The blue card pool of Artifact has an eclectic toolkit, ranging from board wipes (Annihilation) to temporary mind control (Friendly Fire), and that’s only naming a couple. However, no mechanic stands out more than Lock. In short, each “Lock” placed on a card (chosen by various degree of randomness) prevents an opponent from playing it until that many rounds have passed. It’ll be a unique effect for most digital card gamers to get used to, especially for those transitioning from Hearthstone.
As for why we’re excited about Lock, manipulating an opponent’s hand has been limited in Hearthstone to either adding cards to their hand, or increasing their mana cost (Mana Wraith for minions, Loatheb for spells). This former manipulation inspired the mill archetype in the game’s earliest days, with players using cards such as Naturalize, Coldlight Oracle, Dancing Swords and Grove Tender to force an opponent’s hand to the maximum of 10, and burn more cards into fatigue. Only recently have we seen more styles of manipulating an opponent’s hand enter the Hearthstone design space, such as with the introduction of Demonic Project, now the only viable non-mill means of combo disruption in standard, unless details from the new expansion say otherwise.
But Artifact does not have a hand limit. And not only that, but it’s launching with a mechanic that outright prevents an opponent from playing random cards in their hand. It’s a “freeze” to random cards of an opponent’s hand. Blue spells like Buying Time or Lost in Time are effective in reducing a player’s options, especially against archetypes that struggle with card draw. With four cards in your hand, and a player casting Lost in Time, you’re down to one card plus whatever you draw the following turns. This potential swing in resources (casting one card to deny three) can offset the steep mana cost of 6-mana that’s not otherwise being used to develop a critical lane. This is especially the case if it provides the possibility of preventing your Annihilation from being cast on a lane they’re already ahead on.
Cards like Fractured Timeline take this disruption in another territory, where as an improvement, it randomly locks one card for one round each turn before the lane’s action phase. We expect to see this played on the left lane to disrupt an opponent’s hand to provide a stronger result, giving the Lock a chance to land on a key card that may have swung a lane in their favor, or cemented a victory by destroying a tower.
Lastly, we have the item Claszureme Hourglass. At a hefty 10 gold, it not only grants a hero +4 health, but also locks any card an opponent draws for one turn, no matter what lane the equipped hero is on. For an opponent struggling to find answers or secure victories, the devastation such an item can inflict can be game-winning.
Reviewing these four cards, we’re left wondering whether or not the mechanic is only a tool that helps a player “win harder.” We have to remember the power-level of other cards in Artifact to get a feel for what Lock is actually accomplishing, such as Annihilation, which condemns all units (in a lane), or Gust, which silences enemy heroes in the round it’s cast. In each case, a player could either lose all their units on an overcommitted lane, or lose the ability to cast colors of all the heroes that were silenced that round. While it’s technically possible to play all three in a deck, the scenarios where a Lock spell would be better to cast than these other two are mostly ones where Annihilation or Gust are being held for a more effective turn, and occasionally against key mana or gold turns. In fact, Lock may only be as effective as the popularity of single-card bombs that are prevalent in a given meta, which can win games on their own simply by being cast. So on an opponent’s big gold turn, Lock may be primed to prevent an expensive item (as a possible game changer) from being cast for one to three turns.
And from what we’ve seen of Artifact so far, there’s not much of a shortage of power cards to keep Lock from being irrelevant in this context.