Computer Program “K.A.R.N.” Defeats Top Magic Pros

Posted on June 29, 2012

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By Matt Sperling on 6/29/12

Renton, WA – Programmers in the digital products division of Wizards of the Coast scored a huge victory today when their computer program beat professional players in a Magic: The Gathering match.  The victory was the culmination of a years-long project in computer artificial intelligence.  The project, dubbed Knowledgeable Artificial-Intelligence Routing Nerds, or K.A.R.N., wasn’t expected to achieve this kind of result, at least not this soon.

Expected or not, the results are in.   In 3 matches totaling 8 games, K.A.R.N defeated Luis Scott-Vargas by a game-score of 2-1, Brian Kibler 2-0, and Jon Finkel 2-1.  Spectators – some Wizards employees, others just lucky fans – were shocked.

Wayne Szalinski of the digital division of Wizards of the Coast explains, “The challenge has always been that Magic allows for so much variation in play, with so many hidden and visible parts.  For nearly every possible move, hidden information in the game could render that move either a blunder or a great play.  How do we get computers to account for all this uncertainty?”

Luckily for the digital games folks, Wizards R&D decided to meet them half way.  “[Our digital division] expressed doubt about whether they could get the program to play at a top level, so we decided to bring the top level to them!  With Avacyn Restored, we wanted to find a way to make the same fun game everyone loves, but in a way that our unsophisticated software could truly handle,” explained Aaron Hill, lead blowhard at R&D.  “The program kept getting tripped up whenever slamming down the obvious expensive creature or planewalker wasn’t the optimal play.  By removing most of those scenarios, we eliminated computer errors in a systematic way.”

The teaming up of R&D members and programmers began with the Magic Online (and later the Duels of the Planeswalkers) project over ten years ago.  Despite the success of those programs, Szalinski wasn’t always convinced that this day would come for the K.A.R.N. project.  “Getting the computer to generate and maintain the gamestate was a different challenge from getting the computer to play the game at a pro level.”

We asked Szalinski to address the rumors that R&D members were wirelessly inputting “suggestions” during the play of the matches.  “I shouldn’t even dignify that with a response.  But if you really want to hear the argument, here it is: Look at the recording of the match.  The computer at no time does anything other than cast the most expensive Avacyn Restored card that it can, cast spells for their Miracle cost when appropriate, and enter combat as if neither player had a combat trick.  This was successful for a number of reasons, and it’s clear that no outside assistance was needed, or would have helped.  Some people just don’t want to face the reality that the Age of Man is in its final days.”

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