Mulligan Phase: The Cost of Hearthstone
Greetings, dear readers, and welcome to another installment of ”Mulligan phase”, the article series where I cover just about everything regarding Hearthstone that has nothing to do with the gameplay itself. Originally, this was supposed to be an entirely different article about me telling you what cards not to disenchant after rotation if you want to get into wild, but as I was writing that one and considering cards from various sets, the idea of the cost of Hearthstone popped into my head and as much as I wanted the cost problem to go away, I just couldn’t separate the two. This is why instead of giving you the planned article I will give you an article regarding the cost of Hearthstone. This has been a very, very hot topic recently and I know that a lot of pro players have chimed in, but I would like to present you with an opinion coming from someone who has been playing card games professionally, competitively and casually for most of his life. Please keep in mind that this is only my opinion on the topic and that it might be different from yours. Don’t start a war in the comment section 😛
With all that out of the way, sit back, relax and let’s just jump into this
Cost of TCGs
Ok, for starters, let me just get one misconception out of the way. Trading card games and collectible card games are the same thing, it is just that one name for it, CCG, has been around somewhat longer than TCG, but they are for all purposes the same thing. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, lets look at the cost of some TCGs.
Hearthstone has two constructed formats which are standard and wild. Because Hearthstone cards can’t be bought individually, but crafted, it is impossible to put an exact financial cost on a deck. Thankfully, that is not how the game works. I have next to none experience in other digital card games, I’ve said this before, because they are just not my cup of tea. I love having physical cards to play with. To each their own, I guess. However, I have a pretty extended knowledge of physical card games, having played almost every TCG out there, even some more obscure ones, and although I believe that you shouldn’t compare the prices of the two, for the sake of the argument I’m going to show you how much would a top tier deck cost you in a physical card game.
Magic: The Gathering is going to by my main focus, my comparison TCG of choice, because that is the only TCG that I’ve played that is still going strong and that I’m fully engaged in (in all formats). The deck prices have been taken from the mtggoldfish meta snapshot which can be found here. Magic: The Gathering has multiple formats but, just like in Hearthstone, standard format is the main competitive one and the one that the company focuses the most while developing new cards. In the provided link you can find the list of all current top standard decks and you will find most of them to be somewhat around 300$ or more. That is 300$ for a single deck! What can 300$ get you in Hearthstone? It can get you all adventures, all heroes and roughly 2,5 biggest pack bundles of any set of your choice. How many decks will you be able to build with those things after you’ve bought them? Most of that depends on RNG, it is pack opening after all, but we can say that even if you dust some stuff that you don’t need and you get lucky with some packs that you’ll be able to build roughly 3-4 functional decks (I feel like a broken record for saying this but most decks run barely any legendary cards in them) for wild, at least, and about 2-3 functional decks for standard. Now, there is a large problem with this comparison and that is that digital cards are worth nothing at all while physical cards will always have some value, even if the price falls way below the initial price point, some value will always remain. This is just one of the multiple reasons why you should never compare the prices of the two. I’m simply showing you the cost of a single deck in a physical card game.
Pokemon TCG, a game that I’ve played professionally when I was a lot younger, is a game that I haven’t been into for years but to my knowledge it is still going strong. The deck that I’ve used to compete in nationals 2004 had cost me roughly around 30$ at that time. Ever since then the game has spiked both in power and in price to the point where I can’t recognize it anymore. Numbers that I’m going to mention here come from pokegoldfish, the first link that I’ve found when googling ”Pokemon top decks” 😛 see here. If you want to play Pokemon competitively you will have to drop roughly around 200$, which is a 100$ less than Magic: The Gathering, and that is a lot of money for some people. Even worse, although Pokemon has multiple formats, I don’t believe that any of them but standard have actual tournament support, making most of your cards completely meaningless once the rotation hits. At least in Magic: The Gathering there are multiple formats to turn to once the rotation hits. Here it is a bit of a different story.
In conclusion, card games are expensive. Hearthstone has one major advantage over physical card games and that is that the price of cards is fixed and it can’t be dictated by secondary market. Whenever you go to create an epic or a legendary card they will always cost you the same amount of dust. Physical card games are expensive because the secondary market, finances, collectors and sellers, dictate the price of individual cards. Also, never compare the prices of physical card games with those of digital card games because we are talking about a very different type of market here. This part of the article isn’t here to compare the prices of the two but just to show you how much would it cost you to get into a physical card game today.
Last but not the least, when someone tells you that you can buy a booster box of Magic: The Gathering, sell its content and make most of the money back, don’t listen to them. That person, that ”tcg player”, has absolutely no idea about what he is talking about. You’re lucky if you even scratch the original price that you’ve payed for a box. Most of the cards, with an exception of maybe 10 cards in the set, are worth less than 2$ and you will pay 100$ for a box of a fresh new set.
Cost of digital TCGs
I don’t know much about digital TCGs but I’ve done some research and I’ve played Pokemon TCGO, a digital card game that I highly recommend, so I will say a couple of words.
I’m quite sure that, when it comes to digital TCGs, that Pokemon TCGO is by far the best, most accessible TCG out there. Last time that I’ve checked it was the only 100% free digital card game, with 0 micro-transactions implemented. Everything in the game can be bought only by ingame currency which can be obtained only ingame. There isn’t a single thing that you can pay actual money for. Some people who have played this game will argue that the game is still pay2win because you can buy pack codes that come in physical card packs, but that is a broader problem. First, pack codes are sold on the secondary market, they are not sold individually by the company outside of physical packs. Second, people who buy physical packs buy them to play the physical card game. I assure you that no one buys a 4$ physical card pack to get a 0.50$ or less pack code. Third, the secondary market isn’t even focused on selling you the codes. There are not a lot of sellers who focus on selling those because individual cards have a much higher financial value.
I’ve checked the prices of card packs in Elder Scrolls: Legends and Gwent and from what I’ve found they are quite similar, if not almost exact, to prices in Hearthstone. You will end up sending the same or close to same amount of money for the same amount of packs in each of those games. The only big difference here is the way that those games treat their players. Hearthstone is probably the worst free2play friendly card game out there when compared to other digital card games, making them far more accessible to players who don’t seek to spend much money on the game.
Cost of Hearthstone
We are finally here!
So far we’ve established that physical card games will cost you much more money in order to build top tier competitive standard decks and that Hearthstone is the least free2play friendly digital card game on the market (that I know of). So, what is the actual cost of Hearthstone?
I will start from myself. How much money do you think I spend on Hearthstone? Next to none. I’ve spent 50$ on the Knights of the Frozen Throne pre-order because I liked the theme and I wanted the Frostmourne card back but that is about it (as much as my memory serves me). Comparing this to Magic: The Gathering where I’ve spend tens of thousands of EUR over the years it is really nothing. I’ve been playing this game since the beta so what does my collection look like now? I own every adventure, I have one fully golden functional deck, I craft golden legendary minions when I feel like it (only if they are good and I really want them for a fully golden deck), I own every quest card in the game and every death knight in the game, despite most of them being utterly useless, I can make any top tier deck instantly without needing to craft anything and I always have dust to spare. This is probably not the collection of your average free2play user and the only reason why it is this big is because I buy a pack per day, I don’t waste my dust on unnecessary cards and I don’t buy packs after I’ve gotten all that I’ve wanted from the latest set. Manage your collection smartly and you’ll grow it exponentially.
For someone who is just getting into the game, starting from zero dust and zero gold, what is the cost of the game? What does that person need? First and foremost, that person needs a deck. Ok, there are some nice budget options out there that anyone can afford but most of the cards in those decks come from various sets that are currently in standard. What now? What packs to buy and how many of them should that person buy? I would highly recommend checking which set has the most cards that are currently seeing play (Knights of the Frozen Throne, I believe) and buying 50 packs of that set. Don’t buy 50 packs of classic set because due to tavern brawls your classic collection will grow over time. Ok, now that player has enough cards and dust to craft a budget standard deck. There, the cost of Hearthstone is 60$. Simple, isn’t it? Not exactly. Spending 60$ will give you a good jumping off point but what if you’ve started in February and some of the cards that you have are about to rotate out? What if most of the cards that you have are about to rotate out? Keeping track of rotation and what exactly you buy is the key of playing this game for as cheap as possible.
Enough dancing around the subject, I know what you all think when it comes to the ”cost of Hearthstone”. The cost of crafting cards for decks as new expansions roll in. For players with lesser collections it has been a real struggle keeping up with the upcoming expansions and now Blizzard has been adding more class legendary cards and epics that make the backbone of multiple decks. Here is the cold truth about this: most of those legendary cards, like 90% of them, are utterly useless and will never see play in a competitive deck. How many quests have seen competitive play? 3 and now only 1 sees play. How many death knights have seen competitive play? 5, I think, and now only 3 see play (mage, priest and warlock). The game is not as expensive nor as hard to keep up with as you would like to believe with each spoiler season. Each set gives us maybe 10 cards that will see play and maybe 3 of those are legendary cards. I also want to mention that I’m against printing so many powerful epics. It is a much greater problem at the moment.
In conclusion, if you’re going to play this game with the idea of limiting your collection to afford building top tier decks only then you’re going to be fine and the game isn’t going to cost you much. If you want to play all kinds of meme and homebrewed decks the the game is going to cost you quite a bit (more diverse decks=more cards=more dust).
That is it. We’ve reached the end of yet another article
What is the price of Hearthstone in your opinion? What is your collection like if you’re a free2play player? Do you find it hard to keep up with the game? Leave your comments in the comment section below. As always if you’ve liked this article do consider following me on twitter https://twitter.com/Eternal_HS. There you can ask me all sorts of Hearthstone questions (unrelated to this article) and I’ll gladly answer them as best as I can!