The Artifact closed beta saw some of its best players compete in last weekend’s $10,000 limited format tournament. Among these top contenders were Magic: The Gathering’s all-time earner Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, Hearthstone World Championship 2017 finalist Frank Zhang (Fr0zen), and Stanislav Cifka, who entered the tournament following a three-win-streak of Artifact constructed single-elimination tournaments.
While this was not the first limited tournament to be hosted by Valve, Stan told TopDeck there was a greater interest with a higher prize pool. This attracted the mentioned players, as well as other notable personalities who are among the few hundred to test the game as Valve prepares to release the second round of the closed beta.
Two of these players reign supreme in the limited format.
“Adrian Koy (Lifecoach) and I are the only players who have over a 50% chance to go 5-0 when we enter the Gauntlet,” Stan told TopDeck. “So it feels like me and Lifecoach are the strongest players.”
Some of the challenges players faced in the Gauntlet are familiar to Magic players; For each of the five rounds, you select two out of 12 cards, then the pack “rotates,” presenting 10 cards, then eight, and so on. Each round will allow you to select a hero, items, creeps and improvements. After a selection of two cards, the algorithm removes the two best cards you did not select from appearing again. Stan says the dwindling quality of remaining cards in each pack is very realistic. You’re ultimately left with 60 cards (not including hero signature cards) to build your 40-card deck.
What makes Artifact unique among other games with limited formats are heroes. Though each round of selection only comes with one hero, you’ll always be offered a random basic hero among the last two cards if the one you did not select was removed by the algorithm. Each deck will only ever have five heroes, and their deployment mechanic guarantees that heroes will see play regularly in one of the board’s three lanes.
“Let’s say you draft an amazing card in another game,” Stan said. “You can draw it or not. But if you have an amazing hero, it always hits the board and always gives you a benefit.”
In fact, 15 of the 40 cards in your limited deck will be the three signature cards that are accompanied by each of the five heroes you select, taking up more than a third of your cards. This effectively leaves you with 25 spaces from your 60-card draft to build your 40-card deck. Having good heroes can make or break a draft.
For example, one of the losses Stan took during the limited tournament was against compLexity’s Tugay Evsan (Mryagut), who drafted two Luna’s in his deck. “I felt like such an underdog in that match, thinking it would be impossible to beat,” Stan said. The addition of two Luna’s provided six copies of Eclipse, a spell that deals three piercing damage to a random enemy, and repeats with each action phase that’s passed while a Luna is on the board. Remember the consistent board presence heroes have in Artifact due to the deployment mechanic. Each of the six Eclipses can receive many stacks late enough into the game, providing inevitable bursts of damage and board clears.
The potential for large differences in deck quality leads Stan to prefer constructed over limited, but he says it’s still possible to maintain a strong winrate. Stan was able to take a game off Mryagut before losing the match 1-2. At this phase of the tournament, he was still in contention for a top 8 finish.
The emphasis on heroes leads players to making the most of their remaining drafting decisions based on what heroes they’re offered, and the signature cards they come with. Knowing how to build decks around each combination of colors you draft (two most of the time), and knowing how to complement your hero’s aggressive or control emphasis, will make the most of your draft.
Practice sessions by Stan revealed the importance of adding support cards to a limited deck. If you need more attack on a hero, you can add Short Sword, and if you need more defense, you add armor. At the next level, if you have a certain strategy and you need to win with specific, expensive items, then you can attempt to draft certain cards like Payday to better guarantee having a strong enough economy for the card to see play. Stan reveals that most of the support that items offer can be achieved with basic items, so remain focused on finding good heroes.
With three constructed wins, these practice sessions, and a high win rate in the limited format, Stan drafted his deck and faced the competition in last weekend’s tournament. Despite his loss to Tugay, he reached the final Swiss round before falling to Lifecoach. “I had a way weaker deck than Lifecoach. I had good heroes, but had extremely bad cards.” Bad cards can be a result of not drafting playables of certain colors, resulting in cards with weaker power levels needing to be added in the deck-building phase.
“I felt like Lifecoach played super good that last game,” Stan said. “I also felt like I played fine, but in the end, I was missing creep to chump block a hero to save a lane… he pushed the lane I turned over, he was up one tower, and I was unable to defend the second lane.”
TopDeck asked if this third game loss was a direct result of the RNG nature of the creep deployment mechanic.
“The RNG mattered, but I was lacking the creep because I didn’t have enough creeps as cards in my drafted deck. I had too many bad situational cards and I would simply play these types of cards but I was lacking these type of effects, so I wouldn’t consider my deck that great because I was missing chump blockers for these kinds of situations.”
In summary, Lifecoach flooded the board while preventing his opponent from doing the same, setting himself up for the lethal turn. “I had very strong heroes and good ways to buff them,” Stan said, “or make dangerous threats by buffing the attack and having a lot of combat tricks, but I was lacking a way to set up a big board with a lot of creeps… If you’re lacking creeps, it’s difficult to fight back if your opponent goes wide with their own creeps, and that’s what Lifecoach, did so that’s why he was doing well.”
While Stan went over the details of his final match against Lifecoach, a stream clip by Octavian Morosan (Kripparrian) was trending on the Artifact subreddit where Octavian expressed concern for newcomers when the game launches, and how they would be able to compete against beta-testers with seven months of experience under them. As of this article’s publication, the video has over 27,000 views and is among the top three posts of the week. TopDeck asked Stan how he would respond to the issue.
“I feel like there’s so much space for improving that I guess in a couple weeks or months after release, the mass (of players) will be way better than we are now.” Stan believes that the millions of hours that will be invested by the gaming community when the game is public, will reveal more of what’s possible in Artifact than the hundreds to thousands of hours under the belts of other beta-testers.
The winner of last weekend was Lukáš Blohon. He had only played Artifact for four days before entering the limited tournament.
After practicing a bit together (discussing what heroes were good for the limited format and more), Lukáš attributed his success in the tournament on twitter to Stan’s mentorship. It’s worth mentioning that Lukáš is ranked 44th among the all-time earners of Magic, and is no stranger to competitive card games. However, against a field as stacked as the $10k Artifact Gauntlet tournament, and considering the amount of time Lukáš had to play the game compared to other contenders, his victory was an impressive feat.
“Lukáš had to practice very hard for the tournament,” Stan said, “but it paid off for him. So I think when the game’s released, everyone will have this opportunity.”
The complexity of Artifact leaves most wondering about the game’s future as an esport, and whether it will also enjoy the same level of competitive diversity as Magic, with both constructed and limited opportunities to break out in the scene. In response, Stan felt that it was because of the game’s greater complexity in limited that the Gauntlet is even more competitive than drafting in Magic. “I can see there would be the highest level of competition in the limited format very easily.”
Proficient players will naturally gravitate towards tournaments with large enough prize pools, regardless of the format, but the dependence on heroes in the limited format may have most players default to constructed. “It will be about your ability to predict the meta game and queueing the right match ups,” Stan said. “There’s no luck aspect in terms of what cards you get because all pro players will have access to all cards.”
That being said, the Czech card slinger’s time in the Gauntlet left a strong impression on his Artifact experience. “In the beginning, I felt it wouldn’t be great, but every game was different… it was a great feeling to discover new cards and new mechanics, so I really like Gauntlet for this.”
In the next constructed tournaments, Stan said he’ll bring new ideas from the Gauntlet, which showed some hidden gems that are going to do well in Artifact.