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Artifact Basics: Letting Your Heroes Die

December 26th, 2018 | jscaliseok


Sometimes, to win in Artifact you need to go against the grain. The goal of the game is to control all three lanes as best you can, and that control often stems from your heroes. Though you almost always want those heroes alive and healthy, there are certain times where you need to let them die.

That is one of the most important lessons to learn in Artifact because those situations directly contrast all common logic. You need your heroes to play spells, and without them you’re vulnerable. Even so, losing heroes on purpose can be the correct move for a variety of reasons.

It is those reasons we’ll cover below.

More than Just a Death

Before getting into the nuanced plays built around this article's concept, the first thing we need cover is, why would you ever want to let your heroes die? While you need them to play cards, there are many situations where your strong bodies are stuck in a lane where they aren't doing any work.

For example, let’s say you have Duel in hand and you need to fight for the first lane. Your only red hero, Bristleback, is in the third lane. If that first lane swings the game, you need to get your Bristleback to die as soon as possible. That then opens up a new line of play and makes it so you can effectively use a previously dead card in your hand.

There are a few powerful plays in Artifact, but nothing is as strong as being able to move your heroes across lanes. Blink Dagger, which is prevalent in most popular decks, does that to great effect, as do certain cards or abilities.

It is easy to see the strength in those cards, but remember that letting a hero die also allows you to shuffle them around. That mobility is the number one reason you want your heroes to go back to the fountain. It helps you structure the game and keeps you involved in all parts of the fight.

Artifact is a game of push-and-pull mechanics. Sometimes you suddenly lose a lane, while other times you surge forward. Those type of plays are often dictated by heroes suddenly jumping in and making a big splash. The best way to set that up is sacrificing a hero that is not doing a lot of work.

The How and When of Hero Death

The first puzzle to solve for this topic is figuring out how to get your hero to die. As lane placement (that is, where your units go on a lane) is random in Artifact, you will almost never be able to perfectly place a hero into a space where they will die. This is especially true because most of the time you want a hero to die the game will be well under way.

Luckily, most of the game is about killing heroes. Your opponents will often work hard to take out your heroes and keep them off the board at all costs. In that way, getting your own hero to die is more about what you don't do than what you do.

If your opponent equips their hero with a strong weapon or buffs a unit's attack, you should do nothing in response. Yes, you can play that Traveler’s Cloak or Healing Salve in your hand, but passing is much better in these specific situations.

You can also achieve the above goal by letting your opponent gain and take advantage of priority. This path is always a bit more risky, but against decks with a lot of strong kill spells (Black, Red, Blue) you can often pass and track their next move. You may not always get the desired outcome (good players will know how to keep your heroes alive) but if they take a hero you want dead off the board, it both sets up your future plays and provides you with priority moving forward.

Hero Killing Cards

Though the above section is important towards winning in Artifact, there are a few exceptions to the “let your opponent choose” rule that you want to make note of both when playing and a deck building.

That is because a few cards in the game do let you kill your heroes when you want. Annihilation and At Any Cost are the two most well-known, but even something like Phase Boots helps put your hero into danger. You normally would not jump into harm's way, but it is a great way to get your hero out of a dead lane (especially when your opponent wants to keep it there).

Those plays are critical when it comes to getting your heroes back to the fountain because it lessens the amount of dead cards you have in your hand. A lot of good players will abandon lanes in a way that stick or strand powerful heroes at certain parts of the board. Even having one hero stranded in a losing lane can lead to disaster.

That situation is why Blink Dagger and Town Portal Scroll are so strong, and it is another example of why you need to get your heroes off the board. Omitting good cards or leaving your heroes out to dry is often the way the make it back to the fountain, but do note that there are other routes to take. The above cards are better than leaving it up to your opponent because they put you in complete control.

Know When to Abandon Ship

With all this talk about killing heroes and letting them die, it is also important to note that losing a hero can be dangerous. Even if your intentions are good, one mistimed play can lead to a quick loss.

That lesson is important because you always need to make sure your want to let a hero die before you do it. This decision often comes a few turns before the kill, and that planning is vital to winning in Artifact. Though there are certain exceptions, looking to the future is important because you need to track when you or your opponent plan to abandon a lane.

Lane abandonment is something you want to think about from the first turn of the game. To do that, follow each one and see how well you need to contest each one. Fill the ones you can push, or sit back and protect any your opponent targets. This will help you understand where your focus should be, which then shows where you need your heroes.

If your Zeus is in a middle lane you no longer care about, don’t invest resources into saving it.

Also note that you will not always abandon a lane just because you get run over. There are many reasons to give up on a lane, including making a strong push for another one. If you already have one tower down, or if you simply have an aggressive deck, losing a hero early on to stack somewhere else on the board can be a very powerful play.

A Two Turn Delay

Of course, beyond Rix and Vesture of the Tyrant, every hero needs two turns to come back onto the board. That one turn wait time is incredibly important because, if set up in the right way, it can lead to gigantic swings. In contrast, when set up in the wrong way it can lead to disaster.

Chances are, if you need a hero to die it is for a very good reason. It is often because you have to get it into another lane or because it would be much better used somewhere other than where it is. For that reason, you always want to have a plan about how and when your heroes return to the fountain.

Of course, you are not in complete control of what your opponent does. However, that does not mean you can't plan for when you'll lose a hero. If you see your hero is going to die (or if you think your opponent will kill it) you should know what you want to do when they return.

Sacrificing a hero too late is one of the main reasons people lose in Artifact. Though you go back-and-forth for most of the game, any time your heroes are in the fountain you are vulnerable. That does not mean you cannot let them die, it simply means you need to have them die in a way where you still can do things on the board. The two turn rule can hurt you, but if you plan ahead for it there won't be a problem with having limited heroes to use.

A Balancing of Colors

Of course, hero death, while always important in one capacity or another, is extremely key in decks that utilize more than one color. A mono-colored deck still wants to shuffle heroes around, but not as much as a deck that needs to play certain colored cards into specific lanes.

When playing a multi-colored deck you need to carefully track your heroes. A two color deck almost always runs with a two/three split, which then often leads to board states where a single hero of a color you need is stuck in a useless lane. You may want to play your Coup de Grace or Gust into the first lane, but that often takes set up at the later stages.

When balancing colors, don't simply think about what's in front of you. Rather, go through lines like "what do I need in the first lane to ensure my Annihilation hits in lane three on turn six?" If your only blue heroes are in lanes one and two, get one out of there on four so it will be ready.

It is very easy to get caught up in the here and now, but Artifact takes a good amount of foresight. It always feels bad losing a hero, but if you have a plan and set reason for why you did that, it's a good move.

Having the wrong colors in the wrong lanes is an easy way to lose. Use your heroes to cut that off before it ever happens.

Handle with Care

A final note about this topic is to always be alert. Letting your heroes die, while important, is something you only want to do in certain situations. It is easy to think “I don’t care about this lane” and move on, but that is not always how you want to play the game.

Most of the time, you only want to let heroes die in Artifact if you have a very specific reason to do so. Yes, there are certain scenarios where you can’t do anything, but there are a lot of different situations where you have agency.

Letting something die can be very powerful and help you stack the lanes in the way you want, but it can also lead to issues if not properly planned for. Moving around heroes is great. Moving around heroes at a key time in the game or in a situation where you need to play cards is not. Be aware of that and, when planning for the above tips, think if you truly need to lose something.


Nobody likes letting their heroes die. However, there are many times where it is necessary. That distinction is important and it is one of the hardest aspects to learn about Artifact. Hero death is completely foreign to most players, especially ones that come from other games. Even so, sometimes you have to sacrifice the now to ensure you're ready for the future.
(Last Updated: January 15th, 2020)

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