How MTG Arena can get its mobile release right

Come on, Hasbro.

Back in February, Hasbro chairman and CEO Brian Goldner told investors on the 2019 earnings call that “Magic Arena will move to mobile in 2020”. This, he said, was “incredibly exciting as we give more people access to Magic Arena”.

Since then, there has been excitement in the community, true – we all want to see the game succeed – but it’s more of a nervous anxiety, hoping against hope that Hasbro pull the Zodiac Rabbit out of the hat. Unfortunately, knowing what Arena is like, we’re all expecting something closer to Vizzerdrix.

I desperately want Arena Mobile to succeed, not just exist. I play Magic almost every day, and I would love a mobile client that lets me play on the go, draft over lunch or even just on the sofa in the evening, instead of being tied to my PC. For this dream to come true, there are a three things Magic Arena Mobile needs to do.

Improve the Arena client

First and foremost, Arena is an clunky programme. While the base client is a reasonable 826MB, regular chunky updates have inflated that beyond 10GB and these patches doing little to improve overall stability. It’s like a rickety old steam train; once it gets up to speed it can feel pretty stable, but there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get into your first game without the client crashing, or that the game won’t crash further down the line.

Hasbro need to sort this out and make sure the client is stable on mobile — something that is notoriously difficult given the amount of different hardware out there that they want this to run on — or the mobile client is just going to be a Dead Weight.

Streamline Arena’s interface

If you’ve never played Magic, the game is pretty complicated. You don’t need to be Rain Man to keep up, but there are a lot of moving parts to any given game and it’s not uncommon to have 10–15 cards in play on each side of the board. That means, alongside libraries, graveyards, hands and exile zones, you have up to 40 things to display in a normal game, sometimes more. It’s not conceivable to have over 100 cards on your side of the table. Sadly, a phone screen is simply too small to show all of this, which is why the community has long said Arena will probably work fairly well on a tablet, but nobody is as confident about mobiles.

Perhaps Hasbro can get around this clutter by adding a function that zooms to different sides of the battlefield — at least this way you’re looking at your phone screen as if it was a playmat, which is something that all paper players will be familiar with.

It’s also important to note that games of Magic are a lot longer than games of other TCGs such as Hearthstone and frequently last up to 45 minutes in best-of-three matches, or more complicated single matches. This, coupled with the fact that you can put real money into the system, means that a solid server connection is vital. A drop in connectivity for even two minutes has monetary implications for the players. Unless Hasbro want to give out a lot of refunds moving forward, they best check they have enough server capacity for the influx of players they’re hoping to see.

Honour what was promised

Of course, Hasbro could sidestep all of this by simply releasing a mobile helper tool which lets you edit your collection/build decks on the go. This would bring Arena to mobile, albeit in an Arena Lite kind of way.

Simply put, this isn’t going to cut it; we were told in April that the mobile client would have “all your cards, decks, play modes, etc”, and that means we expect all the bells and whistles. At the absolute bare minimum, players would want something that allows them to draft, even if they can’t play ranked matches, but this would leave a bad taste for a lot of people.

Yes, it’s going to be difficult, but getting this right will not only be a massive boon for enfranchised players and it will help bring the game to a much wider audience of mobile users, which is what Hasbro want. If they mess this up, all they will do is frustrate the existing fan base.

Back in April, we were told we wouldn’t have many announcements until late autumn, so for Hasbro, The Countdown Is at One. Here’s hoping that Vizzerdrix is still consigned to Magic history.

Written by
Barely functional Pokémon Go player. Journalist. Hunter of Monster Hunter monsters. Drinks more coffee than Alan Wake.