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Artifact Basics: Getting to Know the Card Types

February 21st, 2019 | jscaliseok


Artifact is a card game with many layers. Every deck, be it drafted or constructed, runs on cards, and those cards all come with certain types. Understanding each type, as well as how they generally operate, is key to knowing the game as a whole.

Yes, something may be a spell, but what exactly does that mean? More to the point, how does a card being a spell affect the way you perceive it when deciding to put it into a deck? Those type of questions may seem basic, but they are incredibly important when it comes to figuring out what and how you want to play.


There are five distinct card types in Artifact: spells, items, improvements, creeps, and heroes. Of those, heroes are perhaps the most important because they drive the game. You pick five to go in your deck. Three then begin on the board at the start of every game, one comes in the following turn, and the final enters the turn after that. If they die, they stay off the board (at the fountain) for a turn and then can be put back into any lane.

What makes heroes interesting is that they control the rest of your deck. You are only able to play spells that match the color of a hero in any given lane. As a result, you will only have cards in your deck that share a color with the heroes you want to play. If you're playing two colors, you want to spread out your cards accordingly. For instance, putting a ton of blue cards and only a few black means you want three blue heroes and two black rather than three black and two blue.

When choosing a hero you always start with the color (red, blue, green, or black). From there, you then analyze the different choices in that color to see what fits your personal style. Some heroes are just stats, while others are a great mix of stats and abilities.

For example, if you want to play a strong black deck that kills other units, you want to include cards like Sniper and Phantom Assassin. Bounty Hunter is great towards that end as well, but he works in a dedicated gold build as well. Choose your theme first and then pick heroes accordingly.

Also note that every hero comes with three signature cards that have to be put into the deck with them. Some, like Viscous Nasal Goo from Bristleback, are there to act as a detriment to a hero with a strong body, while others like Gust from [[Drow Ranger[[ are there to make a hero even better. Some heroes may be great despite a weak signature, while some may be included on the power of their signature alone.

Heroes are a mix of four different aspects. They have their color, their stats, their signature card, and certain abilities. Weigh all of those against each other when figuring out who you want to lead your creeps into battle.


After choosing your heroes, you next need to decide what goes into your main deck. There are three choices for this: creeps, spells, and improvements. We’ll start with creeps because they, like heroes, are units that stay out on the board.

Though everyone gets access to melee creeps, the ones you choose for your deck are a bit more flashy. They fight, die, and typically come with solid stats or a strong ability that make them worth putting into your list.

For instance, Emissary of the Quorum’s ability makes it a wonderful finisher in any green/blue creep deck, while Bronze Legionnaire's cheap cost and two armor are fantastic for any aggressive red build.

In the current meta, creeps are not quite as widely looked at as spells or improvements. Even so, they do matter for a number of decks. The ones you pick depend on what your deck wants to do. Most red or black builds that want to push fast damage go with some of the less expensive options, while control, ramp, or combo lists want something a big card like Thunderhide Alpha that they can use to immediately take over a lane.

It also helps to remember that in Artifact you’re guaranteed an extra mana each turn. For that reason, you can always run more expensive creeps in builds that normally want to stay low the ground. That rule applies to all card types, but it is especially relevant when choosing bodies because it is easy to assume that you can only use certain cards that get in early damage. Sometimes, it’s ok to press with fast pressure and have a back up plan should things go wrong.


Spells are next. These cards come with a wide range of different effects and generally act as the glue that holds everything together.

The goal in Artifact, as you may well know, is to destroy two of your opponent’s towers. Most of the time you make that happen with your units on the board. However, no matter how many units or strong heroes you have, you need spells to back them up.

Spells have a one-time effect that you can use as long as you both have the mana to do so and a hero of the same color in the lane. Spell cards are currently the most important card type in Artifact because, unlike creeps, they cannot be interacted with. Though something like Slay can take down the Thunderhide Alpha you worked so hard for, the only way your opponent can stop a Time of Triumph or Bolt of Damocles is by taking out your heroes (which is no easy task).

Spells make up a majority of the popular decks because they tend to perfectly complement the main game plan. For instance, blue loves cheap utility plays (such as Arcane Assault or Foresight) alongside big sweepers like Annihilation. In contrast, Ramp decks rely on Stars Align to power out massive turns and black loves killing with plays like Gank, Coup de Grace, or Assassinate. Red spells tend to focus on buffing or supporting heroes. Some spells, like Spring the Trap and Dimensional Portal can also act as creeps. Those then allow certain builds to only utilize spells and never commit creeps to the board.

Blue relies on spells more than most colors, but you’ll find that they are extremely important to every single deck in the current meta. The goal in Artifact is to enact your plan as seamlessly as possible. Though it doesn’t always work out that way, good decks often find numerous paths to victory. Spells are what make that happen, and they act as the driving force behind just about any good body or powerful improvement.


Improvements are like spells in that they bring a special ability to your deck. However, rather than being one-time use, they sit on a tower in any given lane and provide a permanent bonus. As with spells, these are not as easy to interact with as creeps, which makes them the backbone to many different strategies.

Ramp heavily relies on Selemene’s Favor to quickly move up their curve, while Unearthed Secrets helps all green decks keep their hands full during the game. Black gold decks love Iron Fog Goldmine to generate resources and many Blue control decks utilize Ignite or Conflagration to keep the opponent's creeps in check.

Red (and to a certain extent black) is the only color that does not rely on improvements. Though they do have some, most of them are weak compared to what the other colors can do with them.

The above cards are just a few examples of what improvements can do, but they show off how the type differs from spells. They are not a big flashy play that will take over a lane or win you the game on the spot. Rather, they generate incremental value as the game goes along. These are not the cards you will generally build your entire deck around, they are the cards that will slowly bring your plan together as the game moves along.


The final cards in Artifact are items. These are interesting because, unlike the other types, they don’t go into your deck. Rather, they pile into a separate item deck that you can buy from with your gold in-between rounds. Once you do, you equip them to heroes to give them a permanent ability or bonus that lasts the rest of the game.

You can buff health with something like Traveler’s Cloak, up attack with weapons like Stonehall Pike, or provide a hero with a great ability through cards like Blink Dagger. There are also consumable items (one-time use) and ones you get from the secret shop. However, those are not ones you choose before the game starts, they merely come about randomly each turn.

For your deck, you need nine options. When putting those together, look at them as both an extension of your main deck and as an entirely different beast. That is to say, your item deck needs to further your game plan, but it also needs to have a curve and uniqueness of its own. It can be tempting to only put in large, splashy items. However, that will mean you won't be able to buy anything for the first few turns of the game (which can then make you fall behind).

Items are interesting because, while they wildly differ, the current best decks all go as straightforward as possible with them. That is to say, they run a lot of cheap items that they can use to get advantage early on. The first turns are vital in the current Artifact, and that plan helps them get there.

There is nothing wrong with going for some of the more expensive options, but you need to have a good base that you can buy early on before doing so. Even some of the more dedicated gold decks need the cheap items they can use to either protect their heroes or cycle through their deck to find the gold-heavy investments when the time comes.


To fully understand Artifact from both a playing and deck building perspective, you need to understand its many different parts. Breaking down each card type, understanding how they operate, and seeing what they do in different colors, makes it easier to build a functioning deck. It will also help you improve upon or tweak some of the most popular decks if they aren't working in the right way.

Just about every deck uses all of the above types, and it is best to know how and why they use a certain number of each.
(Last Updated: January 15th, 2020)

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