At the end of 2018, Valve released Artifact — its answer to the digital card game craze. Within months, it became one of the biggest game failures in recent memory, only eclipsed by Anthem in early 2019. Five months after launch, Valve ceased all updates on Artifact and went back to the drawing board. Over a year later, Artifact 2.0 is in active beta. This crack is easier to understand, and its new live draft allows you to focus on learning the mechanics rather than the cards.
The original Artifact was long and overly complex, with tons of actions and randomness — bogging down the strategic parts of the game. In 2.0, the game feels snappier. Players place their heroes in a lane of their choosing, spend some per-turn mana on spells or units, and then initiate an attack phase where units take damage and attack towers. In between rounds, players can shop for items to empower their heroes before jumping right back into another turn.
A focus on mechanics over cards
The best change to Artifact 2.0 comes from the new draft mode. I have six slots in my deck — five heroes for play, and one to steal from my enemy. My opponent picks a hero and then I pick two, and so on until both our benches are full. Artifact then builds me the rest of my deck, based on the heroes I just picked.
In both Artifact and Artifact 2.0, there are blue, red, black, and green cards — like a family of units all themed around a similar playstyle. Certain heroes belong to certain colors, and I usually opt to pick heroes of the same color in the draft to improve my deck synergy.
If I want a blue and black deck, I could pick three black heroes like Bounty Hunter, Mirana, and Phantom Assassin, and two blue heroes like Zeus and Venomancer. When I lock in those five heroes, the game will automatically make me a deck of 60% black cards and 40% blue cards. It’s a faster way into the game, and makes for an immediately less intimidating process.
I’ve had a different deck in every game of Artifact 2.0 I’ve played so far, but the cards have never been overwhelming. The new version is less about the color cards in my deck, and more about my heroes on the board.
At the start of every round in Artifact, I place any recently-revived heroes back on the game board — when a hero dies, they usually take a turn or two before I can put them back into play. I have a small handful of non-hero cards I can play, but I won’t use nearly as many in a game of Artifact as I would in Hearthstone. These non-hero cards are powerful, but supplemental. I need to master the basics of the original Artifact before I should worry about the other cards in my deck, and the live draft mode from Artifact 2.0 helps me focus on what really matters for my level of play.
Games like Slay the Spire taught me how much fun it can be to build a deck, and I always gravitate toward draft modes in card games. They’ve always been my favorite way to learn a new game’s cards — building a deck one piece at a time, and reading each description as I go. But draft modes are also intimidating, with so much time spent reading, I often forget which cards go well together. It’s hard to learn a new game and remember the cards, but Artifact’s new draft mode just asks me to carefully consider where I place my heroes — the best, chess-like quality of the original Artifact.
As Artifact 2.0 gets closer to its still-unscheduled launch, Valve will likely re-introduce modes that allow you to pre-build your own deck, and finely tune the perfect synergies. But as a returning player, the live draft managed to grab me in ways the original release never did.
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