Artifact - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Dave Irwin)

Much like Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone, cards in Artifact have keywords that make them a little easier to read. All have hover-over text, which can be accessed in-game, but this guide will go through what the keywords mean and when abilities trigger. This guide will go over all of the keywords

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Artifact - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Dave Irwin)

Like all trading card games, the bread and butter of every deck are cards that are first introduced. There’s a reason why the Power Nine were so revered in Magic the Gathering, and to some degree still are. In Artifact, the base set that will be released is called the “Call to Arms” set and will include a whole host of cards for each of the five different types. This guide has all the currently known cards in the set, along with a brief explanation of what each card type is.

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Artifact - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Dave Irwin)

The first stage for any career in playing a digital TCG like Artifact is to construct your deck. You can of course opt to just take a deck list from the tier sites and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, there are players who will want to explore the art of constructing their own solutions to those decks. It’s unclear how balanced it all is at this point, but this deck will go over the basics of making your own deck.

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Artifact - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Dave Irwin)

Valve don’t release many games, but when they do, it generally signals a seismic shift. Artifact is their contender to the throne currently dominated by Hearthstone in the digital card game genre, taking inspiration from DOTA 2, and other MOBAs, with its three lane system. As this is unlike any other card game out there, it can be daunting for new players to learn how the game works, so this guide will take you through the basics, how to play well, and the best decks currently on offer.

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Artifact

Valve's new card game, Artifact, launched its public beta yesterday. It's a complex, rewarding game that asks you to navigate an ever-changing strategic landscape. It's highly interactive, with games more often decided by narrow judgement calls and mind games than pre-planned combo-building. As such, writing a beginner's guide isn't as simple as saying 'here are the good decks—go win.'

Like Artifact's sister game, Dota, you're asked to try to forge a win out of the pieces available to you in a given moment. There are certainly high and low-tier heroes and cards, but there's sufficient depth to this system that you can't rely on them winning games for you. As such, this guide is going to take the form of advice rather than strict instructions—these are tips that I've found helpful while learning the game, rather than definitive lists of the best stuff.

This guide assumes that you've played a little Artifact already and you're familiar with the fundamentals.

Expect to lose heroes, sometimes in ways you can't control

It’s easy to fixate on your heroes. They are frequently your most powerful units in a given lane and almost always the most important. Without a hero present in a lane you can’t play cards of their colour. You’ll buff them, upgrade them with items, and generally rely on them to win the game for you.But here’s the thing: they’re going to die, and you’re not always going to be able to do something about it. In the most brutal case, you might lose your heroes as soon as the first cards are dealt onto the board: because while you can control which three heroes come out first, you can’t control which lane they go to or what they’re matched against.

 Several red and black heroes—notably Axe, Bristleback, Ursa, Legion Commander, Bounty Hunter and Phantom Assassin—can reliably one-shot some heroes at the beginning of the game. Blue heroes are particularly vulnerable to this. When this happens, particularly when you’re first learning the game, it can be really disheartening. While you wait for a given hero to respawn, your ability to make plays and participate in the game is reduced. Your opponent is often given free reign for a turn—it’s a bad feeling!

This is the important thing to remember in those moments: being able to redeploy a hero to a different lane is one of the most powerful options in Artifact—there’s a reason there’s a shop item dedicated to the purpose (see also: ‘Town Portal Scrolls are good, though’.) If you lose a hero to an unlucky flop or uncounterable play, you’re also gaining some control a little further down the line. 

For exactly the same reason, it’s not enough to simply slay enemy heroes whenever you get the chance (or celebrate when the flop goes your way.) Heroes die in Artifact, but they also come back: it's on you to decide which poses the bigger threat.

Also, expect to lose a tower

Artifact sets itself apart from most card games by effectively giving each player several health pools. It can be disconcerting, if you're arriving from a game where you have a single pool of life, to see how quickly an individual lane's tower can fall. Try to move past the urge to defend every tower unless you have a deck that is specifically designed to do so, and that can turn doing so into a win. Often, trying too hard to defend where you're weak prevents you from maximising your impact where you're strong. Remember: you need to win two lanes, not three.

You're going to learn about certain combos the hard way

When big mana cards start appearing, Artifact stops messing around. Every color has ways to initiate combos that can feel absolutely unstoppable, and they’re all different. Against red, expect to see a lane stacked with enemy heroes suddenly turn lethal thanks to the uber-buff Time of Triumph. Against blue, expect infinite mana combos triggered by Incarnation of Selemene and Aghanim’s Sanctum. Against green, expect a lane of otherwise-ordinary creeps to turn into utter monsters thanks to Emissary of the Quorum. Against black, expect Steam Cannons to start making a mess of neighbouring lanes while Assassinate devastates your best-defended heroes.These are just a few examples. They’ll all make you sad the first time they happen, and it can feel worse if it happens because of cards that you don’t have yet. They can all be anticipated and countered—you just need to learn the tells.

To give you a head start, here's a few situations to look out for:

A single enemy blue hero drops into a lane where you have a huge advantage.

Look out—Annihilation is coming. This spell kills every unit in play regardless of their health value, and is one of the best ways for a blue deck to safeguard against the kind of buff/rush strategy that red and green decks specialise in. If the enemy player has initiative going in to that turn, it may already be over for you in that lane. If they don't, sound the red alert. Kill, stun or silence that blue hero if you can. Otherwise, hope your best heroes already have Blink Daggers—or be grateful that you're carrying a Town Portal Scroll. If you're playing green, the Cheating Death improvement can be a powerful counter too.

All of a sudden, every red hero is best friends and they've decided to go to one lane together

It's Time of Triumph o'clock! This spell gives every hero in a lane +4 to everything, including special keywords like Armor, Retribution and Siege. It's a game-ender, potentially, unless you've already got stacked defenses. Annihilation is a decent answer to this, but it'll result in all the buffed heroes respawning at the same time which might not help much unless you're in a position to win within the next turn. Phantom Assassin's signature card Coup de Grace can also take out buffed heroes with ease, and allows you to specifically target unblocked heroes—this is often the best option.

You're entering the 10 mana turn and you can see a wizard

Bolt of Damocles costs ten mana, but it does 20 damage to a tower. From this point onwards, you have to treat each of your sub-20 health towers as if they're in lethal danger if they're in the same lane as a blue hero. Once again: stun, silence, slay before they can do it.

You're up against green-blue and they've just played Aghanim's Sanctum and Stars Align

Your opponent is building a ramp and they're about to do some sick skateboard tricks off the top of it. By 'skateboard tricks', I mean 'massively accelerate their mana curve and throw at least one dinosaur at you.' Letting your opponent simply play as many cards as they want at this point can be devastating, but the setup is pretty obvious. This is a great time for Drow Ranger's silencing signature, Gust. Failing that, punch those wizards in the face and skip to the combat phase with Enough Magic! And if you have any way to destroy lane improvements, now's the time.

Have a plan for improvements

Speaking of lane improvements: they're really good. Every colour has access to some strong ones, although red's are probably the least impactful. Black tends to use them to generate gold and then, later, deal damage. Sorla Khan's Assault Ladders are an exception, enabling horrifying early-game tower rushes if used correctly. Blue has access to damaging improvements early, particularly Ogre Magi's signature, Ignite, and powerful mana regeneration from Aghanim's Sanctum. Green has some of the best, gaining card draw from Unearthed Secrets and unit damage from Mist of Avernus (among many others.) You need a plan for them, which basically comes down to 'take cards which destroy them' or 'win the game before they make the game unwinnable for you.' By way of balance, red decks have access to the best anti-improvement cards, especially Smash Their Defenses! Smash is cheap, reliable, and—better yet—triggers a card draw.

For this reason, don't rush to play your best improvements to a lane with a red hero in it, even early in the game.

Careful initiative management wins games

This is probably the most important piece of advice in this guide, so I'm hiding it in the middle to make sure you're still paying attention. So many different kinds of Artifact play and counter-play depend on going first in a lane. For that reason, passing even when you've got cards you could play is frequently the right call. This can be hard for new players to wrap their heads around, particularly if you're used to single-board card games where using a big spell to take out a nasty enemy is almost always the right decision. That's sometimes the case in Artifact, but sometimes it's greedy and unnecessary: it's often worth passing in a lane where you're pretty secure in order to gain initiative in lanes where you're not.

Likewise, 'Get initiative' cards are great because they give you a way to safeguard against opposing initiative plays (this is also one of green's big weaknesses, as it happens.) Arcane Assault and Hipfire are staples of blue and black decks respectively for this reason, and it's often worth holding onto them for initiative emergencies. The 'Get initiative' effect on Kraken Shell is also why Tidehunter is a big special boy.

Spend wisely

Then the shopping phase begins, it’s tempting to dump your available gold into whatever you can afford—usually this’ll mean consumables from the right-hand deck. This isn’t always the right play. You need to pay attention to the 'curve' of your item deck in the same way you would the curve of your main deck—except in this case gold stands in for mana, and you can't always predict how much gold you'll pull out of any given turn.

With that mind, different decks want to spend different amounts at different times. Your aggressive red heroes might get mileage out of regular healing through consumables, but black decks—with their reliable ways to kill heroes and multiply their gold—might want to be more ambitious and hold off for bigger buys, like Horn of the Alpha or Nyctasha's Guard.

That said, some of the most important items in Artifact's basic card set fall in the middle of the cost curve. Claszureme Hourglass and Blink Dagger are both very potent and relatively cheap; Vesture of the Tyrant can also have an incredible impact and you'll be able to buy it a little earlier than the game's flashier endgame items.

Town Portal Scrolls are good, though

This is probably the most potent way in which Artifact mirrors its sister game, Dota 2: 

sometimes a game will come down to whether or not you remembered to buy a Town Portal Scroll. Initially easy to overlook in favour of more obviously important consumable effects like healing and card draw, the ability to send a hero back to the fountain to return next turn is very potent. It lets you rearrange your lanes to counter enemy combos or set up your own, and can remove a hero from danger at a key moment. In short: TP scrolls are almost always worth the gold.

Pay attention to creep distribution

There are a lot of variables in play in any given game of Artifact—some of which you can control, and some of which you must react to. At the start of each round, each player gains two basic creeps which are distributed to random lanes. Sometimes they'll both go to the same one, and at other times they'll split up. When you start playing, you might not fully appreciate how important this is.

Units are placed in front of unblocked enemies unless there's nowhere else for them to go. This means that if a creep is about to head to a lane with a single enemy hero in it, it will definitely stand in front of that hero. However, if there are more units heading to a lane than there are enemy units in a lane, then the exact position of each unit is randomised. If you choose to deploy a hero to the lane described above, then there is a 50/50 chance that your creep will end up in front of the enemy hero. This can have huge implications for the board state that follows.

Basically, don't plan too far ahead: you might have a great combo in mind going into a new turn, but respect the fact that the board state is always in motion.

As an aside, the blue hero Kanna is powerful precisely because she locks down this part of the game—friendly creeps will always join her lane. Bear in mind that this makes the game more predictable for your opponent, too.

Clear heads and full hearts can sometimes lose anyway 

Also like Dota, learning to manage your mood is how you learn to make better decisions. Artifact has some really nasty cards and combos tucked away in its depths, and occasionally its many randomised elements are going to conspire to crush you. It's just going to happen. In those moments, don't ragequit. Play out the game, and thank back to the last decision you made that could have altered the outcome. That's the only thing that matters, at the end of the day: the stuff you can control. 

Artifact - BrandonR


The Artifact public beta is starting later today. All attendees from this year's International and everyone who redeemed a beta key will find the game activated in their Steam account.

Since lifting the NDA on the private beta yesterday, there's been an overwhelming amount of feedback on all parts of the game. Much of that feedback has been a clear signal that we underestimated how much interest and excitement the community has around certain features that weren't available in the initial beta build.

We want to take a few minutes to talk about some of those missing features now:
  • There was no way to do a draft event with friends. We didn't prioritize this play mode, and had planned to enable it sometime after release. We've heard your feedback: drafting with friends is a core part of what you want to spend your time doing in Artifact. In the next Artifact beta build, you can select Call To Arms Phantom Draft in any user-created tournament.

  • There was no way to practice the draft modes without spending an event ticket. Drafting is incredibly fun, but can also be very intimidating. We agree that it's important to have a way to practice before venturing into a more competitive mode. In the next Artifact beta build, everyone who has claimed their starting content will find a Casual Phantom Draft gauntlet available in the Casual Play section.

  • There was nothing to do with duplicate starter heroes. We're adding a system that allows extra, unwanted cards to be recycled into event tickets. This feature will ship before the end of the beta period.
The first two changes will be live for everyone when the public beta activates later today. We'll ship the recycling system, as well as other improvements to the beta, over the next week and a half.

Please enjoy the beta, and keep sending us your feedback.
Artifact

Update: Valve has addressed some (but not all) of the complaints in a blog post. The next beta update, coming today, will include the option to play Call to Arms Phantom Draft events in user-created tournaments, as well as a Casual Phantom Draft gauntlet to practice drafting without spending a ticket. Before the beta ends, Valve will also add "a system that allows extra, unwanted cards to be recycled into event tickets," so that low value cards aren't a total waste. The developer hasn't commented on requests for card trading or the difficulty of winning card packs. The original story follows.

Original story: Artifact's public beta launches tomorrow, but many would-be players have lost their appetite for Valve's digital card game because of its monetisation model. A Reddit post from yesterday that encourages players to cancel their pre-orders is now the top post of all-time on the Artifact subreddit, while numerous other popular threads are slamming the payment model, described as "pay for everything you do".

Here's the deal: You have to pay $20 for the Artifact base game, which gets you some starter cards. The only way to get new cards on top of that is to spend money. You can buy booster packs packs for $2, you can buy and sell specific cards through the marketplace (for which Valve takes a small cut), or you can win cards by playing game modes that require paid-for tickets to enter. Currently, you cannot trade for cards.

The community is also upset at the contents of the 12-card booster packs: one of them is guaranteed to be a hero card, but many of the others could well be starter cards, which are likely to be close to worthless on the marketplace, because other players will have acquired them as part of the base game. "I'm just so saddened by the greed Valve is showing," said Reddit user filipanton then he started this thread. "I was actually changing my mind a bit about the game after seeing some gameplay as it seems quite complex and interesting, but the 'pay for everything you do' model, and now this, just forces me to not support the game."

You can win card packs by playing either Expert Constructed/Phantom Draft Gauntlets, which cost one ticket to enter, or Keeper Draft Gauntlets, which costs two tickets and five packs to play. To get packs, and to win back your tickets, you'll have to win a series of games against progressively harder opponents. The exact numbers are in Tim's post here, but basically it's going to be hard—and once you lose two games, your time in the gauntlet is up and you have to buy more tickets to play again.

It's not just Reddit users that are annoyed about the model: Team Liquid pro player Savjz tweeted that the "paywall is huge fucking mistake", while popular Hearthstone streamer Disguised Toast said that while Artifact had a "high skill ceiling" and "lots of strategy", the fact you have to pay for more cards counts against it

It's worth pointing out that, away from the paid-for events, players be able to create their own tournaments, but these won't support prizes at launch.

Valve's recent FAQ on the game seemed to suggest that the developer was open to changing its monetisation policy based on player feedback, so let's see what happens.

Artifact is due out on November 28.

Artifact

After two games of Artifact I'm left with a splitting headache and an exhausted grin. Before tonight, all we really knew about Valve's Dota 2-themed card game was that it would use three lanes and that the announcement received a famously rough reception at The International last year. After tonight, it feels like I have more information than I can fit into my skull, but I'm certain Artifact is going to be the new card game hotness when it goes into full release later this year. 

The easiest way I can describe playing it is to imagine managing three games of Hearthstone at once, each of which can affect the other in multiple ways which are changing from moment to moment. Or, to put it another way, if conventional card games are like chess (which I know they aren't), then Artifact is the 3D version which Spock plays on the Enterprise. Which, I guess is exactly what I should have expected from Valve.

Arriving at its plush new Seattle office, one of the things I most want to know is what kind of talent Valve has hired to work on Artifact. The answer comes almost immediately as part of Gabe Newell's introductory presentation: they're working with Richard Garfield, the legendary creator of Magic: The Gathering, and undisputed OG of trading card games. Newell compares Garfield to IceFrog, the secretive overmind behind Dota 2, saying that the chance to work with their kind of talent is like having "the shiniest saw or pickaxe imaginable… the things I can build with this will be amazing." Garfield later tells me that he came aboard in 2014, having spent years wrestling with how to make an electronic game that solved the problems Magic has. 

Both Newell and Garfield are at pains to point out that the idea of making a killer card game came before—and matters more—than the idea that it should be set in the Dota 2 universe. If either Team Fortress 2 or Half-Life had offered a better fit, then that's the world that would have been chosen. It's also worth noting that Artifact will not be a subordinate little sibling to Dota 2. Many of the heroes in the current card set are existing Dota 2 champions, but others are original creations. And as the game expands, Valve expects some characters will begin life in Artifact before later appearing in Dota 2. There's a ton more context to talk about, but you want to know how it plays, so let me lay out some basics as clearly as I can. Be warned, here be bullet points.

How Artifact works

  • Each deck contains 40 cards and includes 5 heroes (which is the same as a Dota 2 team). There will be 280+ cards in the base game. There are 44 heroes. You can include three copies of each card in your deck.
  • Your cards and heroes are selected from four possible colours: Red, Green, Black, and Blue. As per Magic, each colour has its own personality which themes what its cards do accordingly. 
  • At the beginning of the game your first three heroes will be deployed evenly into the three lanes (which are essentially game boards), along with some randomly spawned melee creeps. After each round, two more creeps will spawn in random lanes on each players' side.
  • Each lane contains a tower which has 40 health which you must protect. Lose two towers and the game is over. Once a tower is destroyed, it's replaced by the Ancient, which has 80 health. Destroy an Ancient and you also win the game.
  • Heroes that are killed aren't gone for good, they just have to sit out an entire round, after which you can choose which lane to redeploy them in. (An exception here is a green hero who has a 'rapid deployment' ability and can be sent back into the fray in the next round.)
  • Each lane also has its own Mana pool, which begins at 3 and increases by 1 with each turn—though you can also use Ramp cards to accelerate your Mana pool. Hey, it's a Richard Garfield game.
  • In order to play a card, you must have a hero of the corresponding colour placed in the lane where you're spending the mana. However, Mana spent in one lane can be used to cast certain cards in other lanes.
  • Each time you play a card of any sort the initiative passes to your opponent. Once you've both finished taking it in turns to play a cards in a particular lane, combat occurs with heroes and creeps attacking whatever is opposite them. If they aren't facing another unit, they will attack the opposing tower. 
  • After combat, the action then switches to the next lane. The idea of player initiative is carried over to the next round, which ends when you're both done in the third and final lane.
  • As enemy cards are destroyed you will accrue gold. Certain cards can also affect gold generation, such as black's 'Day at the Track' which doubles your gold total. Gold is spent on equipment between rounds during the Shopping Phase.
  • Only heroes can use equipment, and each hero has three slots: weapon, armor, and accessory. If you want to use a different weapon it will overwrite the current one.
  • Equipment varies from cheap simple buffs like a cloak which gives your hero +1 health through to powerful, expensive stuff like the Apotheosis Dagger which adds +8 attack, +4 siege (tower damage that can't be blocked), and condemns (ie kills) any enemy it hits. 
  • Importantly, equipment on characters is persistent. So buffed heroes will keep coming back with their upgraded stats and abilities.

Still following? As I said at the top, there's a deluge of information to take in, and at first I felt like I was floundering. Handily, each of us had a member of the Valve brain trust sat with us to help discuss plays and explain mechanics, some of which were familiar, others less so. In my first game, I used an aggressive Black-Red deck, buffed my heroes early and hard, and was able to crush my slower Blue-Green opponent by going all-in on two lanes before his big bomb cards like a symmetric board clear called, accurately, Annihilation came online.

This is just one of the lanes, there are another two to worry about. 

For the second match we switched decks, and the game was much more drawn out and nail biting. This time I was the one having to stall across multiple lanes, trying to buy time for my powerhouse spells. Probably my single favourite play involved switching the position of two heroes, triggering a ping effect from Zeus which cleared one creep and also applied an adjacency buff with my other hero. That move drastically altered the combat math in my favour, turning a lane that had looked lost into one I was now dominant in. I'd like to pretend I spotted this masterstroke on my own, but Valve's Kyle Davis has to take some credit. Those of you at home won't be so lucky to have him on hand, and make no mistake this is a ferociously, unabashedly complex take on the genre. 

Before we sat down to play, Newell said that it was possible to have 100 units in a lane and I assumed he was exaggerating. He was not. You can indeed jam as many units into a lane as you can afford. They will disappear out of view off to the side, but you can slide back and forth with the mouse wheel to see them. You can also double click to zoom out and view all three lanes simultaneously, which proves essential for keeping a clear sense of the overall game state. While we're talking about scale, I should also mention that there's no limit on the amount of cards your hand can hold. Each round you will draw two new cards, in addition to whatever equipment you've splurged on in the shop, so it rarely feels like you're stuck with nothing to do.

Fighting on three fronts

There's a lot going on here. If, like me, you're coming into Artifact from the world of Hearthstone, then it's going to feel like plunging headfirst into a lake of liquid nitrogen. A niggling part of me wonders if the fact that Valve is staffed entirely by geniuses might mean it risks overestimating the appetite for quite this much complexity. I don't think Blizzard keeps Hearthstone games so simple and (mostly) short just because that's the easiest thing to do—it genuinely believes that's what time-challenged players looking to have fun want. But then Artifact probably isn't for 'most players' in the same way that Dota 2's insane skill cap isn't. Newell told us he's put 10,000 hours into Dota 2. "I'm still convincing myself—although, some people around here may disagree—that I'm becoming a better player." 

That kind of ceiling is what Valve seems to want for Artifact. And let's face it, that amount of depth, bracing though it may be, is also going to excite a lot of people—particularly those who grew up on Magic or who've grown tired of the linear strategies in other digital card games that can make playing the same matchups feel so tiresome. Crucially, Artifact isn't a collectible card game at all—it's a trading card game. This is arguably the biggest deal about Artifact: you will be able to swap and sell individual cards on the Steam Market, whereas trading is something Hearthstone has always been staunchly against.

Double click the board to zoom out and see all three lanes at once. Things look rough on the left.

Artifact's pricing system

Valve's pricing structure has caused controversy. The base game costs $20, and comes with a pack of starter cards. To get more cards you can buy booster packs for $2, buy specific cards from the marketplace. Alternatively you can buy tickets to access gauntlets that reward you with more card packs if you can put together a good enough win streak. Here's how that breaks down.

Expert Constructed/Phantom draft—1 ticket entry fee3 Wins:1 event ticket reward 4 Wins: 1 event ticket + 1 pack reward5 Wins: 1 event ticket + 2 packs reward

Keeper draft—2 event tickets + 5 packs entry fee3 Wins: 2 event tickets + 1 pack4 Wins: 2 event tickets + 2 packs5 Wins: 2 event tickets + 3 packs

Prior to launch the community is worried that card packs will contain duplicate starter cards that will be worthless in the market. Valve has responded to say that in a future update players will be able to recycle unwanted cards for event tickets. You can't trade cards, so in the game's current state players will always have to pay to access new cards. 

Before the market is live and open to the public, we can't know how much cards will end up costing, which makes the game look like a bottomless spending pit to some. The systems are subject to change as Valve takes on community feedback.

The importance of trading

The sense from Valve is threefold. 1) Trading will take the sting out of hoping to pull the card you want from a pack, but only getting filler. 2) Each player's collection will retain value in the same way that binders of Magic cards do in real life. In contrast, if I stopped playing Hearthstone tomorrow, I couldn't sell my cards. Hell, Blizzard's small print means I can't even leave the account to someone in my will. 3) Valve knows how to do trading. It already has the tech to make it safe and secure, and it's learned a lot of lessons from CS:GO and Dota 2. 

I wonder, though, if there's a risk that a volatile market could bring its own problems. After all, CS:GO has some crazy expensive skins. Valve's Brandon Reinhart isn't worried. "If a card has got a [top pro's] signature on it, and there's only one of those in existence, and that player won a major tournament, then it might have some value, and that is fine. But as far as the unsigned normal versions of that card, over the years we've developed a lot of tools in order to make sure that we're keeping those prices in a reasonable range." Reinhart also referred to a point Newell made about the power level of cards not being correlated to their rarity, and noted that common cards are going to cost "pennies".

From a really high level perspective, we really want to stay away from pay-to-win

Gabe Newell

Here's exactly what Newell had to say about the relationship between card rarity and power: "From a really high level perspective, we really want to stay away from pay-to-win. We think that that actually has a pernicious impact on the design of the game and the evolution of the community over time… There are plenty of very common cards that are going to be super powerful. The whole point is to steer away from pay-to-win and that kind of approach. We always want to reward investment. You always want to feel like, as a player, that the more time you spend on it, you're getting better and you're enjoying it more. We've all played plenty of games where you put in the hundred hours and you really are done."

Check out the little Imps sat on the decks of cards. They bounce around like Pixar movie refugees.

On the subject of cost, Artifact is also resolutely not going to be free-to-play. Newell explains why: "If time is free, or an account is free, or cards are free, then anything that has a mathematical relationship to those things ends up becoming devalued over time, whether it's the player's time and you just make people grind for thousands of hours for minor, trivial improvements, or the asset values of the cards, or whatever. That's a consequence. So you don't want to create that flood of free stuff that destroys the economy and the value of people's time." Lest all this be seen as an assault on Hearthstone, it shouldn't be. Newell recognises Blizzard's giant is the current benchmark, and says "they do a lot of smart things". But it's also clear Valve is heading in a very different direction with Artifact.

You don't want to create that flood of free stuff that destroys the economy and the value of people's time Newell

What Valve isn't doing is talking numbers, but from speaking to staff at the event it sounds like there will be some sort of entry edition that will get you a bunch of the cards and other content, much as Overwatch asks you to pay for the base game to get in the door. Beyond that, you can buy and crack packs as normal, which Newell says Valve is determined to make a spectatable event. Whatever money you do pump into packs will be partly used to fund major tournaments in much the same way that sales of The Compendium and Battle Pass inflate The International's prize pool each year. Speaking of esports, Valve is already lining up a major with a $1m prize pool.

None of the art is being reused from Dota 2 it's all brand new.

How easy Artifact will be to parse for spectators remains to be seen. After my playtest we were treated to a tournament between some well known card game pros who I'm forbidden to name. Without being familiar with the meta of Valve's closed beta test, it was hard to follow the ebb and flow without detailed explanations from the developers watching. But their excitement was infectious. The final series featured some crazy games in which the designers were shouting wildly divergent lines of plays at each other, only for the pro to pick something else entirely. It's that potential for heated strategic debate that I think suggests Artifact could have scope as an esport. If it does happen, my expectation is that viewing in client will be the way to go, so Valve can expose all sorts of cool stats about each deck. Something Hearthstone fans have been begging for since forever.

The good kind of random?

Of course, any mention of esports and card games will have some readers eye-rolling in aisles. And look, I get it. I lived through Hearthstone's Yogg-Saron meta. I asked Garfield about the role RNG has to play in Artifact, and his response was much as expected: Yes there's some randomness in the game, because hey it's a card game and chance can create exciting moments, but he said the kind of RNG effects which Artifact uses are the ones that can be controlled and mitigated by skilled players. In his view, it's the good kind of RNG. Which he would say, but bear in mind he is literally Richard Garfield, and Magic doesn't tend to get dinged over high-roll randomness in anything like the same way Hearthstone does.

Also bear in mind I'm basing my observations off a sample size of two games, but none of the cards I encountered seemed egregious in terms of RNG. The most notable one was a spell called Eclipse, which fires a volley of 3 damage bolts, the number of which depends on how many rounds the blue hero card Luna has spent on board. Pretty random, then, but also the kind of randomness you can direct by trying to create a board state that's likely to give you the best odds of landing the bolts where you want. The other kind of randomness comes from where the creeps end up spawning each round, and the items you get offered during each Shopping Phase. But brilliant though the Blink Dagger is (it gives a hero +2 attack and lets you teleport to another lane), in terms of impact not being offered a Blink Dagger isn't going to be what costs you the game. Your ability to pilot your chosen heroes and cards across three lanes, pivoting strategies when needed, is going to be the biggest determinant of whether you win or lose. 

Here's Axe in his all his stat-buffed glory. Of course he's a red card!

Impish design

There's so much more to say, but I feel like I've somewhat emptied my skull. I do need to note that it looks fabulous, thanks to the Source 2 engine. Every single piece of art in the game is new, and the style is bold and consistent—as evidenced when you right click a card to blow it up to screen height size. Likewise the spot FX and animations for big spells are already impressive. I especially liked Zeus' thunder spell, which sees the camera swing down and swoop across all three lanes as lightning blasts heroes and creeps. The most popular piece of visual design, though, is certain to be the cheeky imps which sit on each players' deck, scampering between lanes with you, and gesticulating wildly as the turn timer gets close to running down. I imagine Valve will add a sizeable pile to its Smaug-like fortune when it starts selling alternate versions of those.

That said, I didn't leave Valve with any sense that Artifact is the cash grab I've seen some predict it would be. Far from it. At the outset Newell said Valve wants Artifact to do for card games what Half-Life 2 did for singleplayer action games. That's an amazing claim to make. Outrageous, almost. Unless you're Valve and you actually did make Half-Life 2 and now you're making a digital card game with Richard freaking Garfield. This is just the first swing of that shiny pickaxe. There's plenty to clean up, especially in terms of the some of the UI parsability, but I can't wait to see and play more of Artifact. My headache has already subsided, but the grin hasn't.

Artifact

Valve’s making its very own card game, Artifact, set in the Dota 2 universe, and gosh does it look complicated, at least at a glance. Not to worry, though, as Artifact isn’t as hard to play as it looks. If you’re still not convinced, we’ve got Chris Thursten on hand to break down why you should be excited about the upcoming CCG. While you’re waiting to get your hands on the cover feature, why not get up to speed with Artifact’s updated FAQ?

To celebrate 20 years of Thief, Rick Lane looks back at the sneaky masterpiece and reminds us how fun it was to lurk in the shadows and steal as many treasures as we could. On the subject of looking back, Fraser’s History of Strategy concludes this issue, exploring the strategy romps of the 21st century and the sad decline of the RTS.  

Previews this month include Skin Deep, One Finger Death Punch 2, Creaks and more. If you want reviews, we’ve got plenty, including Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Soulcalibur 6 and Return of the Obra Dinn, just to name a few. This month's free gifts are Deadlight, the zombie platformer, and a fancy helmet for Path of Exile. 

Issue 324 is on shelves now and available on all your digital devices from Google Play, the App Store and Zinio. You can also order direct from My Favourite Magazines or purchase a subscription to save yourself some cash, receive monthly deliveries and marvel at our exclusive subscriber covers. This month's is on fire. 

This month

  • Chris Thursten fills our brains with exclusive Artifact knowledge. 
  • Thief is 20 years old. 
  • The final part of our comprehensive History of Strategy feature. 
  • Is Red Dead Redemption 2 coming to PC? 
  • Artifact, Skin Deep, One Finger Death Punch 2 and more get the preview treatment. 
  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Return f the Obra Dinn and more reviewed.  
  • Our next-gen GPU group test. 
  • And much more! 
...

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