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Utilizing Aggression in Artifact

January 8th, 2019 | jscaliseok


Artifact is an interesting game because, unlike other card games, it is not linear. You do not simply attack your opponent's life total to win. Rather, you need to destroy two towers across three lanes. That is one of the game’s key selling points, and it creates an interesting flow where you need to keep your focus on different parts of the board.

That split focus is one of the hardest things to get the hang of in Artifact, but being able to take advantage of it is what separates the good players from the great. Though there are many aspects surrounding the game's multi-lane identity, one of the most important is the idea of aggression.

Aggression, which manifests itself in numerous ways, boils down to knowing when and where to push for an opponent's tower. Every deck, even non-aggressive ones, need to destroy two towers to win. For that reason, understanding how to be aggressive is vital for success in Artifact.

Aggression: Why it Matters


Artifact, like any good card game, is all about getting your opponent to do what you want. There are several ways to make that happen, but the easiest is by pushing a lane. When you commit cards or stack units into a lane, it gives your opponent a choice: they can ignore what you're doing or they can respond.

The choice they make differs from deck to deck, but it often comes down to the type of pressure you're putting on and what stage of the game it is. Many people will give up an early push if they are quickly overwhelmed. That may seem bad at the time, but it is an important way to mitigate their opponent's aggression.

Opting to abandon a lane early on makes the board smaller, which then creates more focus. If, for instance, you give up your tower in lane three on turn two, you now know that you can move all of your resources towards lanes one and two as the game goes on.

That is a good example of how aggression shapes a game, and how to properly respond to it. As you no longer care about lane three (for the time being) you can then move all of your stronger plays into one of the first two lanes. That build will then put the burden of choice on your opponent and force them to react to you.

A lot of Artifact comes down to a game of back-and-forth, and that back-and-forth comes from tower pressure. If someone pushes, their opponent typically has to do something about it. Knowing and understanding that concept is at the core of this article, as well as the core of the game.

When making a play or putting down a unit you always want to have a bigger plan in mind. Are you going there because you want to destroy that tower or do you simply need to force your opponent to react? Perhaps you're in the middle ground and want to test the waters? Those choices and decisions must always be on your mind.

First Lane's First

One of the most interesting aspects to consider when breaking down aggression is the importance of lanes. It is easy to assume that all three of Artifact's lanes are the same, but doing so will lead to a lot of losses. The lanes may all be equal in how they operate, but they are fundamentally different because they go in order.

The first lane will always come before the second and third, which then makes it the most valuable. That is because, no matter what's happening in lanes two or three, you can always cut off your opponent's plays by taking down a second tower in lane one. Your opponent may have an entire army of units waiting to destroy your unprotected second and third tower's for an easy win, but that does not matter at all if your get the win in lane one first.

That priority is critical when pacing or planning a game of Artifact because whoever has more power in the first lane can dictate the flow. Understand that, and know how to take advantage of it.

For example, many players routinely win because they have the foresight to fight for the first lane throughout the game, but push to get their first tower kill in a different lane. Once they get their first tower down, they then push all of their resources back into the first.

This line of play is interesting, and reveals how important pressure is for all decks. In that scenario, the opponent is put into a really tough decision on two fronts. Not only do they need to use cards to control and protect the first lane, but they must also use some of their stronger spells or units they would use in other places.

In that way, the attack on the first lane stretches the opponent thin and prevents them from responding to aggression with aggression of their own. Even if the opponent has a tower down, they cannot afford to abandon the first lane because it comes before the next two. This does not mean you should only press in lane one (aggression occurs throughout all parts of the board) but do know that it holds an extra bit of weight.

Heroes as Aggression

Remember, there is no aggression without heroes. While that may not be the end-all rule of Artifact (there are always exceptions) it is an extremely important one to keep in mind as the game progresses.

No matter how much you want to push or what units you want on the board, you cannot play cards without a hero. That is true for every player, and it is another important aspect of this article. If you push in the right way you can choose where your opponent deploys their heroes.

Early on in the game it is hard to react to your opponent because you have no way of knowing where they want to go. Maybe they want to stack extra heroes in the middle lane, maybe they want to spread out, or maybe they're planning to make a push of their own. You have no way to know for sure.

However, aggression changes that. Once you put a lot of pressure into a lane you know your opponent wants to fight for, they will need to use any heroes at the fountain to stem the tide. That is especially true if they don't have a certain color or any heroes in that lane. You now know where they want to go and can plan your plays/cards/items accordingly. That is one of the biggest reasons pressure matters in Artifact. It is not just about killing a tower quickly or getting to the victory before your opponent can respond, it is about using board presence to shape the game you want to play.

As with the above first-lane strategy, do your best to make your opponent play to you. They may not want to drop that key Axe or Tinker into the otherwise useless second lane, but if they're in danger of losing they have no choice. Perhaps you use that to your advantage and set up a big Annihilation, or perhaps you send your heroes to lanes one or three to stretch them thin. You have a lot of choices, and none of them are possible without first stacking lanes.

Aggression in Control

With all this talk of damage and aggression, it is easy to assume that the ideas above do not pertain to slower decks. That could not be further from the truth. All decks in Artifact, even Mono Blue, use lane pressure to win at some point in the game. You may actually end the game with a Bolt of Damocles, but you needed to get in damage to set that up. Late-game decks may not start using their pressure until turn six or seven as opposed to one or two, but it is still there, and it is still important.

The trick to piloting a midrange or control list is recognizing when your push will occur. Even if you spend the first half of the game sitting back and reacting to your opponent's plays, at a certain point you need to go hard at your opponent's lane. The concept for that is the same as it is for faster decks, it simply takes place later on.

Another point about this slow-burn style of aggression is, like all vital elements of Artifact, you need to plan for it. Though you can feel out the board some games, attacking where your opponent is at the weakest, you often want to have a lane or two in mind for where you're going to push. That makes it so you can better use your pressure when the time comes. It also helps you know if you have to use key spells to control a lane, or if you can give up that tower to press hard somewhere else.

The Different Forms of Aggression

The final area to cover on this topic pertains to how many types of aggression there are in Artifact. It is easy to think dropping units into a lane is the only way to push for a tower, but there are many ways to force your opponent between a rock and a hard place. Remember, aggression does not mean attacking for lethal damage, it means putting your opponent into a situation where they either react or give up ground.

Putting powerful creeps around an incredibly strong hero is the easiest and most recognizable way to make that happen, but it is not the only way you can build your presence throughout a game.

For example, let’s say you have one tower down and you need the first lane to win the game. You have one hero in the lane, Sniper with another hero at the fountain. Your opponent also has one hero in the lane, Drow Ranger, with two more at the fountain. If you use Assassinate to kill the Drow before your opponent can react you have supplied an ample amount of aggression.

Your opponent no longer has a hero in lane one, which they need to protect in order to not lose the game. As a result, they now must put at least one of their fountain heroes into the first lane. However, as they know you have Assassinate, they will likely put down both just in case you get the jump on them. That then gives you the freedom to do what you want with your second hero because you know where your opponent has to go.

Another example of non-unit aggression is Sorla Khan. Dropping down Assault Ladders into a lane instantly makes your opponent take notice. Even if the lane is empty, it will force them to be careful and not stretch themselves to thin for fear of you making a push. The threat of aggression can often be just as important as aggression itself. It may seem like you've "wasted" a ladder in that scenario, but that is only true if you don't need to split your opponent's focus. If you can get them interested or protective of a lane you weren't going for anyway, that can be a big win.

The only exception to the above scenarios are lane-jumping cards like Blink Dagger. While they don't matter much when your opponent needs to go into the first lane (another example of its importance) they can be used to skirt around the "your heroes must go here problem." Always keep them in mind and always pay attention to what items your opponent's have in hand.


Every play in Artifact is important, but none are more important than the ones that change your opponent's plan. Getting after towers is the name of the game, but many people see that as their end goal rather than a tool. Games are often decided, not by who puts on pressure first, but who can best use that pressure to completely lock down their opponent's plays. Understand that and, no matter what style deck you're playing, always have aggression on your mind.
(Last Updated: January 15th, 2020)

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