MTG: What it is and why you should play it… Story By Alistair King

MTG: What it is and why you should play it

I move this piece to the right, your turn. I move this forward and attack, your piece is dead. What does this sound like to you? Just a simple game of chess? If you thought that you would be wrong, though the principle is the same.

Cardboard Crack... while some players can squeeze by with small collections, many players spend tons... Photo By Wizards of The Coast
Cardboard Crack… while some players can squeeze by with small collections, many players spend tons… Photo By Wizards of The Coast

Magic the Gathering (MTG) was first released in 1993 by Richard Garfield and published by Wizards of the Coast. The premise of the game is simple, each player has 20 life and their goal is to get the other players life total to 0. The game was almost an overnight hit for Wizards and it was impossible to meet the printing demands for the cards.

The game has received many awards for its gameplay and the sets they produce. The first time they got an award was a year after its release getting the Mensa Select award, and the latest being in 2015 as Origins “Best Card Game of the Year.”

In 2004 USA Today ran an article about MTG saying that the game might help develop mental and social skills. Parents that were interviewed said it was much like a sport and helps teach their children how to win and lose gracefully. However, MTG is highly addictive, with some players going as far to call it “Cardboard Crack.”

While the premise of the game is rather simple the actuality of it is rather complex. You have different types of cards you can play whether they be spells, creatures, or land that allows you to cast more of the cards that you have. Each deck is made with these cards. Average decks of cards are around 60 cards, But they often range from 40-100 depending on what format you are playing.

Deck construction is critical in this game. Players can’t just grab 60 cards, shuffle them together, and then expect for you to win the match. Certain cards work well with other cards and the best ones have effects that help each other. A way of seeing these types of cards is by looking at their color. There are 5 different basic colors in the game. Black, Blue, Red, White, and Green. Cards that help each other are often in the same color.


Photo By: Odyssey
An average match… Photo By: Odyssey

When players get around to playing a match the luck factor is visible almost immediately.  They start by drawing 7 cards and hoping that they get a good spread of lands, spells, and creatures. Not drawing enough lands means that you can’t cast spells, not enough creatures and your opponent can overpower you, and not enough spells and you won’t have any defense or offense.

The game ends with one of the players running out of life, running out of cards after which they can simply shuffle the cards back in and play again. But why should you play this game?

In simple, it’s fun. It’s a lot like chess that requires a fair bit of strategy to win, and players that have played chess extensively have a better chance of winning an even match. Second is that the cards you buy will always be usable. While cards do rotate out of the standard format, you can use them in a variety of other ways. Finally, a reason that you should play this game is that the cards have value. Collections of cards go for up to thousands of dollars and the most expensive card in all of Magic, the Black Lotus, goes for 100,000 dollars on a good day. While most players don’t have that much, many of them still have quite pricey collections.

Of Physics and Donuts… Story by John Holmes

What do donuts and superconductors have in common? The answer comes in a relatively astounding discovery, as the Nobel Prize Laureates in Physics – David Thouless, F. Duncan Haldane, and J. Michael Kosterlitz – can attest.

Donuts and math…to a topologist, a great combination. Photo by: John Holmes.
Donuts and math…to a topologist, a great combination. Photo by: John Holmes.

So, what is the common thread between pastries and physics? The answer lies in topology. Topology, also known as “rubber sheet geometry,” studies the various ways an object can be formed without being broken. Though topology has many similarities to geometry, topology differs due to its concern with holes. The more holes an object has in it, the more likely it is to be broken when forming a new shape. This is where the donut comes in. A donut has a hole in it, so if you wanted to form it into the shape of a slice of pizza, you would have to tear the donut apart. This, to a topologist, would make a donut different than a slice of pizza. However, since a slice of pizza has no holes, it can – theoretically – be formed into the shape of an apple, making an apple equivalent to a slice of pizza.

Perhaps, an easier explanation can be derived by using two-dimensional objects. A square, since it has no holes, can be formed into a circle, but a figure-eight cannot be shaped into a square due to its holes. In this example, a square is equivalent to a circle, but a figure-eight is not equivalent to a square.

The Laureates related this to the realm of condensed matter physics, using superconductors instead of donuts. Up until the early 1970’s, the popular theory was that thin layers of electrically conductive materials could not become superconductive. However, Michael Kosterlitz and David Thouless overturned that theory by demonstrating how superconductivity could occur at low temperatures. Later, in the 1980’s, Thouless showed that previous experiments with thin-film superconductors – in which the conductance was measured as integers – were topological in nature. Around that time, Duncan Haldane related topological concepts to chains of small magnets found in certain materials.

A square is equivalent to a circle…but a circle is not equivalent to a figure eight. Photo by: John Holmes.
A square is equivalent to a circle…but a circle is not equivalent to a figure eight. Photo by: John Holmes.

So, how do these concepts correlate to donuts? Through phase transitions. When a given amount of heat is added to – or taken from – matter, it can change from one state to another. This happens when heating an ice cube: the ice melts, changing from a solid to a liquid. Likewise, the opposite is true. When freezing water, heat leaves the system, thus the water transforms from a liquid to a solid. Normally, matter changes between four states – solid, liquid, gaseous, and plasma. However, a change in temperature can also change the electrical properties of matter. These changes occur rapidly – similar to how the donut has a rapid change when it is broken; this is a topological phenomenon. That’s the discovery these three Laureates made – using topology to analyze the phase transitions of a material. Thanks to this discovery, we now know that this does not only occur in thin materials but in ordinary three-dimensional objects as well.

But what can this realization lead to? In addition to advancing research in condensed matter physics, the hope is it will lead to advancements in electronics and superconductors, or even quantum computers. By understanding the flow of electrons through superconductors, electronic components can be made extremely efficient, with little to no electrical resistance. As for the effect on quantum computing, an understanding of the quantum super-cooled, quantum state of electrons in matter will help to build inexpensive and efficient quantum computers – making problem solving and database searches much faster. Through the discoveries made by these three Laureates, the future of electronics and computing technologies looks bright.

Stock Report 2016… Story By: John Holmes

The market is up…here is the Dow Jones, NASDAQ, and S&P. Photo by: CNN.
The market is up…here is the Dow Jones, NASDAQ, and S&P. Photo by: CNN.

Stock markets do crazy things during an election. The Dow rose 257 points the day after the election, and the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ rose by 1.1% each. However, on Tuesday, Dow futures were down 900 points and there was a 4% drop in crude oil prices.

Global markets also suffered some loss after the election. Both the Mexican peso and the British pound fell 9%, and the Japanese market fell sharply with a 5% drop in the Nikkei 225. In addition to these, the Euro has also gone down in value.

There was some rising, though. Big banks rose their interest rates, with JPMorgan Chase rising 5% and a 7% increase for Morgan Stanley. Defense stocks, such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, also rose.

Though there were some large drops, the odd behavior of the market during and just after the election is nothing to fret over. Presidential elections normally cause strange behavior in the market. According to Anne Smith, Senior Editor of Kiplinger, “The stock market has, for the most part, ebbed and flowed with the four-year election cycle for the past 182 years.” Bear markets and recessions are common trends during a president’s first two years, and bull markets and prosperous times tend to occur in the final two. For example, the Dow Jones, ever since 1833, has gained an average of 10.4% the year before an election, but normally drops to 6% during the election year. And as for concerns about which party wins the White House, Smith says those concerns are “unwarranted—at least from an investing standpoint.” As can be seen, there is really no need to worry over your investment portfolio after an election.

The current exchange rates…the Euro, Pound, Yen, Canadian Dollar, Yuan. Photo by: CNN.
The current exchange rates…the Euro, Pound, Yen, Canadian Dollar, Yuan. Photo by: CNN.

As for the current market, the Dow is at +0.19%, the NASDAQ is at +0.74%, and S&P is at +0.47%. Oil is at $44.93 per barrel, gas is at an average of $2.70, gold is at $1,217.30, and silver is at $16.80. Japan’s Nikkei is at 0%, London’s FTSE 100 is at +0.67%, Germany’s DAX is at +0.20%, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng is at -0.08%. The exchange rate for the Euro is $1.06, for the British pound it is $1.24, and the Canadian dollar is at $0.74. Some of the most popular stocks include Fitbit Inc., Cisco, American Airlines, Wal-Mart, and Macy’s.

Hopefully, as a new year comes, the market will continue to rise and rebound. It is just a matter of waiting to see.