Ways to Play Magic Online

by Ron Vitale

No matter if you're new to playing Magic online or are a veteran, here is a guide that will help you decide what software will work best for you. There are several different programs available. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. You might even choose to use more than one program, firing up one program to play certain type of games that another program won't allow you to play. With that said, here's a breakdown of the some of the better programs available.

Magic Online (MTGO)
Current version: 2.0
Download at: http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=magic/magiconline/downloadlinks
Price: Event tickets are $1, packs are retail price (currently $3.69 for a booster pack and $11.29 for a starter deck). You need to buy cards and then trade for them with other players. Playing games with the cards you purchased (unless you’re drafting or entering a tournament) is then free.

I won’t spend a lot of time explaining this product. Wizards of the Coast has enough help files on their site, but I’ll point you in the right direction. Magic Online (MTGO) allows you to play many different types of games online (drafting, sealed, Standard, casual, online extended, prismatic, etc.). An extremely positive sell point is that the playing board environment is extremely clean and well thought out. However, none of the older Magic sets are available for use (or purchase) in the game (Alpha up through Urza's block were not available in the game). With earlier sets unavailable, you’ll not be able to play Vintage games online. But if you’re not concerned about that, then MTGO has a lot to offer:

-A.I. to judge each game (great for beginners)
-You can trade the cards you purchase with other players
-Binder view so that you can view cards you own
-Draft online
-Play Emperor games (six players)
-Meet thousands of other players from around the globe
-Easy to use editor for building decks
-If you collect a full set of cards online, you can trade them in to obtain a full set of real life cards.

Many Magic players love using MTGO, but the game does have its drawbacks:

-Can’t play games with early card sets as mentioned above (Alpha up through Urza's block were never available in the game except for a few promo cards.)
-You do not own the cards but are renting them. If Wizards chooses to shut down the game for good, you won't be able to play. In the past, the MTGO servers would be down often and people could not play. Bugs in the game happened often in the first two years, but most of those problems have been resolved.
-If you’re not a good player or just don’t have time to draft, purchasing cards online can become expensive.
-New sets take a considerable amount of time to be included in the online game (usually several months after release).

Many people swear by MTGO, but the game isn't full proof. However, if you’re looking for a stable way of playing games of Magic online and you don’t mind spending some money, then this is the product for you. Just keep in mind that MTGO will not allow you to play certain types of games online. MTGO is not all inclusive. For an indepth breakdown of MTGO, visit the official Magic Online FAQ.

Current Version: 1.3.523
Download at: http://www.cardfloppers.com
Price: Free

OCTGN is another software program that allows you to play games of Magic: the Gathering online. The OCTGN acronym stands for: Online Card and Tabletop Games Network. Fans of the software pronounce “OCTGN” as OCTAGON. Here’s a full list of what you can do with OCTGN:

- English, Spanish, German, French and Italian language support available
- multiplayer games with up to 6 players
- spectator mode available for watching games
- draft games
- sealed games
- software skin is customizable
- built in chat client
- deck editor as well as the ability to import or export decks
- open source program
- Free: No adware or spyware.
- Once the fan made BitTorrent patch is downloaded and installed, you can play with over 11,000 Magic cards.

Here’s a screenshot that will show you a game with non-licensed cards.

When you download the game, be aware that it does not come with any cards. The intriguing aspect of OCTGN is that it can be used with many other card games. Most people use it for Magic but others do use it for VS. and homemade card sets.

To play Magic online with OCTGN, you will need to download a fan-made patch that consists of all the card images and a text document for all the cards. Remember, OCTGN does not come with any of the cards. You'll need to download and install the Type 1 patch that contains all of the cards. All you need to do is use BitTorrent (www.bittorrent.com) to download nearly every Magic card known to man in one huge 415Mb .zip file. The patch name is 2005_March_Type1_Magic-The_Gathering_Type1_OCTGN_ Patch_Alpha-Bok.zip and the torrent file can be download here (you must have BitTorrent installed on your computer to get the .torrent file to work).

OCTGN mirrors a real life game because there is no A.I. You can see from the above screenshot an example of what an actual game looks like when playing a Vintage game. The play environment is exactly like playing in real life: Simply move your cards to the board, to your graveyard, or to the removed pile. That’s it. Although OCTGN does not contain an A.I., the software shines in allowing you to play multiplayer games, sealed, and draft. Add in that you can play with all the cards from Alpha up to Betrayers of Kamigawa and that's not a bad deal. There’s even some great rare cards in the Type 1 patch too: Unhinged, APAC, and Euro lands along with a few other gems. And finally, OCTGN comes with a decent deck editor that allows you to build, import, or export decks and a decent chat client that connects you to the irc channel where you can meet other players.

Current Version: 1.46
Download at: http://www.magic-league.com/download/apprentice.php
Price: Free

According to the legal statement in Apprentice: "This product is officially licensed by Wizards of the Coast. Wizards of the Coast is the exclusive sponsor of Apprentice." Back in 1996, Apprentice hit the Internet and online games of Magic started popping up all over IRC and in chat rooms. Apprentice is the grandfather of all online Magic games. Weighing at a light 1.12 MBs to download, Apprentice is a rather simplistic interface for playing games online. Installing it on your computer takes only a few seconds, and before you know it, you can build decks, load premade decks that come with the software, and play with someone online.

From loading the game on my computer and reviewing the cards that come with it, you have access to all cards from Alpha up through Urza's Destiny. Additional files will need to be downloaded to get a fully up-to-date version that contains the remaining Magic card sets.

What are the benefits of Apprentice? You can play some great games with you friend at any time through a TCP/IP connection. You can also play a solitaire game - basically, you can play goldfish. The software is easy to use, with the interface being simplistic and not at all fancy. Here's a list of what you can do with Apprentice:

-Sealed deck games are supported.
-You can play goldfish games to test out your deck
-After you install the game and all patches, you can play with all the cards.
-The game is easy to learn and a snap to install.
-You can load different themes for the background.

Unfortunately, the drawbacks are fairly numerous:

-Games with over two players are not supported.
-No Magic art is used for the cards. To be honest: The graphics leave much to be desired. If you've used Magic Online and then try Apprentice, you're going to click the uninstall button faster than an interrupt.
-Some of the program's functionality rather crude (but efficient).

Legally, the makers of Apprentice had to fight to allow Wizards of the Coast to sanction the game. Thousands of players had cried out for online play and Apprentice filled that need. But if you look at the graphics, it's clear to see that Magic art isn't used. The cards in no way, shape, or form resemble the Magic cards we all know and love. The wording on the cards are all correct (when you right mouse click on a card to view it), but the similarities end there.

Why would you want to use Apprentice? Testing, being on the road, or just for kicks. But Apprentice still has a fairly strong following.

Magic Workstation
Current Version: 0.94e
Download at: http://www.magicworkstation.com/
Price: Free, but $19.95 if you wish to have the ads removed from the game.

Magic Workstation tries really hard to look like MTGO (here's a screenshot). Does it succeed? A good many players out there swear by it becuase it's a good alternative to MTGO.

In Magic Workstation, you have access to a ton of cards, but although they have the artwork of Magic cards, the mana, card outline, and set symbols aren't true to the card. The borders are artificially drawn in and the mana symbols are not true to the cards. I don't know if this was done on purpose to try and avoid legal troubles, but the cards look odd in Magic Workstation. You do have the option of obtaining the real artwork to use for all the cards, but this feature is not part of the basic game. Yet you have to give the designers props for trying really hard to make the game like Magic Online. It's easy to build decks, search for cards, and a “connect to players” feature is built into the game. Another cool feature is that with Magic Workstation you can load up two decks and play in a solitaire mode which is great for play testing.

Here a list of what the company advertises on their site for what MWS can do:

-Go through most cards that have been released.
-Build decks and use numerous tools for card analysis and deck adjustment.
-You can print proxy-cards and test your decks in real life, without having to buy missing cards.
-You can play two player games online.
-Comes with a built-in chat program so you can quickly find an opponent over the Internet.
-Online tournaments are supported.
-MWS allows you to create, edit and even test your very own cards and game sets.

Again, the game environment looks a lot like Magic Online, but without the A.I. However, there does not appear to be a way to play sealed or draft.

Summing It All Up

Take some time to explore each of these ways to play games of Magic online. No matter if you’re new to the game or a veteran, each program has its own strengths and weaknesses. But one thing is certain: For a small amount of time investment, you can start playing games of Magic with people from all over the world. If you love MTGO that’s fine, stick with it. But if you get that urge to play Vintage, then try one of the other three programs out. Whatever you choose to play online, take some time out and have some fun with these games. Each one is worth checking out.

(Thanks go out to Iloveatogs for his excellent work on creating the banner and screenshots.)


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