On many levels, this is like comparing apples and oranges. While Hearthstone and Magic: the Gathering are both card games, they share very few similarities. Yet whenever I’m playing Magic at my local card shop, Hearthstone comes up. There’s no doubting its accomplishments even in its closed beta form. Let’s compare the two games more closely.
Mana and resources
This is one of the two biggest differences between the games. Magic requires players to play a land card from their hand and tap it to gain the mana needed to cast spells. Hearthstone, however, has players gain one mana crystal a turn. This completely prevents mana from appearing in a deck, therefore removing the notion of getting “mana screwed.” It also means every topdeck in Hearthstone can be used in a game. There’s nothing worse in Magic than top-decking a land. That doesn’t happen in Hearthstone.
The second major difference between the two games is combat. Yes, both games revolve around attacking an enemy player, but you’re able to bypass enemy minions in Hearthstone provided they don’t have taunt. This creates more of a strategic feel over Magic: the Gathering. In a game of Magic, it’s simple question of whether you want to attack and trade off creatures, or hold back and patiently wait. In Hearthstone, there's so much more to consider. You could simply go in for the direct attack, but the other player's minions might be too strong. Do you risk losing board control? Does your opponent want you to ignore those minions? It’s a strange concept at first, but it quickly becomes welcomed.
One of the key features in Magic: the Gathering is the ability to play plenty of spells during your opponent’s turn. You can’t do that in Hearthstone. With the exception of playing Secrets (think of a trap card from Yu-Gi-Oh), you’ll be doing a lot of watching when it isn’t your turn. This often leads to frustration and, at times, boredom. I’ve often alt-tabbed when it’s not my turn only to hear about mass destruction I can’t do a thing about. Magic, thanks to its instants, can at times become a chess match with bluffing; is that card in their hand an answer to what I’m going to do or just nothingness? It’s something Magic has over Hearthstone.
Hearthstone’s decks each take on the flavor of the original classes found in World of Warcraft. They, sadly, cannot be combined. In Magic: the Gathering, decks take on all shapes and flavors. There’s mono colored, dual-colored based on Ravnica guilds, Alara shard flavored tri-colored decks, and all sorts of combinations. There’s so much combination involved that it’s, at times, staggering.
Holding it in your hands
While Magic: the Gathering Online exists, it’s still a companion to the traditional card based game. You can even collect full sets and get the actual cards shipped to you for your personal collection. Hearthstone is 100% digital. There’s no card based game, it has no resemblance to the World of Warcraft card game, and has no intentions to have a paper version ever appear. This results in a bit of a disconnect in terms of interaction between players. There’s no chat option in Hearthstone, just pre-set voice bubbles to choose from. It results in the game being a bit impersonal, something that Magic: the Gathering Online already suffers from. Nothing will ever compare to playing across the table from people. Hearthstone will not change that.