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Artifact Basics: Understanding Items

January 22nd, 2019 | jscaliseok


There are many moving parts to a game of Artifact. Some, like the heroes, are easy to notice and track. Others are much more subtle. Such is the case with items. Item cards, while plentiful, are often taken for granted when both piloting and building a deck. You throw the classic “good ones” into your build, maybe have one card off here and there, and you’re good to go.

While that mindset can work from time to time, every card in your deck needs to have a set purpose. You don’t just want to pick an item because it looks good or someone else told you to. Rather, you need to know why it’s in your deck and how to use it.

Understanding Items

There are two key aspects to break down when choosing items for your deck: abilities and cost. Both of those are incredibly important to understand, and they each need to be taken into account at the same time.

An item may have a great ability, but that doesn’t matter if you’ll never be able to afford it. On the other hand, a low cost item might be tempting in a deck that doesn’t focus on gold, but you never want a lackluster or so-so card taking up valuable slots. Artifact is a value game, and every single one of your cards needs to be furthering or building to that value.

Items are not in your deck to win the game on their own. Though some (such as Horn of the Alpha) can push you to victory, most of the time they will support or help put together an already solid strategy. That can mean helping you end the game in dramatic fashion, enable a quick start, or allow your heroes to do things they normally wouldn't be able to.

Analyzing Abilities

While abilities and cost are both incredibly important towards putting together your nine items, abilities often come first. That is to say, you first want to figure out what you need from your item deck. Do you want extra finishers? Maybe quick damage or a way to buff up under-statted heroes?

Such questions must be taken into account when choosing your item deck. Some abilities are simply too powerful or too broad to ignore (such as is the case with Blink Dagger) but for the most part you need to have a specific reason for picking one item over another. Even Dagger, which is an auto-include in most popular builds, has a reason it's chosen: it breaks one of the games fundamental rules.

The best way to do this is to understand your deck’s main focus and then build from there. For instance, does your deck need items to win? Are they the main plan (as is the case with Black/Red Gold or Blue/Black Economy) or are they simply there for a bit of extra support? Knowing this will give you your potential choices, which you can then break down based on how much they will cost you in game.

A Well-Balanced Diet

Once you understand what you want (or what you need) from your item deck, the next step is calculating the cost.

Gold is vital when picking items. Not in the sense of “I need x cards that cost x gold” but rather in the sense of a curve. As with the main deck, you want to have a balance of different cost cards. Some will only cost a few gold, some will cost quite a bit, and some will sit in the middle. Not only does that ensure you can buy different items at different parts of the game, but it also increases your overall consistency during a match.

Not all decks operate on the curve principle, but it’s a good place to start. Artifact is a game where card advantage is critical, and items are the most accessible form out there.

Simply put, more item cards mean more things you can do on your turn. There will be plenty of times in a game of Artifact where you want to stretch out a turn or extend the play without passing. Playing items is a great way to make that happen. Even if you're out of mana you can still use them to extend a lane or force your opponent's hand.

If your shop is filled with expensive items you often won’t get one for the first few turns, which can really set you back during the game. Though you can always try to lean on the Secret or Consumable shop to round out your deck, those choices are random and often sit well below the curve.

The Budget Options

Cheap items often have lackluster or straightforward abilities compared to some of the more expensive ones, but that does not mean they are bad. In fact, some of them are key parts of powerful decks.

Take a look at Traveler’s Cloak). The three-cost item is one of the most popular in the game due to how well it meshes efficient cost with the ability. Health is the most important stat for heroes, and being able to drop an extra four onto one of your's can save it during the early game or midgame. The longer your hero lives, the more chances you have to cast key spells and fight for the board.

Cheap options are also incredibly important because you need to get through your item deck. That may sound strange, but always remember that the items you see between rounds are random. There may be a big, powerful play you want to have access to, but it may not come up at the right time.

Having a few (typically two or three) incredibly cheap items to remove from your deck early on when you don't have a lot of gold gives you more chances to grab what you want. That is easy to forget when picking items, but it is vital towards helping you later on in the game.

The Top End

On the other end of the Artifact item spectrum, we have the expensive choices. The top end looks different from deck to deck. Some builds cap out at seven or ten gold, while others can really stretch out their budget to incredible finishers like Vesture of the Tyrant.

As with the lower curve, it always helps to know how much gold you typically earn during a game. Most gold dedicated decks can look into the nineteen or twenty five cost, while midrange lists want to stick around the teens. Faster decks can get even lower than that.

Either way, it always helps to have a few items you can sink your gold into. You never know when you’re going to get a burst of money, and you want to be able to use it. There are many unique/powerful abilities in the shop, and they don’t come cheap.

The one thing to note about the more expensive items is they have a wide range of abilities. Do not be afraid to change them up and test different combinations. Some decks may be able to take advantage of Nyctasha’s Guard, while others would vastly prefer Apotheosis Blade. Mixing and matching is often a great strategy until you find the ones that work the best for you and your meta.

Extra Ability, Extra Time

One last aspect to mention about items is how they help you pace the game. Picking items with straightforward stat boosts is fine and well, but it can also be important to get ones that have timers or specific triggered abilities.

The reason for that is because timed cards help you stretch out turns and pace the game. Being able to play an item gives you an extra draw when you want to stay in a lane but not pass, and that gets furthered for items that you can click.

This is a small aspect that won’t affect everyone, but it does come up enough where you want to keep it in mind. Abilities (what an item does) and cost should always come first, but if you find yourself being run or bullied out of lanes, timers are a great way to simply have more things to do. Just make sure that the abilities you’re using are worth the investment.


Many people put a lot of time into deck building and minimal time into choosing their items. Yes, there are some powerful go-to's, but that’s no excuse to get lazy. Artifact is a game where every card counts, and that goes for the ones you buy between rounds. If you’re throwing an item into your deck just because, or if you’re going with one because it seems good, it might be time to reevaluate your options.
(Last Updated: January 15th, 2020)

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