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The Importance of Initiative in Artifact

December 10th, 2018 | jscaliseok


Artifact is a complex game with many moving parts. As such, you need to plan ahead. Looking forward a turn or two is often the difference between winning and losing, and it is an incredibly fine line to walk. That manifests itself in various ways, but one of the most important is initiative.

Initiative is a key aspect of Artifact. However, it is also one of the hardest features to understand. Not only is it hard to properly plan for, but keeping initiative often means sacrificing the “now” for the “later.” That is not intuitive to Artifact newcomers, but it is easy to understand with a little practice.

What is Initiative?

Initiative in Artifact is what decides who goes first in a lane. It is randomly chosen at the start of the match, and from there is passes back-and-forth when players put down cards.

For instance, if you have it and you drop an Iron Fog Goldmine on turn one, priority passes to your opponent. If they then play a card, it goes back to you. If they don’t play a card in response to yours, simply opting to pass by clicking the button instead, initiative stays with them regardless if you play another card or not.

That is important to note because, in the battle for initiative, once you lose it the only way to get it back besides playing initiative-specific cards is for your opponent to play a card or use an ability. As long as they keep passing, initiative stays with them. On the flip side, you can also pass as much as you want once you have initiative.

The reason that is so important is because, with the exception of certain cards that we’ll cover below, you never have to worry about initiative once you lose it. If you’re in a lane and you don’t have initiative, you can play as many cards as you want to without ever losing momentum.

Often, you will find yourself in a lane where you'll be unsure whether or not to play a card. If you already don't have initiative, that choice becomes much easier. That is the first thing to note because it will help you better sculpt your turns and set up future plays.

Long Term Goals

Now that we’ve gone over what initiative is and learned how it operates, the next step is to analyze the best way to plan for it.

Initiative does not switch sides in Artifact when play transitions to the next lane. That is key because it means you can plan ahead by not playing a card rather than playing one. If you absolutely need to go first in the next lane, simply hold back.

You might lose tempo with this strategy, but that rarely matters in a lane you’ve lost or one you’re prepared to abandon. In that same vein, it is also a good route to take if it will allow you to win the game.

For example, if you’re on the right lane and you know you can play Enough Magic! in the middle lane next turn for the win, that should be your main goal. Don’t play cards before getting to that second lane, no matter how tempting it may seem. Even dropping one card or activating one ability can ruin your entire plan.

Even if you aren’t going for the victory, that foresight is key to winning games in Artifact. The example I’ve personally seen the most in my playing of Mono Black is Sniper vs. Tinker.

There have been multiple games where those two are across from each other in the first lane. That makes for an interesting scenario because both heroes take each other out with their abilities. Sniper cleanly kills Tinker, where Tinker completely nullifies Sniper. Whoever goes first wins the battle. As such, if those are the only two heroes in a lane going first can lead to a huge swing.

The above scenario is just one example of initiative's importance, but there are many different plays where it comes up. For instance, being able to use your mana before your opponent kills your hero, or when you’re planning on killing your opponent’s only hero to stop them from taking over a lane.

Just make sure the tempo or push you're giving up is worth the trade off. You never want to keep initiative if it means losing a key lane or falling far behind.

Playing for the Later Turns

As you will note, initiative rarely matters early on in the game. Many opening cards do not have large swing potential, and there are no high-impact hero-killing cards like Thundergod’s Wrath or Assassinate flying around the board.

For this reason, you can typically get away with ignoring initiative for the first turn or two. However, it starts to become extremely important once you start to move into turn five. That does not mean it is the only thing you want to think about, but it needs to be at the forefront of your mind going into the middle turns of the game.

The only large exception to the rule is Duel. Red is quite popular right now, and you need to be careful if your opponent plays Legion Commander. You do not want to get locked out of a key early play because your opponent took down your hero before you could react.

Walking the Initiative Line

Unfortunately, not every game of Artifact will be as easy to break down as the above scenarios. Sometimes (in fact, most of the time) you’ll need to play cards. Either because you have to save a lane, or you simply need to execute your game plan.

Fortunately, your opponent needs to play cards as well.

That is key to understand because it is easy to get too careful and not play on the board enough. There will be many situations where you need initiative for a future lane, but you also need to play a card in the current one. When moving through that tricky play there are different aspects you need to think about.

First, always note the importance of each lane. If you want initiative in the future lane, but it is not vital to your plan, then it is ok to drop a card. However, if this lane is much less important, hold back.

If both lanes are key, you next need to anticipate how likely your opponent is to play a card. If your opponent goes second, you can often run out a card because they will likely counter with something to get use out of their mana. If they go first, always analyze their hand and think about what cards they may want to play or abilities they want to use before moving on.

Remember, just because your opponent uses all of their mana does not mean they are out of things to do. Items and abilities both shift priority, and you need to keep track of what your opponent might have.

In that same vein, you can also force your opponent's hand. Putting down something like Stonehall Pike to give your hero enough attack to kill your opponent's will often force them to respond in one way or another. Those lines are often extremely safe because, even if your opponent does not respond, you get a good push out of your play.

Initiative as a Weapon

Another key note about initiative is that it can be used as a way to pressure your opponent. That may sound odd, but you rarely need to work for it if you're ahead.

Let’s say you've already destroyed one tower and you need priority in the middle lane to play a key spell before your opponent can use something like Coup de Grace on your lone hero. If you have pressure in the left lane you can play cards freely because it puts your opponent between a rock and a hard place.

Either they respond to counter you in the first lane (giving you priority for the second) or they allow you to build up and give up ground for the second tower. Not only that, but if you don't care about the right lane, it truly forces your opponent back because if they don't give up initiative in the first lane you can then pass in the second and third to keep priority for the first lane again at the start of the next round.

Those type of scenarios are critical because they help reinforce the idea that initiative is something both players always want. Yes, you can plan for it, but you can also use it to your advantage by making your opponent work for it in ways they don't want to. Just remember that your opponent can also do the same thing to you, which means you need to be careful when falling behind or conceding initiative a lot during the game.

Gaining Initiative Through Cards

As covered, there are two ways to get initiative in Artifact. Either your opponent does something (activates an ability, plays a card, etc.) or you play a card that specifically reads “get initiative.” Though only a few cards have that ability, it is prevalent in spells like Hip Fire or Kraken Shell. These cards are easy to overlook when deck building, but they should never be underestimated during a game.

The ability to suddenly gain priority when your opponent expects you to pass it back is one of the best ways to ruin carefully laid plans. This is especially useful when your opponent has no heroes in the right lane and expects you to play cards to give them initiative in the left.

A carefully timed Hipe Fire or Arcane Assault can blow your opponent out, which means you should use them wisely. However, don't let them catch you off guard. These cards are strong, and you never want to let your opponent snatch initiative away without you planning for it first. Be aware of when they could have these cards and adjust accordingly.


Initiative is not the end-all, be-all of Artifact. However, it is something you need to keep an eye on as the game progresses. Losing it early is not a big deal, but its importance grows as the game moves on. Always be aware of it when sculpting turns, choosing cards, or setting up lanes. It is easy to lose track of, and it is easy to miss. However, sometimes not playing a card, even across an entire round, is the right move.
(Last Updated: January 15th, 2020)

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Ataxia's Avatar
Ataxia Posted: December 15th, 2018 | 7:52 PM
Great article! Initiative is one of my favorite features of Artifact and this article clearly explains it.
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