Embalmer's Tools | Illustration by Adrian Majkrzak
Playing Magic: The Gathering in an online space has always presented challenges. Even with the advent of MTGO and Arena, a simulation of slapping sleeved cardboard on some oversized mouse pads has yet to be replicated.
As far as playing remotely goes, Tabletop Simulator might be as close as you can get to the real thing without leaving the comfort of your desktop!
Turn the Tables | Illustration by Christopher Moeller
Tabletop Simulator is a sandbox game available on Steam that simulates a table to allow players to play all sorts of tabletop games digitally. By importing custom assets and automating games with some simple scripting, users can play anything from checkers and chess to D&D and of course, Magic: The Gathering.
No, Tabletop Simulator isn’t free. It runs you about $20 on Steam for the base game. Tabletop Simulator also offers a suite of downloadable asset packs, ranging in price from $4 to $15.
No, Tabletop Simulator doesn’t have a mobile app, so Arena has it beat for playing remotely on the go.
The first thing you’ll need to play Tabletop Simulator is a computer. You won’t need anything super high-end. Tabletop Simulator only takes up about 3 GB of storage and I guarantee it won’t put a strain on even the most basic graphics card.
Tabletop Simulator is sold on Steam, so you’ll need the Steam client and an account to purchase and play it. Luckily, these are free!
Tabletop Simulator doesn’t come pre-loaded with Magic cards or scripts to run a game, but luckily there’s no shortage of community-built add-ons that’ll get you right into the game. Search for “MTG” in the Steam workshop and there’ll be a plethora of free downloads that’ll add the Magic game mode to Tabletop Simulator. Some of these downloadable tables are set up for 4-player EDH games, but there are others for just about every game type you can imagine, including Draft simulators and Planechase.
Alternatively, you can play without any scripted actions and simply upload card images. I don’t recommend this because Tabletop Simulator doesn’t include any shortcuts for some complex MTG actions like scrying. Save yourself some trouble fumbling with the commands in-game and grab an add-on from the workshop.
Most importantly, you’ll need some friends! Each friend needs their own copy of Tabletop Simulator, but they won’t need to download the MTG assets. Only the host needs to have the workshop content installed.
Loading cards into Tabletop Simulator depends on the specific MTG table you’ve downloaded. For Oops I Baked A Pie’s MTG 4 player table – scripted, you can upload either a link to a deck on a deckbuilder site (like Moxfield or TappedOut) or copy and paste a decklist from your clipboard.
Use the MTG deckloader object to paste in a URL to any deck builder site including Archidekt, Deckstats, Frogtown.me, MTGGoldfish, Moxfield, or Scryfall. Once you’ve got your deck, commander, and tokens loaded in, feel free to delete the deckloader copy and shuffle up.
First, you’ll need to purchase and download Tabletop Simulator from Steam. It’s priced at about $20, but also goes on sale relatively often.
Once Tabletop Simulator is installed, check the workshop and download your preferred MTG table simulator (I recommend Oops I Baked A Pie’s MTG 4 player table – scripted).
Launch Tabletop Simulator and choose Create and then Multiplayer to host a server and invite your friends.
Once you’re in-game, select the MTG 4 player table you downloaded earlier (make sure to give the physics engine a minute to catch up to all the assets it just dumped into the game).
Select the MTG Loader Bag from the upper right-hand side to upload decks via text or links.
Once your deck is loaded in, drag the assets to the appropriate spots (library in the library zone, commanders in the command zone, tokens on the side) and get playing! Once everyone’s ready, roll the die in the center of the table and hop in!
While not advisable, you can technically run Tabletop Simulator on Android phones. By downloading and linking your Steam account to Nvidia’s GeForce Now app, you can run Tabletop Simulator on mobile. The physics engine on this game can really stress out a mobile phone and is guaranteed to drain the battery at an insane rate. If you decide to go this route, I recommend syncing a keyboard and mouse to your phone – the hotkeys and mouse manipulation are important to a smooth play experience.
Tabletop Simulator includes a ton of preloaded hotkeys to manipulate the objects in-game, many of which you’ll use regularly in your Magic matches.
The Q and E keys see the most use: they rotate cards by 45 degrees in either direction, perfect for tapping permanents at speed. F can be used to flip your selected cards face-up or face-down. WASD let you move the camera around the board, while holding the Alt key enlarges whatever you’re hovering over. Snap the camera back to its original position with the space bar. Finally, R can be used to shuffle any selection of two or more cards.
Joining a game of Magic in Tabletop Simulator is easy! Simply choose “join” from the home screen, and scroll/search to find the game you wish to join.
You can filter to display only games hosted by your friends or hide locked/full games.
Yes! The Oops I Baked A Pie’s MTG 4 player table – scripted add-on only supports four players, but other options are available that create tables with six or eight players.
To spectate in Tabletop Simulator, players need to select the Gray color at the beginning of the game or click their name in the top right corner of the screen. Keep in mind you can only have as many spectators as there are open seats in a game, so if you want to allow spectators at a four-player table, you’ll need to set the max players to five or more.
If you don’t have Steam or don’t want to drop the $20 for Tabletop Simulator, or you’re afraid your computer won’t be able to handle all those 3D assets, never fear! There are a plethora of options for playing MTG remotely, and freely.
Spelltable is a popular site that gained prominence in 2020 when most of the world went into lockdown. Spelltable uses your webcam or phone camera to stream your board to your friends, and it includes a card recognition program to display details on your cards to your opponents.
Cockatrice is a personal favorite of mine and a classic when it comes to, ahem, economically-minded planeswalkers. Cockatrice is essentially a card library program with a bunch of privately-hosted servers where players can simulate games of Magic with relative ease. It’s got no built-in scripting, but it lets you point big red arrows around the board to denote your targets. Sometimes there may be, er, disagreements on how effects should resolve, but that’s a feature that brings it closer to paper Magic, in my opinion.
Mishra's Research Desk | Illustration by Matt Stewart
Making it out to your local game store each week for Commander Night can be a pain. Tabletop Simulator takes the commute out of your weekly EDH game, and you won’t even have to get out of your sweatpants to play. Tabletop Simulator takes us as close as we can get to a perfect facsimile of paper Magic.
What’s your favorite way to play Magic remotely? Is Tabletop Simulator really the best? What sort of features would you like to see implemented in the future? Let me know in the comments or over on Draftsim’s Twitter!
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