You are a Planeswalker. You summon terrifying monsters, valiant heroes, and wild beasts to help you vanquish your foes. You cast dizzying spells that burn, freeze, or confound your enemies. You do battle from the fiery tops of mountains, on tropical islands, deep in wild forests, and, for the first time ever, from a seat on the bus. With Magic: The Gathering Arena Mobile, the digital implementation of the classic trading card game, finally comes to mobile devices globally on the App Store and Google Play on March 25, and we got a chance to try out a beta test of the game on iOS this weekend. Here's what we thought of it.
First, a little bit of history. When Magic: The Gathering Arena first hit PC (and eventually Mac) it brought all of the action of the tabletop trading card game to the screen in a friendly, approachable way (MTGO, an already-existing digital implementation, is less user-friendly, but still has a devoted following). Arena really shines with easy controls, a straightforward tutorial system, and clearly indicated turn phases to make sure you never miss casting that instant at the end of your opponent's turn.
Now that we've had some time to play around with the mobile version of the game, it's clear that everything that makes Arena so accessible and palatable to users is alive and well in this on-the-go version. The games we played in our testing flowed naturally, just like a normal game of Arena, without any stuttering, crashing, or difficulty understanding what was going on. That's quite an accomplishment for a game as sprawling and (at times) math-y as Magic: The Gathering.
One important note: we playtested the app before release, without access to play against other live opponents. So while we didn't notice any performance issues at all, we can only say that's the case for non-PVP play. For this preview, we had access to the tutorial, a series of color challenges (where you play using a pre-constructed one-color deck), and bot play against the devious AI Sparky.
Horizontally aligned on our mobile device, the app cleverly uses all available screen real estate for the game. Lands you've played are small and out of the way in the lower left of the screen, and (as in traditional Arena) are auto-used when casting a spell. But they can be tapped individually for more precise use of your mana. The cards in your hand are tucked at the very bottom of the screen, accessed by tapping them lightly. Your hand hovers just above the thin white iPhone bar that allows a user to swipe out of the app, while there was initial worry that this would cause us to accidentally exit the game this issue was never encountered. The touch sensitivity of the app seems right on.
Performance-wise, we were pleased to see it wasn't a total battery drain on our device either. After playing for about an hour, we only noticed the same battery usage we'd experience playing any other immersive 3D iPhone game (your results will, of course, vary based on battery healthiness, device model, etc.). We played over connected WiFi.
When it launches, the game will boast cross-platform play. So if you've already got a healthy collection of cards in your traditional PC or Mac Magic: The Gathering Arena account, you'll be able to access them on your mobile device as well.
The iOS version of the game is available on iPhone 8 and above, iPad mini (5th generation), iPad (8th generation), iPad Air (3rd and 4th Generation), iPad Pro 11-inch (1st and 2nd Generation), iPad Pro 12-inch (3rd and 4th Generation) - and any newer device.
Who Is Magic: The Gathering Arena Mobile For?
Honestly, what gets us so excited about Magic: The Gathering Arena coming to mobile devices is that this game is for anyone who already enjoys playing Arena. It's also for all those players who haven't tried Arena out because they're afraid their home computing systems can't handle the game. At its core, Magic: The Gathering — whether digital or played on cardboard — is an accessible strategy game that only further blooms when players invest more time, thought, and money into it. Having easy access in the form of Magic: The Gathering Arena on mobile devices only makes it more accessible. With a tutorial that walks new players through the fundamentals of the game (without boring them to death with excessive hand-holding), this may finally be the Magic for the masses we've been dreaming of. So whether you're new to the game or you've been cracking packs since the first trip to Ravnica, Arena on mobile is absolutely impressive.
The preview copy of Magic: The Gathering Arena on Mobile used in this review was provided by Wizards of the Coast and was played on an iPhone XR