The Artifact Guide
There are a lot of reasons to be excited about Valve’s upcoming digital card game Artifact. Valve as a studio has had an insane hit rate when it comes to high quality titles, but has been on a bit of a hiatus in terms of actually releasing games. Artifact is looking to be their first release in about 5 years, and is in a genre that they have never worked in: trading card games. Not only is it exciting that Valve is building a game for a different genre, bringing their no-holds-barred approach to strategic depth, but they are also partnering with Richard Garfield, the creator of the first trading card game, and prolific game designer! Everyone is anxious to see what comes out when you mix these elements of greatness together.
As of right now Artifact is still in an exclusive closed beta, with a less exclusive beta coming in October, and full release November 28th. Although the game is still under NDA, there has been a lot of information and gameplay footage released, which has allowed the community to piece together many of the game's mechanics and rules. My objective in this article is to aggregate all that information, connect-the-dots on how things work, and begin to keep a living document to be updated as more information is released.
With that out of the way, let’s (tower) dive in!
The Artifact Board
Let’s cover the big-picture. I am going to run through this fairly quickly, so if you read any of this and think, “Huh, what does that mean? How does that work?” a lot of those will be answered below.
Artifact is a card game based in the DOTA 2 world. Games are played between two players, each with a deck with at least 40 cards, as well as three towers, each with 40 health. The objective of the game is to kill 2 of your opponent’s towers, or kill one tower and the 80 health “Ancient” that spawns after a tower dies. These towers are placed in separate lanes, each of which acts like a different game board. Each player has five chosen heroes, three of which start in play (one in each lane). These hero cards are based off DOTA 2 characters, and will generally have similar abilities to their MOBA counterparts, such as burly stats, powerful spells, or tactically useful abilities. Each hero is assigned to one of four factions: red, blue, black and green.
Units in Artifact have three “stats”: attack, armor, and health. Attack and health work exactly how you would expect, but armor is not typically a stat used in card games. Armor blocks damage from enemies, where each incoming damage is reduced by the armor value. For example, Axe has 2 armor, meaning if he was hit by a unit with 3 attack he would only take 1 damage. It is actually possible for characters to have negative armor, which means that damage dealt would be magnified; which is potentially quite powerful. If a hero with -2 armor was hit by a 3 attack enemy then 5 damage would be dealt. It has also been confirmed that it is possible for Towers to gain armor as well.
Players start with five cards each, and draw two cards every turn. There is no "mulligan" or "redraw" system. Mana is tracked separately in each lane, and the game starts with each player having access to 3 mana in each lane. Every round involves both players taking turns using cards until both players decide to stop, at which point combat happens. When you kill units you gain gold, which can be spent at the very end of every round to pimp out your heroes with equipment, or purchase consumables like potions.
Artifact uses a mana and health system similar to Hearthstone rather than Magic. Assuming normal gameplay, the mana in each lane will scale by 1 each round, without investing resource cards like “lands”. Damage on units is not reset between turns, as like Magic. These are obviously fundamentally important elements to the rules engine, and have a big impact on the game mechanics. Unlike either Magic or Hearthstone, Artifact uses what could be called a “collision combat” system, rather than the direct attack used in Hearthstone, or the attacker/blocker system seen in Magic. I will give more details on what we know about combat in the “Combat” section.
Each side has five hero cards, which are publicly shared at the start of each game. You must play five different Heroes (there are some exceptions to this with “basic” heroes), but they can be all the same color, or any mix of colors that you like. At the start of the game three Heroes are chosen from each side to be placed randomly in each of the three lanes, along with three “melee creep” units. One point of terminology to mention: the word “unit” means either creeps or heroes. “Creep” refers to non-hero units, and the term “melee creep” specifies the 2/0/4 dudes that spawn every round. At one level, heroes are like the units/minions/creatures you will see in any card game - bashing into one-other, and eventually killing the opponent. On another level, heroes in Artifact are way more important. In many respects, heroes are the defining feature of Artifact, and will be instrumental in determining the strategy of your deck, and the way the game plays out.
The first important role that your heroes play (other than combat) is allowing you to play your spells. In order to cast a red spell you need to have a red hero in your lane, while black spells require having a black hero, etc. This means that if you lose all your heroes in a lane then you can’t play any spells! There are no multi-color heroes or spells in the game at present. While there are some cross-lane and global spells, managing the heroes in each lane will be one of the most important elements of effective strategy.
Clearly allowing you to cast spells is important, but heroes do even more than that! Each hero shuffles in three cards into your deck at the start of the game, which are referred to as “signature cards” or “premiere cards”. Each of these cards is unique to the hero, meaning the only way to get Legion Commander's signature card in your deck is to play Legion Commander as a hero. These 15 cards (5x3) are counted as part of your 40 card deck minimum, meaning a sizable chunk of what your deck “does” is locked in by the five heroes that you choose. Some signature cards are among the best in the game, while others are basically trash.
Heroes let you cast spells, battle, and determine a major chunk of your deck, but they also often come with some sick abilities. Zeus loves chucking lightning bolts, so his ability helps spread around the damage of your blue spells. Phantom Assassin is all about cutting down enemy heroes, so she gets an attack bonus when she is hitting one. There are a wide range of abilities that can be found on different heroes, and are often an important aspect of their utility.
So heroes participate in combat, let you play spells, put cards in your deck, and have sweet abilities; what else could they possibly do? Well, I still have not mentioned their most important function – playing dress-up! Each hero has 3 equipment slots that allow you to properly accessorize each member of your team, so you can make the appropriate fashion statement to your opponent. Valve knows how much players love cosmetics, so they decided to integrate this as a core mechanic of the game. I am very excited to show off my skills in the hero-skin metagame.
Joking aside, equipment slots are about buffing your hero (and don’t have an aesthetic impact on the game, unfortunately). Each hero can hold a weapon, a piece of armor, and an accessory. These items buff the base stats of the hero and can also give bonus abilities. It should be noted that these items stay attached to a hero after they die, so unlike pump effects from other games, items are not setting up for “2-for-1s” in the same way auras or buff spells do in Magic or Hearthstone. There are some “equipment destruction” effects in the game, meaning you can get punished for investing heavily in fancy items. Most items are purchased in the shop, and I will talk more about buying items when we get to the “shop” section. Items also cost 0 mana to play, which is quite powerful. Equipment is also neutral, meaning any equipment can be used on any hero, and can even be used if your heroes are stunned/silenced.
At the start of every turn (after the first one) you get to place one of your heroes in a lane of your choice. Heroes that died earlier in the game can be placed, though there is a 1-turn cooldown for most heroes before they can be redeployed. There is at least one hero, Rix, that has “rapid deployment” which allows him to be redeployed the turn after he is killed. As I mentioned above, equipment for your heroes is permanent, but some buff effects from spells are also permanent! Any effect that says “modify” is stays with your hero through death, while anything that simply says “give” is until end of turn. For example, Bristleback has the ability that each time a hero he is blocking dies, he gets a +2 armor modification. These bonuses stack, and persist even through death. On this subject, it was said that heroes do not “level up”, meaning the primary axis for scaling heroes in the game is going to be equipment.
As you can see heroes do a lot, and are the most important pieces in the game. I know that my head is already full of ideas around what would make cool heroes, but we will need to wait and see what we actually get. According to Valve we should expect about 44 heroes in the first set. At this point, between official releases and leaks, we have identified almost all the heroes we expect to be in the game at release, though we don’t have all the information quite yet.
Artifact is based on DOTA 2 right? Well, we gotta have 3 lanes! While there is a “left” “middle” and “right” lane, there doesn’t seem to be any differences between the lanes. It is probably best to not think of heroes as being “mid-lane heroes” or whatever, since lanes do not have distinguishing features. This is especially important given that most decks will probably not play all 4 colors of hero, meaning that your team composition will often not have a hero that actually fit the traditional roles you would expect in a MOBA. It should also be noted that each player sees a mirror of what the opponent sees, meaning that my "left lane" is also my opponents "left lane" even though this would be impossible at a real-world table.
I suppose I should clarify that lanes don’t have any distinguishing features *at the beginning of the game*. There are a number of improvement cards which you connect to one of your lanes. Some examples include Assault Ladders, which gives your units extra attack when damaging a tower. There is another improvement that gives your tower additional armor. Like other cards, improvements. You can also play an attachment to any lane assuming you have the correct hero type in the lane you are playing it from. For example, watch this gameplay clip. The opponent plays Trebuchet – a black attachment – from their right lane into the left lane, even though the left lane has no black hero.
I mentioned a number of times that playing colored cards requires a hero of that color, but what happens if you want to cast a blue spell in the left lane and both your blue heroes are placed in the middle and right lane? Some spells can hit one or more lanes other than the one you are casting the spell from, such as Pick Off. Another approach to repositioning a hero is to have it die and then replay it in an upcoming deployment step. This approach isn’t ideal, since it typically relies on your enemies to cooperate, and feeds them gold. It is also possible to reposition by using items like the Town Portal Scroll, which returns your hero to the deployment zone. You can also use equipment like Blink Dagger, which let you move a hero another lane. While it isn't shown in the picture, it gives your hero the ability “Active: move hero to another lane”, which can be activated once every two turns.
Obviously choosing which lane a hero is deployed matters a lot, but even positioning within a lane matters. I will be talking more about combat below, but positioning is going to be extremely important for dictating the outcome of combat, as it will play an important role in deciding whether your heroes hit a creep, a hero or a tower. There are also heroes like Lycan that boost the stats of his neighbors. This is unlike games such as Magic and Eternal, where the positioning on the battlefield is meaningless, and can be rearranged arbitrarily.
Get ready to farm some 2/4s!
Heroes are clearly the most important units on the board, but they are not the only ones. “Creeps” are units that are summoned to the board to do battle, and while they are typically smaller than heroes, they are also an important part of the action. The most common creep in the game appears to be a 2/0/4. At the start of the game 3 of these generic dorks are placed on each side of the board. The placement is typically random, meaning it is possible to have all three creeps in one lane, spread out 1 in each lane, or a 2-1-0 split.
New creeps also spawn every round, with 2 new 2/0/4 creeps being placed randomly at the start of every turn past the first. You get to see in which lane creeps are going to be placed before committing your hero during the deployment phase, which is obviously useful tactical information. While you get to see in what lane the creeps will spawn, you don’t get to see in what arrangement they are going to show up. For example, if you are placing 1 creep and a hero in one of the lanes that already has one creep, you don’t get to choose if your hero is deployed on the left, right or in the centre. If you spend a moment to think about this, you will quickly realize the dizzying number of possible arrangements even with just a few units in a lane. The exact configuration of the creeps and heroes is going to be very important for the outcome of combat, and while players have some limited control over deployment, it is largely subject to the gods of RNG. You also get to see where your opponent’s creeps will spawn as you choose the lane for your own heroes (though you and you opponent choose which lane your heroes will spawn at the same time).
There are some unit cards you will have access to outside of your heroes and the melee creeps that spawn every turn. “Creeps” is a generic term that includes both generic melee creeps, and the creeps that you play from your hand. You cannot play equipment on creeps, but that doesn’t mean there is no way to augment them! We have already seen a load of cards and abilities that buff creeps in a variety of ways, such as Act of Defiance, Mist of Avernus, or Vhoul Martyr.
One interesting feature of creep cards you deploy from your hand, is you actually get much more control of where they show up in the lane! There are some rules on where things can and cannot be placed, but you get to choose between all valid location. This offers quite a lot of flexibility to utilize your resources optimally.
Artifact has 4 colors: red, blue, green and black. It may seem like blasphemy that Richard Garfield opted for 4 colors rather than 5, but I trust the man. These colors do not overlap entirely with their MTG counterparts in terms of identity, so let’s run through them.
Black: faction of assassination and greed. These heroes are great at choosing a target and taking it down, whether it is an enemy hero or a tower. Some iconic black heroes include Phantom Assassin, Lich, and Sorla Khan
Green: faction of defence and support. If you want to buff your team, or stall out the game, or throw down massive beasts, then green is the faction for you. Enchantress, Lycan, and Omniknight show off this game plan very clearly.
Blue: faction of magic and disruption. While their heroes may not pack the biggest punch, their spells are their strength, allowing you to control the late game. Zeus and Earthshaker fit into this. They also have some tools to “go wide”, such as Prellex and Meepo.
If you care about how this compares with Magic’s color pie, there are a few differences I would note. First, white is the color that is missing, with a lot of the traditional white abilities moved into green. In exchange, green had to pass some of it’s “biggest dudes” features into red, which in turn passed off its strength with direct damage spells to blue. Blue also pick up much of the “go wide with small creatures” characteristic from white. Black seems to be pretty similar mechanically, which makes a lot of sense given the connection to death, greed, and evil. Still, there are lots of abilities that haven’t yet been defined to fall under a specific color, so there is a lot of space left to explore.
Deciding the composition of your heroes is likely going to be quite the challenge for deckbuilding. If all your heroes are the same color than you will almost always be able to cast the spells you want, and will never get yourself in a position where you don’t have the right color of hero. On the flip side, decks with only one color of hero might have certain weaknesses. For example, a mono-red deck may be great and fielding a bunch of beefy heroes, but you will be vulnerable to a deck that packs a ton of removal. Furthermore, you might have to dig deeper into the hero pool to fill out your roster, meaning that your 5th hero will be a lot worse than the first. Alternatively, a deck with 3 or more colors will struggle with playing all the cards they want when they want, but will have access to a wider range of powerful cards. A 3+ color deck will also have a much deeper hero pool, and while there may be less synergy between the different members of your team, you can pack your deck with the best cards available. Reports from the beta suggest that two color decks with a 3/2 split are the most popular.
Parts of a Turn
The structure of turns in Artifact is probably quite different from what many players will be used to. If I had to describe it, it seems like a combination of Magic and Gwent, and seems to be designed to both limit the influence of first-mover/second-mover advantage, while creating a very active pacing to the game. You start every turn in the left lane, then move to the middle, and finally the right lane. In each of these lanes you have an "action phase" where both players take turns playing cards until both decide to stop, at which point combat happens. Once you are finished in the right lane you then move to the shopping phase and the deployment phase, and then the next turn starts. You can see a summary of this in this flow chart:
Let's first talk about how the "action phase" works. Basically, priority passes back-and-forth between the two players in a given lane until they both decide they don’t want to play any more cards, at which point combat happens and we move to the next board or the round ends. I am going to cover how combat works in the next section, so ignore that for now. Let’s go through some simple examples to show how this system works in practice.
Player 1 – Pass
Player 2 – Pass
-Left combat happens-
Player 1 – Pass
Player 2 – Plays a creep
Player 1 – Pass
Player 2 – Pass
-Middle combat happens-
Player 1 – Play item
Player 2 – Pass
Player 1 – Activates ability on item
Player 2 – Plays a spell
Player 1 – Play and improvement
Player 2 – Pass
Player 1 – Pass
-Right combat happens-
This is a pretty simple breakdown, but there are actually a lot of complicated rules implications. Let’s compare this to some games you might be familiar with. First off, if you are used to games like Hearthstone, this is going to be a really big change. No longer can you play out your entire turn without needing to plan around what your opponent is doing. You also don’t get to take any actions after combat happens, so play patterns like healing your minion after it bashes into your opponent’s minion before passing the turn is not possible.
If you are coming from Magic, or games with similar rule-sets to Magic, this probably looks somewhat familiar to you. Imagine that both players were taking “their turn” simultaneously. Both players untap and draw at the same time, and from that point they just pass priority back and forth until they both want to move to combat. As of right now there is no way to react to cards “on the stack”, so instants are not a thing. One of the biggest differences you will notice is that there is no second main phase - you will just move on to the next lane after combat.
Anyone who has played Gwent probably grasps this system pretty quickly. For anyone who doesn’t know anything about Gwent, each round consists of players taking turns playing cards until both decide to pass. Once one person decides to pass the other player can continue playing cards until they feel like stopping. One major difference is that in Artifact you always get a chance to respond to what your opponent does last. Passing means “I don’t have anything I want to do right now” not “I’m not going to do anything else this round.”
There are a few points worth clarifying. For example, how do you know who goes first in each lane? The last player to pass always goes second in the next lane. In practice, this typically means the last player to take an action in a lane always goes second in the next lane (there are some exceptions to this). In the example above Player 1 goes first in all three lanes. That is not a mistake - this is actually how it works. Until Player 1 actually does something, they are going to continue go first. Now, in this example, Player 2 would go first at the start of the next turn, but the point still stands that you may be able to set up first mover advantage at key junctures depending on your priorities.
Another point that is worth reiterating is that you get 2 cards at the start of each turn, not each lane. This means that if you are playing even one card per lane you are likely going to empty your hand really quickly. Also, as I mentioned above, the mana on each lane is separate, and you start with 3 mana in each lane. This might feel a little weird to Magic and Hearthstone players, since you basically start the game on turn 3. This is probably for the purpose of balancing aggressively-stated heroes, as giving them multiple turns to just farm creeps and beat up towers could have been over-powered.
Finally we get to talk about combat! Artifact uses a very different combat system then what you might be used to if you are coming from Magic or Hearthstone (or similar games). It actually has the most similarities to Solforge from the games I have played. To describe it simply, units will attack targets directly in front of them, diagonally left, or diagonally right. If there is nothing in any of these positions your unit will attack straight forward and hit the enemy tower. Let’s work through some simple board states to see how things work.
First up, I have a Sorla Khan, and my opponent’s side is totally empty, so she is going to bop the tower if combat happens now. This may seem very obvious, but it should be noted that this happens even if she was just deployed. Unlike Magic, Hearthstone, Solforge, and any other combat-centric card game I am aware of, all of Artifact’s units will fully participate in combat the turn they show up. It is like all the units have haste/charge! This really emphasizes the power of overstated heroes like Axe being able to just show up and farm kills. Anyway, back to our example, Sorla Khan will smack the tower for healthy chunk of damage.
Next up, we see a simple lane set-up where Sorla Khan is facing a single creep on the opponent’s side. If the creep is directly ahead of Sorla Khan she will hit the creep instead of the tower 100% of the time. Obviously in this case the creep will die and deal 2 damage to the Sorla Khan, keeping the tower safe.
Things get a bit more complicated when units are places diagonally from one another. In the case below there is a creep to the left and to the right of Sorla Khan. She technically has 3 valid targets to attack here: the left creep, the right creep or the tower. In this case, she will choose her target randomly. If she chooses one of the creeps then that creep will counterattack her. Likewise, if one of these creeps selects Sorla Khan as their target, she will counter attack them. Neither player gets direct control of this process, and will be sorted automatically by the game. It should be noted that while you don't get to choose, the game does show you which unit is attacking where, which will help make decisions. There are also a lot of cards that help manage combat.
Targeting is very important in combat, and players don’t get full control of how combat will play out. While you can always see who is going to attack what before combat happens, it is possible to interrupt this by various means. Take this example; my Sorla Khan is going to kill the bajesus out of this Zeus, but our opponent was lucky enough to spawn a creep right in front of Sorla Khan. Now her attention is pulled to this creep, so instead of killing the hero like you wanted, she hits this dorky 2/0/4 instead. From what I understand, units will prioritize attacking a unit directly in front of them over a unit to the side. Zeus still has his attention turned on your hero though, and he is still going to hit her for 3. It should also be noted that the damage here is only one direction. Zeus hits Sorla Khan, but Sorla Khan does not hit Zeus. This is very different from games like Hearthstone where any number of units that hit the opponent's minion will all take damage.
I said above that units default to attacking directly ahead of them right? Well, there are ways to redirect the attacks to other units. For example, lets take the action of “taunting”. When a unit taunts it means that all enemies that are able to attack it will attack it. This can be used strategically like is shown in the situations below. At first, it looks like Axe is going to maul my Sorla Khan, but then I use a taunt effect on my creep, which turns Axe’s attention away from my hero. There are other ways to control who is attacking what, such as moving units around within a lane, or using effects that redirect the attacks of the units on the board.
Anyone who plays MOBAs will know that “crowd-control” is an important part of the game. Stunning, freezing, or otherwise disabling your opponents at the correct moment will have a major impact on the outcome of a combat. In Artifact, it seems like these have been grouped together under the heading “disable”. Units that are disabled cannot deal damage in combat, but will still get hit by whoever is hitting them. This is unlike what you see in games like Hearthstone, where a frozen unit cannot attack, but will still deal damage if an enemy minion attacks it. You can see in the following example that my Sorla Khan is saved from certain death when I disable my opponent’s Axe. He is still taking a boatload of damage from my hero, so hopeful I can disable him again next turn and set up a clean kill.
Note: “stun” is a thing in Artifact, but it just means “disable + silence”.
Lastly, let’s talk momentarily about the re-arrangement that can happen after combat. If combat works out such that one of the “tracks” is empty then the two sides squeeze together to seal the gap. In this clip the two creeps second from the right kill each other, meaning that entire “track” is empty, causing the Zeus (blue hero) to move over closer to the Bristleback (the red hero).
I should probably emphasize that I have deduced these rules from the few gameplay videos we have such as this video. Valve has not spoken officially about the details of the rules. If you spot any errors please let me know, as I want to keep this guide as accurate as possible.
At the end of the turn you get to the shopping phase, where you can spend gold to buy fancy stuff. Before we get into how the shop works, lets talk about how gold collection works. Every time an enemy creep dies you get 1 gold, and every time an enemy hero dies you get 5 gold (there is some word that heroes with items can give more than 5 gold, but we don’t really have enough information on that). Anything that kills units gives the same amount of gold, meaning that last hits and denies are not important, so shooting your own hero to deny gold for your opponent is a bad idea. Killing towers gives no gold. Black has access to gold-related cards, such as Iron Fog Goldmine, which gives 3 gold per turn, and Payday which doubles your current gold. Still, the primary way to gain gold appears to be killing enemy units.
The shopping phase starts right after combat in the right lane, and before the deployment step (you don't get to see where the creeps are spawning while you are shopping). Your little helpful imp will open up the shop for you, and you will be presented with a screen that looks like this (I added the colored boxes):
It is actually easiest to work from right to left, so let’s start there. The right item is always going to be one of 4 possible consumable items, which can be seen below. Consumables should be good at maintaining tempo advantage because of their immediate impact on the game, but in order to develop lasting advantages over the game I expect value-focused decks are going to avoid spending gold on consumables. It should also be noted that while the consumable items available to both players are the same, the card that is offered to each player will not necessarily be the same during each shopping phase. It is determined randomly for each player. Also, you do not deplete the contents of the consumable slot, meaning if you buy a Town Portal Scroll on turn 1 you could easily be offered it again on turn 2.
The middle slot offers items from your “item deck”. The item deck is a minimum of 9 cards chosen from your collection, but it has no maximum. It can be made up of equipment and consumables of your choice. Unlike the other two slots, you can buy as many items from this slot as you have money for. This would be particularly useful for any deck that tries to generate tons of gold through cards like Payday, since it allows you to just drop a giant wad of cash all at once.
The final slot is the “Secret Shop” slot. This offers you a random item from the game every round, meaning you have a chance to buy literally anything! Sometimes you will pull the perfect item for a specific situation, and other times they will only offer a stupid trinket when you are looking for a game winning weapon. Players probably won’t be buying Secret Shop items often until the mid-to-late game, after you have already bought up the best equipment from your item deck. If you somehow find yourself with a fat stack of cash where you might want to buy multiple Secret Shop items you will not be able to do that, as you are limited to only one-per-round. Like I said with consumables: both players should be randomly offered items from the same pool of possible Secret Shop items, but the items offered to player 1 should have no impact on the items offered player 2. If player 1 buys “Giant Sword of Ass-Kicking” it doesn’t block player 2 from being offered another “Giant Sword of Ass-Kicking” later in the game.
While this overview is useful as a starting place, there are obviously still a lot of questions about how the store works. Let’s review some details before moving on to the next section. First, you can’t sell items back to the shop, and you can’t upgrade items either. There might be some exceptions or special conditions for certain items, but as of right now it seems like you cannot get any gold value on your equipment after you equip it. You also cannot pass on used equipment to a different hero either. These changes are a big departure from what you might expect if you are coming from a MOBA or RPG background. I mentioned this above, but all items are neutral (do not require a hero of a specific color) and also costs 0 mana to play.
Artifact has a unique approach to the in-game economy. Let's summarize the information we have:
Accounts will cost $20 each. This gives you 2 starter decks of 54 cards each and 10 packs of cards.
Each pack contains 12 cards, and at least one "rare", which is the highest rarity. They cost $2 each to purchase.
The economy is primarily fueled by a market where you buy and sell cards with real money. Unlike other digital games like Hearthstone there is no dust/crafting system. Instead you have an in-game marked that lets you trade for what you want.
There are certainly a couple details that need to be fleshed out, such as the rarity distribution in packs and the transaction costs within the market, but this should give you a pretty good idea of how the economy functions. Once the pleb beta hits we will have a better idea how much the game actually costs to play.
Odds and Ends
There are a few topics I wanted to hit on that don’t really warrant an independent section, so I am going to just blast through a few subjects here.
One of the most common questions people have about card games is around the randomness involved. I personally blame Hearthstone’s Ragnaros, Yogg Saron and Babbling Book for having traumatized a whole generation of card gamers with their obnoxious RNG. First off, every card game is going to have some level of randomness. You are drawing cards off a friggin’ deck, so obviously you are not signing up for chess. Outside of that, it seems like there are a lot of low-impact random events. The configuration of units in the lane, how the targets for combat are chosen, and the items that show up in the shop, etc. Having a lot of low-stakes random events means that games play out differently, but it isn’t like most games are won-and-lost on a coin flip. It sounds like there are relatively few cards with high-impact RNG effects. If you want to learn more about the game design philosophy around randomness in games you should check out this article about Dr. Garfield’s approach to game design. Ultimately, from what we have seen so far, the use of RNG in Artifact seems fairly healthy, and will not be as game warping as you see in Hearthstone.
IN-GAME TOURNAMENTS AND LIMITED
Valve has made some bold plans around which game modes will be available on release. First, there will be some kind of in-client custom tournament system on release according to Valve. That is exceptionally wicked, and although these are probably going to be very simple tournaments at the very start, but this suggests that they are very serious about building an e-sports scene from day 1. They have also promised a tournament for early 2019 with a $1,000,000 prize for first place, which is…. wild.
Beyond that, they have also said they want to implement a limited mode too, including draft and sealed. If you don’t know what “limited” is, it means you are forced to build a deck from a smaller set of cards, usually containing a lot of lower power-level cards. This is a game mode that tests your ability to build decks on the fly, and improvise with sub-optimal tools.
While I was skeptical at first that Valve would be able to announce all these plans, but everything we have heard so far indicates that they are 100% committed to make all this happen. Valve has the money and the manpower to do what they want, and they seem to have decided to make Artifact a big deal..
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU RUN OUT OF CARDS?
You.... don’t apparently? It was suggested in some sources that used spells get shuffled back into your deck. This seems strange to me, as I’m worried that games could kinda just go on forever, so I have a lot of questions about what does and does not cycle back into your deck. I’m going to trust the game designers that they know what they are doing and 60-minute games don’t become common. I am also a little sceptical of this reporting, so we will see what happens.
In DOTA 2, and other MOBAs, equipment is not managed in a way that might seem unintuitive to people who are mainly familiar with RPGs. Items are not really equipped to specific “slots” on your character, such that weapons need to be in “weapon slot” to be active. It is possible, for example, to use multiple weapons at once in DOTA 2. This is not true in Artifact, where it seems like the slots are bound to specific equipment types. Each hero will be limited to one weapon, one armor, and one accessory slot.
Valve has said that Artifact is going to be a game that avoids putting limits on its players. No maximum hand size. No maximum board size. No maximum deck size. This is a quite the divergence from a lot of other digital games, which tend to have hard caps on most things. Obviously limits like board space and hand size don’t come up every game, and having a large deck can be a liability, but it is interesting to know that Artifact is aiming for a “limitless” approach. With that said, there are a few limits that do exists, such as 3 copies of a single card, and your deck cannot be less than 40 cards (including the 15 hero-specific cards).
There are a lot of combo players out there who are always curious to know if they will have a chance to “go off” in new card games. Is Valve comfortable with letting combos exist in their game? We have no official comment on this yet, but if I had to guess based on the mechanics of the game as we understand them right now, I think it is probably quite possible, given what we know about the game mechanics.
The 3-lane system keep the power-level of certain kinds of combos in check. Imagine there is some combo deck that throws an infinitely large fireball at the opponent’s tower. Even if this combo is assembled, it might only be able to kill 1 tower, which is obviously a good start, but doesn’t just win the game since 2 towers need to go down to actually win.
Combos that require 2 or more types of heroes to pull off are going to be inherently difficult to execute. By splitting up combo pieces into different colors this already offers an important constraint to just pulling off 1 turn kills. Also, even spell-based combos require you to keep your heroes in play, since an opponent’s removal spell on an important hero will break up a lot of combos.
The turn structure also seems to be built where loops are fairly easy to technically execute. In a game like Hearthstone, players have a hard cap on how long their turn is, so any combo needs to be played out from start to finish within a fairly limited window. In Artifact, as long as you keep playing cards the turn continues.
I mentioned above that some reports claim that cards are shuffled back into the deck. This needs to be confirmed still, but if true it actually sets up the potential for abuse. Imagine that you draw your entire deck. Then, you play a card that gives extra mana (a ritual effect, or something like Preparation in Hearthstone) plus a draw spell that gives additional value (like draw 2, put a 1/0/1 creep in play). You could easily just cycle through these an arbitrary number of times once you have drawn your entire deck. Obviously this is not trivial to accomplish, but it seems like a possibility.
DOTA 2 Stuff We May/May Not See
As we get to the end here, I wanted to summarize some stuff from DOTA 2 that may or may not be in Artifact. DOTA has over a decade of “stuff” that could be in the game, so we are obviously not going to see everyone’s favorite hero, item or ability in the initial release. This is also clearly a different genre of game, so not everything that works in a MOBA is going to translate into a TCG. Still, we can run through some “DOTA stuff” that may or may not be in the game.
I mentioned this above, but last hits/denies is not a thing in Artifact. If an enemy unit dies you get the gold, no matter who ends up killing it.
Levelling up has also been confirmed to not be in Artifact. Equipment and modify effects do improve your heroes over the course of a game, but that is obviously not the same.
Recipes and upgrading items is not part of Artifact, neither is selling items. Artifact is going to be cutting out a lot of the complexity of building items that you see in DOTA 2, which means that most of the time you are just buying exactly what it looks like you are buying.
Silence is an effect found in DOTA that has been translated over to Artifact. This “turns off” a hero’s ability to help cast spells, or activate abilities. This means Artifact’s silence is much different than silence that is found in Hearthstone or Eternal. Purge is an effect that more closely follows what you would expect from silence if you are coming from a Hearthstone or Eternal background, as it removes enemy effects from a given unit. You can see an example of Purge on Aphotic Shield.
As of right now there does not appear to be a “buyback” mechanic. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some way to do this, like consumables that give your hero rapid deployment or something.
Neutral objectives do not appear to be a part of the game. You can’t farm neutral camps or siege Roshan as a way to get ahead. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were involved in the game in some manner, but they are not a fixture like in DOTA 2. Personally, I would be totally shocked if “Aegis of the Immortals” was not involved in some way. Still, at present we have seen no evidence that they are part of the game.
It seems that stealth is not part of the game at present. No word on whether it will be part of future expansions, but it seems like a possible inclusion.
We have not yet seen any sign that runes are a component of the game.
I don’t believe there is any distinction between ranged and melee units, or between magic, physical and true damage. There are several sources of “piercing damage”, which means it ignores armor. This might be used on some effects that are supposed to represent magic or true damage.
I hope you this has helped organize some of the information about Artifact, and helped you get hyped for the game! There is a lot really cool stuff they are doing in terms of game design, and I am really anxious to see where they take the game moving forward. As I said, I plan to make updates to this guide as more information comes out. If there are any inaccuracies you found in the article, or other thoughts you wanted to share, please let me know by messaging me over discord (Neon#3989) or Twitter! Be sure to check out some of my content around card game economics and game design if you have a chance!