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MTG Arena on Android

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.

MTG Arena NY Toy Fair 2020 expansion slide

Source

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:

WotC September State of the Game road map

Source

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.”

MTG Arena NY Toy Fair 2020 year of digital expansion slide

Source

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 Grand Calcutron MTG card art by Sean Murray

The Grand Calcutron

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:

MTG Arena crowded board state

Source

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? Well, take a look below and we’ll show you.

Solemn Simulacrum MTG card art by Dan Scott

Solemn Simulacrum

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.

Screen Sharing

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”

Adding MTG Arena to Steam

5. Download Steam Link from the Google Play Store on your Android phone of choice

6. Open Steam Link and then press “Get Started”

Steam Link on Android "Get Started"

7. Press “Use touch control” and then select your PC of choice

Steam Link on Android "Use touch control"

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

Steam Link on Android Network Test Complete

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”

Steam Link on Android "Streaming"

12. Press “Advanced” at the bottom of the Streaming Settings page

Steam Link on Android Streaming Settings

13. Change the Start Streaming Desktop option to “Enabled” using the arrows

Steam Link on Android Start Streaming Desktop option "Enabled"

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

Steam Link on Android "Start Playing"

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”

Steam Link on Android controller and mouse options

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).

Etched Champion MTG card art by Matt Cavotta

Etched Champion

GeForce NOW

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

NVIDIA GeForce NOW on GooglePlay

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

GeForce NOW on Android landing screen

3. You’ll be brought to NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW page—click “Join Today” again

GeForce NOW on Android sign-up page

4. You’ll be brought to a membership selection page—click the “Join” option from either the free membership or the paid (founder) membership

GeForce NOW on Android sign-up memberships

5. Input your information and then click “Sign Up”

GeForce NOW on Android create an account page

6. Once you’re signed in, use the search function on the top right to search for “Arena” and then click on the game

GeForce NOW on Android arena search

7. MTG Arena’s page will open—click “Play”

Quick note: Click “Add to Library to save MTGA to your games library

GeForce NOW on Android arena page

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

GeForce NOW on Android arena requirements pop-up

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

NVIDIA GeForce NOW arena sign-up

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

NVIDIA GeForce NOW arena deck selection

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.

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5 Comments

  • Avatar
    Dylan December 13, 2019 2:44 pm

    In terms of too much going on for such a small screen, I think magic 2015 did a great job at allowing you to interrupt your opponent and still tell what’s going on with the whole board. I remember a heated match where me and my opponent had nearly 50 card on the field and growing and we still had no issues navigating and making decisions on or phones. I just think converting the code would be their main issue.

  • Avatar
    Matt January 11, 2020 5:00 pm

    Literally the only thing stopping me from spending a bunch of money on packs. Well that and the still bad state in my mouth from duels

  • Avatar
    Joe February 1, 2020 8:10 am

    It is not “too hard” or “tedious” to put Magic on mobile. That is ridiculous. Just look at Eternal and how they did it. It’s not rocket science, this is how computers work, you can program anything to fit your needs. Welcome to the 21st century. That being said, it is utterly mind boggling there is no mobile version of Magic. Having it go anywhere with you and not needing a laptop or PC is just a no brainer. Instead I am forced to play Eternal with it’s low player base. They have no clue how much money/players they are losing out on by not going mobile, or they just don’t have the resources to do it. Magic has always had terrible business management. Even though they are big, they could have been so much bigger.

    • Avatar
      Dan Troha February 1, 2020 1:18 pm

      So how do you propose solving the constraints of the Magic battlefield having too many items on it to be able to display/click on reasonably? If it is so simple?

  • Avatar
    Nick March 2, 2020 7:34 pm

    Of course you can get around the steam link control issue. Use a controller, or a mouse. Easy peasy grilled cheesy. Otg usb a female adaptors allow you to use a normal wired mouse. Or simply pair a Wii u controller, switch controller, steam controller, PS3/4 controller, Xbox one etc. They all work well. You can also install steam link on your Amazon fire TV for bed ridden games.

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