With the current viral pandemic leaving us missing the Gathering, many scores of players have moved to playing paper magic online. There are a bunch of guides and resources out there, so we’ve tried to wrap them all up in one place for ease of access. 

The part about social distancing that has hit hardest for me is the lack of face-to-face play time. I jam games of Commander at least once a week at my LGS, and when I can (and we can get people together) we also have a great cube community. Sadly, a paper cube is off the cards right now, but other ways to play paper magic—like Commander, Canlander, or even Pioneer—are back on the table. All you’ll need is a little creativity and a few resources.

First up, how does this work? Well, our friends over at Card Kingdom have put together a great fun intro video to set the concept for you.

Building a Set Up

So, the basics are out of the way. How’s best to do this? Well, there are two main ways:

Using a Computer & Web Cam

Using a desktop or laptop computer, with an external USB webcam, is arguably the easiest way to get going. You’ll be able to watch the game on your laptop, and broadcast your own board state from your webcam. The difficult part lies in building a rig. You’ll want to have your webcam a set distance above the playmat so that it can capture the full view. Luckily, playmats are the right aspect ratio, so once you have the height down, you’ll be able to see the whole playmat with ease.

Securing the camera and giving yourself enough room to play is the difficult part. The ever affable Jim over at The Spike Feeders has put together this cracking video on how to get set up. In the video, he discusses lighting, which is one of the most important parts of getting yourself set up right. One pro tip from me: Any card sleeve with a matte front (like the Guilds sleeves, or the Chibi sleeves by Ultra Pro) tend to actually have more glare than a gloss sleeve. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true!

If you’re not lucky enough to own a suitable mount for the camera that can clamp onto your play area, don’t fret; there are many, many alternatives, and the only real limit is your imagination.

If you still have safe access to a local hardware store or online ordering, and you’re feeling ambitious, then lengths of pipe can be a great way to build a frame. Check out this amazing DIY foldable mount, courtesy of Tinkerneering:

I wouldn’t call myself an expert in DIY, but this looks well within the realms of doable to me! You can simply wire in your camera and get going. Obviously this play area and size of frame is a little larger than you’d need to accomplish playing Magic, but the idea can easily be scaled down. If you’d like to check out the full tutorial, you can see it here.

You needn’t overcomplicate things with piping either, as demonstrated by @UrsaBearwalker over on Twitter. He has a simple frame with a hanging camera over the main piping. Check out the thread to see some other cool solutions.

If you’re not able to get out to find building materials though, there’s no reason you can’t cobble something together with what you have around the house.  Packing containers, cardboard boxes, tubes, duct tape; really, anything surplus can stand in as part of your rig, and with some good tape and a little faith, you can build something serviceable.

Over here in the UK, we’re currently in a lockdown situation—we can only leave our homes for groceries & medicine. This meant that unless I wanted to wait around and order stuff online, I’d have to get creative. My set up, pictured above, adds on to my work set up. I’m using a Logitech C920 webcam, which is a great entry level webcam capable of HD. I’ve clipped it onto the lid of a shipping container for bottles, and reinforced the box with tape. It’s weighed down with what I had lying around—a container of salt (not that I’ll have more than enough of that in games of magic!). The boulder deck boxes are used to support the camera so the weight isn’t pulling on the box lid, and also to offer stability to reduce motion and wobble.

To get the height I wanted, I dug around for a box that wasn’t in use—this box from a collectible figure I had was just right, and I added a playmat to prevent slippage. The alternative would be to secure the set up with more permanent adhesives and construction, but I didn’t see the need. The computer screen isn’t in the most ergonomic place in relation to the table, but it’s honestly not the end of the world. I can see it, and that’s what matters.

There are still simpler ways to achieve a playable set up, though. As long as you have the light sources, simply upending a cardboard box can give you exactly what you need. As long as it’s wide enough for a playmat, then you’re good to go. Simply cut a slot in the top for the camera, position some light sources, and presto! One tip for this is to try and diffuse your lighting. This can be achieved as easily as using a piece of tissue paper or cloth between the light source and the play area. It’ll reduce glare a lot.

Using a Phone

The other option is to use a mobile phone or tablet. Depending on whether you’re on iOS or Android, you may find things easier or more difficult to get going depending on which apps are available. Either way, though, the actual construction of a phone setup is pretty easy. You can, like above, build a rig or use a cardboard box. This works great if you have the ability to use your phone as a webcam, or if you can log in on two accounts to whatever conferencing software you’re using (like, say, using the phone to broadcast your video, and your laptop or tablet to dial into the call).

If you’re relying on the phone to be both your broadcasting tool and your way of viewing the game however, you’ll need to get a little more creative. Reddit user MaqiZodiac has put together an easy and super satisfying build that’ll have you amazed you didn’t think of it yourself, while Twitter user @DESchermer came up with the following demonstration:

Courtesy of @DESchermer

The surprisingly intuitive build is courtesy of an MtG Bundle box, or “fat pack.” Odds are high that you have one of these lying around at home, and the actual build process for converting this into a usable rig couldn’t be simpler. By cutting a groove for your phone to sit in, and ensuring the box is counterbalanced, you’ll be ready to hit the ground rolling. You can view a step by step breakdown over in the reddit thread, or just cut straight to the instructions by clicking here.

Most modern phone cameras are pretty high quality these days, and easy to focus, so if you don’t have access to a webcam, you should be able to get something set up!



Once you’re set up physically, you’ll need to get some software set up to play. Social mainstay Discord boasts the capability to run video calls, and will be a natural option for many in the community already familiar with the software. Your mileage may vary, though—most businesses advice against the use of the free version for business calls, as the servers can’t really handle the increased load of video and audio. Unless you’re using a local server, you might struggle to maintain the best possible connection. For that reason, people most commonly combine discord audio with a site like www.whereby.com

Whereby lets you set up a room with up to four players for free. The process is simple, and you just need to distribute the room link to your friends and they’ll be able to hop right in. Personally, I tested Whereby for both audio and video, and was able to have a full game without any lag or disconnection issues between players on two different continents. Unless you’re wanting to let others join for the viewing experience, play a five player game, or you’d like to use more than one device (like a phone for video on a separate user account), then Whereby seems like a sweet option and one I can personally recommend. You can click on a user’s feed to zoom in, too.

Skype is another client that’s probably at the forefront for many people, and is another great option. GoToMeeting is also a high quality option, but isn’t free. Many users have also tried Zoom, one of the more popular apps out there. It’s a great option when limited to mobile phones and other devices, but read up first on the privacy concerns—you might be fine with it, but it’s good to keep up to date on these sorts of things and go into them with the broadest possible knowledge.


An important aspect of getting things right is being able to flip or mirror your camera feed so that the opponents on the other end don’t see your field in reverse, or upside down. With the reduced clarity, lighting issues and general disconcerted feeling that comes with playing online, you’ll need to have the clearest possible view of the board—upside down just doesn’t really cut it! Most software like Discord and Whereby won’t let you configure these options (whether browser based or application based) and so you’ll need a work around.

Most webcam manufacturers offer proprietary software that can allow you to adjust these factors, and work by offering a driver to select when choosing a camera input. For the Logitech series of webcams, for example, there’s Logi Capture. It’ll let you adjust the focus, mirror, flip, and more. Have a google, and you’ll probably find something useful for your brand of camera.

As far as third party software goes, SplitCam is probably the most popular, and functions in much the same way. It’ll let you adjust the settings you need to, and offer a driver to select the input in your chosen program. A quick tip: Discord’s browser app doesn’t recognize these drivers, and so you’ll need to install the desktop app.

Finding Games

So, you’re set up, and you’d like to find a game. How’s the best way to do it? Well, the first place to look is probably your local playgroup. Getting them all set up to play is a great goal to have in mind, so share the resources and try get them online.

If you’re not lucky enough to have a local group, or fancy trying out play with Magic players across the globe, there are a number of options. The playEDH discord server is arguably the biggest, and hosts as many as 80 games concurrently, with more joining every day. They have an in-depth rules document that describes how to set your power level and goals as a player, and I’d recommend starting here. You can also check out various content creator discord servers, too. The Spike Feeders have a great server, for example, and if you’re after cEDH chat and games, it’s a great community to get involved with. Likewise, @seraphsix, owner of the fab setup in the cover image, organises regular games with @goberthicks over at the AffinityArtifacts server. Many content creators will either have servers, or know where to find games; so if in doubt, go ask them and their community where’s best to find a game!

Game Etiquette

Before we wind down, there’s a few things to keep in mind when playing in webcam games. Now, obviously, not cheating is huge, but if I have to tell you that, then you’ve probably got other issues. More importantly, the guiding light of sportsmanship and fair play is absolutely crucial to having a good play experience. Making sure board states are represented and updated accurately is more important than ever, and having identifiable tokens is one big way to help things flow smoothly—a stack of post-it notes goes a long way.

Likewise, informing players of onboard obvious information is probably more relevant. Be a little more forgiving than you would face-to-face, and remind players of information that would normally be taken for granted, such as the power and toughness of a creatures, how many lands you have untapped, and what your life total is—using an app or whiteboard may be optimal.

One final tip: as cool as cards like Gonti, Lord of Luxury are, you’ll probably want to avoid cards that use the opponent’s library in any way that would be hard to facilitate without having their deck in front of you. It can be very clunky and laborious to figure out, and though there are ways to do it, just gets in the way of an optimal game experience.

Above all, good luck, and have fun. It’s not the best way in the world to play EDH, but it’s a damn good replacement for now.

Based in the UK, Kristen is a lover of both Limited and Commander, and can most often be found championing the Boros Legion when called upon to sit down and shuffle up.

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