Like every strategy games, trading card games (TCGs) are concerned with some form of economy management. In StarCraft, for example, you collect minerals and gas for your economy. In Hearthstone, you have mana. What you can do at every single moment — what units you can build, or what cards you can play — is limited by your economy.
The same is true for Artifact. Economy-wise, Valve’s game is similar to its TCG cousins. Below, we’ll look at the basic resources in Artifact, mana and gold. In our next “Learning Artifact” article, we’ll look at advanced resources, which are those that are still part of the economy but aren’t as “obvious”.
Mana is the most fundamental resource in Artifact. Every card in the game, except for heroes and items, has a mana cost, listed on the top left corner, next to the name. To play a card in a lane, you have to first have, and then expend that mana cost. Tinker’s signature improvement March of the Machines, for example, costs 5 mana.
Each tower in each lane starts with 3 mana and the pool increases on a turn-by-turn basis. Unlike Magic: The Gathering where you need to draw mana cards from your deck, Artifact is like Hearthstone where each turn, the mana pool of a tower increases by one. That means that March of the Machines cannot be played until Turn 3 when you’ll have a mana pool of 5.
The only card in Artifact that are not concerned with the mana pool are heroes and items. Heroes are deployed for free before the start of the turn when they spawn/re-spawn. Items cost gold to purchase (see below), but once you buy them, they’re free to play. Hence, heroes have no mana cost next to their name and items instead have a gold cost in the bottom right corner.
There are a couple of concepts associated with mana and the most important one is the so-called mana curve. Simply put, mana curve is how many cards of each mana value does your deck have. If you have a lot of cheap spells, your mana curve will be skewed to the low numbers, or left. If you have a lot of big creeps and spells, your mana curve will be skewed towards the bigger numbers, or right.
Different archetypes will have different-looking mana curves. Aggro decks (read here on what they are), for example, will have a left-skewed curve, since they want to end game fast and early by playing cheap cards. Midrange decks (the archetype explained here) will have more even curves, since they want to be consistent in their threat drop throughout the game.
Below are two examples of mana curves in Artifact. The blue/black deck, concerned with swarming the opponent, invests heavily in cheap cards. The red/green midrange, which is here to play a long game, has cards spread all throughout the curve, reaching to the 8+ slot where his finishers lie.
Mana curve is especially important when drafting in the Gauntlet. Drafted decks don’t have ironed out strategies so ideally, they’ll want to have threats every step of the way.
Once you know how much your cards cost, you’ll need to learn when and how to spend your mana. In Hearthstone, for example, this decision-making is relatively easy, since the player has full control of the turn. Their opponent can’t interrupt them and the mana-spending plan is much more linear.
Artifact is more akin to Magic: The Gathering, where in the span of a single lane round, both players expand mana to play cards. You play a card, pass the initiative on, your opponent plays a card, he passes it back to you, and so on.
Since most of those actions will cost mana, it becomes very important to know what to play and when. As a general rule, players will always want to have the upper hand in terms of how many threats or answers they can play. Therefore, you will often see players starting with their cheapest cards (including the items) or unit abilities, trying to bait the opponent into expanding his mana pool first and hence be unable to act.
Consider this situation:
— On Turn 4, PLAYER A expands all his 6 mana to play the 6/0/16 Marrowfell Brawler to block and kill PLAYER B‘s Sorla Khan
— PLAYER B sees PLAYER A has no items in hand (item cards have different card backs) and has no mana to react
— PLAYER B uses Slay on the Brawler, opening the attack path before his Sorla Khan
— PLAYER A is tapped out of mana and passes
— Knowing PLAYER A still can’t afford neither a threat to fill the slot or an answer of any kind, PLAYER B plays Assault Ladders
— Both players pass and PLAYER B’s Sorla rams in for 14 damage into the tower
Imagine now that instead of playing Marrowfell Brawler, PLAYER A played one of his two 2-mana Bronze Legionnaire’s. He would’ve baited the Slay and play the second one to soak Sorla. If the black player had another ace up their sleeve, PLAYER A could still have 2 mana to play Pick a Fight and taunt his red hero and soak Sorla. Or if the second Bronze Legionnaire lived, PLAYER A could play his 2-mana Whirling Death to get Sora down to 4 health and kill it with the Bronze Legionnaire. By going all-in on his Marrowfell Brawler and mismanaging their mana, PLAYER A took 14 damage, when they could’ve not only saved it, but killed Sorla Khan in the process too.
Three of these cards above make for 6 mana: same cost as Marrowfell Brawler, but much more options.
Gold is the second basic resource in Artifact. Unlike mana, which is acquired every turn, gold is collected when you kill units. Creep kills yield 1 gold and hero kills yield 5 gold.
The accumulated gold can be spent at after all three lane rounds have been played out and you transition into the new turn. This is the so-called shopping phase.
Unlike mana management, which is a very complicated exchange during the action phase, gold management is somewhat easier, though some strategic planning is still needed. In every shopping phase, you can a combination of three actions:
- Purchase an item — Each item’s cost in gold is located in the bottom right corner and the items themselves come in three categories. The central column represents your item deck of nine cards. You design your item deck as you build your deck in general. Every shopping phase, the central column offers you a random item from this deck. If you buy it, another one is flipped and available for purchase once again.The left column is the so called secret shop. The items there are once again random, and are generally more expensive and powerful. The right column represents various consumables, ranging from healing potions which restore health, to town portal scrolls which evacuate and save your hero from death.
- Hold the items — If you like one or more of the items the shopping phase is offering, but can’t (or just don’t want to) buy it right away, you can pay 1 gold to “hold” the cards. The same will appear in the next shopping phase.
- Pass — When you’re done shopping, you can simply pass the shopping phase. You will keep your unspent gold going into the next turn.
How will you spend your gold is intrinsically tied to the board situation (as everything else, really). If you need to push damage, you might want to get that Short Sword. If you want to play the long-game and will do a lot of lane hopping, saving and waiting for that Blink Dagger could be the right call. Or if you’re playing a Payday-centric deck, you could start saving so you can purchase that Apotheosis Blade or Helm of the Dominator.
In Learning Artifact #5, we will continue the topic of economy by looking at three advanced resources that novice players don’t often think about: life, cards and card slots.