Last updated on April 22, 2021
Olivia, Mobilized for War | Illustration by Eric Deschamps
The digital era has arrived in Magic with the introduction of their new product: MTG Arena has been well received by the community. It’s a major upgrade to its previous product, MTG Online, providing both flashy graphic improvements and a way to reward you if you’re a good player. Sounds cool right?
And you know what the best part is? It’s now available on mobile! Let’s find out about this new feature together and what it means for the future of Magic.
How We Got Here
Journey to the Oracle | Illustration by Chris Rahn
Hearthstone, Ragnarok, Legends of Runeterra, all of these are fairly new card games that have been having a major impact on the mobile market. They’re free to play to an extent and, more importantly, are available to pretty much everyone that has a mobile device. Keeping that in mind, it would only make sense that a game like Magic, with almost 30 years of baggage, had to take a step forward and venture into the mobile scene as well. MTGA was the beginning of this with the release of a new interface that’s easier to play and more intuitive.
Fun fact! I was very happy with how easy the interface was when I started to play Arena. You could play while connecting remotely to your computer without noticing too much difference between that and playing it on your actual computer, in theory. The only things I had a bit of struggle with were undoing actions and holding priority, which you can do by manually setting up stops, but there was no way to access full control via remote desktop connection.
While these were some small roadblocks, they didn’t prevent me from playing every day while in bed and those issues weren’t impactful enough to keep me from playing 90% the time, so it was great! It got me thinking, “why don’t we have Arena on mobile? It would be great!”
Luckily for me and pretty much everyone else, MTGA was released as early access for mobile on Android devices on January 28, 2021 with the hopes that there would be a release that would also include iOS devices before Strixhaven. Now we’re here and it’s officially available on both iOS and Android!
This is great news! It opens a huge door for more players to enjoy playing MTGA. Running it on a computer that doesn’t have a dedicated graphics card would be a problem if you wanted to play the game with cool graphics. A standard mobile device can run Arena with no issues, though, and this means the game is accessible to more players — it’s often easier to have access to an average phone than a good computer. Crazy times, right?
Finally, on March 25th, 2021, MTGA was released for iOS as well. This was huge. Not only was this something that a lot of players were waiting to happen, but WotC also made a big improvement to frames per second, aspect ratios, and connection stability. Let’s find out what else is out there from the iOS perspective.
General Info and Specifications
Liliana, Dreadhorde General | Illustration by Chris Rallis
Before talking in-depth about the play and feel of the game on mobile, let’s quickly review the recommended specs and supported devices.
Bellow, you can find the list of all currently supported iOS devices for MTGA:
- iPad Pro 12 inch (3rd / 4th gen)
- iPad Pro 11 inch (1st / 2nd gen)
- iPad Air (3rd / 4th gen)
- iPad (8th gen)
- iPad mini (5th gen)
- iPhone 12
- iPhone 11
- iPhone XS
- iPhone XR
- iPhone X
- iPhone 8
Note that due to the wide variety and variability of mobile devices, the above is just a sample list of known supported devices, assuming standard configuration. Please refer to your phone’s software and system information when checking for compatibility.
iOS Version: iOS13 and up
RAM: 4GB or more
Graphics API: OpenGL ES 3.0
Texture Compression: ETC2
- Kirin 960
- Snapdragon 835
- Exynos 8895
*Mobiles devices that exceed the recommended specs will work as well.
How to Download MTG Arena on iOS
Head over to the Apple Store to download Arena for your iOS device.
Mobile vs. Desktop
Let’s compare the differences between mobile and desktop to understand the differences in the interface.
Opening Hand Screen, Friends, Help, and Configuration
The game’s initial screen is very similar but has a couple of differences. Instead of the big “View Battlefield” button, there’s a small toggle in the top right corner to switch between your hand and the battlefield. This button is there during every interaction that lets you look at either your hand, deck, graveyard or sideboard, and battlefield. It’s pretty neat.
The configuration button remains in the same place, but the desktop has the friends list at the bottom left corner and the iOS version has it at right at the side of the “View Battlefield” toggle. Your avatar is now where you usually had your friends list instead of at the center.
You also can’t check your rival’s username unless you keep pressing the image icon, which is sometimes difficult to do.
Emotes and Phases
The emotes are now bigger and on the left while you have the phases a bit bigger and to the right. You also might notice that the cards in your hand seem a bit smaller, and it’s because they resize whether or not you’re hovering over them. This is so you have a better view of the battlefield most of the time, which we’ll go over in a second.
Full Control and Undo
It’s easier on desktop, but I was worried going into the mobile version because I wasn’t able to do at least one of the two when I would remote from my computer. They addressed this for the app by having you hold your avatar to enter “full control” and adding an almost imperceptible “undo” button in the top corner. While it’s not great, at least you’ve got the option if you make a mistake.
Battlefield and Big Boards
I think this is where the app drops the ball, as there are a lot of bugs when you’ve got a large battlefield. As you can see on the mobile version, you need to kind of scroll left and right to select attackers and blockers and some get selected by mistake sometimes. You need to be very careful to not select the wrong blocker or attacker by mistake. This takes a lot of time to figure out and I’ve definitely timed out while doing this before.
Stacking cards with the same name, like with both Usher of the Fallen, makes selecting them to activate an ability nearly impossible. I wasn’t able to make it until my opponent selected one to be blocked and then separated both. This is painful to do, and it’s one of the major things that WotC needs to focus on for future releases.
Other than this issue, which is small most of the time, general gameplay is smooth and you kinda just have to drag and drop cards as you normally would. If you’re playing on mobile, I’d recommend not using decks that end in large battlefields as you may run into some of these issues.
Deckbuilding and Importing
Another big difference is deckbuilding. You only have one way to build your deck on the app, and it’s in the form of a card list rather than having a visual view of the deck. Some people may be discouraged or have issues with this, especially if you like drafting. But other than that, switching between deck and sideboard is pretty intuitive. If you want to share your deck, you can copy and save it with the little icons on the bottom right with the big “Collection” button.
Technical Differences and Important Notes
There are a few other differences you need to be aware of and some things you need to know for the mobile version. Let’s go over them:
- You can’t redeem codes on the mobile app.
- All purchases are made from the iOS Store or the Google Play Store directly, so you may need to check if you have different payment methods set up on your mobile device.
- Players may only be logged into one device at a time. If you’re already logged in somewhere and connect to a new platform, you’ll be disconnected from your current device.
- You don’t need to grant MTG Arena any special permissions (e.g., location, access to microphone/camera, etc.) to play.
- When you first download the game, you need to download almost an additional gigabyte of data. Be aware of that and make sure you have the space available on your phone.
- If you’re a competitive player, WotC does not recommend competing in Magic eSports events on a mobile device. Per the Digital Magic Tournament Rules, players who choose to do so assume all responsibility for gameplay or connection issues they experience.
- While you may be able to use your cellular data, a Wi-Fi connection is recommended for a more stable game.
Feedback and Reception
Birgi, God of Storytelling (Variant) | Illustration by Richard Luong
I think it’s a very good app as it encourages you to play in places you weren’t able to before. In my case, I’ve used the app when:
- In the backyard, drinking my coffee;
- On the treadmill whenever I’m doing low cardio (don’t do this with high-intensity training!);
- In bed before going to sleep;
- Whenever I don’t want to sit in front of my computer or after long meetings when I just want to distract myself for a couple minutes;
- Any other occasion where I have to kill time and I’m not in front of my computer or don’t have access to one.
Let’s look at a couple of tweets to see where we’re landing with this:
While not all of the reactions are positive, the vast majority are. The Arena app has been well received by the community in general. While there are a lot of improvements that need to be made, having the app as it is now is still pretty good and I expect that WotC will tune and improve their product to the point that it’s suitable for more and more people!
Some of the reviews are pretty long but, just like the tweets, the app has been well received by the community overall. I do want to point out this review:
So in short, it does have its flaws, but what app doesn’t. I think that the developers have done an amazing job at bringing arena to mobile and don’t get enough credit.
This summarizes my general feeling towards the app. While it has its flaws, it’s a huge improvement in the Magic scene. Looking back five to ten years ago, an MTG app was something we weren’t even dreaming of. Just put it into perspective: would you like to have a way to play Magic as much as you can? My answer is obviously yes! And Arena mobile provides ways to play more, so it’s a 10/10 app for me.
Conclusion and More Thoughts
Endling | Illustration by Livia Prima
I think it’s a big step forward to make Magic more accessible to many players. You may not be able to buy expensive decks, but if someone is interested in Magic and already has a mobile device capable of running MTGA, the sky’s the limit! You can spend a few dollars a month to participate in regular events offered by WotC if you want. Like I already said, if you’re good at Magic you can grind your way up and play for free instead to build your collection just by spending time playing your favorite TGC. If you’re looking for ways to improve, we’ve always got you covered.
Funny story time. At the beginning of the year, without knowing any of this was happening for Arena, my wife offered to sell my old iPhone 7 so she could get a new iPhone 11 for herself and give me her iPhone X instead. I agreed, but I was nervous when I realized that Arena was coming to mobile, as I didn’t know if my “new” iPhone would support it. To my surprise it did! Remember, though: with great power comes great responsibility, so make sure that this new way to play Magic doesn’t distract you from your family and loved ones. Use it wisely!
As always take care and have a nice rest of your week!