Rock Paper Shotgun Article Analysis

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PRAISE GABEN! WE HAVE REAL NEWS!!!

Rock Paper Shotgun just released an Artifact article, which gives us a little more information to work with. Many of the hardcore Artifact enthusiasts will know a good deal of the information from this article already, but there is a surprising amount of new content! Let’s dissect some of the pieces that are new.

To me, the most important element of this news is the fact that it is happening right now. This overlaps with the visit of Yogscast to Valve headquarters, which strongly suggests there is some second media event. There were a number of people who thought it strange that Yogscast would be the only group invited to Valve, given that they are not exactly the most obvious choice as a lone ambassador to the Artifact community. To me, this essentially confirms that there is some larger event taking place, which suggests we could be in for an exciting week or two. Let’s hope!

On to the actual story! Unfortunately there are no new screenshots, but we have enough to work with in the actual text, so I’m going to dive into that. From here on I am going to extract some quotes that focus on new information. If you are not familiar with the general rules of Artifact, please check out my Artifact Guide.

You’ll often see characters in sci-fi stories play seemingly incomprehensible games like multi-dimensional space chess, and that’s basically what it’s like playing Artifact, Valve’s upcoming Dota-inspired card game.

This is another statement from a reporter who is on the “Artifact is very deep” train, which is exciting. This is a recurring theme throughout the article, and while this isn’t exactly new information, it is great to hear another person agree with this sentiment, which has been expressed by most reports. Obviously I expect reporters to talk up a highly anticipated game they are invited to play by Valve, but it is still nice to hear.

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In my second game, I played a blue/green deck against a red/black AI, and after just a few turns, it felt like I was playing three wildly different games at once.

One of the questions I have often had in my head is the degree to which the different boards “feel” like part of the same game. In Elder Scrolls Legends the two lanes are very clearly part of the same game, since spell-casting and playing cards treats the two lanes as more-or-less equivalent. It has seemed like Artifact generally limits the amount of cross-lane interaction, and this quote reinforces that the three lanes are, in fact, quite distinct. Obviously high level strategy will require tracking all three boards at once, but it is interesting to hear that they feel separate. 

It was one of the most dynamic and demanding things I’ve ever played, and while I was gutted when my demo ended, I was also excited to talk to Artifact programmers Bruno Carlucci and Jeep Barnett, who, god bless them, shepherded me through my first two games.

Once again he is mentioning the depth of the game, but I wanted to focus on Bruno Carlucci and Jeep Barnett. Bruno is a long time DOTA personality, and I’m not aware of any confirmation in the past that he was working on Artifact. It seems that it is on the programming side, but that is still very interesting. Jeep Barnett is a lesser known figure, but his resume looks like the real deal, having worked on titles such as Left 4 Dead and Portal. He also stopped by the Reddit to compliment my Artifact guide, so I clearly love Jeep. He is also apparently a fan of Michael Jackson.

Investing too heavily in one lane also leaves you vulnerable elsewhere, so as Barnett told me, over 90 percent of games are won by destroying two towers.

Interesting. This isn’t concrete information in the sense that it gives us new information about how the game works, but emphasizes some strategic elements of the game. I have often thought about how common it will be to go all-in on one lane versus diversifying threats. This suggest that the all-in approach is not particularly effective. 80 health is less than 120 health, after all.

“The way you place your heroes is one of the most important strategic decisions in the game,” Barnett said. “You can lose a game by putting a hero in the wrong lane.”

Strong statement, but I don’t think this will surprise anyone here. Getting the right heroes in the right lanes is going to be essential to have your deck operate.

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A deck contains five heroes. Three are placed at the start of the game, then you place your fourth on turn four, and your fifth on turn five.

First, I think this is just a typo/misunderstanding by the reporter, who is counting mana numbers not turn numbers. Gameplay videos that we have seen clearly show  heroes being played on turn 2. It is this kind kind of reporting that has lead to a number of ongoing questions within the "Artifact community". I'm not trying to rag on this guy, since I can understand how this mistake was made, but I am just pointing out that the phenomenon of inconsistent reporting is very real.

The more important point is the question about hero placement relating to "position" number, which came up in the course of writing the Artifact Guide. It seems like you do control hero placement with position number, which had not been previously confirmed. This seems like an incredibly important piece of information, as it gives you a lot more control over your hero placement. One implication is that the 4-position might be the most important, especially for decks that are using just one off-color hero as a splash. After the first round finishes you get to survey the board and decide where your off-color hero will be the safest or most effective.

Heroes also directly determine the makeup of your deck. “Each hero has a premier spell that comes with them,” Barnett explained, “and they have three included in the deck. So between your five heroes, 15 of your cards come from them. And it’s a minimum 40-card deck, so the other 25 come from cards you choose.”

This was a point that was discussed back and forth a bit in various Reddit threads. Do you get 3 different cards, or 3 of the same card? Do these count toward your total deck size? Etc. The fact that a full 15/40 of your cards are hero cards, and the fact that you need each hero card as a 3-of is a big deal. Take (what I think is) Axe’s premier card: Berserker’s Call. It is really hard to tell right now since calibrating for the costs in a game that I haven’t played is extremely difficult, but this card doesn’t seem great to me, since this could easily lead you to effectively kamikaze your hero. If you have Axe in your deck you are probably going to be drawing about 2 copies of Berserker’s Call a game, which is a big cost if this card is as bad as I think it is.

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For example, in my second game, I was constantly fighting to protect my blue hero, Luna. I needed her alive so her passive ability could keep buffing her premier AoE spell, Eclipse, so that I could use it to clear out the middle lane.

I don’t think we had confirmation that Eclipse was an AoE spell, but this is also not a shock to anyone I imagine.

And here’s the strategic cherry on top: the turn I played Eclipse, I deliberately (read: with Carlucci’s help) did nothing but pass in the left lane so that I could keep Initiative and make the first move in the middle lane, guaranteeing my Eclipse goes off.

I wrote about initiative in the Artifact Guide, and it is sweet to see some confirmation here on how it works. This doesn’t confirm 100% my theories, but it is a start!

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My second game really showed me how lanes can interact, and it helped frame the themes and strengths of Artifact’s four colors, which have 12 heroes and about 75 cards apiece in the starting card pool.

We have seen figures between 44 and “about 50” for the number of heroes. This confirms 48, as well as 75 cards per faction, which is just under 200 cards total. I do wonder if the 75 cards per faction includes hero-exclusive cards.

As Carlucci explained, blue specializes in disrupting the enemy with big spells and going wide on the board. There’s no cap on how many creeps you can put in one lane, and blue can easily manage north of 20 at once. Red is all about hitting things hard with big heroes and controlling the battle phase by redirecting attacks and stunning enemies. Green excels at buffing little dudes and gaining additional mana to play expensive, powerful dudes. And black is all about killing enemy heroes and generating gold, which brings us to the item deck.

This provides a bit more detail about the “color pie” than we have seen before. Specifically, I don’t think it had been confirmed in the past that green was the ramp faction, though many people guessed this. I am also very interested about what playing “expensive, powerful dudes” looks like. We know that summoning creeps is a thing, but most of the creeps we have seen so far are pretty puny compared to the heroes. I am very curious to see what big creeps look like in Artifact. Maybe Rosh will actually be part of the game?

Gold is a separate resource from mana. You earn two gold for killing an enemy creep and five gold for killing an enemy hero.

We knew all this, though 2 gold per creep is different than what was reported before. I'm not sure if this is a typo or if there was a change, since previous gameplay videos show 1 gold per creep.

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“Along with putting heroes and spell cards in your deck, you also build an item deck, which is a minimum of nine cards but can have as many as you want,” Barnett said. “The cards in the middle of the shop are your item deck. With the ones on the left and the right, you get one offering per round where one is a consumable item from a set of four cards and the other can be any card. The cool thing about that is it gives you access to cards you don’t own or that you didn’t craft.”

This is one of the most illuminating excerpts from the interview. If you have read my article or watched my video on the top questions I have about Artifact, you will know that the mechanics of the shop are one of the areas that I have the most questions about. It is hard to know for certain, but it feels like Jeep is answering some of my questions specifically, which is awesome. This is probably just a coincidence, but I appreciate it just the same Jeep-senpai! I am going to break things down point by point:

  • The item deck is a minimum of 9 cards, but it has no maximum. Many here assumed it would only ever be 9 cards in size, but as I touched on elsewhere, didn’t really make sense to me, given that some decks would really want a bigger item deck to work with.
  • Consumables are from a set of 4 cards. We didn’t know that there were only 4 possibilities before, but now we do! The options are Healing Salve, Fountain Flask, Town Portal Scroll, and Potion of Knowledge. This limited range of items means you can fairly consistently predict and plan around what you might see, which I really like. 
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  • The secret shop slot just offers you a random item from the game, not some subset of secret shop only items. It also means you are not guaranteed super powerful equipment from the secret shop as was suggested in some of the earlier reporting. In addition to being a useful clarification, it also has massive strategic implications, as this means that control decks can’t just rely on the secret shop to suit up their heroes in the late game.
  • The last 2 words of this are particularly interesting - "didn't craft". It is unclear what exactly this means, since there is no crafting system in the game that we know of. It is ambiguous whether this is referring to an in-match crafting system used to make better items, or is it in some way tied to collection building. Though we can't know for certain what is meant by this, the fact that there is some type of crafting system is a very interesting. My bet is some kind of item upgrading scheme akin to what is seen in DOTA 2. (Edit: Shout out to Cymen90 for reminding me to add this last point)

This answers almost all of the questions I had about the shop. I'm going to chew on these details more, and think about what it means. The shop seems like a very interesting game mechanic, and I look forward to actually playing around with it (some day).

“All colors have specific powers and weaknesses, and the item deck sort of circumvents that,” Carlucci added. “A lot of times it’s correct to think of the item deck as kind of a sideboard against what you’re playing against. If you’re against something that has a lot of blockers, you buy a card that gives you Siege [and damages towers through blockers]. If they have a lot of Improvements, you have items that help you destroy Improvements. That’s another interesting way of looking at it: not what helps your deck, but what answers it gives you.”

Given what I talked about related to “Rock Paper Scissors Balancing” in my “Gaming According to Garfield" article and video, it is not a big surprise to me that the shop is being used as a tool to counter opponents. One topic that didn’t quite make it into that article was discussing the idea of “hoser” cards or effects, which are game pieces that “hate” on a specific strategy. While some players have a strong negative impression of such effects, it seems like Dr. Garfield doesn’t have much of a problem with hosers. I am sure he has some limits in mind on how they should be used, but he doesn’t expand on that in any of his content that I am aware of. Given this statement by Bruno, and my general understanding of Garfield’s philosophy, I expect the hate cards found among the items could end up being quite powerful. This could easily lead to a counter-the-counter back and forth, as your opponent could respond to your strategy by making their own purchases.

Also, we have the name of one of our unit keywords! Siege seems very similar to trample from MTG, Overwhelm from Eternal, or Breakthrough from TESL. This is a useful mechanic, as it allows "go big" strategies to have better counterplay against "go wide" strategies. I am interested to see how it is implemented in Artifact, since Trample is known for having some weird rules interactions.

“One of the things we tried to do is make it so that you can keep track of all those things without taking notes,” Carlucci said. “For example, there’s a card that, whenever you play a spell, it has a chance of giving you a copy of that spell. If your opponent gets that, you actually get to see the copied card. There’s no point in hiding that information. The card is there. Otherwise you’d be writing down ‘one of his cards is that thing.’ So it still has all that interesting tracking, but without making you do extra work for it.”

Neat! First, this gives us a hint of another card that we haven’t seen yet. I mentioned in the Artifact Guide that combo decks are probably possible in Artifact, and whatever this duplicator card is sounds like the kind of thing that could enable crazy combos! Also, eliminating some tracking nonsense is great. This statement doesn’t speak to this specifically, but I have long hated Hearthstone’s card tracking mechanic, and I hope that is not part of Artifact.


That is what I pulled from the Rock Paper Shotgun article! Hopefully this is the first of many news reports this week, but this is a great start. What are you most excited about from this article? Anything that I missed? New questions? Be sure to let me know in the Reddit thread! Thanks so much for stopping by!!

Neon