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Mobile - Like… Magic: Arena? You’ll love these alternative CCGs

Like… Magic: Arena? You’ll love these alternative CCGs

By Josh Brown 17 Oct 2019

Just a few short years ago almost every developer inside and out of mobile gaming was holding the idea of the CCG close, finding every which way to include ‘Card Battle’ elements into new IPs and sequels that made absolutely no sense. That RTS sequel? Have some cards. The latest iteration of your favorite shooter? Cards.

Developers have taken a step back recently, but the resurgence of Magic: The Gathering with its new MtG: Arena game has reignited the urge to pull packs and build decks. It hasn’t made its way to mobile just yet, though, so if you lack a PC capable of running the game or just need your CCG fix on the go, we’ve rounded up a bunch of popular big-brand CCG games you can play where and whenever the itch needs scratching.

Barring a few odd exceptions, All of the titles below can be played on both PC and mobile, with console being an option with some. Each takes certain cues from the Wizards of the Coast game that started it all, too. So while you’ll need to learn the ropes with each of these, if you can play the CCG that stumps Chess-besting artificial intelligence, you can probably pick up and play these without much issue.

Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links (iOS and Android)

Konami has released a few different Yu-Gi-Oh games on mobile over the years, but Duel Links has proven to be the more resilient of the lot: and it’s multi-platform!

Released back in 2017, Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links condenses the classic card battler into short, snappy duels better suited to on-the-go play while preserving popular strategies seen in top tournament over the years. If you haven’t played Yu-Gi-Oh before, it’s less about managing resources and more about managing your monsters. Battling requires notably less mental arithmetic despite attack and defense numbers going well into the thousands, yet the core idea remains the same: whittle down your opponent’s life with direct attacks to win the game.

Spell and Trap cards help create synergistic strategies, and with thousands of cards to pull from its dozens of packs, there’s just as much thought to building a themed deck as you’ll find in Magic. It’s not quite the core Yu-Gi-Oh experience you’d find at your local card shop, but it keeps enough to not feel dumbed down for mobile play. It’s Yu-Gi-Oh, but faster, and fans of the still on-going anime show will find the overhanging story and periodic character releases as a reason to keep coming back.

If you prefer the high-fantasy style of Magic but enjoy a side-helping of anime, Shadowverse is really worth a look.

Created by the good folks over at Cygames – who are responsible for Nintendo’s Dragalia Lost and the ever-popular Granblue Fantasy, Shadowverse is like the love child of Hearthstone and Magic, mixing the mana management of Hearthstone with the more complicated battle systems of Magic. The gorgeous anime-inspired high-fantasy art-style adds a unique personality to the game that’s sure to appeal to a more specific type of player. And if you’ve ever played a Cygames title before, prepare to see characters cross over from their other titles for that added easter egg kick.

Like some of the other options here, Shadowverse has a rich lore and a single-player storyline to run through. The English dub doesn’t skimp out on the voice actors, either, with Cassandra Lee Morris (Persona 5‘s sleep-obsessed Morgana) taking the helm. It’s available on both mobile and PC, so there’s a good chance you’ll be able to squeeze in some practice at home without draining your phone battery.

The longevity of ongoing support for Shadowverse comes into question with the recommendation. Mobile titles can close down at a moments notice. But if you’re at all interested in the premise, I can personally attest to Shadowverse being well worth your time. Maybe just think twice about dumping too much money into if I you notice a few too many run-ins with the same player. Though the recent announcement of an anime project might mean there’s still plenty of life in this one yet.

The Elder Scrolls Legends (iOS and Android)

Another case of a popular franchise jumping on the bandwagon. The Elder Scrolls Legends isn’t the most popular CCG on the market, but its reputation is that of a unique and intriguing card game that wasn’t just some ham-fisted attempt to cash in on the Elder Scrolls namesake.

If you’re one of the thousands of players still enthralled by Skyrim or happen to be balancing life around The Elder Scrolls Online, The Elder Scrolls Legends can keep you immersed in the world of Tamriel while you’re out and about. Its various expansion sets all bear an obvious likeness to ESO add-ons, too, so new and old players of the franchise are sure to get something out of its varied content.

You won’t be able to hop on over from another CCG and play like a champ from the get-go with this one. There are similarities – like the return of the ever-popular Mana system – but you’ll still have to play through the tutorial to understand the rest of the game board and how to position your cards.

Gwent (iOS) (October 29th)

Here’s one we weren’t expecting to add to the list. Despite more or less every other CCG tie-in making a point to release on mobile, CD Projekt Red’s attempts to tackle the genre extended to simply making a standalone version of the card game available in The Witcher 3. That changes toward the end of October when Gwent finally leaves its PC/Console confines to join the Apple ecosystem by landing on the iOS App Store.

Notice the lack of mention of Android? It’s true. Gwent is doing the unthinkable by launching exclusively on iOS. The original blog post (from March) does bring up Android as something that’s being worked on, but even seven months on, we’re still being told and Android release will “be announced at a later date”. If you’re here before the grand iOS release date, chances are you can still squeeze into the closed beta.

As Paul Tassi explained in a Forbes article a few years back, unlike the other games on this list, an understanding of something like Hearthstone doesn’t mean squat in Gwent. They couldn’t be more different. It’s a numbers game, with rounds as well as turns. There’s less card RNG in play and far more strategy. It’s about reading the room and outplaying your opponent, and about knowing when to hold back and when to go all-in.

Learning the basics is about as hard as learning its intricacies. It’s a complex game. If you like the fake-out meta of Poker, you’ll probably get a kick out of Gwent. And if you like The Witcher, you’re just looking at an extension of the tabletop game you probably sunk dozens of hours into across The Witcher 3.

Josh had a whole section here, but Hearthstone doesn’t need any further introduction. It’s the game that launched a thousands CCGs, and it differs from Magic in a few key fundamental ways that you probably already know about.

Honorable Mention:

Pokemon TCG Online (iPad and Android Tablets)

If, like me, your first venture into the CCG/TCG space was with Pokemon, you might be surprised to hear that you can play a completely digital and 100% official version of the Pokemon TCG at home and on the go. This one predates the card-game boom of recent years, but for one reason or another, the only way it’s playable on the go (without a laptop) is with a tablet. They just never updated the game to really work on a small screen.

For the uninitiated, Pokemon TCG Online is quite unique in how it plays. Much like the traditional RPGs, you’re encouraged to focus on a small and varied selection of Pokemon. Resource management comes in the form of coloured “Energy” cards used to power each card’s multiple moves, with the aim of the game being to knock out enough of your opponent’s critters to claim the six “prize” cards taken from your deck at the start of each match. There’s quite a bit of RNG not only with luck of the draw, but also countless coin flips to decide how status affects like Paralysis and Sleep help or hinder your team.

Unlike the other entries on this list, the Pokemon Trading Card Game app extends into its physical version. Packs can be bought in-game, but each real-life booster pack and deck comes with a redeemable code to add that same purchase to the video game.

It’s a great tool for existing TCG players to practice their strategies online, but those without a nurtured interest in the physical game have plenty to gain here, too. Its visuals are overly childish and barely represent the franchise’s other entries, and there isn’t much single-player content to sink your teeth into. But if you’re looking to play the Pokemon TCG against other players without waltzing into your local hobby shop, it’s a good go-between.


In an earlier version of this article, Nick put forward his own list of credible Magic: The Gathering alternatives. Since the mobile CCG market has moved on a bit since then and Magic’s potential on mobile has shifted, we thought we’d re-do this article with a fresh perspective.

It’s not possible to keep all text, but if you’re interested in the games he recommened that were like Magic: The Gathering, here they are:

  • Card City Nights
  • Dream Quest
  • Lost Portal CCG
  • Five Card Quest
  • Treasure Hunter

Do you have any games you’d recommend to scratch that Magic itch? Let us know in the comments!

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