Zooming into Commander with Your Friends
“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection--thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.
Have you missed playing Magic during these difficult times? I have, and I found a way to play paper Magic the Gathering despite the quarantine. I would like to take a little time to tell you about my experiences. At the end of the article, I will give you links to everything you need to start playing Magic this way. My friends and I primarily play Commander. I could not figure out a way to play cube or draft, but I nailed down how to play Commander via Zoom with great success. Being able to leave the world behind and immerse oneself in a game of Magic the Gathering is a therapeutic experience. I always find myself re-energized after even a short play session. I wanted to share this with all my fellow magictators out there, so everyone can play Magic without the Gathering.
Inspiration: “If I can teach this way, then can I play Magic this way?”
I am a teacher by profession, and during the school shutdowns, my life was less than ideal. I had to rapidly prepare materials for digital formats and engage with distance-learning tools like Zoom and Google Meets overnight. It was a challenge to get my curriculum shifted to an online format, but I managed to do it. While I was recording videos and making materials, I realized I could use my document camera to play Magic with my friends! The document camera I was using to go over literary texts seemed perfect for showcasing my Magic the Gathering battlefield.
The Research: “What is the best and most cost efficient way to get everyone playing?”
I began researching what other people do to play paper Magic online. I found that many others use a Discord server and digital video calls to play. I did not have any experience with that, but I had plenty of experience using Zoom and Google. I figure Discord probably works in similar ways. The next phase was researching set-ups people use to show their cards. Built-in webcams, in short, are awful options and are not practical. Instead of a built-in webcam, you need an exterior camera with 1080p resolution which connects to your computer. For around $60-100 each, my friends and I could all play Magic again. That is a price worth paying.
Testing Phase: “Is this practical, and does it actually work?”
Early on in the quarantine, I sent my brother a link to some webcams and a document camera. Initially he ordered a webcam, but it got cancelled, and then so did his other order too. Finally, a month later, he was able to get his document camera there with actual two day shipping. I suspect document cameras are usually easier to come by and not in such high demand. My brother is not a techy guy, but he had it set up in no time. It went as smoothly as we could ever have hoped. We could easily see each other’s cards and play games with ease. I quickly contacted my college buddy, who lives a few hours away, and asked him to look into getting set up as well. He is a total brain, and after doing his own research, settled on using his phone as a document camera by using a paid app. My brother sent his document camera Amazon link to a couple of his friends, and now we have five of us that can all play remotely whenever we have free time.
Using Zoom to play Magic is easy. You barely need any computer literacy to fumble through using it. Just pick the most “techy” person to be the host for your meetings. That person will send the invite to everyone else’s email, and from there all that is needed is three clicks to start playing. There is no learning curve when using it to play paper Magic. I am also including a YouTube link to a recording of this in action.
Tweaking Your Set-up: “How did I polish this process?”
The lighting is perhaps the trickiest part of the whole process. If you want to avoid glare, you need to pay attention to your lighting. The built-in lights on the document cameras usually create a glare spot in the center of your battlefield. You can diffuse this if you add other light sources that are closer and coming in from different angles. I do not use the built-in light, and instead use a lamp angled at 45 degrees, pointed at the front of my battlefield. I have the lamp about a foot or so away, which allows me to eliminate most glare. You can also simply place your cards outside of your glare spot. Experiment with lighting to see what works best in your room.
Cost/Benefit Analysis: “Was it worth it to invest in this technology?”
Of course it is worth buying these items to play Magic with your friends during quarantine, and beyond! What is the grand total for a setup like this? If you already own a computer, you only need to purchase a document camera. If you have a webcam, then you should be able to do this easily by only investing in a gooseneck style tripod to help aim your camera. I would say a sweet set-up is about $100; you can get by with a budget setup of about $50. I feel getting a setup like this is similar to the expense of buying sleeves. Sure, it might cost a little, but it is so worth it. This setup will be useful beyond quarantine as well, as it will allow you to play a quick game or two on a random weeknight. My brother and I have played many short pick-up games without having to travel. This setup will facilitate more opportunities for you to play Magic in the future, and the overall cost is very low. In reality, can you really put a price tag on fun chances to play with your friends across town or across the country?
Reflections: “What issues have come up, and how did I solve them?”
I have actually played more often lately, because we can play a quick game here and there more easily. The Zoom setup allows you and a friend to turn any block of mutual free time into Magic the Gathering time. As far as issues go, my list is rather short. Sometimes the document camera auto-focuses on the deck instead of the cards, so you may need to move your deck out of the shot. There are times Zoom closes the meeting out because the free version has a forty-five minute time limit, but starting a new meeting and picking up right where you left off is no big deal. We are not holding a professional meeting; it does not matter if we need to pause for a minute to restart. There are times I have to hold a card up to the camera and get it to focus, but that’s similar to passing a card around the table so people know what it does. While recording for the YouTube video, we had our first ever WiFi issues with my friend’s camera setup, but even that was minor. Overall, after playing Magic without the Gathering for several months via Zoom, there have been few issues.
Recommendations: “What should you buy?”
I highly suggest that you watch the video on my YouTube channel to assess which set-up you like best. Your space and place and budget all matter. I am listing the set-ups and pictures for each below, so you can choose which style you prefer. If you have any questions or suggestions, then I highly encourage you to comment here. If you are on a very strict budget, and don’t mind sacrificing a fair bit of quality, you can also check out this guide.
Mikeal’s setup: Uses his existing laptop and a document camera to show his battlefield:
Philip’s setup: Uses his existing laptop and a document camera to show his battlefield:
Andrew’s setup: Uses his existing laptop and his phone (transformed to become a document camera by using an app and WiFi) to show his battlefield.
The app is called iVcam. Andrew paid the $10. We think the free version works too, although there are ads, a watermark, and over time some features potentially become disabled. The app works to stream the video over your network's wi-fi to computer (and Zoom). You need to download the app on both your phone and the client to computer.
To hear more discussion about our Magic-over-Zoom experience, we made another video, which you can find here.
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