Magic the Gathering: Arena brings the joy of the iconic card game battler to iOS devices, and the result is an absolute treat. Cards come to life in your hands as you cast creatures, spells, and enchantments with the power of the magical force known as mana. You need to construct your deck carefully and play your hand wisely if you want to win your battles, but playing earns you more cards to customize your decks with!

Tendrils of Talent

Turning MTG Arena into a mobile title seems like an easy step forward, and fortunately, it works as well as you think it would. On the iPad, the cards that appear on the screen are nearly the same size as their real-world, cardboard counterparts. The effects and sounds are brilliant, as some of my favourite cards come to life with animosity and detail. Foils and alternative art cards shimmer or render characters and background scenes in 3D as I peruse them, right before I drop them on the battlefield with a tremendous thud.

The game plays the same as you might already be used to, but if you’re not familiar with how to play, MTG Arena has one of the most fluid and easy-to-understand tutorials out there. It will not only teach you the rules of the game but it puts you in a simulated battle against legendary Planeswalkers from the series and has you duel it out, teaching you the mechanics and how to use them in a real fight.

MTG Arena packs

The OG TCG

Magic’s history as the first trading card game cements it as the standard of formats. The joy of opening packs, albeit without the fresh smell of unsealed cardstock and ink, is still here, as the game has packs you can purchase or earn through playing online against other players. MTG Arena takes a new approach to the handling of its rarest of cards, Mythic rares, with a unique system. It allows you to craft the ones you want out of wildcards, received after filling a meter of redeeming for a certain number of booster packs. It’s a unique system, but ultimately rewards you with more rares for less than the drop rate in typical paper booster packs.

Creating your decks in MTG Arena’s setup is also superb over the traditional way, as Arena supplies you with the basic land mana for your deck. It also allows you to have cards in multiple decks at once, duplicate your decks for minor changes, and you can even customize the deck box with your favorite card from the deck. Having a collection of cards in the paper version of the game can be unwieldy, but MTG Arena makes that problem a thing of the past.

MTG Arena review

Now you see me

As mentioned before, MTG Arena looks gorgeous on mobile. This is mostly the same game that you can play on desktops, but condensed in a format that makes it more accessible, and perhaps a bit more addictive. The cards are crisp with detail, the effects are magical as they explode when you cast spells and do damage, and the sound design brings to life the war of wits in new ways.

Any time you want to see the details of a card that just did ten points of damage to you out of nowhere, you can click through the graveyard of your opponent and re-read them. The game also does the great service of auto-tapping mana for you, in order to improve playtimes and overall experience. If you want to tap them yourself to ensure you have the right mana left over, you can do that too. The whole UI is as excellent as it is on PC, but now with touch controls that allow you to cast from your hand with flicks and taps that activate abilities and give you control over your half of the battlefield.

Gathering to Battle

Magic the Gathering only works in its true form when you’re playing against others, and MTG Arena takes steps to ensure you’re comfortable with competition from the get-go, by introducing an online, player-versus-player match of the deck you are currently learning in the Color Challenge tutorials. This throws you into a comfortable challenge with cards you know how to use, in order to show you how it’s possible to win. These are, however, live opponents, so you never know who you’re going to play and what kind of decks they’ll use against you.

MTG Arena has the same ranking and matching formats as most competitive games these days, where you rank up or down depending on how you’re playing against other skilled players. This keeps you where you need to be if you’re still learning the ropes and allows you to excel if you constructed a killer deck that you’ve been building. It’s a great way to keep games interesting, even if you’re losing because you can turn around and study what that player was using and head back into the grind with a new strategy.

There are plenty of formats that you can play, including Standard, which involves the current rotation of card sets, Historic, which allows you to dip into the archives and play older cards, and Draft, which has you selecting cards from packs to construct a deck to battle with. There are also a couple of other formats, which are variations that involve sideboard cards and multiple matches. Each provides you with a different way to play and there’s plenty there to keep you busy when you’re bored with Standard. They do, unfortunately, cost money or earned currency to play for some of the formats, however.

Casting Cost in MTG Arena

MTG Arena uses Gems as their premium currency, and it’s the easiest way to get into paid matches, such as Draft. You can also pay with earned currency, gold, but it takes a long time to earn in comparison to just purchasing an entry ticket. You earn cards in Draft, and often other rewards such as gems, but it’s a gamble whether your deck is going to be up to snuff against other players. You could start with our deck-building guide to get you started on working your way to the top.

Another place to spend gems and gold is in the in-game store. There are daily deals, and the store features various card styles, pets to adorn your play with, and of course, packs of cards themselves. Packs can be earned by playing often, but if you’re looking to go all in, you can purchase them with gems for a reduced price the more you purchase. It’s a dangerous way to gain cards, but the digital packs are cheaper than paying for paper ones, so at least there’s an advantage there. You can download the MTG Arena from the App Store and Google Play Store.

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