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The Basics of Artifact

November 12th, 2018 | jscaliseok


Artifact is a lot of fun. It is deep, innovative, and satisfyingly complex. However, like most card games, it can also be a bit overwhelming if you don’t know what’s going on. There are a lot of parts to the game, and it can be tricky to keep track of how they operate.

Even so, as hectic as it seems, the game is easy to grasp once you know how everything comes together.

The Goal of the Game

Artifact is a card game played across three boards, called lanes. There is a left, middle, and right. Each lane has two towers (one for each player) which the players need to protect. They do that by either player spells or putting heroes/creeps down onto the board.

Each tower has 40 health and a certain amount of mana that the players can use to cast cards in their hand. The towers start the game with three mana and they gain one each turn. If you don’t use mana in your turn, it doesn’t carry over.

You will use the cards you play at each lane to try and control the board in a way that allows you to damage the enemy tower or prevent damage to your own.

The goal of the game is to destroy two of your opponent’s towers before they destroy two of yours. However, that is much more difficult than it sounds. Not only is there a lot of back-and-forth on the board, but when a tower dies it then spawns a guardian tower that has 80, rather than 40, health.

Though you can win by doing 40 damage to a tower and then 80 to the one that comes after, it is much more common to destroy two towers in two different lanes.

Deck Building

Artifact is a card game. As such, you cannot play constructed without first building a deck. Decks in Artifact are crafted with certain card types: heroes, their signature cards, creeps, items, spells, and improvements.


Hero cards are the main part of Artifact. They are your most powerful units, leading your charge by controlling lanes and putting powerful signature cards into your deck. They all come with their own unique ability, which either is always on (known as a passive) or that gets triggered after a certain number of turns.

Hero cards (and creeps below) have their stats at the bottom of their card. Their attack is on the bottom left (with the sword), armor (if they have it) is on the bottom middle, and their health (with the heart) is on the bottom right.

You can see this with Magnus, who has 4 attack, 1 armor, and nine health.

Heroes also have three slots at the top, which is where they hold their different items.

Every hero comes with a unique signature card as well. Three copies of that card must always be in the hero’s deck.

For instance, if you want to play with Bristleback, you have to play three copies of Viscous Nasal Goo as well (these are added automatically).

When a hero is condemned (another way to say killed) it then goes to the fountain. That means it has to sit out of the game for an entire turn. Once that time passes, it can come back and be put into any lane.


Creeps are units like heroes. However, they are typically not as unique or as strong. These cards, which come with their own attack, health, and armor, sit on the battlefield where they can attack or block. They can battle other creeps, fight heroes, or damage your opponent’s tower.

Unlike heroes, once they die, they stay dead. They do not go to the fountain.


These cards have strong abilities but, unlike creeps or heroes, they do not sit on the battlefield. You pay a certain amount of mana to get an effect. For instance, with Arm the Rebellion you pay four mana (as noted in the upper left) to give your allies 2 attack a 1 armor.

Spells vary quite a bit depending on mana cost and color (as explained below). Some condemn a minion or hero, some gain you gold, some do damage...the list goes on and on.


Improvements are interesting cards that permanently change a lane. They can give a tower extra mana, deal damage each turn, or permanently change units in that lane.

For example, Unearthed Secrets is a card that makes it so that you draw a card if your tower takes damage during the combat phase. This style of improvement is great to dump into a lane you’re losing for extra card advantage.


The final card type are items. Unlike the above options, these do not start in your deck. Rather, they sit in a separate item deck that is accessed from the shop. The shop pops up between rounds, and you can spend gold (which is gained from killing your opponent’s and creeps) to buy different items and put them into your hand.

Most items (like Platemail) equip to your heroes and change their stats or give them new abilities. However, there are also consumables (such as Fountain Flask) that give you a one-time effect.

Every deck must have exactly five heroes (and their fifteen signature cards) as well as at least 9 item cards and at least 25 spells/creeps/improvements. That heroes combine with creeps, improvements, and signature cards to form the main deck, while your items make up your item deck.

You can also have up to 3 of each card in your deck. That gives you the freedom to put in only as many of one card as you need based on your preferences and the meta. Sometimes you want all three of a powerful spell, but sometimes one does the job just fine.

As a final note, you will notice that many cards have the “active” keyword on them. That is simply a timer that tells how many turns you must wait before the ability can be used.

The Four Colors

Every non-item card in Artifact has a color. That is important to note because, when choosing a deck, you need to figure out what color you want to play.

There are four colors in Artifact: green, red, black, and blue. You choose a color by picking heroes and cards of that color. Decks can be mono-colored, or they can have multiple colors (such as Blue/Red or Green/Black). Your choice depends on what style of game you want to play.

  • Red is a color primarily focused on big, beefy heroes and combat. A lot of their hero cards have strong stats, while their spells, creeps, and improvements all help out fighting on the battlefield.

    Axe is an example of a big, beefy hero.

  • Green is a color focused around ramp, which means getting more mana to power out giant units. This color has a few strong spells, but their main focus is to buff or empower creeps.

    Like Red, they also have a lot of strong heroes that can survive combat.

  • If you like killing things, black is for you. This color controls the board by condemning units, either through spells or damage, and aims to do a lot of fast tower damage. To fit with that, their heroes often have high attack.

    They also a small gold sub-theme, which can be used to buy strong items before your opponent.

  • The final color is about slowing the game down. Blue is the control color, perfect for people who like to draw cards and use AOE. This color can switch attacks, damage units, and perform all sorts of trickery throughout the game.

    Their heroes (like Meepo) often have weak stats, but at the cost of powerful spells and effects.

Starting the Game

via cdn.gamer

Now that you understand the cards, colors, lanes, and decks, the next step is to play the game.

Artifact is unlike any other card game, but it still shares many traits of traditional play. For instance, while there are three lanes, you don’t play them all at once. Rather, you start on the left side of the board and play each lane one at a time.

When the game begins you will be prompted with a start screen (as seen in the above picture) that shows both you and your opponent’s five heroes. These will always be organized in a set way.

The first three heroes (starting from the left and moving to the right) of each side are known as the flop heroes. These will be deployed first, with your next two heroes (known as the turn and river) coming in during the second and third turn of the game.

Setting up this order is important because there are certain heroes you want out right away, while some have a much better impact coming in when you have access to a bigger board or more mana. You pick this order while building your deck.

Once the hero screen pops up and you know what your opponent has, the game starts.

To begin, each of your three flop heroes randomly deploy to one of the lanes (two heroes cannot start in the same lane). Then, three creeps will spawn randomly across the lanes. Unlike heroes, two creeps can spawn in one lane, leaving one lane with none.

In between rounds each player will get a chance to deploy new heroes (if they have any) and they will get two new creeps.

Pathing Cards

Once the creeps and heroes get deployed for a round, every unit that doesn’t have an opposing unit in front of it gets a pathing card.

These paths can be confusing for new players, but they are easy to understand. The line simply denotes where a unit will attack during the combat phase of the round. Typically, units attack the unit in front of them (as shown by their arrow) but units with nothing directly across from them will attack according to their path.

Pathing cards can either point straight, left, or right. Where they go is chosen randomly. You have a 50 percent to attack straight, and a 25 percent for both left and right.

Multiple pathing cards can point at the same enemy, which sometimes helps or hurts you depending on the situation.

The Phases

Once pathing and units go to the board, you draw your opening hand of five cards and the game begins.

Artifact is broken up into multiple phases, and following those is how you play the game.

Action Phase

This is where most of the well...action takes place. Here, you use your tower’s mana to play different cards from your hand.

However, you can only play cards that share a color with a hero that’s in the lane you’re in. This is not an issue in a mono-colored deck, but in a multi-colored deck it is vital to keep track of.

If you have a hand of red cards they do you little good in the first lane if your only hero there is green.

Once you play a card you then pass initiative and allow your opponent to play a card. Players go back-and-forth until they both decide to pass.

That typically comes because both players cannot play cards. However, you can click the gold button to pass early if you want to save your cards for other lanes. That play won’t lose you initiative if you have it.

As soon as both players pass, the lane moves into the combat phase.

Combat Phase

Once both players are done with their turns in a lane, all of the heroes and creeps will fight according to their attack arrows and pathing cards. All units assign their damage simultaneously.

During this phase, damage will either go onto heroes, creeps, or hit towers. Everything either dies (is condemned) or loses the amount of health equal to the damage they take.

All condemned heroes award the player who killed them five coins, and creeps award their killer one coin.

Once the combat phase ends, play then moves to a new action phase in the next lane to the right.

Shopping Phase

After action and combat occurs in all three lanes, players move to the shopping phase. Here, the shop pops up on the screen and you are presented with three items. One randomly chosen from your item deck, a consumable, and a card from the secret shop.

You can spend as much or as little gold as you like.

Once you’re done shopping, the next round begins. You deploy any heroes that have waited their turn while condemned, creeps come back, and pathing arrows are put out.

You then draw two cards (which you do at the start of each turn) and start in the left lane.

The game goes that way until a player destroys two opposing towers.


Well, them’s the basics. Artifact is a deep, complex card game with a lot of mechanics and strategy to explore. The above sections give you everything you need to know before diving in and playing your first games.

Remember, though it is easy to get overwhelmed, things are always easier once you break them down into bite-sized pieces. Now you’re ready to try out Artifact, build some decks, and get into some games.

Happy playing!
(Last Updated: January 15th, 2020)

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Wasserge1st's Avatar
Wasserge1st Posted: November 12th, 2018 | 7:49 PM
I like. Thx for Info
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