To prepare for the launch of Artifact later this month (beta coming Nov. 19 and the full game on Nov. 28), we at VPEsports are launching a series of guide articles to help you learn the basics of Artifact and card games in general. This series will cover different archetypes, heroes and decks to look out for, understanding how the game works, tips, tricks and fundamentals and so on.
Before we zoom in on Artifact, there are certain card game concepts we’ll have to understand first. These are fundamental terms and ideas present in each traditional card game. This includes terms such as the different deck archetypes, card terms like tempo and card advantage, and so on. And since you’ll be hearing them a lot, best to learn them as soon as possible.
We open the series with a deck archetype that draws most novice players: the aggro.
The basic archetypes
Different card games will feature a different palette of deck types, but usually, they will be founded upon the fundamental archetypal trinity of aggro, control and midrange. Consider this the RGB of card games. To keep things simple, we won’t go into cross-archetype decks (like aggro-control or midrange-control) or unique archetypes such as combo. Consider these images from an old Magic: The Gathering article by Ken Nagle which show the power curve of MTG’s core decks. Since the games are different, the images don’t translate verbatim to Artifact, but the concept they represent remains.
Aggro, midrange, and control are essentially defined by when in the game are they strongest. Aggro is early game, midrange is mid game and control is late game. Again, this is not a universal formula, but rather a simplified explanation to help you grasp the concept.
Since we’re talking aggro in this article, let’s zoom in on it. The aggro strategy is defined (and countered) by the following elements:
- Unit-based — the win condition of the aggro decks are their minions. Such decks will go wide on the board with creeps and use them to rush your life points down. As such, they are also most hurt by creep removal, especially AoE removal
- Consistent damage output — aggro decks want to be dealing damage to your tower as often as possible. They want to win early and every turn they face a stall is bad for them. As such, defensive creeps, armor and healing effects come in as their counters.
- Board clear is limited — since aggro decks want to play a lot of minions, they don’t have enough card slots to include a lot of removal spells. The spells aggro will usually play include direct damage (to circumvent blockers and burn down the tower); or some form of point removal to eliminate problematic defenders.
- Low-curve bias — aggro blooms early and it does so by playing cheap, aggressive cards. This skews their mana curve towards the low numbers
- Aggro mechanic in Artifact: Siege, Initiative, Piercing damage — anything that helps you burn down a tower, take the reins of a turn, or circumvent damage mitigation is your good aggro friend
The bullet points above can be used to describe aggro in most traditional card games, but Artifact has its quirks. For starters, the battle phase works nothing like Magic: The Gathering, where one player will declare attackers and their opponent will decide what to block and how; or Hearthstone where the active player decides what each minion attacks. In Artifact, units fight opposing units, so in order to ensure tower damage, aggro decks have to get creative, and there are a couple of ways to do it.
1. Siege cards — Siege (X) is a mechanic that deals (X) amount of damage directly to the tower if the Siege unit is blocked, i.e. have a unit in the slot opposite of him. The more siege units you have, the more chances there are to ensure tower damage.
2. Go wide on the board — Another way to guarantee tower damage is to have more units than the opponent has blockers. The goal would be to play your highest possible attack units on empty slots and hope for the attack arrow to point forward. If it does — great, there’s tower damage. If it doesn’t — less great but still good as you might get to kill a tough unit like a hero.
3. Direct damage spells — While black is traditionally the aggro color in Artifact, there are some options in other colors that can be “splashed” — i.e. make a small, but vital portion of the deck — to help the cause. Blue is a great example with its direct damage spells. Think the excellent Lightning Strike (2 mana, 6 damage to the tower), or the three-in-one Arcane Assault (2 damage to the tower, 1 card draw, and take initiative).
Unlike other card games, Artifact has two win conditions. You can either take two towers in two different lanes (total of 80 damage), or focus on a single lane and take the two towers there (total of 120 damage). The first plan is obviously the easier for aggro decks: it’s less damage. But sometimes, you’ll end up in a situation where you win a lane so hard that 120 damage is achievable. As an aggro deck, you’ll have to know exactly how much damage you can put out (as opposed to control decks which have to know how much damage taken they can get away with). Poor planning of the damage output will lead to a loss.
Cards you’ll find in aggro decks
1. Heroes and signature cards:
2. Siege mechanics
3. Attack buffs and direct damage
4. Good point removal and initiative cards