Arena has become Magic: The Gathering’s most successful digital translation of the card game. It has constantly challenged Hearthstone’s previous supremacy in the digital card game market. But what has probably prevented it from taking the top spot is its lack of a mobile version. However, that disadvantage may be coming to a close, as Wizards of the Coast announced that Magic: The Gathering Arena is coming to mobiles in 2021!
Magic The Gathering’s Cardboard Origins
Magic: The Gathering (also known simply as Magic or MTG) has been around for 27 years. It is no hyperbole that the collectible card game industry would not exist as we know it were it not for MTG. Created by Richard Garfield, a mathematician with a deep love for Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop gaming, the impetus of MTG actually started as an afterthought. Garfield was pitching his board game, RoboRally to gaming publishers. However, publishers constantly declined to produce it.
In 1991, Garfield pitched RoboRally to the fledgling company, Wizards of the Coast. Founder and then CEO, Peter Adkison, liked RoboRally, but told Garfield what they were looking for was something smaller and portable as their initial game offering. As luck would have it, Garfield also designed a card game system he dubbed Five Magics, which was inspired by Dungeons & Dragons and Cosmic Encounter. The idea is players take the role of magic users (aka Planeswalkers). The cards would represent the various spells that the players cast as they dueled against their rivals.
Adkison immediately saw potential with developing Five Magics. By combining the elements of tabletop gaming with the collectability of trading cards, he knew it could be a massive hit. Garfield further developed the mechanics while Adkison pooled Wizards of the Coast’s resources, particularly with the artwork that would be used. In 1993, Magic: The Gathering premiered on that year’s Gen Con.
It was an instant hit. Magic would soon create the collectible card game (CCG) industry, spawning expansions, official tournaments, and influence other companies to follow suit. Properties like The Lord of the Rings, Marvel and DC Superheroes, D&D, and many more would join the bandwagon. Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, in particular, would emerge from this boom of the CCG market. Magic itself would continue to dominate the 1990s and into the 2000s. Hasbro inevitably bought Wizards of the Coast in 1999 for $325 million.
MTG and Going Digital
Magic: The Gathering would not be limited to the cardboard incarnation. As with many popular intellectual gaming properties, video games would be the natural progression. The first of these was Battlemage for the Playstation, but it was a clunky and unremarkable game.
Later on, Wizards of the Coast was tapped by Microprose to produce a PC game. Designed by legendary Sid Meier (of Civilization fame), Magic: The Gathering (aka Shandalar) for PC debuted in 1997. It was more of a roleplaying strategy game with the MTG card mechanics used as the combat resolution.
Although this initial game was a success (with a few expansions that followed), it was not quite what the player community was looking for. The entire series would later be repackaged as Duels of the Planeswalkers. This would later inspire a more accurate version of the core Magic: The Gathering gameplay and system also called Duels of the Planeswalkers that would be available on the PC, Playstation 3, and the Xbox 360.
The next successful effort to port the MTG experience on a digital platform would be the longest running one to date. In 2002, Magic: The Gathering Online (or MTGO) was born. With the advent of more readily accessible internet access for the masses, MTGO finally accomplished bridging the tabletop version’s multiplayer and collectable aspects into a digital version. Although MTGO uses slightly different rules and mechanics, the core gameplay and collection (through digital versions of boosters) were intact. MTGO has continued to run ever since, with updates as new technologies emerged.
Magic: The Gathering Arena
While MTGO successfully broke the boundaries of recreating the tabletop experience for the most part, its reach was limited by being only available on Microsoft Windows (although it has become available on iOS in recent years). In addition, MTGO is pay-to-play. There is no free version of MTGO. An initial fee of $10 is required and although it comes with 1000 or so cards, these are not at all competitive. This fact turns off many potential players who might be trying the game for the first time.
Because of this, MTGO limited the potential market, especially with the rise of mobile gaming in the 2010s. With free-to-play games on Google Play and the iOS store with optional microtransactions and competitive esports, this was becoming the new battleground. With Blizzard’s very successful Hearthstone digital card game taking the lion’s share of the market, Magic made several attempts at breaking in (including Magic Duels).
But it would be in 2017 that Magic finally produced a game that could compete with Hearthstone. Magic: The Gathering Arena (or just Arena) has been highly successful in the E-Sports environment. Unlike MTGO, it responds faster and took inspiration on how Hearthstone functions. In just a couple of years and despite being only available for desktop, Arena gained ground and has its own high stakes sanctioned tournaments. The Mythic Championships of 2019 was only the second big esport tournament centered on Arena and it had a prize pool of $750,000.
Arena is poised to take the digital card game crown… if only it could be available on mobile.
MTG Arena Finally Comes to Mobile
Wizards of the Coast broke the news that Magic: The Gathering Arena is going to be available on mobile devices in 2021. Specifically, early access will be unveiled on January 28, 2021. This will coincide with the next major expansion of the card game (which will be available on all its cardboard and digital versions) titled Kaldheim.
Kaldheim is MTG’s 86th official expansion set. As with previous sets, it revolves around a specific storyline and world in Dominaria (the Multiverse of the MTG lore). Kaldheim is a world that is inspired by the Norse and Viking mythologies, which is a familiar theme in MTG sets such as Amonkhet (Egyptian) and Kamigawa (Japan), for example. Kaldheim will also debut new mechanics such as Boast and Foretell, as well as the return of Snow-covered Lands.
Players across the world will now be able to play MTG Arena on their mobile phones. However, there are limitations. First, it is only going to be available on Android (though an iOS version is on course later on). Furthermore, WoTC has provided the minimum specs as follows:
- Must be Android Version 6.0 (Marshmallow) or higher
- At least 4GB of RAM
- Graphics API = OpenGL ES 3.0
- Texture Compression = ETC2
- Required Chipsets are either Kirin 970, Snapdragon 845, or Exynos 9810
A short list of sample Android devices are provided by the Magic: The Gathering official site, but this is not complete. Further updates and news will be provided as the early access date comes near. Expect a massive push from Wizards of the Coast and parent company Hasbro. Will Magic: The Gathering Arena finally unseat Hearthstone on the digital card game throne? Stay tuned to find out!