During the WePlay Artifact tournament a week ago, we spoke to card game veteran and Pro Tour champion Joel “Heffaklumplen” Larsson. In a 40-minute interview, Heffa discussed his future in Artifact vs. Magic the Gathering, thoughts on the metagame and Artifact’s monetization and gave his opinion on cards the community deems problematic, or toxic.
With the transcribed interview topping 4,000 words, we’re bringing it to you in parts.
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You were recently in LA for the BTS Reveal House Party and you’re just back in Sweden. How did you enjoy LA?
Well, I honestly didn’t get to see that much of LA. Their studios are a bit out of LA, so I didn’t get to see that much of the city, since I had work to do between the tournament and the release party. But the things I did see were nice. I liked the tournament and that was very well constructed I think.
You’ve been tweeting about your love for Artifact a lot. Do you feel you’re gravitating more to that game compared to Magic: The Gathering, where you originally come from?
Oh, yes, definitely. I think I’m way more connected to Artifact than I could ever be to MTG. I’ve been around in Magic for a long time and I’ve pretty much done almost all the things you could do. I know how the company works. I just have a lot of inherent issues. While it’s fine for some people, I know Magic cannot take me where I kind of want to be in the future, how possible it is as a full-time job and what kind of jobs it could lead me to. I know from experience it won’t get me there.
That means that I can only see it as a hobby these days. Whereas Artifact, with the esports behind it and Valve as corporation has a lot more possibilities coming with it. As a Valve game, its raw esports potential is unimaginably larger than it could ever be in MTG. [The interview was conducted before Wizards announcement of their MTG esports plans — Ed.]
That’s what mainly keeps me attracted towards Artifact. And I enjoy Artifact a lot, I think it’s so much fun. It’s new and very complex, I love it.
I think I’m way more connected to Artifact than I could ever be to MTG.
So Artifact is your future now? I think that’ll be quite the disappointment to your MTG fans!
[laughs] Yeah, that’s just the way it is, you know? It would’ve been easy for me if MTG was super big and had potential. I’m already set in that scene, have a following and am an accomplished player, so it’d make it a lot easier for me, but it’s not the case.
I mean, I’m not going to go away from Magic. I’ll still try to attend Pro Tours, etc., but not do it full time. And to be honest, I had already made this decision before I started with Artifact. I had already started studying and was going away from MTG being a full-time thing. So those things are connected, but not really.
A lot of pros who go on to have full time careers in esports and in card games are signing with big, established teams. Do you look to do this yourself or will you be a lone wolf for the time being?
I’m definitely looking for that. I have a few conversations going on with some major teams and I’m trying to establish contracts that work for both parties. That’s definitely in the works for me right now. Still not settled yet, but getting closer.
You recently played at the WePlay Artifact tournament, but unfortunately got eliminated in the groups. On Twitter, you talked about your experience there and you admitted to a few misplays. What can you tell me about the Xixo and StanCifka series that you lost?
Against Xixo, I made a physical error. I had a defining moment in one of the games, where an important turn came up. It was very complex and in the end, I made the mistake of misclicking a Duel against his Tyler Estate Censor. I was supposed to Duel with my Legion Commander or Bristleback, one of the two. But I accidentally used my Axe instead so it didn’t kill it. That cost my entire first play and the Censor stayed in that lane for the remainder of the match which probably cost me the game, honestly.
Against Cifka, I felt there was a bit of variance there. My deck is especially made for the metagame, where it tries to combat the possibility of Track. There have been BR gold decks, running three black heroes and my deck was trying to beat that by having three red heroes, having better flops and more robust heroes to make Bounty Hunter much worse.
In one of the games, he drew two of his Tracks early game and got both of them off, which is very unlikely. That cost me that match, I think.
I have a few conversations going on with some major teams and I’m trying to establish contracts that work for both parties.
You also said on Twitter that you liked Sorla over Bounty in your aggro. Why is that?
It’s for the reason I mentioned. When people start to play three red heroes, it’s difficult to get the Track off. There’s a lot of tempo that’s important in the early game. You might not have a chance to cast Track first of all, and even if you do, there’s a high chance it’ll get disrupted. So it has a variance point in the early game already and then later Track kind of becomes a dead card because initiative and playing your powerful spells every turn becomes more important. So it’s almost impossible when you get to 5-6 mana to cast your Track, because you need to cast your Coup de Grace, your Berserker’s Call, etc.
The second reason I like Sorla is she gives you that extra push, but she’s also another way to get back some percentage against other decks where you lose out on playing three black heroes. Playing 3x black makes it easier to interact with other decks, like the combo one, and you can be more aggressive. Whereas when you have three red heroes, they are worse at interacting.
When you have Sorla, it’s easier to push your advantage early game and kill them fast when you have three red heroes.
What do you think of Hoej’s version of the BR Aggro, the one with The Oath and Tinker? It’s been killing people quite successfully in the tournament. Do you think it has the potential to stay as a meta staple, or did it just catch people off guard?
Definitely, I think it looks very impressive. It really comes down to how those mirror matches play out, whether it’s better to go a little bit bigger or be more aggressive and press your advantage more.
Being the one with more aggressive elements to it that can punish the opponent more seems to be doing better than expected. In those card games, in most of the match-ups, it’s usually a little bit better to be more robust, going a little bit bigger all the time. But that doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case in this scenario, because the black version has the option to get bigger by going for Ancient kills and pushing towers. And it has Tinker, which is kind of a late game hero…
I don’t know, it’s hard to estimate the match-up. I think that deck is faster, but it doesn’t get punished so much for having more “fragile” heroes because it has a powerful late game in being able to push fast. That’s interesting for sure.
This impressed me a lot. I am not sure which version is better or if you can configure to beat that version more easily. I think it’s very powerful.
We’ve seen a lot of spam of the same archetypes this tournament. With the exception of couple of decks here and there, it’s all been RG Ramp, UG Combo, and BR Aggro. Is that because the pros have not solved the meta and are going for the tried and true or do you think the meta has been solved and these are just the best options?
I think the meta definitely has the potential to evolve. I’m certain there’s the possibility of entirely new archetypes. It really depends on how the match-ups play against each other and how it stagnates.
I can see the possibility of a green/black deck, for example, because it has potential to be hugely aggressive. But it’s such a huge downside to be bad against red decks with inferior heroes. Still, a version like that would have the options to punish the combo deck more heavily, if you build a deck with Drow Ranger and Sorla. So, say Selemene’s Storm becomes the best deck in the format, it’s possible for new innovations to appear based on that metagame.
I think the meta definitely has the potential to evolve. I’m certain there’s the possibility of entirely new archetypes.
Then again, the thing you have to remember is that there are like four different archetypes of black/red. And even with minor differences, they play out very very differently. [laughs] So I think it’s hard to compare to, “Oh, it’s just these three colors.” There’s so much more underneath it. Look at the black/red group, there were literally four different decks. You don’t have to only go for a Payday strategy or an aggressive strategy.
For example, Cifka’s deck was a BR Midrange. It went for the best stats, it had three Spring the Traps, three Times of Triumph, all the midrange late game stuff. And it still tried to battle the red strategies. I think it was Pavel’s list that played Lich instead, which is better against “go wide” strategies and is also a late game. We had my aggressive version and then Xixo’s deck, which was even more aggressive. They all play out very differently. The feel of playing the decks will be different, which is the most important thing.
Stay tuned to VPEsports for the rest of Joel “Heffaklumpen” Larsson’s interview. Next part will be published tomorrow, Dec. 12.