Last updated on May 7, 2024

Training Grounds - Illustration by Caroline Gariba

Training Grounds | Illustration by Caroline Gariba

Playing Magic was only a tabletop affair when it started in 1993. Now that technology has advanced, you have multiple options for online play like Magic: The Gathering Online (MTGO), Magic Arena (MTGA), and Spell Table. However, each one has its unique perks that make it different from one another.

MTGO is set up much like an online version of the in-person tabletop experience. Spell Table brings the in-person Magic-playing experience to life over a webcam so that players can enjoy tabletop without having to leave home. MTGA is a more interactive version of the overall play experience where plays are more automated (talking about the highlighted cards during your turns) to help you along the way.

Today, I’ll be discussing how to start an MTGA Direct Challenge with your friends. While playing Magic Arena is an awesome experience with players all over the world, it’s even more competitive and fun with your closest friends. Let’s get into it!

Arena's Direct Challenge

Challenger Troll - Illustration by Svetlin Velinov

Challenger Troll | Illustration by Svetlin Velinov

You can enjoy a game of MTGA Direct Challenge from your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. If your friend is playing on the laptop and you’re playing MTGA from a smartphone or tablet or vice versa, you can both still play in a Direct Challenge match no matter how you connect. It’s not like one of those MMORPGs where you can only play with people who have a PS5 or those who are playing from a desktop.

Step 1: Both Players Log Into MTGA

MTGA Friends List

Wait for your friend to come online. When you both see each other online, click on the person icon at the bottom left of the screen. This will generate your Friends List. Find your friend’s name and select the icon with the two swords clashing to begin setting up the MTGA Direct Challenge.

Either you or your friend can begin the setup process, so just talk it over with them before logging on to see who will be submitting the Direct Challenge invite. This will prevent you from both sending invites simultaneously and having to cancel them out.

Step 2: Choose the Direct Challenge Settings

There are many ways that you can enjoy a Direct Challenge with a friend. First, choose from whether you want to do a Challenge Match or a Tournament Match.

MTGA Friend Challenge
MTGA Friend Challenge Deck Type

You can conduct a Challenge March as a Best-of-One or Best-of-Three match. The deck type for a Challenge Match can be 40 card, 60 card, 60 card rebalanced, or Friendly Brawl.

MTGA Tournament Match
MTGA Limited Challenge

All Tournament Matches have the Best-of-Three option automatically selected. Tournaments can be in the Explorer, Alchemy, Historic, Limited, or Traditional Standard formats. Tournament Matches are great if you and a friend are able to play for a longer time and want to get more competitive with your favorite decks.

MTGA Limited Tournament Challenge

Finally, you have to choose whether a coin flip will happen, if you win the coin flip, or if your friend will win the coin flip. If you want this to be randomized, choose the “coin flip” option.

MTGA Coin Flip

Once you have all these settings curated how you want them, select the orange “Challenge” button to send the Direct Challenge to your friend.

Me and my boyfriend are Commander players, so we play a lot of Friendly Brawl, but I’m going to convince him to try out a Tournament Match in Direct Challenge at some point!

If the friends list isn’t working for some reason, you can use the sword icons in the upper right of the Arena UI to issue a challenge. Doing it this way requires both players to enter the exact same information for each category, as well as entering the name of the person they’re playing against. This is the much clunkier way to do this, so I recommend avoiding this matchmaking method unless the friends list is giving you trouble.

Step 3: Your Opponent Accepts the Challenge

If you issued the challenge, you have to wait for your friend to accept the challenge you just sent. You’ll know they’ve accepted it when a list of decks for the challenge or tournament format you selected pops up on your screen.

If your friend sent you a challenge, you’ll see an orange light pop up on the friends list icon as shown here. Then you can click the orange Accept button.

MTGA Challenge Accept

Step 4: Select A Deck

MTGA Direct Challenge Deck Selection

Pick one of the decks for your Challenge Match or Tournament Match. In this case, my boyfriend and I were playing Friendly Brawl, so you can see some of my decks for that format had populated in this screenshot. Once you pick your deck, select the orange “Play” button and wait for the match to load.

Step 5: Play the Match!

MTGA Direct Challenge Loading Screen

When the introductory match screen pops up, you are both connected to the Direct Challenge and ready to play. Sling your best spells and may the best deck win!

Why Use MTGA's Direct Challenge?

MTGA Direct Challenge connects you with your friends no matter where either of you are in the world and lets you enjoy a game of Magic without having to leave home. Sometimes people’s schedules unfortunately don’t line up with one another to have a game night at a friend’s house or their local LGS to play Magic in-person. Using the MTGA Direct Challenge mode delivers the convenience of playing Magic virtually while connecting with friends for that amicable, or sometimes fiery competitive experience.

It's also worth noting that Direct Challenge opens up the possibility to conduct third-party tournaments and events, using Arena as the actual playspace. Some communities conduct drafts and cube events using third-party websites, after which their decks are imported to Arena and Direct Challenge is used to play out the matches. This requires wildcards and a fair amount of set-up, but the built-in rules management on Arena makes it much more preferable than playing through other online methods.

Can You Play Against Friends on MTG Arena?

Yes, you can play against friends on MTG Arena. As long as you have their gamer tag in your friends list, you can connect any time you are both online to play a Direct Challenge match.

The open beta release of Magic Arena debuted on September 27, 2018 before the game launched entirely by 2019. Direct Challenge was not an option at this time. Magic is, of course, about the gathering; whether it’s online or in-person, some players were looking for more of a social aspect to this online option for playing Magic.

It took a while for the Friends List feature to be added to Magic Arena, and Direct Challenges weren’t announced until September 2019. However, it was delayed and not added on until December 12, 2019.

How Do You Unlock Direct Challenge in MTG Arena?

All you have to do to unlock Direct Challenge in Magic Arena is to add at least one friend to your Friends List and for both of you to be online at the same time. When your friends are offline, the clashing sword next to their name will be dulled out, indicating that you can’t send them a challenge.

MTGA Friends List

Make sure you and your friend are on each other’s Friends List and online at the same time to successfully begin the Direct Challenge. If you’re not connected with one of your friends on MTGA, look below to find out the process.

Can You Play Multiplayer on Magic Arena?

Unfortunately, you cannot play multiplayer formats like EDH on Magic Arena. Direct Challenge is only a 1v1 format like the bot matches or the matches you join with randomly selected players. Who knows? Maybe MTGA will go as far as to include a multiplayer format down the line, but it’s not available at this time.

How Do You Add People to Arena?

Adding new friends to Arena takes only a few steps to achieve. In the bottom left-hand corner of your screen, select the person icon which will generate your entire Friends List. On the top right-hand corner of that window, you’ll see a person icon with a plus next to it.

Select this option for a new window to pop up where you can either type in the player’s gamer tag in the format user#12345, which is the player’s username, a hashtag, and then five numbers beside that. If you don’t have this information, you can instead send the request to the email affiliated with their MTGA account. You can always find your full usename under the Profile tab on the Arena homepage.

Once you’ve input this information, select the Send button, and all you have to do is wait for your friend to approve your request.

Note that, unlike some other digital CCGs, in Arena you can't just add opponents to your friend list after playing against them on the ladder or an event.

Do I Earn Rewards for Playing Direct?

My boyfriend and I tested it out a few nights ago to see if the winner of a Direct Challenge would win any rewards. He won both matches and reported that he did not receive any rewards and did not advance on any of his daily quests by playing a Direct Challenge with me.

You can earn rewards by playing available MTGA Draft events, on the Constructed ladder like Standard, or Explorer matches with other random players. MTGA may see it as more of a challenge if you are going up against players that you don’t know and reward you for your efforts in beating them rather than letting the system be broken and allow rewards amongst Direct Challenge matches with friends.

Wrap Up

Dubious Challenge - Illustration by Scott Murphy

Dubious Challenge | Illustration by Scott Murphy

Now that you know the steps for setting up a Direct Challenge, go jump on one with a friend today! It’s a fun way to connect with a game of Magic when you can’t meet up in person, or don't care to play against a random Brawl opponent.

If you’re a new player to Magic Arena and need some more guidance on deck building and exploring the game's features, check out the Draftsim blog for our MTGA guides. You can even download Arena Tutor to help you get even better acclimated to the gaming platform. Until then, get your game face on and enjoy a round of MTGA with a friend!

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