Magic The Gathering themed post. As always, if that’s not your thing maybe don’t read this one?
I’ve been searching for a way to play Magic online for many years now. The more astute (or smart arse) of you probably just said “how about Magic Online? It sounds tailor made for just that.” I hear you, it does sound like a solution. Frankly though, I’ve invested a ton (too much) in my paper collection over the past 17 years and the notion of opting into digital product has zero appeal. What I’m looking for then, is all the action at no cost. A lofty goal, but an admirable one (unless you’re Wizards of the Coast or someone else whose livelihood is dependent on customers). I’m sure those “astute” folks who were quick to point in the direction of Magic Online are now asking why I don’t just play with my physical cards. I do, so don’t get so judgey. It’s just not always viable at 11pm on a Monday.
I used to use Magic Workstation. While it wasn’t technically a program for playing online (it ostensibly was to organise your collection?), that’s exactly how everyone used it. There were no strictly enforced game rules, it just operated on a general principle of Don’t Be A Dick. Most people were. Still, I wasn’t gonna complain about the price. I used it for years, made a ton of decks, tried out strategies I never would’ve been able to afford with physical cards. I played with people from all around the world at all times of day and night. Things were great. Over time it got harder to find a game. I hadn’t been blacklisted, I think users migrated to other options when they became viable. I didn’t. I just retreated back into the 90s Microprose game when I need a quick fix.
The other day I saw a post on Reddit looking for non-Magic Online options for online magic. I mentally jotted down the suggestions and gave them a try.
Untap.xyz was cited as having a friendly community, so I hopped on and gave it a crack. It was an online UI. Nothing to download, I merely had to make an account. I downloaded a generic EDH list from EDHREC and got stuck in. The interface looked really nice. It was a joy to not have to download a ton of images and additional files. The deck building tool was easy to use. It was quick to find a game. There were a ton of options and things weren’t too difficult to find. Great, right? It was also slow as fuck. I’ve got a decent internet connection, but actions still lagged. Magic is a game with fucktons of actions. An EDH game that didn’t even go for that many turns still took about an hour. I tried learning hotkeys, but they were unintuitive and didn’t work if the chat window was selected. No deal.
I moved to the next suggestion, which was XMage. The interface reminded me a bit of Magic Workstation. I had to downloaded software, but if that meant it would run smoother, I was in. All I had to do was download the images. Turns out though, that the image pack was 50 gigs and would take around ten hours to download (the server was slow. I usually get about 5MB/s). I tried it without images, but it wouldn’t show the cards’ casting cost. Less than sub-optimal.
Last up was Cockatrice. I remember trying it years back, but not wanting to shift to a new program and lose all my decks. With no decent alternatives, why not now? People on Reddit complained about the community, but having weathered Magic Workstation, my standards weren’t astronomical. The interface was simple. Maybe a little nicer than Magic Workstation. The hotkeys were exactly the same. It ran quickly. It all felt intuitive. It had four player capability. Wary as I was of the community, it took no less than five minutes for someone to invite me to draft a Commander Cube with them. The players were friendly, we had a fun, interactive multiplayer with big splashy plays. In short, it was exactly what I’d been looking for as a replacement for Magic Workstation.
So what do you smart arses have to say about that?