Ok, to start things off, I would have to say that I feel both qualified and unqualified to weigh in on the merits of recently released Artifact from Valve. As a die-hard fan of all things trading card game related, I have been avidly playing Magic The Gathering since Beta, really hitting my stride with Revised Edition in 1994. Of course I have tried most of the other iterations within the genre since then, including Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, even the short lived Warcraft card game, but Magic was always my main draw. I have since thoroughly jumped onto the digital bandwagon, beginning back in the day with the first MTG video game, onto the various entries of online Magic over the years, Hearthstone, Hex, Magic Arena, and probably any other digital card game you can think of. So when I learned of Artifact, a digital card game from the minds of Valve AND Richard Garfield, creator of Magic The Gathering, I was all about it! So why the feeling of being unqualified? My complete and utter lack of knowledge or skill in Dota 2, the actual theme and concept of this game.
What is Artifact?
To quote the official Artifact website, “Artifact is a digital card game that combines deeply-strategic, competitive gameplay with the rich setting of Dota 2.” So what does that even mean? Well, if you are familiar with traditional TCGs, each player has their own deck, resource requirements to play cards, and a portion of the playing field representing their domain. The most intriguing element adding to this classic formula by Artifact is definitely the 3-lane mechanic. Instead of having a single domain/playing field, each player has 3 separate “lanes” to manage throughout the game similar to the lanes in Dota 2. This is not where the Dota 2 influence stops, though. Each player’s deck consists of 5 heroes from Dota 2, as well as creep cards (sort of like side kicks for the heroes), and various spells, improvements, armors, items, and so on, again from Dota 2.
Once you have your Artifact deck ready to go, whether pre-constructed or drafted (we will cover these in a bit), game begins by randomly placing your first three heroes and a handful of basic creeps across the three lanes of play. Turns consist of drawing two cards and players taking turns playing cards, the order of which is determined by initiative (which can be manipulated with some cards) until no one has any more cards they want to play on that lane. Once all cards have been played, combat resolves based on where and which heroes and creeps are on in the lane. The most important aspect of combat, and ultimately the goal of the match, is to destroy the tower of your opponent on two of the three lanes. Alternatively, you could destroy one tower and then destroy the ancient that replaces it in order to win. It is worth noting, though, that since towers have 30 hp and ancients have 80 hp, your best bet will typically be to target two towers in most situations.
Once combat is resolved in the first lane, the entire process repeats itself again for the next two lanes. Between rounds, which consist of said combat in each of the three lanes, players have the option to purchase item cards, consumables, and secret shop items with gold gained for defeating heroes. These items range from equipment that increase health or attack to items that restore health, which can turn the tide of battle if planned out correctly. Any heroes that were destroyed are returned to the fountain for one round, and play continues. If a player has a hero that is ready to return from the fountain, this between-rounds period is also when you are able to deploy said heroes again to keep the fight lively.
While the game modes available are not necessarily groundbreaking in the realms of digital card games, Artifact does do a good job of providing what players expect:
- Solo play – Bot matches for testing out new strategies/decks
- Social play – Play against people on your Steam friends list, as well as custom tournaments with house rules
- Constructed Matches – Make a deck out of your collection and see how well you do against others
- Lasts until you win 5 times or lose 2 times
- Constructed can be casual or expert. Casual is free but not rewards. Expert costs an event ticket, but gives you the chance to possibly win another ticket and card packs
- Draft – Game mode involving drafting cards from 5 packs to build a deck instead of from your collection
- Phantom Draft (both casual and expert versions) – cards are only for the draft
- Keeper Draft (expert only) – you get to keep the cards after the draft is done, but have to provide the 5 packs to enter in addition to the ticket requirement
- Featured Events – The current featured event is meant to showcase the first set (Call to Arms) by offering the temporary use of six different preconstructed decks to see how great of a win streak you can achieve.
Building Your Collection
When purchasing Artifact off of Steam, you start off with two pre-made decks and 10 packs of the first set entitled Call to Arms. Packs include 12 cards, consisting of 1 rare, 3 uncommon, and 8 common cards. Packs will always include one hero card and two item cards. If you are looking for specific cards to complete a deck or your collection itself, Artifact is connected with the Steam marketplace for buying and selling individual cards with the community.
As of the writing of this article the economy still seems a bit in flux, though as more people start buying and selling cards things should normalize a bit. A nice feature of the selling mechanism is the ability to filter out excess cards above the maximum allowed in a deck (1 maximum for hero cards, 3 maximum for other cards), that way you know that they are cards that you can safely sell without sacrificing deck opportunities. Finally, if you have excess cards that are not worth selling (many cards are only worth $.01 right now), you can recycle said cards for additional event tickets at a rate of 20 cards per ticket.
All in all, I would say that, in my opinion, Artifact is a mostly refreshing take on the digital card game genre. In fact, in many ways it feels more like playing a non-digital card game, though not always in the most positive ways. People who have been spoiled to the rather quick matches in games like Hearthstone may feel a bit frustrated and overwhelmed by the lengthy matches of Artifact that, at least in my experiences thus far, seem to last a minimum of 30 minutes or more. Additionally, the cost of playing Artifact has been a frequent complaint the first few days since its release, likely due to folks again being used to games such as Magic Arena or Hearthstone in which you are able to eventually earn new card packs just from perseverance and continued play time. However, as a player more used to physical card games than digital traditionally, this is just par for the course. It is called a collectible card game for a reason. If you want to expand your collection or have a chance at the best card combos, you will be required to buy packs and cards. That is just the fact of the matter. Thanks to the casual draft option all players have the chance to use all of the cards in the game, which Valve admittedly added following some backlash from the player base in the first place. If you are able to look past this financial limiter, though, Artifact is a solid, complex, challenging and thoroughly enjoyable game that I certainly look forward to continuing with for foreseeable future.