Sean “Swim” Huguenard is one of the most famous Gwent players due to his constant stream of innovative decks. He recently made the transition to Artifact, and although he signed with Evil Geniuses and he bleeds blue since last month, he actually started his Artifact career by commentating the first two tournaments for the game.
He is now in Kiev, Ukraine at WePlay’s Artifact Mighty Triad: Strength Invitational event where we had the opportunity to sit and talk to him about the game. We discussed in details what’s wrong with the Cheating Death Improvement and why this card is the “textbook definition of overpowered”, about the Blue decks, which are his favorites, and about the Artifact RNG.
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Hello Swim, we’ve been in Kiev at the WePlay Artifact tournament for almost a week now, so I’ll start by asking how do you find the city so far, and which Kiev legend stuck with you?
Well, I have an Ushanka hat now. I was mostly trying not to freeze to death during that city tour trip because I didn’t pack warming clothes with me here, so when we were walking down the street there was someone selling those hats and I had to buy one. I got to admit, I wasn’t paying too much attention to what the guide was saying because it was so cold. I guess one of the stories I remember is of the Pantiusha cat which has a statue in the downtown and people go and whisper their wish to her ears.
Alright, let’s talk Artifact a bit. You’re a rather famous Gwent personality, when and why did you decide to switch to a game that’s basically just launched?
Gwent had a period when it wasn’t updated at all and it made a lot of people go away, but honestly ever since I heard the news, that Valve will launch a card game, I got really really excited about it because I’m also playing a lot of Dota. The first time I got to try out Artifact, I didn’t really like it, to be perfectly honest, but the more I played it, it really, really grew on me.
Once you kind of understand what’s really going on with the decision making in Artifact, when you try to go play another card game it feels really bad because you just can’t get the same feeling you have in Artifact. This game is so much more complex, there is so much more going on in terms of what you have to think about, playing another game it just doesn’t feel the same. I played Artifact for a week or two in an early beta tournament and I tried to go back to Gwent after that and it just didn’t feel good.
There’s some Gwent mechanics that people tend to believe that are helping those who are now transitioning to Artifact, like for example the initiative is similar to having the first play in Gwent. Do you agree, do you feel that you had a smoother learning curve with Artifact, because of your Gwent experience?
Yeah, I do think so. I mean, I think that the players who have the best chance in Artifact are the one who have previous experience with Gwent. I’m saying this because the biggest thing with Gwent is that it’s basically a game about giving up resources because you have to win two out of three rounds where in Artifact, you have to win two out of three lanes and so, so much of the mentality is transferred.
Obviously, you can learn Artifact without having any other card game experience. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t played card games and it doesn’t matter if you haven’t played Dota, but if you want a little bit of a head start, then yeah, I would say that people with a Gwent background will be able to pick up faster what Artifact is about. And we are actually seeing that already happening. Although there are fewer Gwent players than Hearthstone or MTG players competing right now, they are still doing better overall.
So, you also played a bit of Dota, how much time did you invest in that, and I guess I’ll carry on and ask if you feel that having a good knowledge of the Dota heroes and their abilities can help someone when playing Artifact.
Not a bit. I played a LOT of Dota. For four years I played only Dota. Like wake up, play Dota all day for full four years, nothing else.
Why didn’t you turn to a pro career in Dota?
I guess that at that time in my life I didn’t have aspirations. I was just really, really enjoying the game.
“I feel like Artifact will attract the kind of persons who enjoy a complex game”
I totally understand what you mean. So, back to Artifact, do you feel like that there is a bridge, a connection for the Dota players who might try now a card game for the first time in their life?
Absolutely. It’s less about understanding the game faster, it’s more about what you like about a game. Anyone who is playing Dota beyond a very basic amount, is someone who is attracted by the complexity of this game, someone who wants, who likes to dive into the mechanics of the game, into all the many things Dota is forcing you to keep track of. A game of Dota keeps your mind busy, you have to pay all your attention to the game, it keeps your mind working all the time with all the things going on on the map, and I feel like Artifact is exactly the same kind of game and will attract the kind of persons who enjoy a complex game.
Besides Gwent, Dota and now Artifact, what other games is Swim playing, or better said, do you enjoy playing something outside the TCG genre?
Yeah as I said, I enjoy Dota because it was my entire life for a while, but I also played Overwatch for a bit, I would say semi-competitive play, but casual play of other games, no. Unfortunately I don’t have time for that. For instance, before coming to Kiev I was streaming Artifact for 13 hours per day every day, so that doesn’t leave me with time for other games. Honestly, I do kind of miss pure mechanical games in my life, like shooters and MOBAs, but at the same time I appreciate all the strategy that goes with card games.
You’re regarded as someone who is very creative and capable to find ways of being successful by playing outside the meta. How do you feel about the current Red/Black spam?
It’s kind of crazy. I think Red is popular right now because of the strength of the heroes. I think the color is a little bit overtuned. Red is just a very strong color at this moment, it’s hard to escape from it right now.
At this point in the WePlay tournament, we’ve seen this Selemene deck performing really well but I think that’s largely due to the fact that not enough people brought counters to this. So far, each Incarnation of Selemene deck made it to playoffs, so that can only means that it’s really good while these Red/Black decks are not really built to beat the Selemene ones. If you take a Red/Black deck, maybe even Red/Green one and you build it around the idea of beating these Incarnation of Selemene decks, I think that will do a lot better against them.
“Cheating Death is the textbook definition of overpowered”
There are several cards which the community finds overpowered, like Cheating Death for instance. Or some combos that feel like they weren’t fully balanced and I’m going to ask you what you think, are they OP, or it’s just that people didn’t take enough time to look into counters?
That’s a good question. Let’s talk Cheating Death. This card is the textbook definition of overpowered. At the very least I would say it’s poorly designed and they’re going to need to do something about it and I actually think they will. The problem with Cheating Death is that it’s easy for people to say “just run an Improvement removal”, but for me, that really doesn’t make sense right now. And why I am saying this? There is math behind all this, and math is something I’m really good at. I like to think that I’m very good at evaluating the math behind things and I’m trying to build decks just purely on theorycrafting.
So, with something like a card game there is this sort of a triangle and the three edges of it . One edge is the idea of a counter to something, then you have the idea of something that gets countered and then there is the idea of the probability for the counter to happen. Then you have to calculate the value you get when the counter happens versus the value you lose when the counter doesn’t happen.
Now, we look at Cheating Death and what counters we have for it right now. Smash Their Defenses, Raze, Pugna’s Nether Blast and Demagicking Maul. These are the only four forms of Improvement removal we have in the game and Demagicking Maul is the best card out of those. In terms of power levels, it is the strongest, but it’s also really hard to use on Cheating Death because it keeps getting blocked by the opposing units. The problem with the other three is that they are all too specific kind of cards that answer the Improvements. What I mean by that is that if your opponent plays an improvement, like let’s say, he plays Mist of Avernus or Conflagration, usually, you will play something like Smash Their Defenses to kill it in maybe like two turns. But, by that point, the Improvement will already have got a good value. So, the problem is, even when you counter them, you still not really getting the mathematical value that you want. And, the bigger issue is when you are not countering them. If you have these counters in your deck, but your opponent is not running these big Improvements, then you get with the cards stuck in your hand, so you have to have a balance. If it’s only going to be a little bit better when it counters it, then it has to be a lot more better when it doesn’t counter it. So, it seems like there’s something off with the ratio.
So, the TLDR of all this would be, either rework the Cheating Death or rework the Improvement removal cards, or why not, bring new mechanics, new cards to play around the Improvements.
Yeah exactly, because I’ve seen some comments that say “just run removals” but it’s not that easy. It’s not like in MOBA games where you see your opponent buying a certain item and you buy another item that counters it.
Right, so it’s not like in Dota where you build an MkB in response to a BkB, to make a very simple comparison.
That’s exactly right, you can’t do that in a card game. If you put Improvement removal cards in your deck to try counter Cheating Death, you will have mainly to play Red and second of all, a deck that doesn’t run Improvements will beat you because you are running these cards that can’t be used in this context. This logic doesn’t really work in a card game.
And then, you have these other cards that are very strong right now, there are these Axe, Drow Ranger heroes which are impossible not to be played right now because of their respective colors and there’s even a few items that are super good compared to others and it’s also impossible to not add them into your deck them right now. Like Blink Dagger and Claszureme Hourglass.
“Right now it looks like there is one single tier one deck that doesn’t run Red”
Before coming to this event I kept seeing pros saying that Blue feels weak because it’s actually easy to prepare yourself for the big Blue spells, like Thundergod’s Wrath or Annihilation, what are your thoughts on Blue?
I think that in Draft mode, Blue is the weakest color and when people are saying these things about the Draft mode, they are absolutely correct. In constructed, maybe Blue has the least potential right now, but what we have to understand is that Blue is a combo color. You need tools, you need to pair it with other things. If it feels kind of weak right now, I’m sure it will get stronger with more tools, more cards to enable it.
Right now it looks like there is one single tier one deck that doesn’t run Red, and that’s Blue/Green, which means that Blue/Black and Green/Black are the weaker color combinations. For instance, I really like Hyped’s list from group stage. He doesn’t run the Selemene card which I think it’s better for now.
Speaking of Blue decks, I want to hear from you what did you think of the Luminous vs Melo series, because for example I was watching that series and I was thinking, oh Lord, If I would ever had encountered in Expert one of those decks I would have got so tilted and go rage onto some forums right away.
Oh yeah, I understand what you mean. Sometimes that’s exactly the game plan. They were both playing for the late game strategies.
Play with your opponent mind kind of game?
Exactly. They were just stalling because both decks are built for the late game. But it also came down to both Lumi and Melo playing very well in that series. It was a very close match-up and I think Melo could have definitely won it if he would have played a little bit different. You can’t say he didn’t play well, because he really did very well, but that’s one of the things in Artifact. Basically, every single time when there is a game that ends close, you can go back and you can identify the minor misplays you made, mistakes that if they weren’t there, you could have won the game.
I saw Hyped saying this earlier, which is “in Artifact, every time you lose, you feel that there actually is a way you could have won it”. And I’m telling you, that is not a feeling you can have in any other card games. There is so much complexity and so much things you can see you could have done better at the end of a game. It’s like in Dota, you can identify where you misplayed and when and why you lost.
What’s your highlight from the WePlay! Artifact Mighty Triad: Strength group stage matches so far?
It has to be that Blue versus Blue mirror, Luminous vs Melo we just talked about. There were a lot of other things happening these past few days, like in day 2 when we had a lot of ties, but that Blue vs Blue mirror match up was so intense and so fun to watch. And I’m also someone who likes to play Blue versus Blue. It’s a match up that forces you to think so far in advance.
I was talking with Melo a little bit and he was saying, “yeah after looking back, I could have done that and that differently and I could have won.” That’s so amazing about this game. In Artifact you either win or learn, and that’s such a powerful feeling. You rarely feel that’s out of your control although it’s a lot of RNG. As a spectator you maybe think it’s too much RNG and anyone reading this and has been watching the event, is probably feeling this way. But once you play the game and you are able to think about everything, you realize that you have so much agency, so much control of your game to bounce that out.
On a scale from 1 to 10, how ridiculous do you find the Ogre Magi passive?
Honestly, I don’t think that Ogre Magi’s passive is that bad. Yes, we’ve seen it be pretty much a game decider thing in a lot of these games here just because of that Selemene deck, but I don’t think it’s on the same level with Cheating Death. It’s definitely very heavy RNG, but when you are watching the Selemene deck, it’s making it look worse than it actually is, just because that deck can use it at the maximum potential with the infinite mana and the proc on Thundergod’s Wrath, but normally, the passive is not that bad.
A few weeks ago you signed with Evil Geniuses, however, you’ve been casting for the first two Artifact events. When will we get to see you in the player seat?
Very soon. In the next week or two. I’ll be playing in events starting this month and I’m really looking forward to do it in 2019. I started with casting these first two Artifact events because this was discussed before I signed with EG and I actually wanted to try it, I wanted to be a part of the community, but I think that my true strength lies in being a player and I’m ready to go!. I’m watching and casting this tournament and it makes me want so much more to compete.
Thanks for your time Swim, any closing words at the end of our interview?
Thanks for having me, and I’m going to make a promise that I will continue to stream and put in as much content as possible just with the idea of getting better at this game. And for anyone who doesn’t know who I am I guess they can check me on my twitch.tv and youtube channels, swimstrim.
More interviews from WePlay Artifact Mighty Triad: Strength Invitational
– Hyped: “It feels like every game you lost, you could’ve won with a different line of play.”
– Naiman: “Draft is so awesome. I think right now the power balance is way better there.”
– Hoej: “My main focus will always be Hearthstone.”