Last updated on November 14, 2020
Soliton | Illustration by Jason Felix
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 a mobile release for WotC’s newest asset.
In 2019, 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 not long after, and all have the same outcome: there was no info available from any Wizards of the Coast sources supporting a mobile release anytime soon. But things have changed.
The Hasbro Chairman and CEO, Brian Goldner, revealed in a 2019 earnings call that they were planning to release MTG Arena on mobile in 2020. At the NY Toy Fair investors event at the beginning of 2020, 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.
WotC’s April State of the Game gave us another update, but we’ll get to that in just a second. To give you the long and the short of it: MTG Arena is coming to the mobile platform in early 2021. Let’s take a look at how we got here.
MTG Arena on Mobile: The History
It’s been proven that other games like Hearthstone and Eternal are extremely successful because they’re available in the mobile market. So, why did MTGA take so long to pave their way down the mobile avenue? The road has been a long one, and it was difficult to follow at times.
Apart from several discussions online, the most obvious place to look was statements Wizards of the Coast had given about where they were 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:
It seemed at the time like there would been no imminent mobile release on the horizon.
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.”WotC
Even their original “roadmap” from a month earlier was revised because of the asset system improvements. The friends list feature was even pushed back.
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 were planning on releasing MTGA for mobile in 2020. We’ll also have cross-platform support, which is exciting!
2020 moved on, the world got hit by COVID-19, and there was no news on MTGA and the mobile release. I was starting to get a little anxious. Would WotC drop an update soon? All stayed quiet.
Then, in Hasbro’s 2020 Q3 results, we got the much anticipated news: MTG Arena will be available on mobile sometime in early 2021! This is captioned in the Management Remarks, which can be found in the Q3 2020 documents list.
To further long-term growth, we are investing to drive digital gaming experiences for the Wizards of the Coast brands. Magic: The Gathering Arena will launch on mobile in early 2021, as we finetune the game this year.Debbie Hancock, Hasbro, Senior Vice President, Investor Relations
All right, all right, it’s been pushed back a bit, but still. Arena will be on mobile devices soon! It’s taken years of speculation and lots of fragments of news that pieces together MTG Arena’s journey to mobile. Now you can rejoice, as in 2021 you’ll get the chance to play your favorite game on your favorite device: your mobile phone.
“What will it look like?” I hear you ask. Well, something like this:
The only question left is how the app will work. All that and more is coming up soon. Hold on to your hats!
How Would an MTG Arena Mobile 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 Android.
Our previous hypothesis ended up being pretty on the nose. Wizards improved their systems and code and started experimenting with transferring MTG Arena to other platforms behind closed doors to see how smooth the transition from platform to platform would be.
It was revealed by none other than Sean Plott a.k.a. Day in a typically nonchalant way during the Zendikar Rising presentation.
This together with the Hasbro Q3 2020 notes confirms that they’ll be releasing MTGA on both Android and iOS in one go. The Unity game engine would make this fairly easy for them to do once they’ve got all the right code in place.
The Grand Calcutron | Illustration by Sean Murray
The Details: In-Game Functions
Now that we know an Android and iPhone release is imminent, 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, but there are some pretty hefty differences between them and MTG. The biggest being that 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 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 (and hopefully blindsiding) your opponent.
There’s always lots of possible 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 are quite a few hurdles to get through. To give you another bright side, though, it’s still possible to play MTG Arena on your phone right now despite all of this! 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, 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:
It’s a much cleaner and more basic design. Even your opponent’s hand is tucked off to the side to maximum precious screen space. Your avatar is moved off to the left bottom corner to preserve a bit more. This leaves the playing field much more visible and open for you and your opponent’s board state.
But how does the user experience deal with all the issues detailed above? We’ll just have to wait and find out.
Solemn Simulacrum | Illustration by Dan Scott
How to Download MTG Arena on Mobile (Kind Of, Not Really)
There are quite a few online guides to get MTG Arena working on your mobile 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.
1. Download and install the MTG Arena Client on your PC
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
6. Open Steam Link and then press “Get Started”
7. Press “Use touch control” and then select your PC
8. A four-digit PIN will appear on your Android – input this PIN in the Steam pop-up on your PC 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!
1. Download and install the Epic Games Launcher on your Mac
2. Download and install the MTG Arena client through the Epic Launcher
3. Download and install Steam, open it, and keep it open
4. In Steam, click “Add Game” and then “Add a Non-Steam Game”
5. Find and select “MTGA Launcher” or “MTG Arena” in the pop-up that appears and then click “Add Selected Programs”
Quick note: MTGA can be a little hard to find on your Mac – here’s the file path:
6. Download Steam Link from the App Store on your iPhone
7. Open Steam Link and then press “Get Started”
8. Press “Use touch control” and then select your Mac of choice
9. A four-digit PIN will appear on your iPhone – input this PIN in the Steam pop-up on your Mac and then click “OK”
10. A Testing Network screen will appear on your iPhone – once the test is complete, press “OK” in the Network Test Complete pop-up on your phone
Quick note: You may get a pop-up on your phone that says you need to install a driver on your mac – if you do, click “OK” and then follow the prompt to install the driver(s) on your Mac
11. Press “Start Playing” and your Mac screen will become visible on your phone
12. On your phone, open the options at the top left of the screen and make sure “Touch Controller” is disabled and the mouse option is selected for “Trackpad Cursor” and then press “Done”
13. Open MTG Arena through Steam 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 PC/Mac because of the controls but not to the point that it’s impossible to play, just more difficult. Practice makes perfect anyway, so go nuts. You’ll run into the same problems 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/Mac and phone you’re using as well as your internet connection, though, and could actually be unplayable.
What makes this an interesting experiment is that, with the release of the actual mobile version on the horizon, you’ll get a great comparison of what it’s like now versus when the actual app releases. If you want my guess, they’ll have improved gameplay and UX design, cleaned up the screen as much as possible, and found ways to deal with lots of triggers and crazy board states.
Etched Champion | Illustration by Matt Cavotta
GeForce NOW (Android Only)
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 came out of beta in February 2020 and seems pretty solid. It’s available on Android, PC, Mac, 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. 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.
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 workaround, 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 can’t. Since MTG Arena isn’t available on mobile yet, there’s no special file hosted by Wizards somewhere that you can just download and install on your device.
Rest assured that when the app is officially available for mobile, it’ll be downloadable through official channels like the Google Play or App Store. Until then, you’ll have to use the workarounds above if you want to play MTG Arena on your mobile device.
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That’s all for now. Stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll see you in the next one.
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Verdurous Gearhulk | Illustration by Jaime Jones