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Artifact Fire

The Archetypes of Artifact: Aggro

March 22nd, 2019 | jscaliseok


This week on Artifactfire, we’re kicking off a brand-new series. While we’re still analyzing the game from various angles, we’re coming at it from a whole new standpoint. Rather than going into specifics or niche applications, this series will focus on the different deck archetypes in Artifact and explain how they work.

Archetypes are a key part of any card game. Not only do they sculpt metas and influence card choices, but they also dictate certain play styles. Choosing an archetype is the first thing you need to do when building a deck. Each one is distinct and comes with a set of certain characteristics. The main four you will find in every card game are aggro, midrange, control, and combo. There are a few others (which we’ll get into down the line) but those are the cream of the crop.

Today, we’re looking at aggro.

Understanding Aggro

Aggro is short for “aggressive.” As such, aggro decks are fast builds that seek to end games quickly. That does not always happen in the same way, it often differs depending on what color or color combination you’re playing, but it is the general rule of the archetype.

Aggro decks come out of the gate swinging. They play cheap cards, fast items, and build a board out of nowhere. That is then often backed by some type of reach (also known as direct damage) or a finisher (Enough Magic!) that helps them push for the win before their opponent can get to their more powerful cards.

Though aggro is straightforward in many card games, it operates a bit different in Artifact because you’re going after two different towers rather than one set life total. For that reason, you can build an aggro deck in two distinct ways. You can play a build that looks to push hard at one lane (doubling up on a 40 and 80 tower kill) or you can make a go-wide deck that has enough pressure to take down two towers rather quickly.

Which mode you choose largely depends on your color combination, as well as how you want to play the game. Cards like Assault Ladders and The Oath are perfect for decks that want all of their eggs in one lane, while units like Disciple of Nevermore and Bronze Legionnaire are great for lists that seek to push across multiple.

You can mix-and-match such tools as you see fit, but it’s great to have a general rule to follow as you go to build an aggressive list. The only rule you must remember is that your goal is to pressure your opponent’s towers as much in the early game as possible. That can be done with creeps, heroes, or items, but you need to find a way to threaten lethal damage around turn three or four. That does not mean you need to actually end the game, but you always want to be in a situation where you can if your opponent doesn’t have the right answer.

Aggro decks are fast, but that speed does not always mean hitting your opponent for a lot of damage early on. Rather, it is about pushing hard in a way that your opponent is on the back foot at all times. That imbalance is much more important than anything else.

Of Clocks

The most important aspect to remember about aggressive decks is that every game is a race. Even in Artifact, where you get more mana each turn, you have to get to your opponent before they can start slamming down haymakers.

As aggro decks are so focused on their own plan, there is very little room for interaction. Though some cards, like Tyler Estate Censor, help on that front, most of the time you are in the driver’s seat. That is important to note because it is very easy to become locked out of the game by one strong card.

A well-timed Annihilation, At Any Cost, or Spring the Trap can immediately end the game if you aren’t careful. Even if you do not lose right on the spot, such cards may stall you out to the point where your push and pressure are both completely gone. Once that happens, it is often very difficult to come back.

Playing around your opponent’s big cards as you move into the later stages of the game is an important skill to have, but most of the time you’d rather just make it so the game never gets there. That does not mean you need to be foolish in over-extending, but it does mean you always want to be aware of how much pressure you’re putting on. Taking a turn off or setting up a play can work from time to time, but the norm should be to make your opponent have a key card they need to live.

It is easy to get lackadaisical when piloting a deck. You hold back a card, choose to pass early, or take a route that will pay off down the line. Aggro decks can go down those paths, but only when fighting other fast builds. When going up against slower decks with big, flashy cards your goal is go for the throat.

The Colors of Aggro

Though every color can be used in an aggressive way, Black and Red are your typical aggro fare in Artifact. That is because red comes with a slew of strong, beefy heroes and black has a lot of resources to protect them. Both colors also have a range of direct damage options on top of cheap, effective units.

Early game cards are key for any aggressive deck, no matter which form it takes, and these two colors are your best bet. While a few aggro builds have adopted green and blue in the past, they are always paired with red or black. Starting slow, as mentioned above, is simply not a viable option for a fast list. Green and Blue have great tools in their own right, but those tools are not conducive to getting out of the gates early. Though they have some cards that can fuel aggro (such as Unearthed Secrets and At Any Cost) those cards almost always come as support tools for red or black.

Even Mono Red and Mono Black are extremely rare. Both builds have seen play in the past, but the extra color splash goes a long way when crafting a lean, mean damage machine. Even getting one hero of a different color (such is the case in 4 Red, 1 Black) can be worth the slot because it gives you so much extra versatility.

Aggressive Heroes

As with spells, improvements, and creeps, some heroes are more aggressive than others. Sorla Khan and Axe are both incredibly good at piling up tower damage, but Rix (due to his passive ability) and Tidehunter (thanks to his body) also do a lot of work when it comes to pushing across the double kill. Legion Commander and Phantom Assassin are also fantastic thanks to their signature cards.

Every aggressive hero is different. The ones you end up choosing depend on what you want your deck to do and how you want it to operate. Beefy bodies are key for early red decks, while high-damage output is key for early game black decks. On the other hand, green splash decks typically want creep support, while item-based decks need Bounty Hunter and Iron Fog Goldmine.

There is no one right answer. Know your goal and then take the heroes you think will best help you achieve that goal. Also, never be afraid to change things up if something isn’t working. Your hyper-fast red deck might not work right away, but that does not mean it’s a total loss. Maybe there are other hero options you could pick to give you an extra angle you don’t see at first.


Everyone plays Artifact in different ways. Some people want to pace the game, some people want to ramp up, and some people want to go fast. If you like cheap creeps, if you like bringing the pain, or if you simply like the combination of red and black, aggro is the way to go. There are many ways to take the archetype. While they all have the same goal in mind, the way they achieve that goal is completely up to you.
(Last Updated: January 15th, 2020)

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