I know this site is (mostly) about Magic. But Blizzard’s Hearthstone just shipped to open beta for North America and Europe, and that’s some pretty big news in the world of trading card games.

Last week, I explored Hearthstone from a scrub’s perspective. This time around, I headed for some familiar territory: Limited. Since my early days in Magic, I’ve always been attracted to Draft and Sealed. Maybe its because 40-card math is a lot easier than 60-card math. And there’s something to be said about the thrill of throwing together an awesome deck on the fly. Limited is the reason why I continue to shed cash on MODO. And $8 drafts at my local game store is the only thing that can get me to leave the warm, welcoming fold of my room and make the trek outside. MTG Limited is an addictive, dynamic format, perfect for my small attention span and crippling fear of commitment.

Wisely, Hearthstone built its own version of Limited. Arena, like the rest of Hearthstone, is colorful, accelerated, and a tad less mechanically complex than Magic. Drafting and deck-building is not a multiplayer experience. Every “pack” contains three cards of the same rarity. Choose one and lose the rest. Repeat 30 times to build your deck and you’re ready to ship, no sideboards required. You don’t wheel anything, and the only signals you’re going to end up reading is your own quiet joy (or despondency, depending on what rare cards you manage to snatch).

For the most part, cards can be objectively rated. Someone even made a pretty comprehensive tier list. Aside from a few niche card interactions, you could just pick whatever card is rated higher and end up with a passable deck. Actually, that’s probably the preferred way to draft for new players. And some of my more experienced friends still consult that spreadsheet.


One of the best cards in the format followed by two of the worst. Although the Boar pick is tempting, I’d advise against it.

In Magic draft, scrubs are taught that a strong two-color archetypes and a consistent card base—supplemented by the occasional bomb—is king. Hearthstone, especially Arena, doesn’t really have that kind of system. That’s not to say there are no card interactions, but most of the time it just isn’t worth pursuing. One of my favorite classes is Priest. At common rarity, he has a cheap card that doubles a minion’s health and another one that sets its attack equal to health. Theoretically, you can spend three mana and turn a random three-drop into a 15/15 powerhouse. Unfortunately, attempting to assemble a voltron is far less rewarding than it is in Theros, and most of the time you’re going to get 3-for-1’d by a removal spell. Such is life. I’m sure experienced Hearthstone players know how to utilize the game’s more efficient combos.


After drafting, I end up with what, according to the tier list, is an apparently impressive deck. My list packs a suite of early game power, removal, beefy attackers, and late game finishers. As an added bonus, I can pick up and play games with my deck at leisure. Arena is a matchmaking system, not a tournament format. Your run ends after three losses (or twelve wins, I think).

A game here and there is a lot more convenient than dedicating a four-hour chunk of your afternoon. Playing Arena is quickly gratifying, but can open itself up to extended play sessions. MTG’s Limited is more like reading a dense novel—in-depth, occasionally frustrating, but sometimes incredibly rewarding. Both have their place. If I had dedicated myself to one game from the beginning, I don’t know if I would miss the other.


I’m terrible at Hearthstone, but even I know this is a pretty sick curve. I won this game handily.

Even with my dream deck, my Arena run was cut short at four wins. Like MTG, good cards can’t compensate for bad play. Some things never change.

My final thoughts? I don’t know how I feel about Hearthstone’s Arena. And after committing so much time to learning the ins and the outs of Magic, I will never find it in me to make that transition to another card game. But if you rewind to six months ago, when I was young(er) and frustrated and confused, Hearthstone would have been an awesome alternative to continuously losing M14 drafts.

This will probably be the last article I write about Hearthstone. Born of the Gods is on the horizon. And my first ever spoiler season has been a lot of fun speculation and ambitious flights of fancy. I’ll probably return to the color and good humor of Blizzard’s game at some point in the future. I’ll be a scrub all over again. Sounds fun, but I think it can wait.

Tony is a student in Philadelphia. When he isn’t making bad plays, he enjoys writing about. Find him @holophr.

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