What is Artifact?
Artifact is a digital trading card game (TCG) made by Valve after Richard Garfield — the brain behind Magic: The Gathering — pitched the game’s core concept to them. Artifact has a lot in common with Dota 2, but Valve CEO Gabe Newell has made it clear that it’s not a Dota 2 card game: it’s a card game that happens to exist in the same fantasy universe as Dota 2. There are three factions at war in Artifact: the Vhouls, Bronze Legion and Red Mist. Through expansions, Valve plan on expanding the lore and tell a story.
When and how to get Artifact
Nov. 28 is when Artifact will officially launch. There will be a beta starting somewhere in October, though little is known about the specifics. Attendees of The International 8 and PAX West had the chance to claim access, and Valve has stated more options to opt in will come.
Unless you’ve received a beta-access code, which also grants you a free copy of the game itself, Artifact will cost $20 on Steam upon release. You’ll get two pre-made decks consisting of 54 cards each, and 10 card packs. Perhaps somewhat surprising for those who come from other digital card games is the fact that in Artifact the only way to acquire cards is buying packs or purchasing cards from other players directly through Steam’s marketplace. Valve aren’t implementing a way for players to earn in-game currency to purchase packs, which cost $2 a piece and give you 12 cards. To somewhat counter the game from becoming overly expensive, Valve have pledged to keep marketplace prices in check. Additionally, card packs are guaranteed to contain at least one card of the highest rarity: rare.
There are not one, not two, but three boards you’re playing on in Artifact called lanes. Both players have three 40-health towers, one overlooking each lane. The game is over when one player has managed to destroy two of the other player’s towers. There’s a catch though: once a 40-health tower has been destroyed, an 80-health Ancient takes its place. So while it is definitely good to apply pressure in all lanes, you might just have to go all-in on one lane once you’ve conquered the first tower there and set out to destroy the Ancient.
Building a deck
Artifact has five types of cards: heroes, creeps, spells, improvements and items. Apart from items, each card has a designated color: black, blue, green or red. The rule of playing the cards is simple: you can only cast a card in a lane if there’s a hero in it of the same color.
Heroes are the face of the deck and dictate your strategy. They each have unique stat lines, abilities and perhaps most interestingly: premier cards. These are hero-specific cards that are automatically added to your deck upon picking a hero for it. When you start building a deck, you select five heroes you want. Judging from the gameplay videos at PAX West and the leaked image of what the deckbuilder looks like, you will get to choose which turn the heroes spawn in (more about that later in "Course of the game").
Creeps are the soldiers of your deck. While they generally don’t boast statistics and effects as impressive as your heroes, they offer support in the lane. Spells are pretty straightforward: you play them once for their effect. Improvements are cards that, well, improve your lane by being a permanent effect. Displayed next to the lane’s tower, improvements can vary wildly in what they can do. Some trigger automatically when a certain phase takes place, others can be triggered manually and have a cooldown timer.
Items are the only cards that don’t care which color is present in a lane. You purchase them with gold you’ve earned throughout the match (by killing creeps or heroes) and can play them on whichever hero you desire to buff. There are three types of item cards you can add to your deck: attack, armor and health. The better the buff, the higher the cost of the item.
The rules of deckbuilding aren’t too difficult. You must have exactly five heroes and you can have up to three copies of non-hero cards in your deck. The minimum deck size is 40 cards, but there are no size limitations.
Course of the game
Before the game initiates, both players’ hero cards are displayed to give an idea what you’re up against. The three heroes you’ve selected to play first are then each sent to a lane. Joining them are three melee creeps in total, spread across the lanes at random. The game starts at the far left lane, walks through the action phase and combat phase, and then moves onto the lane right from it where this process is repeated. You start the game with five cards, and draw two cards at the start of a new cycle. There is no limit to the amount of cards you can have in your hand, and can view your cards by mousing over them and scrolling through them.
The action phase is a game of back-and-forths. You play a card, your opponent plays a card, you play a card again and so on. This goes on until both players pass the turn without any action being taken. There is no limit to the amount of units that can be placed in one lane. Once the action phase is over, the combat phase commences and all units attack the enemy they’re pointing towards. If they’re pointing straight forward but there is no enemy there, it means the damage will be inflicted upon the enemy tower. For every enemy creep killed you earn 1 gold and for every enemy hero killed you get 5.
After all the lanes have had their combat phase, the shopping phase takes place. You’re presented with three items that are somewhat random: the left item is a Secret Shop item, the middle item is one of the items you’ve put in your deck and the far right item is a consumable (Healing Salve, Town Portal Scroll et cetera). Once you purchase an item, another item takes its place. Note that it’s possible to completely empty the shop, for example when you’ve bought all the items you added to your deck. Items bought in the shopping phase have a golden card back, so you can see how many items you have to account for.
With the shopping phase done, the game circles back to the pre-action phase. The mana pool of each tower is increased by 1 and two creeps are randomly spread across the lanes. In the first two turns after your opener you get to decide where you want to deploy your fourth and fifth hero, respectively. If one of your heroes dies in the combat phase it has a full one turn cooldown before it can be deployed again in the lane of your choosing.
Keywords on cards
- Attack: the amount of damage a unit does
- Armor: the amount of physical damage that is blocked in the combat phase
- Cleave: deals damage to the units adjacent to the target
- Condemn: directly destroy the target
- Disarm: prevent unit from attacking in the next combat phase
- Health: the amount of life points a unit has
- Modify: a permanent enhancement. For example, if you modify a unit with +4 health, it can be healed up higher than its starting health was
- Piercing Damage: ignores armor and directly deducts health from the target
- Play Effect: triggers when you play the card
- Regeneration: heals a unit repeatedly
- Retaliate: extra damage inflicted to all those that attack the unit
- Siege: does damage directly to the opponent’s tower if the unit is blocked by an opposing unit
- Silence: prevent abilities from being triggered and temporarily ‘remove’ the targets color (if there’s 1 silenced blue hero in a lane, blue cards cannot be casted by the owner)
- Stun: prevent unit from attacking and stops opponents from playing cards on the unit (to buff it, for example)
- Taunt: force opposing units to attack the taunting unit
- Although the majority of the heroes come directly from Dota 2, Artifact boasts quite a couple of new hero cards like Prellex, Sorla Khan and Mazzie;
- Valve haven’t said much about an esports circuit yet, but have said a $1 million tournament will take place in Q1 of 2019;
- A minimap is displayed on the top left of the screen, displaying crucial information of each lane like heroes and tower health. Whether or not this proves to be super useful remains to be seen, as players can currently freely visit other lanes and see all three lanes in a ‘global’ view at any time.