Magic the Gathering is the undisputed juggernaut of trading card games. For the past few years, it even developed a successful, yearly video game platform in the form of Duels of the Planeswalkers.
Blizzard’s Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, while popular, is still very much a fresh-faced contender to the trading card game market. It was built from the ground up as a digital experience. Both games have a great deal in common, but major differences as well. How the two stack up will be very important as they go head-to-head for the digital card game market in the coming months and years.
Which is better, Hearthstone or Magic? Here's a breakdown of how they compare -- what's different, what's the same and what we don't know yet.
When you finish reading this feature, check out the 25 best cards in Hearthstone.
Hearthstone vs. Magic: Mana Creep
In both games, mana is the currency that makes a match go round. Each turn, only a certain number of mana is available to play creatures and spells, while on the next turn, most of that mana is available again. It's what keeps the games progressing from small, cheap tactics to larger, more creative strategies in the later period of the game.
However, Hearthstone and Magic have different ways of doling out mana.
In Magic, Mana is "tapped" from land cards. These can be played (usually) once per turn, and are treated mostly like any other card in the player's deck. This leads to the concept of being "mana screwed," where your opening hand and subsequent draws don't bring enough land cards to scale into the latter half of the game alongside your opponent.
In Hearthstone, mana is a constant. Each player earns one usable mana every turn, up to a maximum of 10. There are cards that provide temporary mana or rush one's development, but they're the exception instead of the rule. This means neither player worries less about dumb luck, and can focus on creating effective minion strategies. Magic's system, on the other hand, allows for a greater degree of customization and strategies concerning special land cards with interesting effects.
Hearthstone vs. Magic: Deck Size
Both Hearthstone and Magic rely on a minimum size for each player’s deck, but the similarities just about end there.
In Magic, a deck must hold at least 60 cards in most tournament formats. There is no upper limit, but most players tend to stay near the minimum as it increases their odds of drawing their best cards and decreases the number of land cards needed to support an unruly construction.
Hearthstone has a minimum deck size as well -- exactly 30 cards. That is the maximum. Every deck must be the uniform 30 cards or it cannot be played in any mode of the game. This, coupled with the automatic mana gain, generally makes Hearthstone a much faster-paced game than Magic. Most rounds last five to 15 minutes, and rarely does either player draw their entire deck (which first results in taking one damage each time you would normally draw a card, then two, then three and so on).
In Magic, attempting to draw from an empty deck is an automatic loss.
Hearthstone vs. Magic: Card Abilities
Hearthstone and Magic share similar cards and keywords. Mind Control, for example, is a spell, and has the same effect in both (control target creature). Meanwhile, Charge and Haste are exactly the same abilities.
However, Magic has been around for years, and in that time invented a great deal of different spells, abilities, keywords and minions. Some of these get cycled out of tournament-legal play every year, while others are old standbys that never go away.
Hearthstone, by contrast, has only been out the better part of a year. There are far fewer options in terms of unique powers on cards, and there might never be any new ones (though we doubt it). It all depends on how the game will dole out new card sets in the coming months, once it sees a full release.
Hearthstone vs. Magic: Hero Abilities
One thing Hearthstone has that Magic doesn't is the idea of hero abilities. These are special powers tied directly to the game's nine classes that can each be used for two mana (the Warlock's ability also costs health) and have some minor, special effect on gameplay.
Magic has no such concept. Planeswalkers may mimic the idea of unique powers, but they must still be drawn, played and treated as regular cards in one's deck.
Hero abilities are a great addition to the card game formula by providing an extra layer of strategy to doling out mana each turn. They also ensure any player has at least some kind of option no matter what cards they have in hand on nearly every turn.
Hearthstone vs. Magic: The Class System
Magic the Gathering doesn't have a class system, exactly, but it does delineate between certain card types. Each land card provides mana of a certain color (blue, black, white, green, red or colorless) and most cards can only be played with at least some of a specific color.
Hearthstone instead has nine classes to choose from, each with a different hero ability and cards exclusive to that faction. This makes each hero feel like a unique, individual option but disallows the "mix-and-match" style of gameplay from Magic.
Like most differences between the two games, this serves to make Hearthstone simpler and quicker to get into, while Magic provides greater options for a greater time investment. This is the crux of the two games' dissimilarities and what makes each of them special, no matter which game you choose to play.
Hearthstone vs. Magic: Mana Tactics
Of course, not everything about Hearthstone and Magic is different. Take the mana system, for example.
While the games have different systems for collecting the ubiquitous goo, its most important effect remains the same. Each turn, either player only has a certain amount to spend per turn. Should they blow it all on one, huge card, or play several with abilities that bounce off one another well?
Cards or no cards, Magic and Hearthstone are at their cores turn-based strategy games. There's a lot to lose (and gain) with each decision and that's what makes these games so exciting.
Hearthstone vs. Magic: Summoning Sickness
Hearthstone might not call it summoning sickness, the aggravating effect that puts each newly-summon minion to sleep on their first turn, but it is the same thing.
Summoning sickness allows each player a chance to react to (most) new creatures without getting blown away in a single turn. The aforementioned abilities Haste and Charge negate this effect, but only on a few creatures or with the help of some rare spells.
If card games are about controlling the field of play, then summoning sickness is what keeps this concept balanced.
Hearthstone vs. Magic: Combat
Magic has a greater variety of cards than Hearthstone. In the latter, the game is mostly broken up between spells and minions. In the former, there are sorceries, enchantments, artifacts, Planeswalkers and any manner of fantastical creature.
However, they all work toward the same end. Each player starts with a certain number of health, and each player must reduce it to zero. It's the same in both games, and it's almost always accomplished the same way -- throw out enough cards to have a better board presence than your opposite before they do it to you.
It's a purity of purpose that Blizzard clearly didn't think was necessary to change in their take on the genre.
Hearthstone vs. Magic: Deckbuilding
This article details several reasons why Magic and Hearthstone cards are nothing alike and that may be true. However, both games share similarities when it comes to building decks.
Each respective mana system exists to force matches to work on a curve. Each game starts with smaller, weaker creatures and spells taking the field and build massive battles between gargantuan cards. Owing to this, players must build decks with cards to represent each stage of battle.
Hearthstone has a smart feature that displays how many cards you have at each mana cost in a deck. At a glance, you can determine if you have enough late-game monsters to seal the victory, or just need a few more one-mana minions to step up your early game.
In both games, it's generally best to err on the side of early-to-mid-game minions, assuming you have enough board clearing spells to support it.
Hearthstone vs. Magic: Luck of the Draw
Card games are chiefly about strategy, but there's no escaping the literal luck of the draw. Each player only does as well as the cards the draw allows them, and it can ultimately end before it begins in both Magic and Hearthstone.
It's the same with earning new cards. While there is a thriving secondary market for Magic card singles, Wizards of the Coast generally sells the cards in randomized booster packs. Intro decks provide a bit of structure to the otherwise random world, and Hearthstone works on the same principles.
There are set cards that every player can earn through leveling up heroes, but more often, Blizzard tries to emulate the booster pack model through expert packs and runs in the game's competitive Arena mode.
Hearthstone and Magic both have their draws and downsides. Neither game is going to be completely satisfying to every person, so it's up to you to decide which game you would rather play.
Or don't! There's nothing stopping you from enjoying the fast-paced, simplistic fun of Hearthstone while also jumping into the highly competitive, much deeper throes of Magic the Gathering. It's all about what you're looking for.