Playing Magic the Gathering Online–for Free

Unlike most normal people, it seems, I waited until I was over 30 to get in to Magic the Gathering. Mainly I was drawn to it by the fact that you could play it with two people. Denisa doesn’t really like it, but my son has a great time with the game, and he can actually beat me quite often–which either says something about my own playing level, my son’s, or both of us.

Ironically, I left behind a whole bunch of people in Utah who play the game quite often. I’d just never played it with them before I left. So one of the things I’ve been trying to figure out since I got into the game is how I could play against some of the friends I left behind, without having to fly out to Utah.

Enter a friend from high school, who plays quite a bit. I got together with him over Thanksgiving, and it was a real treat to be able to play with someone who knew a lot about the game (and gave me a lot of free cards. Let’s not forget the free.). But again, he lives in Philly, and I don’t. However, he knew of some online applications that supposedly let people play against each other–until then, my brightest idea had been to hook up a couple of web cams and play like that.

Yesterday we had a chance to put it to the test, and after a whole lot of trial and error, we played three very fun games. (I won 2 out of 3. Let’s not forget that, either.)

Figuring that some of you out there might actually care to try to do this yourself sometime, I thought I might write up how we finally got it to work. Ready?

Step One: Both people download Magic Workstation. It’s a free card database of every Magic card they’ve made. You can even download the graphics, so it’s more than just a written description of the card. Theoretically, this tool should let you create sealed decks and play them against other people. In practice, it treats mythic rares like commons . . . which results in some wildly overpowered games. Thus . . .

Step Two: Go to CCGdecks, which has an online sealed deck generator that works much better. You can create just about any sealed deck you’d like, then export it directly to Magic Workstation. The only problem is that it’s a lot clunkier in CCGdecks to actually see the cards and work with them. So we just generated the sealed decks, added all of them to our decks, then exported the whole thing to Magic Workstation and built the deck within that program. Actually, now that I’ve had a bit more time to play around with CCGdecks, it seems like it would be easier just to build the whole thing over there, then export it all at once to MWS.

Step Three: Connect over MWS–you enter in your IP address or the IP address of the person you want to play, and they accept the call, and you’re up and running. But don’t forget

Step Four: Video chat–or at least audio chat. There’s an IM system built in to MWS, but who wants to type everything out? Much easier to have some audio or video going, and it runs seamlessly in the background. (Use Skype, Google Chat, Facebook Chat–whatever).

How does it all fit together and work in practice? Well, you both can see the same playing area. MWS doesn’t enforce any rules–it’s just a platform to play cards and keep track of graveyards, tapped/untapped, decks, life, counters, etc. So . . . just like playing with a deck of cards in real life. You need to know how to play Magic–the platform doesn’t teach you that. (Though there is a clunky mechanism for keeping track of turn order. We ignored that.)

The games we played were actually really fun–at least as far as I’m concerned. My friend was creaming me in the second game–I was down something like 28-5. Somehow I managed to eke out a victory, which felt very satisfying.

So would I do it again? You bet. I plan to, in fact. You can generate sealed decks without the need to . . . actually pay for the sealed decks. Free.

And it’s all about the free. (PS–thanks again for the patience, Dan. Much appreciated! Even if I did beat you. I’m sure you’re just saving it all up to really unleash all over me in the next game.)

Any Magic players out there care to test their mettle against a relative novice?

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