Artifact – Great Game, Bad Execution

Predatory Practice

Valve announced, much to the displeasure of many, the release of their newest title since Dota 2 in 2013, a card game titled Artifact. Being an avid player of card games, and having reviewed several of the biggest ones in the market currently, in some form or another (Hearthstone, Shadowverse, and others), I was afforded the opportunity to take a look at this one as well. What sets Artifact apart from those games is that it is not free-to-play, features designs from world-famous Richard Garfield, and mimics the real-world TCG scene seen in games like Magic the Gathering with its closed economy system. There’s a lot to unpack here so let’s waste no time and dive into just what you get with your $20 purchase of Artifact and if it is ultimately worth your money!

What’s in the Tin?

When you purchase Artifact you get the following things:

  • 10 card packs
  • 2 full decks
  • 5 event tickets

That’s what your $20 gets you. The card packs have 12 random cards with at least one guaranteed rare (the highest rarity). These cards can then be used in constructed play or sold via the market for anything from a few pennies to a few bucks, well if Valve didn’t tax you twice (thrice in some states) that is. This is a hefty tax too so don’t think you are going to profit off of these cards because, you won’t.

The 2 full decks range the full gambit of the four deck colors, Red, Blue, Green, and Black. Red cards focus on raw power, Green on minions, Blue is general control focus with small crowd control, and Black excels at single target removal and damage. The cards you get for these 2 decks allow for enough interesting construction that you can do decently, but alone they won’t let you win a ton of games in constructed.

Lastly, there are the event tickets. These are used to play the ranked/competitive game modes. They cost money normally, just like packs, and there are no other ways to obtain them. You can use one ticket to play constructed (nobody does this, it is a trap), Phantom Draft (you don’t keep the cards but draft a deck, think arena for Hearthstone), and Keeper Draft where you also need 5 packs to play, but you get to keep all cards drafted. You can win prizes in these modes ranging from a new ticket to a few packs. However, the threshold is rather high so usually you won’t break-even.

Once you’ve used up all your tickets and packs, then you either have to spend more money to keep playing or stick to the free modes, well really mode (there are others but people mainly play the free version of Phantom Draft).

What is Artifact?

You might be wondering exactly how you play this game. It is a little complicated because it is a lot like playing three games of a different card game, but at the same time. As in Dota 2, the player must manage three different lanes, or boards in this case. You have various heroes that dictate what cards may be played in that lane. For example, if you have a Blue and Red hero in one lane, you may only play Blue or Red cards there. Conversely, if you control no heroes in a lane, you may not play any cards there at all.

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Your goal is to destroy two of your opponents tower’s. They start at 40 HP, and once you take down one, it resets to 80 HP and may be destroyed a second time (though that is rather rare). Each turn the players are provided an additional mana to work with to reach this goal, along with getting to draw some new cards for your hand.

Beyond this, each turn, creeps (which are wimpy free minions) are added to random positions on the board so that each lane has the opportunity to gain more bodies and eventually snowball. This is pretty similar to how games like Dota 2 and LoL work.

In addition to all of this, each minion and hero on the board randomly chooses to attack whatever is in front of it, or to either side of it. If nothing is in that spot, it just hits the tower. This is the only real RNG aspect of the game, which is what many complain about in regards to games like Hearthstone, but this feels a lot worse than you might imagine as several games come down to this single aspect in Artifact.

Lastly, each turn players are offered a chance to purchase equipment that can modify heroes with gold. The way you earn gold is by killing stuff. As you can see, there is a LOT going on here.

With all that being said, this is something you kind of need to see in motion to fully get. Below I’ve provided a video of Kripp playing the game, who you may recognize as one of the top Hearthstone players in North America. You may not understand every card or what is always going on, but it gives at least a vague idea.

Day 1 Debacle

When Artifact launched publicly on 11/28/18, there was a fair amount of buzz and excitement for the game from card game enthusiasts, such as myself. I was a tad wary given the game’s monetization model, but I was willing to give it a try. I figured, at worst, I could refund my purchase since Valve has a rather kind refund policy now in place on Steam.

However, there were a lot of problems with launch, and refunds were just a part of the problem. It all started with the scheduled release time, which was pushed back. This alone, is not a big deal but along with everything else to come, it was simply adding fuel to the fire.

On the game’s forums, people were getting banned left and right for expressing concerns about how the game planned to make money. After all, you have to put in $20 bucks just to try the game and once you use up the meager starting offerings, you have to sink real money to keep going. Not only that, but the folks who were championing this game were telling people to just accept it and that’s how TCG’s work (except there is no actual trading of cards in this game…), so they should just grow-up because games shouldn’t be giving you things, I guess.

This became more extreme when the game finally launched and some major bugs occurred with Artifact. Most users didn’t get the starting offerings (some got partial) for the $20, a bug that actually existed in the closed beta but was never fixed (still isn’t), servers could not handle the sudden spike in players, and games were being improperly recorded.

Previously, there had been a private beta period with a few thousand players but they did not bother testing the servers with a larger pool of players. If you preordered the game, you got nothing, not even a beta invite, but that would have been a way to avoid this. Problems are common on launch for most games, but this was simply ridiculous given the company’s track record and the amount of time they had to prepare.

Naturally, people took to the forums and looked for an explanation. There wasn’t one, at least not from Valve. To make matters worse, many of these people were banned after expressing that they had a negative view of the game because of this, whether they owned it or not. To complicate things further, Valve refused to offer refunds on Artifact in almost all instances (though some did manage).

Image result for ban

What they Valve didn’t tell people is that they could NOT refund the game after purchase if you completed the tutorial. Some folks got wise to this and would skip the tutorial, but if you did that, then you did not receive your starting stuff, and thus could not play. There is now a very small disclaimer in the game about that, but it was suspiciously absent in reports of people who managed to get into the game within the first few hours of launch.

The idea here is that this prevents you from selling your high value cards and then returning the game, and in turn, making a profit. However, the cards are worth so little that this is a pretty silly concern, plus one that can easily be looked at from Valve’s side (meaning you can tell if a user is doing this). People were not happy, myself included, and at this point in time I hadn’t even gotten into the game.

Again, this lead to more complaints in the forums, their Twitter account, and other places. In nearly all instances this lead to bans and were outright ignored by Valve. Now, it is fair to say that a lot of these things were fixed after several hours into launch day, but there was zero communication from Valve.

Despite all of this, I still gave the game a try, though my opinion had been fairly tarnished by now. This was not a good launch and should be an example of what not to do for any company looking to do something like this.

Is it Fun?

Yeah. Artifact is really fun. Richard Garfield is a legendary designer for a reason, and the game reflects that. Even though constructed modes are an utter joke here, the free Phantom Draft is a load of fun. In spite of the abysmal launch, I actually found myself really enjoying the game for my first day.

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The deck building is also very good and easy to do

Individual games feel tight and require a fair deal for forethought in order to achieve victory. The amount of depth, even with such a small card pool, is pretty amazing. While this will need some more variety pumped into the game eventually, for a few weeks there should be a lot to explore content wise.

Not only this but the game is pretty fair when it comes to buying up the desirable cards. Most top tier decks ring in at $50 or less in most cases since your 10 packs can get you at least a few of these cards. If you know about Keeper Draft, getting these cards is even easier, though you do have to lean on luck some.

I had a few notes of concern here, mainly that the tutorial took way too long and matches can often take a full hour to complete, but from a mechanical perspective Artifact is a grade A game. You may think that this is glowing praise, but it comes with a huge BUT…


Here’s where I have to drop a lot of caveats to what I just said. The game is littered with things to be worried about, and that ultimately make Artifact feel like a predatory cash grab from Valve. From least bad to worst, let’s take a look at those.

Packs can give you cards from the starter set. Why is this? It is a huge oversight and it makes the packs feel really terrible to open, because most of the low rarity cards you already have. Now, this was something raised in the closed beta so they did add a dusting system where you can get 1 ticket per 20 cards dusted, but since getting more cards is actually very difficult without really throwing money at this, it isn’t enough on its own. Though, a good step.

No progression. Since money is the only way to get stuff, there is not a sense of progression with the game. While it is true that the game is fun, and that the free draft mode is excellent, that won’t be enough to sustain a large player base for an extended period of time. There is a reason that every other card game, even Magic the Gathering’s official digital version (which by the way, is a lot more fair than this, and FREE) recognizes this. While I understand the desire to replicate the early 90’s feel of classic TCG’s, that’s no excuse for not taking advantage of the digital medium, and a point of concern that will be echoed moving forward.

No trading. It is labeled a TCG, yet you can’t trade cards, only sell them. This seems really weird, because this would help aid in relieving the progression problem from before. As it stands this is just your typical CCG but with a closed economy that doesn’t allow for you to actually collect the cards without a fat wallet.

Cards will never be nerfed, buffed, or balanced in any way. This ties back into the previous point about not utilizing the digital format. While this ensures that cards hold their value (or what little value they have), this means that the game will quickly become stale as powerful combos are exploited with no incentive to do anything else. Additionally, this means the only solution to rampant balance issues (of which there are already SEVERAL) the only thing they can do is ban cards, which just makes the variety concern worse.

Length of games. They are just too long. Opponents abuse the timers, just like in other games, and I don’t want to sit around for up to an hour to play one match. Especially when I’m losing. However, given the nature of the game, you shouldn’t concede a match ever. You could still win, even if it is unlikely. After all, you are paying to play too. 

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A problem card…

Balance is a major concern, and probably not for the reason you think. It actually has to do with the paid modes and the single worst experience I’ve had with the game. I have used up all five of my starting tickets now playing Phantom Draft. I started with the free version, was winning a ton there, and moved to that only to losing nearly every game.

The game does not seem to take into account your win-to-loss ratio when you are pitted against opponents. Your great deck that is already 0-1 could be out on the next game because it got put up against a guy with 9,000 hours in the game and a crazy deck. It doesn’t feel good. The win five before you lose two system, just doesn’t feel good.

I played a lot of folks with top tier decks they got lucky enough to draft. You can’t beat that with something average, or just above. Like I said, there are major balance issues at play here that completely ruin any positive feelings I could have toward the game.

Another observation I had with the paid modes is that nearly everybody playing them is Russian or Chinese. This isn’t meant to sound racist, but it was horribly suspicious because out of all my paid games, I played only one person who wasn’t from one of those two locations.

Is Artifact Worth Your Time & Money?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Like I’ve said, the free mode is great and I’ll continue to play that. However, I will never sink a single penny more into this game and you shouldn’t even bother with it unless you just want to have fun with the free mode. Is that worth $20? Maybe for some but for most, Artifact just isn’t worth getting into when there are so many better card games out there.

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Click if you want to buy the game for some reason

Really, take your pick and try something else because I promise you’ll have more fun.

Did you end up buying into Artifact, and if so, what are your thoughts? Will you be picking this up after reading my thoughts anyway if not? Let me hear your voice in the comments below. If you would like to support my writing, please click my donation button below. As always, thanks for stopping by and I hope to see you back here at Jon Spencer Reviews again soon!

5 thoughts on “Artifact – Great Game, Bad Execution

  1. I see. Well, it is kind of expensive in its current state. I guess I’ll hold onto my wallet first and maybe consider purchasing this once it gets better.

    Thanks for the heads up!

    Liked by 1 person

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