn’t require an assistant to read his cards to him (many visually-impaired MTG players do require assistance reading the cards, but this also gives opponents in earshot an advantage).
Richard doesn’t simply type out all the words on the card–he is more clever than that. “On cards with little text he repeats the text so the whole sleeve is covered,” says Imogen, “This serves two purposes, firstly it means that his opponent can’t try and work out which cards are in his hand by the amount of text on them, and secondly so that his deck is ‘balanced’–all the cards are the same thickness across the whole card so his deck doesn’t tilt and fall over.”
And though MTG players in tournaments may be hesitant to accommodate a player like Richard, Imogen reported that after reading him all of his cards, Richard quickly typed up his sleeves, and was ready to participate by the time the action started.
There are other tweaks that Richard needs to make to be an effective player. Because he has to keep and update a complicated “board state” in his head at all times, Richard relies on the MTG rule of “free information” in sanctioned play. What cards an opponent has on the board, what they are playing and when, as well as how much “mana” they have untapped or unused is all information that must be relayed to another player if requested. Using this freedom of information, Richard can navigate a game without ever seeing it.
While this kind of cooperation could be construed as a burden by some players–experienced MTG players have cards and plays memorized so that actions can be taken without announcing every step -Richard’s inclusion, as is the inclusion of everyone who loves to play MTG, is a net benefit for the community.
“This was a little out of some players’ comfort zones at first, but they all got used to it very quickly,” Imogen said. A game with Richard is just like any other game.
Richard certainly isn’t the first to use braille on his card sleeves. Forums for MTG and for the blind are both filled with players discussing rulings and techniques. Many advocate putting braille on sleeves, and report that it works well.
For tournament play however, Magic: The Gathering rules are unclear. More casual events like “Friday Night Magic” are officiated more easily, and accommodating blind players is largely up to judge discretion. However, “for a higher REL [more competitive] event, the problems of revealing of information, coaching, and slow play become troublesome,” says David Lyford-Smith, MTG’s United Kingdom & South Africa’s Regional Coordinator. “The DCI does not have an official policy on this.”
Despite the problems that may arise in high-level tournament play, the important thing is that Richard, and many like him, can play. And the community wants them to. “I played against this guy last week at Friday Night Magic, really nice bloke. You get used to announcing everything really quickly,” said Imgur commenter omgwtfbbqetc.
Imgur user JoDodds also found the thread. “I remember playing him at Friday Night Magic ages ago and I had no idea how he did it and was too shy to ask. He beat me of course!”
Kyle Hill is the science editor of Nerdist Industries. Follow on Twitter @Sci_Phile.