Of the four color archetypes in Artifact, red cards give the impression of being beginner-friendly. It presents itself as a straightforward strategy that takes advantage of beefy heroes and creeps to control lanes, and that being more or less the game plan. The smaller spell toolkit confirms the combat-oriented style of the color, and with an automated combat system, this would encourage new players to adopt a strategy that rewards combat and attack bonuses. Upon reviewing the set in it’s current iteration, this was a first impression that was easy to fall into. Too easy in fact.
To better understand the color, we take a look at a few key cards to determine the red game plan in a vacuum, and how it best complements the intricate ecosystem of Artifact. Here’s a recently revealed hero.
Timbersaw has an impressive health pool with a passive that rewards combat against multiple smaller creeps at a time. Against two basic creeps, Timbersaw would take no damage that turn, and combined with Whirling Death, this can mitigate the damage of less attack-oriented hero to zero. consider the addition of New Orders that would assign a new combat target for a target ally. More than a large swing in lane-presence paired with Bristleback, which becomes modified with +2 armor when a blocking enemy hero dies, it can also improve the survivability of Timbersaw in a turn where an opponent would look to deal with the mobile lumber-miller once and for all. Whirling Death, Timbersaw’s signature spell, gives the player an opportunity to give an allied red hero pseudo armor by reducing the attack of enemy neighbors by two.
Let’s also take a look at Heroic Resolve. It modifies a red hero with +2 health every time you play a cheap card, as long as it’s not an item. While red spells are lower in power-level, at this point in the reveal, there are more spells in the red arsenal that cost two or less than the other three colors (11 cheap red spells so far, compared with the 16 among the three other classes combined). This includes signature spells of other heroes in the same colors. We can consider a scenario where you already have Heroic Resolve active on a red hero. You play Fight Through The Pain, that gives a red hero +2 armor this round and grants initiative. So you get to perform another action, then play Enough Magic! This moves that lane to the combat phase, effectively ending that turn and proceeding to either the next lane or round. Now you have a sturdier hero that took less damage while denying your opponent’s ability to respond further on a potentially critical lane.
Our biggest takeaway from the red set is the durability of red heroes, which does two important things; it retains control of lanes, and it denies your opponent from efficiently mining gold from killing heroes. Acquiring the +5 gold from killing red heroes can be especially grueling if their armor and health pools keep growing, especially with cards like Timbersaw that have passive armor that responds to fluctuations in lane pressure, or Heroic Resolve that both heal and increase the total health pool of red heroes. There’s the potential to starve your opponents of their economy while using the combat-oriented red cards to bolster offenses and eliminate creeps and enemy heroes with stronger ones, while using weaker spells to greater effect.
Red is certainly more than aggro. But its lane presence is dictated more strictly by the creeps and heroes already in these lanes than the spells or improvements available in the red arsenal. Don’t lose lane control, then eventually dominate the late game with a greater economy and mightier heroes under your command. It’s a straightforward strategy, but not as simple as first impressions may suggest. As for how the red card pool complements dual-color decks, that’s an article for another day.