Most viewers of last weekend’s Artifact Preview Tournament will remember the dense gameplay and discussion during the first day’s broadcast; It became clear that there will be a steep learning curve for new players when building their first decks. We at TopDeck believe the pre-show discussion had a substantial amount of information that was relayed to the audience, which was likely to have been missed, yet still has great value for those spectating tomorrow’s streams.
This article will breakdown and elaborate on what was discussed by four of the game’s most prominent personalities. These include the casters David “Luminous” Zhang, Sean “swim” Hguenard, Karen “fwosh” Li, and the competitor Adrian “Lifecoach” Koy. Topics you can find below include veteran insights on the drafting phase, expectations of high level limited, and anecdotes that will shed more light on what six months of Artifact’s alpha experience looks like.
The Limited Format
The pre-show began with players exchanging their general experiences in the limited format.
“It’s absolutely fun to play,” Lifecoach said. “The Gauntlet format is nice because you can make your picks, determine what cards you like better or less, and are able to play those. So you’re in full control of what kind of deck you want to play.”
Swim responded with a key point; “It’s different every time. It tests your ability to leverage cards that are less good and to make the most out of bad situations.”
Luminous called the drafting stage a small gamble each time, particularly when determining what color you’re going to be drafting. The example we got was a player choosing to draft the strongest cards for a Red/Blue deck, then seeing Drow Ranger, arguably one of the best limited format heroes in Artifact. “Should I be picking up Drow Ranger,” a player may ask themselves, despite the commitment to Red/Blue made up to this stage.
He also revealed that even six months deep into the alpha, with the beta about to be unleashed, Artifact players still have lots of various ideas on different topics surrounding the game and its best strategies. An evening before the tournament, Lifecoach and Joel were debating on these various topics, so Luminous took this opportunity to ask how normal it was for two of the top players in the game to have different opinions. Lifecoach said that in the beginning there’ll be differing opinions on topics, “but better ones still exist.” For instance, Lifecoach addressed whether it’s better to play triple color, two colors. Lifecoach himself likes tri-color decks in limited, and good three-color decks can happen. “A few months or a half year from now, we’ll figure out what the better lines are.”
The casters then discussed their color choices. Fwosh was quick to say Blue (“absolutely blue”) despite being the hardest and weakest to play in draft mode. Nevertheless, her drafts skew towards Blue in her earlier drafts, then as the games go longer during drafting sessions leans more towards aggressive colors (Red/Green, Red/Black) throughout her time drafting, as “no-brain” color combinations.
Luminous said when he drafts Blue/Green, he can expect games to go for a long time, and how Red/Black matches go much faster, which he felt personally gravitated towards in his drafting.
Swim then described how, with the newness of Artifact, even the top players have very different opinions. Joel (the winner of the tournament later that day) feels Red is worse than Blue in draft. This was one point Lifecoach agreed with, and assumes Blue is the weakest too. “Its heroes are especially bad, and can’t carry as much weight than in other classes.” It’s of the utmost importance to get strong heroes to get more gold to get big items, and “items can protect heroes and make them snowball, if you set them up in the right way.” Without them, and with weaker heroes, you’re the one that ends up getting snowballed.
What makes Artifact fun, Luminous said, is how the players were all learning the game under the same general rubric while learning the exceptions (a hero that returns immediately in the next round, cards that give you back initiative when they’re played, etc), and an opponent can make a sequence that “can challenge everything I learned.” Even after 10 hours of play, Luminous would come across a new interaction that would expand the possibilities in Artifact, especially when playing against top level players. For people looking to pick up the game for the first time, the first 20 hours are “gruesome” and result in a lot of losses, but afterwards you get to see what it’s really all about.
Swim said there are “many nuanced tactics you can learn in this game,” and that the complexity this game offers is larger than any other card game by a pretty wide margin. Another part of the game’s complexity Lifecoach addressed (explicitly for the limited format), is the ability to press a button to see your opponent’s deck, and have the ability to make plays in reaction to your knowledge of your opponent’s deck, to “readjust the entire gameplay and reaction… and it’s a completely different form of complexity.” Some players (like fwosh and Luminous) don’t use it to make the games more “fun”, to “get hit by the unknown.” But for serious games, it’s a valuable resource. “Once you open it, you can’t close it.” Part of what makes Artifact a great game in Swim’s opinion is the visibility of decks having the ability to change fundamentals. “You’re not just playing your deck, but you’re playing your opponent’s deck too.” This is a significant part of the reason why he believes Artifact draft is better than constructed.
Luminous cracked how the couch consisting of Lifecoach and Swim was the “try-hard, Blue/Green side” and how the desk of Luminous and Fwosh was the “Red/Black, simple decks” side. With Lifecoach having his draft broadcasted after the pre-show, Swim asked about his drafting style, and how he sees his drafting technique compared to others, overvaluing specific cards, etc. Lifecoach said, “I’m very Black/Red, so I’m drafting Black/Red.”
Swim, like Hyped, favors tri-color decks, and how most of the top tier players favor tri-color more than 50% of the time, “which isn’t what you see in constructed.” Luminous finds it hard to navigate personally, so will traditionally draft duo-colors. “It’s easier to navigate in the draft and the game itself… You can only cast a certain card of a color if you have that hero in the lane. So Crystal Maiden in a lane, as a Blue hero, can let you cast Blue cards there.” He described his deployment phase as being a little weak. “Sometimes you put the wrong hero in the wrong lane when playing tricolor, and have one less hero of the color you need.” At this stage before the tournament, the meta preference by the game’s top players was tri-color decks, but no specific combination was specified.
Luminous then veered the conversation towards broken draft combos, and asked “how many Double Drows we were going to see today.” The hero was so strong that Valve made her rarity higher to prevent players from drafting her more regularly. It didn’t appear rare enough to prevent Luminous from suggesting that with 128 players drafting twice, there was the possibility of being able to draft two of her (or even seeing two Double Drow decks). Double Luna was also seen as still being pretty scary. Readers of our first article will remember Stan Cifka taking one of his earlier losses to a Double Luna deck played by MrYagut in the October $10k draft tournament. “Lucid Beam (Luna’s passive ability) can still stack charges on three copies of Eclipse, but more Lunas are nuts since she can stack even more charges than Eclipses would normally have.”
Lifecoach responded by saying how Double Drow, despite being the first example of a broken combo provided by Luminous, was not that good. “The first Drow gives good leverage with good cards that undermines an opponent’s plays, but it’s a specific card you use in a specific situation, and having six means you can sometimes draw three dead cards, which can really hurt.”
Luminous shifted the conversation towards Tinker, the last hero and one of the last cards to be revealed before the tournament, and called it one ofthe best draft heroes. When asked if Lifecoach would prefer Tinker over Drow or Luna, he said definitely. “It’s insane for draft, because the Signature Card is completely insane.” There’s a Blue card that provides the same effect (Tower Barrage), but March of the Machines deals that two damage to all enemies three times with one card, and is only slightly more expensive.
Swim added to this explanation by describing how Tinker provides an opportunity for AOE for Black, which is something that’s locked for Blue. Cards that give colors tools that are traditionally restricted to another color are powerful. “It is great in draft.” AOE traditionally requires getting Blue heroes and Blue cards to access. “Every time I look at Tinker, I ask ‘why isn’t this hero Blue,’ since he does Blue things as a Black hero. Even it’s active ability, Laser, is a Blue effect (disarms a unit and deals three damage to it), he’s going to be kicking some butt today.” Fwosh expected Lich or some other hero to be better, but it’s great that March of the Machines provides the same value as Conflagration, even if only three times, and mentioned how games for Black end by 8 mana anyway (three turns after getting the opportunity to play March of the Machines on five mana)
The Length of a Game
Luminous explained it ultimately comes down to the type of deck one is drafting. The game can end by when a player reaches 6-8 mana with an aggressive deck, or 10-13 mana on rare occasions. Lifecoach responded and said that players should be drafting for a game to end by around 8-9 mana, “but it depends on the strengths of your opponent’s deck. You can’t exactly go face in Artifact, and your opponent has creeps and blockers you must attack. If the opponent has a good defense, then this same game that could have ended at mana 8 can go to mana 10.”
The time a game takes to end can also scale depending on the player’s skill, according to Swim. Games can go longer when two top tier players face against each other, whereas a weaker player will be at a disadvantage against a stronger player, who can exploit the skill difference to close out the game faster. From his time in the alpha, Swim’s seen a lot of draft games going to 10-11 mana. Luminous said “It can also depend on how aggressively players are looking to defend their tower.” He recalled how on his second day playing Artifact, he faced against a Bristleback and gave up on the lane completely. Then he realized giving up on the lane wasn’t a great play and began overcommitting to defense. “It’s always a very interesting dynamic, between how much you commit to a lane and how much you don’t.”
Drafting Tips for Beginners
Luminous closed the pre-show asking for any quick tips from the couch for newbie drafters looking to build their first decks in less than two weeks.
Frosh; “You have five packs to go through, and you don’t want to align yourself to any particular color in the early packs. Pick strong cards from the first two packs, then you will know which colors to skew towards. It’s sometimes a trap to pick a hero early and force yourself into a certain color.”
Swim; “There’s a lot to think about with draft, and need to keep track of what part in the draft you’re in. The most important thing is to keep in mind the deck you’re building halfway through, reassess what you have, if you have no items then you have to start picking items, or have too much of a curve late end and you want some earlier cards.”
Lifecoach; “In the first pack you probably want to pick the strongest cards, and from packs two or three, you begin to see how your deck is forming and can already make a game plan. We talk about the first hero deployment, where you have three early-game heroes, so this means that the earlier the heroes are deployed in limited, the stronger you want them to be. So if you already have three strong early game heroes and you get offered a fourth one, you may not want to pick that one because you still need a late-game hero. You may pick a late-game hero based purely on what you want your deck to do.”
Luminous; “Open Axe and Time of Triumph, and you’ll do fine in the draft.”
He then asked what combination of cards you’d want to see when opening a pack that’ll make you feel like this was a good draft.
Fwosh; “Time of Triumph, if you see that first pack you know you’re going Red for sure, or at least splashing it. She likes Green too, its a solid draft color that keeps things alive, likes Mist of Avernus, it’s a super good improvement, so she’d like to see that and Drow.”
Swim; “Mist and Drow is a really respectable answer. Otherwise, likes Black heroes, and Black as a wide range of top tier heroes. Phantom Assassin, Lich, Tinker, Sniper, they’re very good and flexible heroes. Black and Green are the most flexible in terms of having a high diversity of good cards. Red is often a singleton splash, but can find a place in a duo. So I like picking strong Black heroes.” It’s worth nothing that Joel Larsson would win the tournament with a Black/Green deck.”
Lifecoach; “I love Red, I believe it’s incredibly strong, because without finding proper heroes in your packs you can fill them with basic heroes. The base hero in Red is among the strongest early game heroes you can pick (Keefe), so you don’t lose much in the draft when forced to use the Red basic hero, and it’s worse when forced to pick the basic hero for other colors. If I had to choose a hero and card, I would pick Axe and Mist of Avernus. It’s extremely strong, and I would try to find a way to fit Mist of Avernus in the deck.” Fwosh said you can even pick up Farvhan (the Green basic hero) to make splashing Green work.
Luminous was surprised by Lifecoach calling Keefe one of the strongest earlier game heroes. Though it’s stats are among the strongest, Luminous personally felt the least happy to play Keefe among all the other basics. Debbi (the Black basic hero) for him is probably number one, and he’s a big fan of Farvhan. “Even J’muy draws you a card. I just don’t want to be in a place where I’m playing Keefe.”
Swim likes Keefe over J’muy at least, and Debbi is also his top choice among the basic heroes. Farvhan is probably a hair above Keefe. Karen likes Debbi too, as her favorite of the basic heroes. She explained how Keefe feels bad to select when you have Fighting Instinct in your hand, wishing it was any other card. Remember that you have access to all three copies of each of the basic heroes for your draft deck. Luminous suggested that a bold man could put in three copies of Keefe. “Say if Lifecoach doesn’t have the necessary hero to pair with Time of Triump. At that point, you’d put in Keefe, and that can be a good play, if you have strong enough Red cards to justify playing the basic Red hero.”
The other thing about drafting is that you have access to all three of the basic items; Leather Armor, Traveler’s Cloak, and Shot Sword. You need a minimum of nine items in your deck, and though you can pick up items during the draft, you have these three as well. Luminous feels that Traveler’s Cloak is broken and shouldn’t be a basic. It’s always good to put in your deck. Fwosh said it’s a cheap item, three gold, and sometimes you want to get them to make finding those more expensive items easier.