Since the COVID pandemic, Magic: The Gathering players have been struggling to figure out how to play MTG remotely.  There are a bunch of great communities that have been built around playing MTG remotely, but there aren’t that many guides to do so. Today, we are going to tackle that.

Where can I play MTG remotely?

First, check out your local game store.  Many LGSs have taken to hosting virtual events. Contact your LGS and see if they have any leagues, tournaments, or casual ways to play Magic remotely. If your LGS isn’t organizing remote events, take a look at a couple of the places below.

FarboCo

FarboCo is a local game store in my area (Lancaster, PA). It’s also the LGS I prefer.  The community is great and all-inclusive.  Trolls are not tolerated. There is a good community of Magic players that play remotely there. If you like playing other RPG games, I also recommend checking out FarboCo for that, too.

Visit their Discord channel here: https://discord.gg/aesQa3m

PlayEDH

PlayEDH is a broader, non-centralized community built solely for playing Commander remotely.  You can find their Discord channel here.

There are a lot of other communities out there too!  If you have a favorite Magic spot that hosts remote games, leave a comment and a link below.

Remote Play Requirements

Now that you have a place to play MTG remotely, you need to set up an area near your computer to play Magic.  Thankfully this doesn’t require much more room than you would normally need to play.  You’ll need enough space for your laptop or computer with a playmat in front or beside it, and a little more space to mount your camera.

The picture above is my play area, but I also use that as office space for normal work, too.  You shouldn’t need that much room.

Here is a list of what you need:

  • Computer with an internet connection
  • Microphone
  • Speakers/headphones
  • Webcam
  • A way to mount that webcam above your playmat/play space
  • Lighting

If you don’t have a webcam, don’t be discouraged.  If you have a smartphone, you can use that as a webcam.  Directions and suggestions for using a smartphone as a webcam will be listed below, but first, we will go over each requirement with a little more depth and then walk through starting a game.  Instructions for using a smartphone as a webcam will be towards the bottom of this article.

Computer with an internet connection

You will need a computer with an internet connection.  There is no way around this.  To play MTG remotely, you will need to be able to receive 2-4 video streams while sending your camera stream out to the world. 

I would recommend having at least an internet connection that supports 20mb down and 5mb up at the minimum. 

If your internet connection is slower than that, give it a try anyway.  The worst that could happen is the video streams look compressed.

You will need to be able to see the screen of your computer while playing Magic remotely.  I’ve been asked this question before, so I wanted to make sure that is clear.

Microphone

You need clear audio to play Magic remotely.  The clearer your audio, the better experience everyone will have.  Though a Blue Yeti might work well, don’t feel the need to spend $100+ on a microphone.

If you can purchase a dedicated Mic, get a Blue Snowball.  It costs about $50 and is a great mic for its performance to cost value.

If you don’t want to spend that much money, an over-the-ear gaming headset will work great, too!  These tend to pick up every bit of sound around them, though, so try and play in a quiet environment.

If you don’t want to spend any money on a microphone, try and use an older pair of iPhone headphones.  The mic built into these headphones works surprisingly well!

If you use the microphone on your laptop, try and speak directly to your laptop.  Don’t turn your head while speaking. Your voice will most likely sound a tad muddy to your fellow game players, but that is perfectly acceptable.  If everyone can hear you with enough clarity to understand your plays, that is good enough. After all, the goal is to have fun and not record a well-mastered podcast.

Speakers/headphones

I won’t spend to much time here.  Make sure your speakers are loud enough that you can hear what everyone is doing.  Be careful, though, as loud speakers may cause an echo with your microphone.

If you have a set of headphones you can use, that will work even better.  Headphones will not cause an echo or feedback with your microphone. 

For this use case, I recommend cheap headphones.  Cheap headphones aren’t tuned for bass or treble which means they won’t blow out the sound of someone speaking.  Cheap headphones work great for listening to people speak as opposed to a pair Beats headphones that make listening to podcasts a chore.

Webcam

The webcam is one of the two most important pieces if you want to play MTG remotely. Don’t skimp on a webcam.

The Logitech C920 and C720 are safe options.  Both webcams have decent video quality at an affordable price.  Your mileage may vary with video quality with off-brands of webcams.  Unfortunately, it is beyond the scope of this article to review a bunch of different webcams.  So, I highly recommend doing your research and reading reviews before purchasing a webcam specifically for playing Magic. 

Picture quality is important here.  I will go into this more in-depth in the software section, but you need video quality that is good enough to see, at minimum, that art clearly on Magic cards in your play area.

If you don’t have a webcam and don’t want to purchase one (or even if you have one but find the video quality to be subpar), try using your smartphone as a webcam!  The camera sensors in even budget smartphones now of days have far better video quality than even super expensive webcams.  Using a smartphone as a webcam just requires a bit more work.  We’ll cover that more below.

Lighting

Lighting is the other most important piece of being able to play MTG remotely. It doesn’t matter how good of a webcam you have, if your lighting isn’t good no one will be able to read or scan your cards (more on that below). Thankfully you don’t need expensive lighting rigs to get good illumination around your play space.

First, make sure your lighting does not cause a glare on your cards.  Most Magic players tend to have their decks sleeved, but those card sleeves are highly reflective and easily cause glaring. This makes cards impossible to read.

Overhead lighting works the best, but make sure whatever you are using to mount your webcam above your play area doesn’t create shadows. Shadows will make it hard for both your webcam to focus and your software to display a good image.

If you can’t use overhead lighting then try and place a lamp with a lampshade on either side of your play area.  That should provide enough lighting.  The brighter your light bulbs, the better. 

Natural lighting from a window will also work incredibly well, but natural lighting is hard to control, too.  You may need to play with the positioning of your webcam and play area a little if you use natural lighting.

If you find it difficult to control glaring on your cards from the lights around you, try using fabric softener sheets or wax paper to cover your lights.  You can easily do this by placing fabric softener sheets or wax paper around the shade or reflector of your light and using zip ties, hair ties, or electrical tape to secure the edges of the wax paper to the lamp.  The goal here is to place that paper between the lamp and your play area.

Don’t worry about setting fabric softener sheets or wax paper on fire. Both materials can take a lot of heat and are perfectly safe to use near a high-wattage light bulb.  Your dryer and oven get far hotter than that bulb!

Webcam Mount

I saved this section for last bit of this part of the article.  This section can be the most complicated for many people.  Don’t overthink this, though.  It’s super easy!  All you need is a way to hold a webcam overtop of your play area. Just be creative!

Mic arm and magnetic mount

I recommend using a microphone arm and a magnetic phone mount.  You can purchase both on Amazon for less than $30, and this creates the most clutter-free, multi-use setup I have been able to find.

You can find the microphone arm here and the magnetic mount here.

This setup works great because it uses little space.  You can also use it to hold your microphone in the perfect position constantly, and it only takes about 5 minutes to install. 

Though those microphone arms are perfectly capable of holding the weight of a heavy mic and a smartphone, I would still recommend using zip ties or tape to secure the magnetic mount to the microphone arm.

When you attach the magnetic mount to the mic arm, make sure to position as close the microphone, or the end of the mic arm, as possible.  This will give you the maximum amount of clearance and maneuverability to position that mic arm and webcam perfectly on top of your playmat or play area.

Box With a Hole

When the ‘Stay at home’ orders first went into effect throughout the United States, Magic players started to get creative trying to figure out how to mount their webcam above their playmat to play MTG remotely.  One of the many, easy solutions that surfaced was simply using a box with a hole cut in the top of it.

It shouldn’t be hard to find a box big enough to fit a playmat.  The key here is to make sure there is enough height so your webcam can capture all of your play area.  Also, lighting can be trickier, so don’t be afraid to play with that as well.

If you don’t have a box handy, visit your local Target or Walmart for some foam presentation board.  You would probably need 3 or 4 pieces, but with this presentation board, you can build a sturdy, light-reflective box for less than $10. Think of it like putting together a house of cards but with some tape and one of the sides missing.

Other options

I’m not joking when I say that one of the members of our playgroup attached a 2×4 piece of wood to their wall to mount their camera.  They spent about 10 minutes putting it together.  It wasn’t that destructive to the wall, either. 

They cut off about a 2-foot section of wood. Then they screwed that piece of wood to a shelf bracket. Then they screwed the shelf bracket to the wall. They simply laid their phone down on the edge of the piece of wood so the camera could see the playmat.

It’s a good option if you don’t mind screwing something to the wall and have those pieces of material laying around.

Another great option is to use a clip lamp.  Credit for this goes to our LGS owner, James Farbo.  You can use one of those mountable reading lamps easily!  Instead of clipping the lamp to the side of your desk, place the lamp up-side-down, and use the clip to hold your webcam.

Software

There are a lot of ways to play MTG remotely.  Any video conferencing software will work.  Apps like Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google Hangouts can all be good options, but I specifically recommend a web app called Spelltable.

Spelltable, formally known as Virtual EDH, is specifically made for playing Magic: The Gathering. Though it does display four-player screens by default, it can easily be used for one-on-one games as well.

Spelltable uses the WebRTC protocol to share video, so the video quality is very dependent on your internet connection. It has other useful features, too.  For instance, Spelltable tracks life value, poison damage, and commander damage. It also has a turn timer so you can see how long turns are taking.  The current player is highlighted in yellow, and turns can be passed with the space bar.

The core feature of Spelltable, though, is the ability to scan Magic cards.  If you double click on a Magic card, Spelltable will show that card, and its text, in the sidebar.  It also keeps a rolling history of scanned cards, too.

That feature is the reason why video quality is so important.  The better the video stream is, the faster Spelltable will match cards.  Though Spelltable works with poor quality video streams, it can take several seconds to match cards under these conditions.  Several seconds per scan can add a lot of time to a game, especially when players constantly move cards around a play area.

Spelltable is also mobile-friendly.  We have used this web app with smartphones and iPads on top of using it with a computer.  It works great!

If you want to stream remote Magic games, Spelltable is your best option since these features show who’s turn it is, each player’s life total, and card details in the side panel of the app.

Spelltable is also free, though we do recommend contributing to their Patreon if you regularly use Spelltable.

Overall, we recommend using Spelltable over other video conferencing apps. It is simply the best option for playing MTG remotely hands down. Going forward for the rest of this article, we will assume you are using Spelltable.

How do I get started?

Now that we made it through all that background information, let’s explain how to play MTG remotely! Finally!

First, make sure you have a reasonable area to play Magic in front of your computer.

Then, make sure your webcam is attached to your computer and is usable.  If you want to make sure that your webcam is working properly, visit this website or use the Cycle and Dredge Card Scanning Camera web app (you must be logged in to use it).

Creating a New Game

Next, go to Spelltable and start a game: https://www.spelltable.com/

You will need an account to use Spelltable.  Creating an account is easy.  I use my Google account.

If you already have an account, press the Getting Started button.

After you are logged in to Spelltable, you should see a screen for the dashboard of your account.  This is where you start a new game.  So, press the ‘+ Create Game’ button

.

You can enter a name for that game and description for it.  The name and description are arbitrary, so enter what you feel is best.

After you enter a name and description for your game, you should see a screen testing whether your browser has access to your webcam.  If all goes well, you will see a button that says, ‘Join Now’.  Press that button.

After a couple of moments, your game should begin.

Now, it’s time to invite players to your game.  Press the Person icon with the + sign in the toolbar on the left side of the screen. This will open a modal window with a link to your game.  Copy that link and send it to whomever you want to play Magic with.  We typically paste this link in FarboCo’s Discord so our group of players can join. 

Up to four players can join a game at a time.  Players will appear in the game room as they join. You should see their video feed from their webcam as connect.

Joining a Game

If someone has already created a game with Spelltable, they should be able to give you a link to join their game room as mentioned above.  After you receive that link, click on it.

After you click on that link, you will be asked to log in to Spelltable. If this is the first time you have used Spelltable, you will need to create an account.

After signing in to Spelltable, you will be taken directly to the game room for that specific game.

Tweaking a Game

As with all Magic games, the play table needs to be set up before starting a game.  In this case, the play table is virtual.  Nonetheless, it still requires a little tweaking. 

Each player will need to configure their virtual play table independently.  Any settings you change in Spelltable will not affect others in the same game room.

First, fine-tune the position of your playmat and your camera.  You want your video feed to capture as much of your playmat as possible. 

Now is a good time to check lighting as well.  If you see any glaring on your cards, try and adjust the lighting in your play area a bit. If your game table appears dark in the Spelltable video feed, try and add some more lighting, too.

Depending on camera positioning, some playmats might appear up-side-down.  This is easy to fix! Press the three-dot menu button in the top corner of each player’s video feed.  Then press the ‘Flip Video’ link in that menu.  That will rotate the video feed for that specific person 180 degrees so they are right-side-up.

If someone’s camera feed is sideways, you will need to have a conversation with that person… There isn’t a setting for that.  Tell that person to rotate their webcam to a different position.

Next, make sure your life total is set to the proper starting point.  We tend to play Commander, so we start at 40. 

Speaking of Commander, if you are playing EDH, press the ‘Click to add commander(s)’ link next to your life total.  This will add your commander to your video feed.  By adding your commander, other players can hover over your commander’s name to view that card’s art and text.

Now, roll to see who goes first.  After all, we are still playing paper Magic!

After everyone figures out the turn order, press the Gear Icon on the left-hand toolbar and then press ‘Manage Players’. 

On this screen, you can drag and drop players to reposition them to the proper turn order.

That’s it!  Now everyone can start playing Magic!

If you have any issues, check out the brief troubleshooting steps below.

How to Use a Smartphone as a Webcam

Let’s say that you don’t have a webcam, don’t have the money to buy one, or it will take far to long to have a webcam shipped to your house.  That is not a problem!  You can easily use your smartphone as a webcam.

To do this, you need a special app for both your smartphone and your computer.  The app on your phone will send the camera feed to your computer, while the app on your computer will make your computer think your phone is a webcam.

There are many apps and complicated ways of making this work.  For this article, we will be recommending an application called IVCam. I have personally tried many different apps for both the iPhone and Android. IVcam has been the most reliable option so far.

Installing IVcam is super easy.

First, head over to IVcam’s website and download the webcam server app for Windows. I highly recommend installing this application as an administrator, so right-click on the installer after it has downloaded to your computer and select the ‘Run as Administrator’ option. After the installer launches, keep clicking ‘Next’ until the installer finishes.

After IVcam is completely installed on your computer, turn your computer off and back on again (a little bit of tech support humor there….).  Seriously, reboot your computer.  IVcam won’t work properly in my experience unless you do this.

After your computer is turned back on, go ahead and download the IVcam app for your phone. Visit the app store for your smartphone, search for IVcam, and install it like any other app. After you finish downloading the IVcam app, there is a bit more configuration that needs to be finished.

IVcam works great over the WiFi network in your house, though this can cause some issues as well.  For instance, if multiple people are using IVcam on the same network, that can cause some confusion about which device to connect to.  Likewise, a slow WiFi connection will degrade video quality.  There isn’t a point in using double the bandwidth for that video feed if you can connect your smartphone directly to your computer instead. So, if that is a possibility for you, let’s go ahead and do that.

iPhone

Connecting your iPhone to your computer to use IVcam is easy enough.  First, install iTunes.  IVcam does install the Bonjour service, but I’ve experienced some weirdness in the past.  The easiest way to resolve that is to install iTunes right from the start.  After iTunes is installed, make sure to run it at least once.

Then, after you connect your iPhone to your computer, make sure to unlock your iPhone.  You will most likely be prompted with a message on your iPhone screen whether you want to trust this device or not.  Go ahead and trust it.

Now, skip down to the rest of the steps after the Android section.

Android

Android is a bit different.  You need to enable developer mode on Android phones so that it can connect directly to IVcam through a USB cable.  Enabling developer mode is easy.  You need to locate the Android version in the settings in your device and tap that seven times.  This will enable the developer options.

After developer options are enabled, enable the setting to turn on USB Debugging in the developer options.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to offer specific instructions for each Android phone because phone manufacturers tend to change where system settings are located. 

If you have trouble enabling USB Debugging on your Android phone, I highly recommend doing a Google search for ‘Enabling USB Debugging on XXX’ where XXX is the type of Android phone you have.

Connecting Your Phone Directly to IVCam

Now that your phone can connect to your computer, go ahead and open the iVCam software on your computer.  You should see a window with a preview of the video feed from IVCam.  For the moment, you should see a white screen that says Waiting to Connect.

Now, go ahead and connect your phone to your computer.  Make sure your smartphone is unlocked, and if need be, you allow your phone to connect to, or trust, your computer from any prompts that may appear on the screen of your mobile device.

Once your phone is connected to your computer, launch the IVCam app on your smartphone. Your smartphone should connect to the app on your computer automatically.

If it does not, you will be presented with a list of devices that the IVcam software on your phone can find on your network. Choose your computer name from that list.

If you are not sure what your computer name is, press the Start button in Windows and then type in Control Panel.  Choose Control Panel from the apps list in the Windows Start menu.  Then in the upper right-hand corner of the control panel, change the ‘View By’ option to either Small Icons or Large Icons. Now select the System option.  Your computer name will be listed in this window.

These may seem like complicated instructions, but in practice, they are super easy.  Once IVcam is set up, it typically ‘just works’. If you have trouble connecting your phone directly to your computer, just use the WiFi option, though we do recommend still plugging your phone into a power source as its battery will drain quickly.

For more instructions setting up IVcam, check out their support page here.

Troubleshooting

Spelltable keeps using the wrong webcam

Your web browser will choose the first webcam installed as its default webcam.  You can change the default webcam in your browser settings per webpage, but Spelltable makes switching webcams easy.

First, click the Gear icon in the left-hand toolbar on the side of Spelltable.

Then click on Configure Inputs.  This setting screen will let you choose your default mic and webcam to use with Spelltable.

Audio is crackly or distorted in Spelltable

Spelltable has gotten a lot better with its audio, but at the end of the day, it still uses WebRTC for its video and audio streams.  WebRTC is a great protocol for video sharing, but it is not as finely tuned as something like Discord or Skype. If everyone is having audio issues, we highly recommend using another application, like Discord, for the audio. Make sure to mute the browser tab for Spelltable, though!  If you right-click on that browser tab, you should see an option for ‘Mute Site’.

IVcam won’t connect to my computer

First, make sure that your smartphone and your computer are on the same network.  If both devices are on two different WiFi connections, IVcam may not connect properly.

If both devices are on the same network, restart both your phone and your computer.  After your computer powers back on, start the IVCam app on your computer.  Then launch the IVcam app on your smartphone and try connecting again. You should see the preview window on your computer display the video feed from your smartphone.

My video feed is blurry

If you are using IVcam, try adjusting the resolution settings in the IVcam app on your smartphone.  Press the Gear icon in the upper right corner of the app screen, locate the resolution settings, and adjust the resolution.  You will need to restart the IVcam app on your phone for those settings to take effect properly.

We highly recommend purchasing the IVcam app on your smartphone, so you get access to more video settings.

If you are not using IVCam, you may have to adjust the focus settings with your webcam.  I recommend Googling the instruction manual for your webcam to see how to adjust the video quality for your specific model of webcam.

My video feed froze in Spelltable

Refresh your web browser.  You may have to re-organize players again (see the instructions above regarding setting up a new game), but otherwise, you should connect the same game again without an issue.

Do you have any other questions or comments?  Do you see something in this article that needs more explanation or needs to be updated?  Shoot us a message!

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