Magic: The Gathering Vs Chess: Which of these games is truly worth your time and money?

2018 update

Don't waste money on Magic: The Gathering. It's not worth it.

Instead, I suggest you check out any of the following games:
There you go - you really don't need to read the rest of this outdated article.

So... I assume you are looking for a new hobby/game to get into.

You've heard about the trading card game Magic: The Gathering, and the game looks interesting to you.

You'd like to check it out...

But another game that you know about, the classic abstract strategy game of Chess, has caught your attention too.

You'd like to get into Chess also...

And so, you are kind of unsure about which game to get into...

... and you typed something like "chess magic the gathering" on Google, ¡and you found this article!

So, first of all, ¡welcome!

And thank you for your visit :)

If you are unsure whether you want get more into Magic or into Chess, then I want to help you figure out which game to go for.

In case you know nothing about MTG, and/or if you know very little about Chess, here are a couple of video-introductions for each game.

¡Don't forget to come back once you are done watching!

The basic comparison

On one side we have MTG (Magic: The Gathering), which is the tabletop game that initiated the concept of "strategy-based gameplay with trading cards".

MTG is also considered by many to be the best game of its genre.

The 20,000+ unique cards in MTG can be combined to create an almost infinite amount of variations, strategies and unique experiences in each new game.

Regarding "playing units" so to speak, MTG definitely offers way much more variety than Chess.

Then we have Chess, which I like to call the "Super Mario of board games" - practically everyone in the world knows about Chess (as they know about Mario), whether they play the game or not.

In Chess, you always use the same playing pieces for each match...

... but despite this, Chess offers such a grade of tactical complexity that you could study different moves and strategies in the game for several years, and still find a new experience in every match.

Both of these games ARE fun... although that depends on you, as what's 'fun' or not is relative, of course.

Also, both games have the potential of being studied in great depth.

For MTG, and specially for Chess, you can find on the Internet a plethora of resources like websites, articles, videos, etc. where you can learn much more about both games, so that you can practice what you learn and improve your skills.

¿Which game is better?

Sometimes a question arises:

¿Is game X better than game Y?

As long as the games X and Y are playable and well designed...

... at the very end, even if you are comparing games of the same genre (like MTG vs. Yu-Gi-Oh), which game is truly "the best" is something that depends entirely on you, and which game you find more attractive, fun and fulfilling overall.

If you like, you could simply decide to play casually both MTG and Chess just for fun... and be done with this article :)

However, if you decide that you'd like to be more than just a casual player, and you want to dedicate more time studying and playing one game in particular in order to become competitive, then I recommend you have in mind the following aspects:

The costs of Magic: The Gathering

First, in MTG you need to constantly spend money on cards.

For instance, if you play the standard format, cards you've purchased before will rotate out of the format every 3-4 months or so, and thus, you need to keep purchasing cards in order to keep up with the format.

Formats like Modern and Legacy don't rotate their cards out... although sometimes cards could get banned if they end up being too powerful in those formats.

But even though you don't have to constantly replenish cards if you play Modern and/or Legacy, the very best cards in those formats are usually very, very expensive.

I kid you not: In those formats, a competitive deck can cost you up to USD $1,000!

Oh, and don't forget having to buy accessories like card sleeves, deck boxes and playmats to protect your cards, as well as dice, glass beads to use as counters, etc.

Playing MTG casually with friends, and on the cheap, is certainly doable, specially if you play cheap formats like Pauper, or use proxies to play the most expensive cards.

But if you want to play competitively, and get the best cards in order to compete... it will cost you a high amount of dough.

A quick mention of Magic Online, and Hex: Shards of Fate

You also have the option of playing MTG on the Internet using the Magic Online application, which you can buy on the Wizards of the Coast site for USD $10.

In Magic online you also have to purchase the cards you need (in digital form), but these digital cards tend to be less expensive than in paper, specially for the Legacy and Modern formats.

And if you decide to play using Magic Online, you won't have to buy accessories like deck boxes, playmats, etc.

I want to add that if you want to play competitively a game similar to Magic Online, where the cards tend to be even cheaper, then I suggest you take a look at this intro video for the game Hex: Shards of Fate.

If you want to play competitively, I really think Hex is worth looking into. For instance, in September of 2016 they had their Cosmic Showdown constructed tournament, with a first place prize of USD $2,000.

The costs of Chess

Now, in Chess, you don't need to spend money constantly to get cards to "keep up with standard".

All you need to play Chess face-to-face with others is to buy a Chess set.

You could have a portable magnetic set, a big wooden set, or an "Egyptians vs Romans" themed set; as long as you have one set you can use it to play the game with anyone for a lifetime.

And if you don't want to play face-to-face, you can just play online on

You can also buy other Chess products like software, memberships for membership sites, a chess clock... but all that is entirely optional.

The unavoidable disadvantage of Trading Card Games

An unavoidable disadvantage of every Trading Card Game (TCG) like Magic and Hex is that the person who has the most money to invest in the game has a big advantage over people who don't.

While just buying the rarest and most busted cards in the game won't automatically make you a better player, if you have...
  • A lot of knowledge of the game
  • Skill ad experience
  • AND plenty of money to spend in cards
... then that gives you the power to create almost any kind of deck you want, and with it, any kind of powerful strategy you wish to implement.

In the Legacy and Vintage formats, there even are decks that can win the game on the very first turn!

However, in Chess, and other strategy games, you cannot use money to give you an edge in the game.

While you can manage to get a Black Lotus card with your year's savings, and thus have an advantage at Vintage tournaments, it would be no use to buy 8 queens and replace your pawns with them in Chess.

Finding players

For most board games, if you want to play physically instead of in the computer, finding people to play with is a problem in most instances.

However, I believe both Magic and Chess are popular enough for you to not have that much of an issue finding players to play with face-to-face.

If you want to play Magic you just need to go to your nearest hobby store, and to play chess you just need to go to your nearest chess club.

If you want to play competitively, I'm sure those places organize tournaments for people like you to play in.

But if your local hobby store or chess club is miles away from where you live, and you don't want to go so far just to play...

The other option would be to just play online.

I believe Magic Online runs its own tournaments, and I know Hex: Shards of Fate seasonally runs competitive tournaments for cash prizes.

I believe sometimes organizes tournaments with cash prizes, but they are not frequent, and the prize pools tend to be small.

The involvement of luck

Another aspect to have in mind is the involvement of 'luck' in the game you want to play.

In MTG, given that you draw cards one at a time without knowing which card you will get next, chance is involved, which is a variable that is NOT under the control of the player.

On the other hand, classic Chess does not involve luck in any form.

Aside from some Chess variants like Chess 960, Chess is purely deterministic.

Some people like to experiment some chance in their games, while other people hate not having full control in the game.

In my very personal opinion, if you want to play one of these games competitively, and really go for it and try to get to higher and higher level tournaments...

... then I would choose Chess.

To me, it's simply not fair that you could lose your final match in the Pro Tour Tournament simply because your initial hand was terrible, and you didn't draw the cards you needed.

Multiplayer gameplay

A final aspect to have in mind, mostly for people that just like to play casually and for fun, is multiplayer gameplay.

While classic Chess is to be played only by 2 players at a time, many Chess variants exist that allow for 3, 4 and even more players to play at the same time.

You can find some of my favorite multiplayer variants for Chess here.

On the other hand, Magic can be played with multiple people by default.

Personally, an 'add-on' product I really like for multiplayer MTG matches is 'Planechase', where oversized cards named 'plane cards' are used in conjunction with a 'planar die' in order to trigger special effects that affect all players participating in the current match.

Special mention: Knightmare Chess!

If you'd like to play a game that kind of blends the randomness and the 'fantasy' art of MTG, with the abstract strategy gameplay of Chess...

... then I strongly recommend you check out a game called Knightmare Chess.

In this game you play a normal match of Chess using any Chess set...

... but with the possibility of using crazy cards that can alter your current Chess match in many chaotic ways.

I invite you to watch the following video-review by The Discriminating Gamer if you want to learn about this cool game:

Note: The following blue link is an affiliate link. If you purchase something on after following that link, I earn a commission.

Does Knightmare Chess look fun, and you want to try it out? If so:

¡Click here to check out Knightmare Chess on!


After taking a look into all these different aspects, it's up to you to make a decision on which game you would like to spend more time and money on.

Is either MTG or Chess worth your time and money?

It really depends on how far you would like to get on any given game.

As it was said before, if you are planning to just play casually, you can just buy a couple of Magic decks, a chessboard, and have fun!

But if you want to participate in tournaments and maybe even become a pro at a given game, you will have to invest in training material, a LOT of cards in the case of MTG, and plenty of time for practicing and doing research.

Whatever path you choose, remember:

Keep learning, and never forget to have fun!


If you are ok with luck being an important factor in the game you are playing, check out the PC games Magic Duels (free) or Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 (paid) on Steam.

Play them to see if you like the gameplay of Magic: The Gathering.

And if you like the gameplay of MTG, you might also like the digital card game Hex: Shards of Fate, which in my opinion, is the better option.

Now, if you want to play a pretty well known game where luck plays NO role, and where you have to think carefully and analytically about every move you make, play Chess.

Learn to play Chess and do tactical puzzles at Chesscademy.

Play Chess matches against the computer, or online with other people, for free, at

You can also use the Lichess app for Android and iOS.

Finally, if you want to play a game that kind of blends the randomness and 'fantasy' of MTG with the strategic gameplay of Chess, I strongly recommend you check out Knightmare Chess.

Last updated: September 13 of 2016 | En español

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