Last updated on October 14, 2020
Long before Wizards of the Coast announced their planned release on Mac OS, before we featured an article on how to play MTG Arena on a Mac, Reddit was abound with questions on the possibility of an Android release for WotC’s newest asset.
About a year ago, the Reddit threads started to move towards MTGA’s possible release on mobile devices. Then, about six months later, it popped up on Reddit again here and here. The most recent posts date from about 4 months ago, and all have the same outcome: there is no current information available from any Wizards of the Coast sources supporting an Android release anytime soon.
However, there have been some recent changes that have popped up, but with little detail. The Hasbro Chairman and CEO, Brian Goldner, revealed in a 2019 earnings call that they’re planning to release MTG Arena on mobile this year. At the NY Toy Fair investors event on February 21, Chris Cocks (Wizards’ current President and CEO) hammered in on their intention to launch Arena on mobile in 2020, but provided no further details on that front.
We got an update in WotC’s April State of the Game, but we’ll get to that in just a second.
It’s been proven that other games like Hearthstone and Eternal can not only be run on Android, but are also extremely successful because of it. With over 75% of mobile phone users on an Android system, this comes as no surprise. So, why has MTGA taken so long to pave their way down the mobile avenue?
MTG Arena Android: The Facts
Apart from several discussions online, the most obvious place to look is statements Wizards of the Coast have given in the past about where they are in terms of planned releases and developments. In their September State of the Game announcement, they gave us a roadmap that covers their current focus. Take a look:
Obviously, there’s been no imminent Android release on the horizon that we could have seen coming.
Not a month later, the fact that an MTG Arena Android release date wouldn’t be hinted at any time soon was further cemented in the State of Game release. There, they stated: “Magic is the most content-intensive CCG in existence, and as we grow MTG Arena, we need to scale the capacity of our asset system to accommodate this. We’ve identified the necessary improvements we need to make to our asset system, however, resolving this is going to take some extensive code refactoring and time.”
Even their original “roadmap” from a month earlier was revised because of the asset system improvements. The Friends List feature was pushed back, though you can read more about that in our article on the topic.
Luckily there’s no need for you to sulk as there’s a bright spot in all of this: it looks like they may have managed to make some headway on that coding.
In Arena’s State of the Game for April 2020, Wizards re-confirmed that they’re planning on releasing MTGA for mobile in 2020. We’ll also have cross-platform support, which is exciting! We won’t hear anything more until late fall, though, which is a bit of bummer, but at least we have something of a timeline now.
How Would an MTG Arena Android App Work?
The Basics: Game Engine Utility
As we’ve previously discussed in one of our earlier articles, MTG Arena is built using the Unity game engine. This engine is specifically designed so that its games can be available on a wide range of platforms, including Mac OS, Xbox, PlayStation, Linux, IOS, and—of course—Android.
Here’s our hypothesis for what’s to come this year: once Wizards has improved their systems and code to a certain point, they’re going to start experimenting with transferring MTG Arena to other platforms behind closed doors to see how smooth the transition from platform to platform is. It sounds like they may even release Android and IOS in one go, who knows! The Unity game engine would make that fairly easy for them to do once they’ve got all the right code in place.
The hopeful result is that we get an official announcement like we did with the Mac OS release, which is what we’ll likely get at the NY Toy Fair at the end of the month. We’ll be crossing our fingers for more details and maybe some confirmation on our hypothesis in the coming weeks.
The Details: In-Game Functions
Even though we still likely won’t be seeing an Android release too soon, we can speculate on what will probably be one of the biggest challenges: making MTG Arena playable on a much smaller screen. In the same Reddit posts we mentioned earlier, there are players who are pro-small screen, and there are players who are anti-small screen. We know that games like Hearthstone and Eternal are playable on mobile devices, but there are some pretty hefty differences between them and MTG.
The biggest difference is that the MTG board states can be vastly more intricate than those on Hearthstone or Eternal. This is because of the rules on how many things can be on the board that you’re able to interact with. With MTG, you have full control to make things as crazy as your heart desires (to a certain extent), and it can get pretty massive and hard to sift through. I mean, can you imagine slogging through this on a tiny little phone screen:
Even on a computer screen, this is quite the state to organize. Having to do all of that on a phone is a whole new level of tedious.
So, what are some ways to make sure the game is still playable on a phone? Here are some possible solutions that we’ve come up with that WotC could integrate for mobile versions of MTG Arena:
- Pinching the screen to enlarge
- Auto-zoom by tapping the screen
- Creating a “lite” version of MTG Arena
- Make auto-functions, like auto-blocking
Then, there’s also the stack to consider. In the other games mentioned, you can’t interact with your opponent on their turn, which makes it a lot easier to get through them. Famously, half the fun of Magic is interacting with (read: hopefully blindsiding) your opponent. There’s always a lot of possible points of interaction at any point of the game, never mind the other player being able to react to your interactions (chain of effects, anyone?). These possibilities can hinder good usability on a smaller screen.
With the intricate board states, stack, and technical problems Wizards wants to solve first, there’s quite a few hurdles to get through. To give you another bright side, though, despite all of this it’s still possible to play MTG Arena on Android right now! How is that possible, you ask? We’ll get to that in just a second.
A Glimpse of the Future: Zendikar Rising Preview
During the hype show for Zendikar Rising, alongside other new set announcements on September 1, 2020, we got a sneak peek at what the mobile UI will look like for MTGA. They flashed this onto the screen for us to look at:
Very interesting. You at least have some idea of the direction they’re going. Notice the absence of card text boxes and positioning of the opponent’s hand.
But how does the user experience deal with all the issues detailed above? We’ll just have to wait and find out.
How to Download MTG Arena on Android (Kind Of, Not Really)
There are quite a few online guides to get MTG Arena working on your Android phone. Some of them are easy to do, and some are not.
We’ll look at two specific options here: screen sharing using Steam Link, and the GeoForce NOW app.
If you want to have a more detailed account of how to work through all the steps, take a look at either this guide or this one which also has a video for you to look at. There’s also this easy-to-follow YouTube video, for your viewing pleasure:
Here’s the rundown on how to play MTG Arena on Android using Steam Link (now with pictures!):
1. Download and install the MTG Arena Client on your PC of choice
2. Download and install Steam, open it, and keep it open
3. In Steam, click “Add Game” and then “Add a Non-Steam Game”
4. Find and select “MTGA Launcher” or “MTG Arena” in the pop-up that appears and then click “Add Selected Programs”
5. Download Steam Link from the Google Play Store on your Android phone of choice
6. Open Steam Link and then press “Get Started”
7. Press “Use touch control” and then select your PC of choice
8. A four-digit PIN will appear on your Android – input this PIN in the Steam pop-up on your PC of choice and then click “OK”
9. A Testing Network screen will appear on your Android – once the test is complete, press “OK” in the Network Test Complete pop-up on your phone
10. You may get an “Unknown Device” warning – if you do, click through this
11. The Steam Link page with “Start Playing” will appear – press “Settings” and then press “Streaming”
12. Press “Advanced” at the bottom of the Streaming Settings page
13. Change the Start Streaming Desktop option to “Enabled” using the arrows
14. Press the back arrow at the top left of the page until you’re back to the “Start Playing” screen and then press “Start Playing”
Quick note: You may get a pop-up stating that additional driver installation is required – if you do, follow the prompts in Steam on your PC to install/update the appropriate driver and then press “Start Playing” again
15. On your phone, press the options at the top left of the screen and make sure “Touch Controller” is Disabled and “Trackpad Cursor” (recommended) is selected as the Mouse option and then press “Done”
16. Open MTG Arena through Steam (you may need to make sure the “Full Screen” Graphics option is checked off), and have fun playing!
Now, let’s talk about the game play using this (or any other screen sharing) method. You’re definitely going to be playing slower than you would on your PC just because of the controls, but not to the point where it’s impossible to play, just more difficult and really practice makes perfect, so go nuts. You’ll run into the same problems that we mentioned above in terms of board state and stack.
There’s no way to get around this, unfortunately, you just have to grit your teeth and bear it. The only other thing to mention is that it is mildly laggy at times but again, it was nothing horrifying just a bit annoying to deal with (this greatly depends on what PC and phone you’re using as well as internet connection, though, and could be unplayable).
It looks like there’s been somewhat of an update on this front. While the concept is mostly similar, the set-up just got a lot simpler. Nothing comes for free, though, and this is no different. Introducing Nvidia’s cloud gaming service, GeForce NOW.
GeForce works by allowing you to install your games to a virtual computer and play them remotely. It’s pretty new, having just come out of beta at the beginning of February, but it seems pretty solid. Of course, it’s available on Android, but you can also get it on PC, Mac (check out our MTGA on Mac article for more details), and Shield TV.
Unfortunately, it’s a paid service. There is a free version, but it only allows you to play for 1-hour sessions. Otherwise, you’re looking at the paid membership, though they are offering a 90-day trial period, so it’s definitely worth at least checking out if you’ve got both a Mac and an Android. They have a limited time offer on at the moment for $4.99/month for a 1-year membership after the trial expires if you decide to continue using the service.
On to the step-by-step guide on how to install this and use it on Android:
1. Download and install the NVIDIA GeForce NOW app on your Android device and then open it
2. You’ll be brought to the “Join” page—click “Join Today” to create an account
Quick note: Click “Log In” instead if you’ve already got an account and skip to Step 6
3. You’ll be brought to NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW page—click “Join Today” again
4. You’ll be brought to a membership selection page—click the “Join” option from either the free membership or the paid (founder) membership
5. Input your information and then click “Sign Up”
6. Once you’re signed in, use the search function on the top right to search for “Arena” and then click on the game
7. MTG Arena’s page will open—click “Play”
Quick note: Click “Add to Library to save MTGA to your games library
8. A pop-up will appear letting you know that the game requires a keyboard and mouse—click “Continue”
Quick note: The game is playable on Android the same way you can play using screen sharing without a keyboard and mouse, though it is tedious and can be difficult to drag cards at times
9. The MTG Arena log-in screen will appear—click “Already have an account?” and then sign in
Quick note: Tap the screen to click anywhere, and use the keyboard option on the top left of the screen to type
10. You’re good to go! Select the event or format you’d like to play, select your deck, and click “Play” as you normally would
Although the gameplay itself is pretty much identical to the screen sharing way to play, this runs much smoother. You’re not running the game on a computer and connecting it, creating a slight lag. Instead, you’re directly accessing and playing via a virtual computer, so the delay is just about non-existent. As long as you have a decent internet connection and an updated Android device, this should be a much smoother experience than screen sharing.
We’re confident you’ll be playing MTG Arena on your Android in no time, if you want to. Whether you prefer to screen share or use the GeForce NOW app, if it works it works.
Where Can I Download an MTG Arena APK?
Unfortunately, you cannot. Since MTG Arena is not yet available for Android, there’s no special file hosted by Wizards somewhere that you can just download an install on your device.
You can be assured that when the app is officially available for Android, it will be downloadable through official channels (such as the Google Play Store).
Until then, you’ll have to attempt the workarounds above if you want to play MTG Arena on your mobile device.
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