Magic: The Gathering is a painful game. It hurts to see your meticulously crafted deck obliterated by a killer combo by turn four or to have your game-winning creature fizzle into nothing with a well-timed Counterspell. But Sheepwave — a streamer, artist, and Magic: The Gathering content creator — doesn’t think this already ruthless game is painful enough. To add a little spice to her Magic games, Sheepwave made the Shockbox — a box that delivers a tiny electrical jolt whenever a player takes damage.
Sheepwave says the Shockbox was born out of a “twisted” sense of humor and an affinity for electrical engineering projects.
“The whole thing started as a one-off joke I made,” Sheepwave tells The Verge. “But people really responded to it, and it was well within my skill set. Electrical engineering challenges are a particular kind of fun, and the fact that I was able to put those skills into making such a unique spectacle was really fun to me.”
The Shockbox is a plastic junction box filled with wires, balsa wood, and a small device similar to a TENS unit which delivers the electrical shock through electrodes taped to a player’s arm. Designed to be used by up to four players at a time (perfect for a Commander or Two-headed Dragon game), the Shockbox zaps a person after they take a random amount of damage.
In Magic, players start with 20 points of health or more depending on the format of the match. You win the game by reducing your opponent’s life total to zero, accomplished by hitting your enemy in the face with a combination of monsters and spells. The Shockbox keeps track of a player’s life total and each time a player takes damage they press a button on the box one time for each point of damage taken.
Getting a tiny jolt for every single point of damage would get old quickly, so Sheepwave created a delightfully insidious method to keep games interesting and players on their toes.
“It tracks four separate thresholds of damage,” Sheepwave explains. “Once a player has taken more damage than their threshold — which is a random value somewhere between 1 and 10 that the box modifies to build suspense at low life totals — it activates a shock, the duration of which is determined by how many points of damage they put in before it went off.”
To put it simply, you never know when or for how long you’re gonna get shocked. And, to ratchet up the fun-xiety, Sheepwave programmed each button to flash to warn the player as they mark their damage that a shock will come Soon™. Here’s the box in action.
It’s hilarious hearing the players squeal whenever they get shocked but Sheepwave stresses how important safety was when designing this box. The actual shocking mechanism of the box is powered separately from the rest of the box’s components and runs off a single nine-volt battery which isn’t powerful enough to cause harm. She also installed circuit breakers and fuses players can pull out of the box to disconnect it from the power source should an emergency arise.
“Making sure the systems are separate means even a worst case failure on one side won’t put anyone in danger and the Shockbox running on internal batteries rather than a wall plug is another safety feature.”
Sheepwave also created a calibration mode for the box that allows each player to set their shocks at a level comfortable for them.
“While its been very fun to play up the ‘mad scientist with no regard for safety or sanity’ thing on social media, I definitely want to be sure people understand that image is for entertainment value and I’ve put several times more work into safety features than anything else.”
According to Sheepwave, the shocks don’t really hurt.
“The experience of the shocks are startling, not painful,” she says. “They are a bit unpleasant but in a thrilling sort of way. At one point, the involuntary contraction made me drop a hand of cards on the table, which I found very funny.”
Sheepwave conceived of the box for several months but says it only took her about a month to actually build it. Keeping the box compact was one of the biggest challenges of the build.
“It went through a lot of revisions,” Sheepwave said. “The first version was built in a Tupperware container.”
The Shockbox does come with limitations and rules that Sheepwave created to keep play interesting. Players are not allowed to gain more than 60 points of health and certain cards are banned — especially ones that arbitrarily end or extend the game irrespective of life totals like Platinum Angel.
Sheepwave says there are certain decks that she discourages people from playing with the Shockbox.
“Playing overly defensive decks just doesn’t promote the kind of experience people sitting down with electrodes strapped to them hope to have.”
Eat shit blue control decks.
Sheepwave doesn’t intend to sell the Shockbox, so don’t expect to show up at your next Friday Night Magic intending to terrify and delight your friends.
For now it’s simply a “shocking” little addition to her Magic streams.