Last updated on May 16, 2022
Soliton | Illustration by Jason Felix
Long before Wizards of the Coast announced their planned release on Mac OS, Reddit was abound with questions on the possibility of a mobile release for WotC’s newest asset. The April 2020 State of the Game gave us another update and a reveal of the mobile game in 2021’s Kaldheim event brought the world of MTG Arena into the hands of mobile users almost a year later in January 2021.
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. They gave us a roadmap that covered their focus in their September 2019 State of the Game announcement. Take a look:
It seemed at the time like there was no imminent mobile release on the horizon. But the fact that an MTG Arena Android release date wouldn’t be hinted at any time soon was further cemented a month later. 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 was no need to sulk because there was a bright spot in all of this: they may 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’d also have cross-platform support, which was exciting!
2020 moved on, the world got hit by the pandemic-that-shall-not-be-named, 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 we got the much anticipated news in Hasbro’s 2020 Q3 results: MTG Arena would be available on mobile sometime in early 2021! This was 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
Okay, so it was been pushed back a bit, but still. Arena would be on mobile devices soon! It took years of speculation and lots of fragments of news that pieced together MTG Arena’s journey to mobile. Now you can rejoice because you now have the chance to play your favorite game on your favorite device: your mobile phone!
“What does it look like?” I hear you ask. Well, something like this:
On January 7, 2021, the day of the Kaldheim set reveal, the “Weekly MTG” stream had a feature on the Arena mobile game. We got all the info we needed on the mobile release for Arena showcased in a comparison article on the mothership that same day. The game came out on android as an open beta on January 28th and on iOS the following months.
The date came and Wizards delivered. Arena was released as early access for Android devices in January 2021. There were some minor stability issues at the beginning but these were resolved pretty quickly. Most of the issues were resolved by the time it was released for iOS on March 25, 2021 and the game experience was almost comparable to its desktop counterpart.
How Does It Work? Is It Any Good?
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. 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.
Availability on Android
Arena mobile early access started on January 28, 2021 for Android devices.
Arena is currently not supported on 4:3 device resolutions. Other than that, here are all Android devices that are supported for MTGA mobile:
- Asus ROG Phone 3
- LG G7 ThinQ
- Samsung Galaxy A71 5G
- Asus ROG Phone II
- Motorola One 5G
- Samsung Galaxy Note 9
- Galaxy Note 10+
- OnePlus 6T
- Samsung Galaxy S10
- Google Pixel 3
- Google Pixel 2
- OnePlus 7 Pro
- Samsung Galaxy S10+ 5G
- Honor Play 4
- OnePlus 8
- Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
- Huawei Mate 20 Pro
- Oppo Reno 3 Vitality
- Samsung Galaxy S9
- Huawei Mate 30 Pro 4G
- Oppo Reno3 5G
- Sony Xperia XZ2
- Huawei Mate 30 Pro 5G
- Realme v3
- Sony Xperia XZ3
- Huawei P20 Pro
- Redmi 10X Pro 5G
- Vivo Y70s
- Huawei P30 Pro
- Redmi K30 5G Racing
- Xiaomi Redmi K30 Ultra
Arena mobile was released for iOS on March 25, 2021. It’s currently supported on the following devices:
- iPad mini (5.a gen)
- iPhone 12
- iPhone 11
- iPhone XS
- iPhone XR
- iPhone X
- iPhone 8
- iPad Pro de 12″ (3.a/4.a generation)
- iPad Pro 11″ (1.a/2.a generation)
- iPad Air (3.a/4.a generation)
- iPad (8.a generation)
Mobile vs. Desktop
We know that games like Hearthstone and Eternal are playable on mobile, but there are some pretty hefty differences between them and Magic. The biggest difference is 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 you can interact with on the board.
You have full control to make things as crazy as your heart desires in Magic 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:
This would even be quite the state to organize on a computer screen. Having to do all of that on a phone is a whole new level of tedious. That said, let’s compare the different systems where you can play Arena and how each screen looks.
There’s no significant difference between the three, other than the font sizes between each system. The Android version looks a bit larger.
As far as the MTG Arena Store goes, payment varies between each system. Purchases can be made inside the game on the Windows platform by submitting your preferred payment choice. It’s a bit complicated for Android and iOS since they both use their corresponding app store to make purchases.
There’s no significant difference on this screen at first glance. But the “View Battlefield” button has been replaced with a smaller option on the mobile versions and your friends were moved from the bottom left corner to the top right corner.
The emotes are to the left and more prominent on Android and iOS. You also might notice that the cards in your hand seem a bit smaller. This is because they change sizes depending on if you’re hovering over them or not so that you have a better view of the battlefield most of the time.
Full control is easier on the desktop version and I was worried about the mobile version because I had issues when using MTGA remotely. Wizards addressed this for both Android and iOS by having you hold your avatar to enter full control. They also added 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.
I think this is where the mobile apps drop the ball. There are a lot of bugs when you’ve got an enormous battlefield.
You need to scroll left and right to select attackers and blockers on Android and iOS and some get set by mistake sometimes, so you need to be very careful not to choose the wrong blocker or attacker on accident. This takes a lot of time to figure out and I’ve timed out doing this before.
General gameplay is smooth other than that and you basically drag and drop cards as you normally would. I’d recommend not using decks that create large battlefields if you’re playing on mobile since you’ll probably run into some issues.
Windows provides the best draft experience without a doubt. You’re free to move cards around, something that’s not available on mobile. Of the two mobile apps, cards takes a lot of space on the screen in the Android version because of the larger font size while you’re less likely to miss picks on iOS since you can actually see them.
One recommendation I’d give to make this easier for you is to hide the sideboard while drafting. This lets you see the complete pack regardless of the font size. You also need to set your view to vertical mode and select the sideboard if you want to send a card directly to the sideboard on mobile.
There are a few other things you need to know about the mobile vs. desktop versions. Let’s go over them:
- You can’t redeem codes on the mobile app.
- All purchases on mobile are made directly through the App Store for iOS and the Google Play Store on Android, so you should check your payment methods before you buy anything.
- Players can only be logged into one device at a time. If you’re already logged in on your desktop and connect on your mobile device, you’ll be disconnected from your desktop and have to log in again the next time you open it.
- You don’t need to grant MTG Arena any special permissions (e.g., location, access to microphone/camera, etc.) to play.
- You need to download almost an additional gigabyte of data when you download the game. Be aware of that and make sure you have the space available on your phone.
- WotC doesn’t recommend competing in 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 use cellular data, a Wi-Fi connection is recommended for a more stable game.
Workarounds for Non-Supported Devices
There are quite a few online guides to get MTG Arena working on your mobile phone if you have an unsupported device. 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”.
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!
Etched Champion | Illustration by Matt Cavotta
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.
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.
I think technology has made some significant improvements in the last few years. WotC didn’t fall behind and Arena is now available to anyone with a semi-decent mobile device. There are of course some issues, mostly thanks to connectivity and minor performance problems.
But don’t let that discourage you from trying Arena out on mobile. More than half of my trophies on Arena, in both BO1 and BO3, were achieved from my bed while playing with my trusty iPhone X, so I’d strongly recommend you give it a try!
As always, take care, and I’ll see you next time!
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