Is Hearthstone more expensive than Magic? Which gives you more bang for your buck? Recently there was a debate on Twitter with MTGGoldfish content manager and streamer Saffron Olive claiming that Standard in HS was more expensive than on MTGO… But is it true?

My own gut feeling said no, but it’s a bad idea to not be open and check your assumptions so I wanted to dig into the matter and crunch some numbers.

The source for a lot of the Hearthstone numbers is an Engadget article  and by extension a Reddit user named FliccC who did the digging. The claim is that new Hearthstone expansions are going to each cost $223 to get 90% of all the cards in that set, so you can play any deck you want. With 3 sets released on Hearthstone this year it should cost $670 upfront. We’ll assume all of this to be true. Do you need 90% of the cards? I’m not sure, but the claim was that you need *all* the tier decks to be truly competitive and test out the formats.

“All” is a bit strong, but I’d agree in general. If you’re on the grind for a Pro Tour, you’re going to want to have a lot of decks (or access to them through friends) to test out the formats. This won’t be everyone’s experience, but we need to pick a level that we want to compare.

Now comes the tricky part. What’s 90% of MTG Standard? Is that enough to make all the decks? What about entrance fees? How often are you winning?

Since we can purchase individual cards in MTG through trades, instead of randomly opening packs or dusting cards, I picked the top five decks (as listed on MTGGoldfishs’ own metagame data) instead as a baseline; With 5 decks, you have an array of archetypes and can probably test any missing ones with online friends. Erasing any overlapping card copies and running it through the MTGGoldfish online price list, you end up with this:

Total price? $506 – Slightly cheaper than the total for all of the Hearthstone 2017 releases. The problem is, there’s still more expenses that need to be added. This is just the immediate cost of standard, not the total for the year. How much will Ixalan add to this?

If we just take the cards that are in Standard right now from the last big set – Amonkhet, we arrive at $66:

If we instead go with Kaladesh, that price jumps considerably, to $161:

As the sets rotate out and more cards from Amonkhet are picked up for Standard play, I expect the price to rise slightly, but I wouldn’t assume it will hit Kaladesh prices.

For this, I’m going to assume somewhere inbetween. I’m picking $80 for this scenario ($33 less than the average of the two) to account for the high price of Kaladesh and the low current price of Amonkhet. I’ll admit it’s arbitrary, but averaging them out would result in a probably inflated price for Ixalan. I’m excluding the older sets from this for the same reason. They’re rotating out in just a few weeks and the prices will go down as people sell off the staples to prepare for the next format.

So with our assumptions we hit a total of $586 for Magic Online against the $670 for Hearthstone, making Magic a good deal cheaper than Hearthstone standard. But wait! How much of a difference do entrance fees make? Are you just using these decks versus friends to test? Or, are you actually playing in events, with all the entrance fees associated with that? Does that change the math?

There’s a couple scenarios here I’d like to run through the EV calculator provided by Goatbots here.

First, we can take a slightly competitive player. We’re going to have it be someone who has just enough time to play a competitive league every week, but likes to play competitively. The Goatbots calculator has data showing the average Constructed opponent will have a rating of 1679, so we’ll use that for our player as well. How much extra cash will you be shelling out if you play one league a week with that rating? Not much, actually. According the the EV (expected value) calculator, you’d be losing only $0.46 for every league you enter. At one a week, you’re only losing $24 a year on events, assuming you sell your Treasure Chests and other winnings for needed cards and other entrance fees.

Let’s say you’re a better player and you have a 1700 limited rating; Good news! You’re actually gaining value off of playing the events, making a total of $71 of value back if you’re playing once a week. To actually make Magic Standard more expensive than Hearthstone, you’d need to be losing at least $85 dollars a year in the events, which would mean 3.56 leagues a week for an average (1679) player, or a rating of 1664 (approximately 48% win rate) or lower playing a league a week.

Obviously none of these numbers are perfect. I don’t know Hearthstone well enough to make the calculations on the Engadget article assumptions and the EV of Magic events changes constantly with updates to prize packs and other factors. It’s important to see, however, that Hearthstone’s model may not be as generous as expected. Going in I felt quite confident that I would find something in the numbers to bear out my gut feeling that Magic would be more expensive, but trying out the different scenarios showed that my assumptions were misplaced. Even if the assumptions are incorrect, they would need to be wildly inaccurate to throw the results so far as to make Magic a steep increase over Hearthstone.

What do you think? Did I miss something important in the article? I’m curious to see the reaction of the community to this debate. I hope everyone kept an open mind; my own opinion was definitely swayed.