Across the board of Artifact, players alternate between going first and second on each lane. The exchange of spells, effect activations and creep summonings lead up to a single moment where all the units clash, which marks the end of that round, then proceeds to the next lane. Initiative moves from player to player, granting each the opportunity to make their move first, but a select few cards have the added bonus of allowing you to take back initiative in the next lane along with the action! This effectively gives a player the ability to take control of the game and make the first moves!
The strongest example of this idea is the black common spell Hip Fire. As a color identity, the black card pool comes especially equipped with disruption and damage-dealing effects. Hip Fire presents any player using black cards the opportunity to do both, not only eliminating basic creeps or low-health heroes, but giving you the ability to take initiative in the next lane. While the mana can be daunting in the early stages of the game, drawn out games can reward players with greater mana.
Imagine a mid to late game scenario where you have a black hero on the first lane, and a red hero on the second, where you’re pushing for your second and final tower. Hip Fire is used to eliminate an enemy hero. Then our opponent plays a card, the action returns to us, and play continues until the units clash. We move to the center lane, where on turn 1, we shut down any opportunity to remove our bulky red heroes with the red spell “Enough Magic!” This ends the exchange and forces both players to move right into the combat phase, proceeding to the final lane.
The biggest takeaways from this hypothetical late-game exchange was our ability to protect our units and to play more cards with less exchanges. Power plays like these can provide the necessary bursts of power to press multiple lane advantages to close out the game. One-mana red spells like Kraken Shell (“Modify a red hero with +1 armor. Get initiative) and Fight Through The Pain (“Give a red hero +2 armor this round. Get initiative) complement this strategy with their mana flexibility and durability, allowing you to employ this pressure earlier in the game, while increasing your red heroes survivability in key turns.
Black also has Chain Frost, a 7-mana signature spell from the Lich that deals three damage to a unit, then repeats seven times randomly against its left or right neighbors. We’re then rewarded with retaining initiative or getting it back. Splashing red and combined with Enough Magic! or further disruption, it may provide late game options against a board full of weaker creeps to end the game, or farm more gold for the next shopping phase.
We expect to see similar cards to Hip Fire and Fight Through The Pain become regular features in decks that rely on the success of their combat phases highly. In a game where initiative can dictate the fate of a lane, the case for adding spells to take initiative and perform these power turns is convincing in the pre-release stage of the Artifact. It’s also worth noting that Tidehunter and Lich are the only heroes at this point who have signature cards that give initiative.