For that that may not know, Hearthstone is the new kid on the block in the collectable card game (CCG) market, set for release sometime soon by none other than Blizzard Entertainment.  Even though it doesn’t have physical cards, it is a card game, just like many others out there.

Coming from years and years of playing magic the gathering (I started playing when alphas and betas were still floating around in general circulation) and having just gotten back into it with my sons, I feel pretty qualified to comment on CCG’s.

So how does Hearthstone stack up against the grand daddy of CCG’s?  What are the major differences between Hearthstone and Magic and how does a long term Magic player feel it measures up.  Let’s find out as Messiah looks at a Hearthstone Vs. Magic shootout.

Hearthstone vs. Magic - Resources

Both games use mana as the primary resource, however that is the only similarity. 

In Hearthstone players generally automatically gain 1 mana crystal each turn until they reach the maximum of 10.  When mana is used to cast a spell or summon a minion the crystal empties.  In general the crystals refill after each turn for re-use the next turn. 

In Magic players gain mana from tapping (turning sideways to show that it has been used this turn) land.  Mana is generated in 5 different colours as well as colourless.  Players are required to ensure that they have enough land, of the appropriate colour, in their deck to ensure they draw enough land over their turns so that they can play their spells. 

This makes mana far more complicated to manage in Magic as well as requiring space in your deck to ensure you draw enough.

Hearthstone vs. Magic – Deck size

Speaking of space in your deck from the above conversations about resources.  The space you actually have in your deck is different as well. 

In Magic you must have at least 60 cards in your deck to make it legal, and there is no maximum other than what you can reasonably shuffle. While in Hearthstone your deck is made up of only 30.

The difference isn’t double though as it first appears.  This is because of the mana differences discussed above.  In Magic you need to factor in the land cards you need to generate mana into the 60 card minimum deck size.  Generally you will use someplace between 21-24 land in a deck.  This means that the deck sizes are really not that different since they end up being roughly 36 cards for Magic and 30 cards for Hearthstone.

Hearthstone vs. Magic – Colours vs. Classes

A difference that is pretty obvious between the two games is that in Hearthstone you pick a class as your character and in Magic you select your deck by colour. 

Hearthstone has 9 different classes and each has a set of cards with different effects that are available to only them.  They each have a set theme that helps define that class. All classes also have access to a large pool of common cards that help you flesh out your deck.

Magic has 5 colours of cards to choose from, each with their own specific flavour.  For example red is about destruction and blue is about control.  There are also colourless artifacts cards and multi-coloured cards with 2 or more colours required to cast them.  Any player can take any or all colours of cards, but are required to use the correct colour of mana to summon them, making it difficult to use more than 2 colours in a deck reliably.

Hearthstone vs. Magic - Card Types

A fairly large difference between the two games is in the number of different card types that the games make use of.  The most common types of cards in Hearthstone are: Minions, Spells, Secrets, and Weapons.  The most common card types in Magic are: Land, Creatures, Plainswalkers, Artifacts, Equipment, Sorceries, Instants, and Enchantments.  Even though there appears to be quite a few more types of cards in Magic than Hearthstone, there are only a few differences, and only one really critical one.

To show how close things are, think of the following card types and how they are fairly close between the two games.  You will notice two missing, they get their own section later on.

  • Mana vs. Land – Land doesn’t exist in Hearthstone, but you get mana automatically one a turn until you have ten, which is essentially the same as playing one land card per turn.
  • Minions vs. Creatures / Plainswalkers – These are almost the same between the game, except plainswalkers are almost like your class avatar in Hearthstone.  Almost, not quite.
  • Weapons vs. Artifacts / Equipment – Again, almost the same between the games, with the exception being that sometimes artifacts are also creatures, or provide remain in play effects.
  • Spells vs. Sorceries / Enchants – These are pretty close to the same, especially Spells and Sorceries.  Enchantments are in unique to magic though, as they are spells that stay in play and continue to affect the game or a minion in some way. 

Hearthstone vs. Magic - Important Differences in Card Types – Secrets vs. INSTANTS

This is the exception to the above section regarding the similarity between the types of cards in the two games.  This one is subtle but significant and therefore deserves its very own section.

This to me is one of the biggest differences, and one that makes me feel shorted in Hearthstone.  The difference is slight, and easily overlooked by players unfamiliar with magic, but has a profound effect on game play.

Secrets are spells in Hearthstone that are cast during your turn but remain hidden until a set triggering condition is met by your opponent.  This varies from attacking one of your minions, attacking you, casting a spell, or summing a minion. The effect of the secret then interrupts the opponents turn to resolve before the opponent finishes their action.

Instants are spells in Magic that you can cast at almost any point in the game, either your turn or the opponents.  Instants can cause damage, cancel spells, summon minions, or almost anything else that other spells do.  However, when you cast an instant it enters what is called the spell stack.  Due to the nature of instants and either player being able to cast them at any time, your opponent could then choose to respond with one of their own instants, if they did it would get added to the spell stack.  Once everyone is done casting, spells in the stack are resolved in a “last-in first-out” order.

What this means is you could end up with something convoluted like this happening all in one turn:

Player 1: Has a  2/2 bear on the field and decides to attack with it.
Player 2: Casts an instant targeting the bear for 3 damage.
Player 1: Responds by casting an instant that will give the bear +3/+3 making it a 5/5.
Player 2: Responds by casting an instant to counter the +3/+3 to make sure it doesn’t happen so that his first 3 damage instant will still kill the bear.
Player 1: Responds by casting an instant that returns the bear to his hand.

The end result is: The Bear is returned to player 1’s hand, the counter spell cancels the +3/+3, the +3/+3 would have failed anyway at this point though due to no longer having a valid target, the instant spell for 3 damage then happens and fails due to not having a valid target and has no effect on the game.

Due to the way that Secrets work in Hearthstone there is no way for the above to happen.  There is also no control since you put them in place and then they happen when a set condition is met.  For example, there is a secret that destroys the first minion that attacks you.  If your opponent has 4 minions, 3 of which are 1/1 and the last being 9/9, the one that gets destroyed is the first one that attacks. Another example is a secret that clones the next minion your opponent summons.  If he summons a 5/6 with taunt, great!  If he summons a 1/1, it was a wasted card.

Without the control of when it takes effect Secrets are only in a very small way like instants.  Secrets are essentially severely limited Instants that rely on random luck as to what your opponent does next. 

Hearthstone vs. Magic - Remain in play effects

Hearthstone doesn’t have nearly as many remain in play effects as Magic at first glance.  Just by card type Hearthstone is missing enchantments which are a key remain in play effect card in Magic.

Hearthstone does, when you look deeper though, have several remain in play effects.  There are spells or minion effects in both games that grant bonus to either attack or defense values of creatures.  There are aura type effects in both games that grant bonuses to other creature as well, only in Hearthstone these are only provided by creatures, weapons, or one time spells, where as in magic these can come from creatures, sorceries, instants, enchantments, equipment, artifacts, and more! The difference is that in Hearthstone these are mainly hidden as the game adds or subtracts the numbers from the relevant cards and they continue to look the same as before. Magic, being mainly a physical game, uses tokens and the numbers never change.

One type of remain in play effect that is missing that limits Hearthstone though is the using a card in-play to do something other than just attack.  In hearthstone your minions simply attack or block once summoned, sure some do something special when a condition is met, but that’s different.  What I am talking about is a very common effect on a creature or artifact that allows you to use it once per turn to do a point of damage to a target of your choice.  There are many different effects on other cards, such as destroy an enemy creature that attacked last turn, or sacrifice on of your creatures to draw a card, and man more.  None of this is there in Hearthstone.

Hearthstone vs. Magic – Minion Damage

This is a big difference between the games that takes some getting used to for Magic players.  In Magic players are used to having to outright kill a creature in one hit, or it is healed fully at the end of the turn.  This means that once you have a 9/9 creature out it is fairly hard to deal with in Magic using just creatures, since you need to do 9 damage all at once.

In Hearthstone damage is carried over between turns and healing is very limited.  This means that if a 9/9 minion is summoned by your opponent, you could attack it with a 3/3 and a 1/1 during your turn, and then a 5/5 on your next turn (assuming the now 9/5 was not healed) to kill it.  This brings us to the next big difference…

Hearthstone vs. Magic - Attacking and Blocking

This is another difference that takes getting used to for players coming from Magic. 

In Magic when you send your creatures to attack, you simply declare which are attacking.  Your opponent then decides if any of his creatures will block and whom they will block. 

In Hearthstone the attacker gets to decide who they are attacking, not just that they are attacking. There are a few exceptions, such as when an opponent has a minion or minions with taunt out you must attack and defeat them first. 
This is a key difference as the attacker has a whole lot of control and it makes it far easier to clear the battlefield. 

Consider the following situation in both games: 

Player 1: 5 life reaming, has two 3/3 creatures and two 4/4 creatures attacking.
Player 2: 5 life remaining, has three 3/3 creatures and a 5/5 creature to defend with.

If it is player 1’s turn and assuming both players are out of cards, who wins?

In Hearthstone Player 1 simply attacks with any two of his creatures and wins the game.

In Magic, Player 1 attacks with everything, Player 2 chooses to block and could do many different things, just two of which are:

  • Block one creature to one creature across the board, leaving just player 1’s 4/4/ and player 2’s 5/5 alive. Player 2 then attacks next turn and win (since in Magic a creature that attacks can not block the following turn).
  • Block two 3/3’s against a 4/4, a 5/5 against the other 4/4, and the single 3/3 against one of the remaining 3/3’s.  Player 1 will now only have one 3/3 left and player 2 will have a 3/3 and a 5/5 left.

As you can see the combat methods are drastically different.  Hearthstone favours the attacker dramatically, while Magic favours the defender slightly. 

Hearthstone vs. Magic - More Differences!!!

As you can see these are just some of the differences.  There are many more such as the different kinds of avoidance that creatures in magic have, the number of different types of effects that are in game, the differences between the number of resources (mana colours), and more.  This article could quite literally be 3 times its current length and still not cover all the differences. 

Even at this point in writing, I am still thinking of many more that are really big and significant, and more will come to me after I finish this and post it, I’m sure.

EDIT: What did I say… 20 minutes after putting this online, a huge pretty obvious difference just popped into my head.  Since Hearthstone is a virtual card game only, there are many more random effects possible in it.  Such as cards that create copies of 2 random cards from your opponents deck and place them into your hand.  Something like that just can’t happen in Magic since it is a physical card game first and foremost.

Hearthstone vs. Magic - Messiah’s Opinion

It all comes down to this, doesn’t it.  After pointing out all the things that are different , and after probably coming across sounding pretty negative towards Hearthstone, where do I stand on it?

Is one game better than the other?  Does Hearthstone compete against the grand daddy of CCG’s? 

I came into the game not expecting a whole lot, as I have played many CCG’s over the years and none really compares to Magic.  It has been around for a long time for a reason, it is a super solid game that has a lot of smart people behind it.  The mechanics that it uses have been fine tuned and honed to near perfection of the years.

After player Hearthstone the first few times, I was left a little flat.  It didn’t quite grab me and hold me.  I continued to give it some time though, and started learning some of the finer points of play, and while not nearly as deep and complicated as Magic, it does have depth.  There are different play styles possible, there are different ways to win with each class, and different cards you can play with each class.  Having played every class to over level 10 now, the game has kept getting more interesting.

Will it replace Magic for me?  No.  Magic has far more depth and complexity, and allows for and requires far more creative thinking and planning than Hearthstone. 

That being said, I will defiantly still play Hearthstone, as the mechanics are very solid and a lot of fun. I can see having a lot of fun playing games in Hearthstone when I simply want to jump on and play a quick game.  I would strongly argue that Secrets need to be more like Instants and be able to be cast at any time, rather than just reacting. That one fix would create so much more interesting game play. Aside from that one change though, I can appreciate and understand why the designers did most of what they did, and how they crafted a game that does have depth and is very fun to play.

Hearthstone, as an entry into the world of CCG’s is however, a very solid game that requires both skill at playing and deck building and some degree of luck to win games.  While I would give Magic a solid 10/10 as far as CCG’s go, I would consider Hearthstone as a pretty good 7/10 for me personally. 

Importantly though, for new CCG player’s, which is likely Blizzard’s target audience, I would have to pretty much reverse those scores and give Hearthstone a 9/10 and Magic a 7/10. This score swap is due to the fact that most of the things that I am viewing as negatives, because they are too simple to an experienced Magic player, are extremely complicated for new CCG players.  Hearthstone, being a simpler game, that still has depth and strategy is great for new players. Magic, being extremely complicated and requiring more complex strategies is much harder for new players to grasp.


Messiah has had his say on the differences between the two games, now it is your chance.  Speak up and make your comments known below.

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Byron has been playing and writing about World of Warcraft for the past ten years. He also plays pretty much ever other Blizzard game, currently focusing on Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, while still finding time to jump into Diablo III with his son.