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Understanding Artifact's Cross-Lane Cards

December 17th, 2018 | jscaliseok


Artifact is a game played across three lanes. You play your cards in the first, move to the next, play your cards, and so on and so forth. Generally, players will only put their cards into the lane they're on. However, certain cards (cross-lane cards) can break that mold. It is ignoring such plays, as well as the typical rhythm of only focusing on the lane in front of you, that causes one of Artifact's biggest traps: tunnel vision.

It is easy to think that you only need to care about one lane at a time, but there are plenty of cards that break Artifact's fundamental rule. In doing so, they completely change the game in terms of what you can play and what you need to look out for. This guide will go over such powerful options, analyze what makes them so strong, and then break down both how to play with and against them.

Multi-Lane Focus

Of course, one of the most important parts of Artifact is planning ahead. It is a balance of doing what is good for your current lane versus doing something good for a future one. However, there’s more to it than that.

An important part of winning games (especially at higher levels of play) is understanding the way your opponent can jump ahead to take out a hero in a different lane. Keeping track and knowing the existence of such cards is key to winning because it prevents you from getting caught off guard.

In Artifact, you need heroes to play spells. Getting one picked off during the later turns can be a disaster, especially if your opponent picked off other heroes and is making a push for the win. If you do not properly plan or utilize such cards it can leave you open to a quick loss.

Many Ways to Kill

The first aspect of cross-lane cards is knowing which ones your opponent might have. There are quite a few, all with different power levels and impacts. However, the most prevalent (and perhaps most important) are kill spells.

You find these mainly in black, with cards like Assassinate, Steam Cannon, Pick Off, and Gank, but blue gets Zeus’ signature card in Thundergod’s Wrath in addition to Ignite and Conflagration. The ability to stack a lane where the opposing heroes suddenly die is a goal many decks want to hit, and it is what you want watch out for when playing Artifact.

Anytime you face Blue or Black be alert for cross-lane cards. If you see Zeus, Assassin, or Ogre Magi you know you have to keep their signatures in mind. In that same vein, you also know you need to be aware of the other cross-lane tricks available to that color.

This ties a bit into last week’s initiative article because, if you let your opponent go first in a lane while they’re playing the above cards, they can blow you out. Luckily, there are many ways to play around cross-lane kill cards.

The simplest example of this is keeping your units' health at a high level. Almost all popular Blue decks run Ogre Magi (which means Ignite) in addition to Conflagration. Knowing those cards are in your opponent’s deck makes them much easier to play around.

Do your best to never over-stack in a lane and try to stack up armor when you can. There will be times where you cannot avoid going all-in, but the longer you can avoid it, the more you take away those cards' inherent versatility.

This rule also applies to Tinker because it slows down March of the Machines.

Double Trouble

Another, and perhaps even more effective, way to get around the above removal cards is to stack two heroes in a lane.

Say, for instance, it’s turn six, you have one hero to deploy, and the game is wide open. You have a hero in the second and third lane while your opponent has one in each. He's playing Assassin and is on seven mana with a black hero in the first lane.

It can be intuitive to drop into the first lane to try and even the board, but you have to respect Assassinate. If your opponent has initiative, it is better to drop your hero into the second or third lane (whichever one you want to protect) just in case one gets Sniped down. That will still allow you to play spells.

If possible, just make sure your play makes sense outside of Assassinate. That is, if your opponent doesn't have it, you still stacked a key lane that you can push to your advantage.

You may have a plan, but so does your opponent. It is easy to ignore a lane that you don't have a hero in, but you always need to take those into account thanks to cross-lane cards.

This is not always the play (there will be times where you simply need to stretch out across lanes) but it is something to keep in mind when going for a key lane.

Cross-Lane Support Options

Beyond the kill cards, there are many cross-lane cards (mainly improvements) that help players get advantage throughout the game. You may think you have a lane locked down, only to suddenly face something like Burning Oil, Spring the Trap, Cheating Death, Call the Reserves, or Assured Destruction out of nowhere.

It may not be feasible to keep all possible cross-lane cards in mind at all times, but it always helps to know which ones are popular in the meta. Being able to adapt to what your opponent may drop into a lane or two over is extremely important and will enable you to properly sculpt a game.

That is not simply saying “my opponent might play x card into y lane.” Rather, it is about saying “what can I do if my opponent plays x card into y lane?” Just about every cross-lane can be countered in some way, and you want to work hard to find those paths long before they pop up.

For instance, there will be games where you abandon a lane against Sorla Khan. While there is nothing wrong with that, know that when you do there is always a chance your opponent drops down Assault Ladders or The Oath out of nowhere. Even if that lane has already passed, you never know if your opponent might use later mana to buff it for the next round.

Using Cards to Your Advantage

The flip side of the above example is when you have cross-lane cards in your deck. The simplest way to think about this is in terms of initiative. If you want to get use out of a card, you need to be able to play it. The best way to ensure you can play something is to go first.

That is the basis of these cards, but the process goes a bit beyond that.

Perhaps the biggest aspect you need to juggle with these cards is weighing how they will fare in other lanes versus the active one. Many cross-lane cards (especially kill ones) are incredibly powerful. While you may want to use them on other lanes because of that flexibility, there will be plenty of times where you just use them in the lane you’re in.

Balancing this is always tricky, and it largely comes down to what lanes you need to make a push or recovery in. Even so, there is something to say about the element of surprise.

There will be times where you want to play non-cross-lane cards in a lane to catch your opponent off guard. Seemingly abandoning a lane or passing it by only to reach back and set it up for the next round is incredibly powerful in a foresight focused game like Artifact. Look for such opportunities and jump on them when possible.

Do note that, as cross-lane cards are so flexible, you always want to play cards that have similar effects in your own lane if you can. For example, it is almost always better to use Coup de Grace in the active lane over Assassinate because Assassinate will give you more flexibility down the line.

Heroes in Weak Lanes

One other subtle note about cross-lane cards, which plays off of the ideas covered above, is that, unlike other cards, they can both make use of your mana and set up later lanes at the same time.

There are quite a few situations where you want to drop a hero into a lost or abandoned lane specifically to play a cross-lane card. This only works if you have heroes in the other lanes, and it is much better with initiative, but it can be very powerful when set up in the right way.

This line of play is not intuitive, but it is something to watch out for as the game progresses. It may not always be the correct path (depending on if you're pushing/defending or not), but getting extra mana (which would normally go to waste) to double up on spells or free up other cards in your hand for later lanes is extremely powerful.

This idea is easiest to see in the first lane, but you can always use the mana in a second or third lane to shore up your others with key improvements or spells as well. It may seem like a waste of a hero, but being able to do more things, especially in a late-game deck with a lot of powerful cards is incredibly powerful.

This goes double if you have a Blink Dagger on the hero or in your hand ready to go.


There are many key aspects to balance in a game of Artifact. The ones that often come back to bite you are the ones that you cannot readily see. That is the case with cross-lane cards, and it is what makes them so tricky. They are not something you may grasp right away, but the more you plan for and think about them, the better you will get at recognizing their potential.
(Last Updated: January 15th, 2020)

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