We at TopDeck had the opportunity to interview card gaming veteran, Jan “Ek0p” Palys. Some of his most notable Hearthstone achievements include Top 4 at SeatStory Cup VI and 2nd place at Dreamhack Tours 2017. In Artifact, he has already won a constructed tournament (ArtifactShark Constructed Clash #1) and placed Top 30 in the major limited Artifact Preview Tournament.
Could you tell us about your history in card games?
I was first introduced to card games in around 1999-2000, when I played Magic the Gathering for the first time at school. Then it all went uphill from there. I first started playing on school playgrounds with friends, and eventually in 2002 went to my first Magic tournament.
What kind of tournament?
It was a local prerelease event. I eventually became pretty competitive in magic, but not at a professional level, it was just for fun as a hobby. So I never tried to go pro in Magic, I went to a couple of LANs, but I just never took the next step, into fully dedicating myself to this. Then I was introduced to the World of Warcraft trading card game in 2007, and that was the first game I played professionally.
What were some of the accomplishments that made you a pro for this scene?
I made Top 8 in a whole bunch of events, I won one here or there as well. Eventually it all culminated into me being crowned Player of the Year in 2009. That was a pretty cool achievement, being the best throughout the whole year. Then eventually Hearthstone came out, so the game died, but unlike many other players, I transitioned into Hearthstone and we got an explosive start into the Hearthstone scene. That was 2013 when the Hearthstone beta came out. September or so, that’s when I started playing Hearthstone and began streaming, and that all went pretty well. Five years later, I’m starting Artifact.
Could you tell us about your ESGN experience? That’s where most of the hs scene will have saw you first?
Sure, so ESGN was one of the first bigger things. Then came the first Seat Story Cup. At Blizzcon’s Innvitational, Artosis won because he prepared with me and a couple of my friends, so we provided him with the decks that helped him win, and he brought us on as a team for those ESGN Fight Night matches. Back then, that was a pretty big deal, but unfortunately ESGN failed because they were too overzealous when it came to investing money into this, and the payoff just wasn’t there because Hearthstone was still in the beginning. If they attempted to do this later, it might have succeeded, but ESGN was still a lot of fun.
It was supposed to be a TV-style production. So it was pretty high-end and involved a lot of tedious production things, a lot of retakes, but the end result was pretty cool to look at, and I’m sure a lot of people enjoyed it too. It was also fun to show some personality in those fight nights, where there’s supposed to be trash talk and banter, and give the impression that there’s a feud going on. So I fully went into that character, being the bad guy and trash talking my opponents. Which of course rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but the smart people would understand that it’s just an act.
Could you tell us how you went from ESGN to joining Cloud 9?
It was a smooth transition, went from being the makeshift team Dogehouse, which was basically a group of friends; me, Savjz, Gnimsh and some other people who we don’t know anymore, Artosis took us under his wing, set us up with ESGN, then with a talent agent who also got us the C9 deal. We just had a smooth transition, and we got Kolento and Strifecro in the same swoop. Kolento was also in one of the the Fight Night teams, except he wasn’t there himself, and Strifecro was one of our opponents at Fight Night from the first episode. The talent agent set us up with the Cloud 9 deal, and we gladly signed it. It was a good time at C9, happy with my time there for sure.
And now we have Artifact on the horizon. How did you get into Artifact in the first place?
Well I got the code from a friend, so he got me in.
Could you tell us about your Artifact experience?
It comes down to a little bit of luck to get a good deck with good heroes, and you don’t always get that guarantee. Whereas in constructed, you get to play with whatever deck you want and just go from there. I always generally prefer limited formats anyway since it requires a whole new set of skills like card evaluation and creating your deck on the fly pretty much, so I always liked those aspects in the limited format in card games. That’s why I always gravitate more towards arena in Hearthstone, booster draft in Magic, and the same in World of Warcraft’s trading game. Those were always my preferred gaming modes and in Artifact I’ve been jamming that nonstop as well.
What was the biggest takeaway from the closed beta tournaments? What would you do differently?
I wouldn’t do necessarily do much different except for of course play better, fix the mistakes I might have made in the games that I played, and try not to make those same mistakes again. There’s a lot of things you can do wrong in Artifact, especially with the three lanes and every lane having its own cards that you can play there. You just have so many options. It would seem like there’s not much you can do because you don’t control the combat, because the targets for combat are assigned automatically. For example, in Hearthstone, you’d be able to choose which unit attacks which unit at all times, and where to place those units as well. But you don’t really need that in Artifact. There’s so many things you need to decide for yourself in Artifact that makes it a very skillful game, because the more options you have per turn in a game, the more skillful the game becomes. So Artifact is definitely a very skillful game, and there’s still a lot you can do wrong and a lot you can improve upon every time.
You mentioned having a preference for limited formats in card games, where do you feel pro players will gravitate towards between constructed or limited?
The general feedback from what I heard from pro players is that they prefer limited more compared to constructed, and I would agree with that probably no matter what because of my general preference being in limited, but it’s nice to hear a lot of players that you would typically associate with constructed play in other card games are saying the same thing about Artifact. So I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where Artifact goes from here with the limited format.
How did you prepare for tournaments?
I just played a lot! I got a little bit of help from the start by asking players for advice and spectating their games, talking about their plays, and I also chatted with the player who had the most completed run in limited, who was Hyped. I talked to Hyped and asked him for advice, and he also shared a tier list with me that he made. Based on that, I got a lot of help evaluating cards more accurately, but of course, as I kept playing, I also started giving cards my own evaluation and seeing which ones worked best for me, so it’s always important to know which cards fit which strategies the best, and which cards should just not be played, or only played in niche scenarios. Card evaluation is basically the most important thing.
StanCifka said that once you’ve evaluated your cards and built your deck, the most important element in building your deck was heroes. Do you agree with that, or is there another element of the game that would demand a similar amount of attention to yourself as a limited player?
Of course heroes are the most important thing in Artifact during the game play, it all revolves around the hero. You can only cast spells if you have a hero of the same color, and of course the hero would do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to dishing out damage right? Items can also only be equipped when there’s a hero on the board. So it all revolves around heroes; Their positioning, what lanes you put them on, deciding which spells you play on which lane, it’s obviously the most important thing during the game, but when it comes to building your deck, sure heroes obviously play an important role, but you need to pick the right cards for your heroes as well during drafting. So that’s also important. At the end, if you know what you’re doing during the draft, then it all comes down to how well you play, which can give you a huge edge over players. Even if you have a worse deck, if you just play it better than your opponent, you can win.
And how much of that limited format meta is settled at this stage? Is it definitive which heroes or cards happen to be the best ones or is that pretty subjective at this point?
Well on average it’s always going to be this way, where every hero is a little different in power level on average right? Some heroes obviously have niche applications which put them over the top compared to stronger heroes, but typically there is a tier list every time and there are amazing heroes for specific colors, and there’s going to be some very bad ones. So this is where the luck factor I was talking about earlier comes into play. Sometimes you just get the heroes you really want, and sometimes you don’t get any of them, so sometimes you have to put up with bad heroes that you have.
So if a player drafted a worse green hero than you, and if all other elements being more or less the same, would that player most definitely lose because they have the worse hero?
Not necessarily. At the end of the day, the heroes can still carry their weight, and of course some heroes are weaker in terms of stats, but they typically have all the same stats compared to their counterparts in the same color. In that case, it all matters how you perform with the spells that you combine with the heroes that you’re given. Some heroes can really shine if you have the right deck for them even, if they’re bad heroes.
How about your constructed experience, have you been playing much constructed on the ladder or have you been mainly focusing on limited?
I’ve been playing more constructed recently, but I have to focus mainly on limited because I like the format more, and second of all because I felt like learning the game would be easier in limited, learning all the cards and how they interacted. In constructed, you get way less variety, so I wouldn’t learn the game as well I imagine. But now I recently started playing a little more constructed, and yeah it’s been interesting to say for sure. I started by building one deck and just constantly tweaking it around to reach the level of power that I’m satisfied with, and then that deck is good enough, I’ll move along to the next idea that I put in my head and try to perfect that as well. I’ve been having reasonable success in the test games that I’ve had so yeah. I’m pretty happy that I at least know which cards are pretty decent in constructed.
What decks? Are there any particular style of deck you happen to be enjoying more or finding the most success with?
I’ve been playing Blue/Green, which has the possibility to spawn a bunch of dudes and buff them, so that was the strategy that first came to my mind and I’ve been working on that one. You overwhelm one lane faster, then your opponent will be on the other two lanes that he’s trying to push down. Of course there’s great counter-play to those strategies. Any strategy you have in Artifact, it feels like there’s some kind of counterplay in it. You just have to play the right cards obviously.
And there’s no three decks or small number that are defining the meta, you can play any half-decent deck of any combination of colors and have it do somewhat well?
There’s a lot of cards being tested by people, so there’s no established meta game yet I’d say, but I’ve already seen a couple of lists that look pretty refined to me pop up here and there, and players using those same lists as well, so there’s already been a little bit of a meta game with some established deck lists people copy paste and test them out themselves. Which is a little worrisome to me, especially in the early stages of the game, but we’ll see how it goes. After all, we’re just a small group of testers, and once the flood gates are open, there may be a whole lot of light shed on what a good deck is going to be.
What similarities can you draw on from the closed Hearthstone beta to the Artifact closed beta, and these early stages of what could become a major game?
Well, the updates to Artifact and Hearthstone in the beta phase are somewhat similar in frequency, what’s getting introduced and stuff, but of course since nothing is set in stone in Artifact yet, it’s still an even earlier stage than in Hearthstone because it was already being streamed when I got into it. Hearthstone was a much more finished product at that stage, and Artifact is still a work in progress. You can see when you play the game that there’s some fine-tuning, but it’s almost getting there. Basically when it comes to the beta experience, once it’s in phase 2 and more players are playing, Artifact is going to be pretty hype, especially once people are streaming it. In Hearthstone there was the problem that the hype wasn’t there as much as it will be for Artifact I imagine, since for Hearthstone there was nothing before that gave card games an online presence. There was only Magic Online, but Magic was always known for not being spectator friendly. It was just tedious to watch. And Hearthstone was the first card game that nailed it right away, so obviously with that came large popularity online. Of course, being a mobile game helps too, but obviously that came later.
In Artifact, because of the success Hearthstone and other digital card games had, the hype is going to be even larger I would say, mainly because a lot of people are already talking about the game whereas not many people were talking about Hearthstone when it first got started. You would argue that all the card games had the issue that they didn’t have a big studio or franchise behind it, like Blizzard or Warcraft, but Artifact has the Dota franchise and Valve studio, and those are some big names and some big shoes to fill, so people are going to have their eyes peeled on this game. They’re anticipating it for sure I would imagine, they’re looking forward to anything that has the name ‘Valve’ in it.
What about the spectatorship of the game? Will there be enough understanding from an audience standpoint to provide the early kind of streaming presence that Hearthstone had?
It can be a little bit much at the start to completely grasp the whole concept of the game, but if you spend time to get to know the ins and outs of the game, all the rules and what’s happening, getting to know the flow of the game… it takes two or three days to get to know the game I would say, before you can really start appreciating it while watching. As a new viewer with no idea of what Artifact is about, then you would not get anything out of spectating Artifact I would imagine, because there’s so much stuff going on and you wouldn’t know where to look or what’s important, so it just takes a little big of time. There’s a little bit of a learning curve, much like with Dota, which has the highest learning curve, but once you understand it, it’s easy to follow.
What would you anticipate stand-out Artifact streams being like in the next phase of the beta? What would be more definitive qualities of successful Artifact streamers?
There’s different factors that have to be considered to figure out who’s going to be more popular. You have to have a constant flow of content, a consistent streaming schedule or weekly/daily uploads on Youtube, and basically grow your viewership and audience from there, and of course mixing up the content always helps as well, not only focusing on one thing. Just try to provide different kinds of content so you can appeal to pretty much anyone from the Artifact audience I imagine. It’s going to be interesting for sure, it’s going to be bigger than the Hearthstone opening stage, because there’s so many people who want to get their hands on the game. In Artifact people have high expectations, whereas in Hearthstone people had low expectations in the beginning. Especially when you see a lot of people switching from Hearthstone to Artifact because they just don’t like Hearthstone anymore, obviously it’s a big sign that this game is going to be big.
Will we be expecting regular Twitch and Youtube content from you?
Oh yeah definitely, but I’m going to switch it into German because there’s going to be so many English speaking streamers and it’s going to be hard to thrive in that environment, so I’m going to fill the role of “local German guy.”
Until you win a big Artifact tournament in the next phase?
We’ll see, we’ll see, I might just go bilingual as well, I still haven’t decided yet.
Ekop can be followed on https://www.twitch.tv/ek0p and @Ekop
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