Last updated on May 24, 2024

The Deck of Many Things - Illustration by Volkan Baga

The Deck of Many Things | Illustration by Volkan Baga

Arguably the two biggest online TCGs are Hearthstone and MTG Arena. Many players will have at least tried both, but if you haven’t, what’s different between the two of them? And what lessons have they learned from each other? More importantly, which one is better?

Let’s pit them against each other and see what comes out on the other side!

How Do You Play Hearthstone?

Defend the Hearth | Illustration by Raymond Swanland

Defend the Hearth | Illustration by Raymond Swanland

Cards and Deckbuilding

Similar to Magic, Hearthstone has many different sets, and usually has three new expansions in a year, although there can be small fluctuations. Releases are broken down into “years”, with names like Year of the Wolf, or Year of the Pegasus, usually starting around April and coinciding with a Standard rotation of the sets from three years ago. Hearthstone sets usually contain around 145 cards, although they can be supplemented by mini-sets with an extra 38 or so cards in them.

Cards are separated into classes, and you can only play cards in your deck that match the class of hero you choose when you start building. Some cards are neutral and can be played by any deck. They’re also split into rarities fairly similar to Magic's, from common to rare, epic, or legendary. A Hearthstone deck consists of 30 cards, and you’re allowed two copies of any individual card, unless it’s a legendary card where only one copy is allowed. Like on MTG Arena, a decklist can be imported into the deckbuilder or you can manually put one together by searching on the in-game interface.

Economy

There are effectively two currencies in Hearthstone. The primary one is gold, which you can get by completing daily quests similarly to Arena, through rank rewards and things like that. The second currency is “dust”. This is what you get when you acquire more than two of the same cards (or one for legendary cards), and can be used to craft cards directly, a bit like wildcards on Arena. You can also dust cards you don’t have too many of, which removes the card from your collection. The key here is that when “dusting” your cards, you need to dust four cards to get one of the same rarity.

Card packs contain five cards on Hearthstone, with at least one of these cards being rare or better, and cost 100 gold. You can get gold through winning games, completing quests, completing achievements, and more. So far, very like Arena’s economy, and Arena definitely took inspiration from what Hearthstone laid down first. Overall, if you play a lot, you should expect to get about 2000 gold per month from the free options, which is 20 packs. Remember, though, you need fewer cards for your Hearthstone decks, and sets have fewer cards in them, too.

You can also buy packs directly for cash. This ranges from $2.99 for 2 packs (around $1.50 per pack) to $69.99 for 60 packs (around $1.17 per pack). Mini-sets are also sometimes released, and you can just buy the entire set, with two of each card (only one of legendary cards) for $14.99.

Hearthstone Store

It’s also worth mentioning that there are special versions of cards on Hearthstone called “Golden Cards”. You can get these as prizes, randomly from normal packs, or in more expensive “golden packs”. The only special thing about these, other than that they look pretty, is that they can be dusted for four times the amount of dust (which essentially lets you trade one for any other card of the same rarity).

Resources

When playing Hearthstone, your main resource is mana. Unlike in Magic, where you get mana from lands that you need to draw alongside your cards, on Hearthstone, you automatically get 1 mana on your first turn, 2 for your second, and so on until you have 10 mana.

You also only start with three cards, but that’s mainly because you don’t need to worry about drawing lands. You still draw one card per turn (plus more if you’re drawing cards from spells, just like in MTG!) but you have a hard maximum on your hand size of 10 cards. Your deck only has 30 cards in, but if you run out of cards you start losing life rather than just losing on the spot when you next draw a card.

On the subject of life, you start with 30 life in Hearthstone. Of course, you can always gain life (and armor, which is a bit like life) through spells and abilities!

Class Choices

Possibly the biggest difference between Magic and Hearthstone is classes. In Hearthstone, when building a deck, you choose a class to go with it. This both dictates what your “hero power” (a small effect you can use once per turn for 2 mana) is, as well as which cards you’re allowed to put in your deck. The closest parallel in Magic would probably be card colors, but the comparison isn’t really a great one. The classes you can choose from are:

  • Death Knight
  • Demon Hunter
  • Druid
  • Hunter
  • Mage
  • Paladin
  • Priest
  • Rogue
  • Shaman
  • Warlock
  • Warrior

Each class comes with its own playstyle based on both the hero power and the cards available to it. A single class can be played in different ways, which is also similar to playing a color pair in Magic in different styles of deck.

Playing the Game

When playing Hearthstone, you alternate turns with your opponent, just like you do in other, similar, card games. You can’t perform any actions on your opponent’s turn, however, which keeps things a little simpler.

At the start of your turn, you draw a card. Other than that, you can perform actions in whichever order you want. There’s no combat step, and you attack with each creature individually, so you can cast a spell, attack with a creature, cast another spell, then attack again if you want to.

Hearthstone vs. Magic

Interaction

One key difference between Magic and Hearthstone is that you can’t cast spells on your opponent’s turn, so interaction works a little differently than it does in Magic. You can, however, cast traps and secrets, which are hidden spells that trigger when a certain condition is met (such as an opponent attacking with a minion, or one of your minions dying).

One way that you can interact with your opponent more in Hearthstone, however, is that you can attack an opponent’s creatures directly. This is a bit like having infinite free fight spells in Magic and changes the value of creatures a fair bit.

Other than that, there are some spells you’d expect to see similar versions of in Magic, like spells that deal damage, spells that destroy minions/creatures, ways to make you discard cards, etc.

Turn Structure

At the start of your turn on Hearthstone, you draw a card. Then you can perform actions in the order you want, be it casting spells, using Hero Powers, or attacking with minions. When you’ve performed all the actions you want, or you’ve ran out of time, you end your turn, passing to the opponent. You have a time limit of around 75 seconds to complete a turn, although this can be extended if there are any lengthy animations from the cards in play.

Combat

Combat is quite different in Hearthstone, in comparison to Magic/Arena. Instead of a strictly defined combat step, you can attack with any creature/minion at any time during your turn. You can also attack your opponent’s minions directly, if you choose, instead of only being able to attack your opponent. However, minions can generally still only attack once each per turn.

Another difference between combat in the two games is that on Hearthstone, damage to your minions is permanent unless it’s healed. This is different to Magic, where damage is removed from the creatures at the end of a turn.

Minions/Creatures

Minions, Hearthstone’s name for creatures, are very similar to how they are in Magic. They have a power and toughness value, plus can come with a variety of abilities. They also all have their own art. When a minion is dealt enough damage, it dies. Like in Magic, minions have summoning sickness, so they can’t usually attack on the turn they’re played, unless they have charge (Hearthstone’s version of haste).

Minion Abilities

Minions on Hearthstone can have abilities, many of which are keyworded, and quite a few even have parallels to Magic. A selection of these are:

  • Charge: Minions with charge can attack on the turn they’re played, just like a creature with haste in MTG,
  • Poisonous: Damage dealt by a creature with poisonous is always enough to kill another minion, similar to deathtouch,
  • Lifesteal: Like lifelink, you gain life equal to the damage done by this minion,
  • Taunt: There’s not really something like this in Magic, but a minion with taunt prevents its controller from being attacked by other minions,
  • Windfury: A minion with windfury can attack twice per turn.

There are other keyworded abilities that are a bit like Magic equivalents. Battlecry is an enter the battlefield ability, and deathrattle is an ability that triggers when the minion dies. There are many more abilities on Hearthstone, and these are just some of the more common ones.

Digital-Only Mechanics

Hearthstone makes use of mechanics that don’t work outside of a digital game. While Magic has brought this into Arena through Alchemy cards, it’s not something that you generally see in most games played there. On Hearthstone, you can create cards in your hand, change cards in your hand, create random effects, and more. On Arena this digital-only mechanics can only really happen in the Alchemy formats.

What Do Hearthstone Decks Typically Look Like?

Hearthstone decks are made up of 30 cards. However, unlike Magic decks, they don’t require any lands. You do still need to think about things like the mana curve, though, as you get 1 mana crystal per turn. You can’t just fill your deck with 8-drops.

Hearthstone Deck

Other than that, they’re often quite similar to Magic decks. There’s lots of minions, a smattering of spells, and cards that work well with each other!

Which Is Better? Magic or Hearthstone?

Of course, this question is quite difficult to answer. I tried to find some information on which client was more popular, but only found some information on streaming numbers.

Hearthstone vs Magic

Source: https://gamesight.io/leaderboards/collectible-card-games

Hearthstone is a much more popular client to be streamed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a better game! And of course, not all Magic is played on Arena, and streaming paper Magic is a bit trickier!

At the end of the day, I’m not brave enough to make any big, controversial, takes on this topic on the internet. However, I can recommend this video, which pits a Magic deck against a Hearthstone deck!

Wrap Up

Hearthfire Goblin | Illustration by Steven Belledin

Hearthfire Hobgoblin | Illustration by Steven Belledin

Hearthstone and Magic share a lot of points but also come with pretty significant differences. Really, I’ve only scratched the surface of these games, and I haven’t even started looking at things like different formats, Tavern Brawl, special events, or competitive gameplay.

There are plenty of people out there who’ve played both games, with some starting with Magic and others starting with Hearthstone. YouTube is filled with content creators trying out each others’ games, too.

What about you? Have you tried both? Or have you avoided one of the games for some reason? Let me know either way in the comments below or on the Draftsim Discord.

Until next time, no matter what your game of choice is, I hope you draw well!

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