The three lanes of Artifact add layers of complexity that several hours to grow accustomed to. In draft, new players tend to gravitate towards “solutions” that require fewer decisions, or less resources to commit. These single-track win conditions run the risk of being too transparent, and force opponents into counter-play that could end up becoming more impactful, or game-ending. Depending on your opponent’s deck, there’s the very real risk of losing a game by committing your most substantial resources, including your hero presence, to a single win condition.
Within the first two turns, a player will see three lanes; the easy lane, the lost lane, and the contested lane. An Easy or lost lane can be “established” either by a simple combat arrow favoring one player, or playing an indomitable Red hero like Bristleback or Axe. A Treant Protector with Defend the Weak can make fortunately-positioned Roseleaf Druids difficult to kill, threatening power turns that will dominate the lane in the mid-game. Or a Black deck will have played Pay Day on the third lane after killing two heroes, and committing a Shield of Aquila to make neighboring creeps and heroes take little to no damage. Both you and your opponent are capable of swinging lanes in this way, and perform the same mental arithmetic in the deployment phase to calculate the odds of winning from these three lanes of Artifact. Why commit to three lanes, when two is all it takes?
We will often fall into the habit of committing resources only to the lanes where we guarantee the tower’s destruction in the easy lane, look to fight in the No Man’s Land that is the contested lane in the later stages of the game, and find yourself dependent on a Town Portal Scroll or Blink Dagger making a much needed appearance. There are times we won’t have a choice, Spreading resources across three lanes can be difficult for decks that aren’t playing much draw (one of the reasons why Unearthing Secrets is so powerful, “rewarding” you with card draw when opponent’s hit the tower that improvement is established on). Easy and lost lanes grow with creeps as players are no longer fighting for those lanes, allowing melee creeps to populate these lanes, and damage to grow, threatening each other’s Ancients.
This game state can reward decks with Black heroes, thanks to cards like The Oath, Disciple of Nevermore, or Sorla Khan’s Assault Ladders, all of which would stack greater damage on these wider boards of lanes already won. A deck with Green heroes may drop a Thunderhide Pack on a lane they’re already winning to threaten the Ancient, promising 20 damage if uncontested. Receiving the damage equivalent of a Bolt of Damocles every turn is substantial, making this a worthwhile strategy. Emissary of the Quorum and Lycan’s Savage Wolf can also apply serious pressure with exponential damage. Red heroes can drop Ogre Conscripts, Bronze Legionnaires drawn in the later game, or the multiplying Red Mist Pillager to threaten the Ancient. Blue is one of the few colors that doesn’t have a reliable means of piling on this unit-oriented pressure in limited, which is one of the reasons why Blue will regularly find itself supporting more proactive colors. Kanna’s Prey on the Weak and a lucky multicast of Lightning Strike with Ogre Magi on the field are a couple of rarer, but possible means for Blue to apply similar game ending pressure.
Depending on what cards you or your opponent have, it may actually be in your best interest to follow this strategic template, and hope that your opponent didn’t draft any significant counter play. Blue is regularly equipped with such spells, using board clears such as At All Costs, Annihilation, Friendly Fire, and Thunderstorm to reset lanes they may have otherwise had no business winning. Divine Intervention can secure a lane in a key turn, and swing the whole game on a contested lane in a player’s favor. Phantom Assassin’s Coup de Grace can outright remove beefy heroes or key creep, and Black also has Gank and Sniper’s Assassinate to control the board across lanes.
Black and Green colors can be rewarded for this flow of the game in the later stages more easily, which is one of the reasons why we see these colors drafted more regularly in draft. It can take some experience before realizing that lanes you’ve lost a tower on could also be a tower opportunity if your opponent is pushing for an Ancient and a contested lane. The state of your board, hand, and available items can create opportunities to secure towers we may otherwise have no business taking down. Some of the most valuable cards in the game can create the means of doing so. Have an Annihilation in hand? Clear a lane, then deploy two heroes there the next turn. Found a Helm of the Dominator? Steal an opponent’s Thunderhide Pack or Incarnation of Selemene and push back on a lane. Spring the Trap on a lane that an opponent preemptively abandons, or who’s creep and heroes are weak enough to be taken down with four damage. Even lower tier cards with lower tier heroes can make it even harder for an opponent to close out a game on a contested lane, giving you time to deploy heroes to retake control.
The game state in the screenshot above is one example where we had the option to win twice instead of winning once. Our opponent deploys three heroes. Our sole Red hero can be deployed in the center lane to close the game, but could also be deployed in the left lane to remove the Debi and Farhvhan, or at the very least the Selfish Cleric and Farhvhan with Primal Roar, which was guaranteed with initiative. This would open up considerable damage on a lane we already lost, while the health on both our remaining towers were high enough to warrant the risk. In fact, the right lane was so low, that even though we were locked out of playing spells (thanks to The Oath), our opponent was more than likely deploying every remaining hero at his disposal to the center lane, not risking any one point of damage that would have won the right tower.
Our opponent opted to deploy all three to the center lane, but our Red hero was deployed in the center lane as well, falling into the trap of following the simpler formula to victory; hope he has enough heroes deployed in front of the Beastmaster in order to secure the game. We were more likely in a position to develop a considerable push on the left lane, while winning either the center or right lanes, forcing our opponent into a position where they were at risk of losing all three towers within the next two turns. The luxury of drafting two Lycans provided us this option, thanks to the mounting pressure of the Savage Wolves.
These are the kinds of strategic reads we encourage our readers to practice as they develop their drafting skills in preparation for the next wave of tournaments. If there is the option to force our opponent to respect two win conditions on two separate lanes, this will divide their resources and make controlling relevant lanes easier. Explore ways of doing so, from drafting the right cards to deploying in the right lanes. Artifact is a game that rewards patient, intentional plays. Opening yourself to the possibility of preparing two win conditions with the right hand of cards can expand your strategic understanding of the game, go farther in your runs, and farm more packs for your collection.