Artifact, Richard Garfield's Dota 2-based CCG, is finally out. But with all the talk of monetisation models and an upfront $27.95 fee, people are still wondering: what do you get for your initial buy-in?
Artifact, which officially launched yesterday, is a card game that mimics Dota 2 with players defending three lanes and three sets of towers. Representing either the Dire or Radiant, players deploy heroes, cards and items from their hand over a series of turns, carrying on until two towers or someone's Ancient is destroyed.
Just to provide context, here's a quick outline of what you'll get upon opening the game, and more importantly, what you don't get.
Your $27.95 purchase gives you access to two starter decks: a "Blue-Black Control" deck and "Red-Green Brawler", a more aggressive, faster damage-dealing offering. When the game first opens, you're asked to play two training matches, starting with the red-green deck first.
The prompts are fairly straightforward, offering concise instructions to the UI and the general flow of the game.
The first match doesn't completely explain all of the principles that are useful to know. For instance, while the game explains that each tower's mana increases by one per turn, it doesn't tell you that you only draw two cards each turn. So, sooner rather than later, you'll have to decide which lane to ignore or abandon, and as the game progresses you'll work out pretty quickly which of the two remaining lanes is more important.
Once you're down with the tutorials, you'll be able to open 10 Call To Arms card packs. The first Artifact set has a total of 280 cards, broken into a series of main deck cards (spells, heroes, tower improvements, creeps) and items (consumables like drawing extra cards, accessories like boosting a hero's health, armour and weapons).
Every deck can have a maximum of five heroes, and every card that's not an item is assigned to a colour. Coloured cards can only be played in lanes where a hero of the corresponding colour has already been played.
Each card pack gives you 12 cards, as well as any bonus items that accompany a hero. Bloodseeker (a black hero, even though it looks initially like it might be a red hero), for instance, comes with Blood Rage which can silence a unit for a round. That unit also gets +4 attack, much like Bloodseeker's Blood Rage ability in Dota 2.
Playing a red hero in a lane means you can play red cards; playing a green hero means you can play green cards there, and so on. It's why the pre-constructed decks tend to stick to two of the game's four colours, because it guarantees you won't be stuck with too many situations where you're not able to play cards in a turn.
Once the tutorials are done and you've opened the card packs, you'll be able to trade those cards on the marketplace. You can also buy cards individually for various prices. Axe will set you back just over $24.61, and there is the odd outlier hero like Kanna which is going for $12.11 at the time of writing. But most are around $2 or less, like Meepo ($1.69), Luna ($0.72), Venomancer (11 cents), or Centaur Warrunner ($2.19).
Your entry fee also gives you five tickets, which you can use to participate in Artifact's equivalent of limited deck-style tournaments. They're called gauntlets, and you're given one of six decks to compete with. The idea is to keep a winning streak going for as long as possible, with players dropping out after accruing two losses. More constructed decks will be added to the mode after December 13 (US time).
You can only buy tickets in packs of 5, which cost $6.50 a pop and go all the way up to $32.50 for a pack of 25. Event tickets are exclusively for the competitive modes: Expert Constructed, Phantom Draft and Keeper Draft. The latter costs the most, requiring five packs and two event tickets, while Expert Constructed and Phantom Draft cost just the one event ticket a piece. You get to keep the cards you draft in Keeper Draft, however.
Casual constructed and phantom draft modes are available, however, and they don't cost a thing. You also have access to all of the cards in the current set in these modes, although you won't get to keep any of the winnings regardless of performance.
All of the casual and expert constructed/draft modes operate on the same model: you play until you either get five wins or two losses, whatever comes first.
For expert constructed and phantom draft, you'll be able to earn back your entry fee provided you win at least three games. If you win four, you'll get a card pack and one event ticket, while five wins gets you two packs and an event ticket back. Keeper draft will always cost you something: five wins only gets you two tickets and three card packs, which is two packs shy of the Keeper Draft entry fee.
After the tutorials, you can start selling or recycling any of your excess cards. Recycling lets you convert cards into event tickets, but you'll need 20 cards for each ticket. Artifact players have already worked out that the breaking even point is approximately 5 cents for a card: if you can get that or more, it's better to sell, whereas other cards should be recycled for event tickets.
The sale price is a fraction smaller than the purchase price, as you'd expect. I pulled an Axe in my first pack of 10 cards, but at the time of writing I'd only get $20.23 back if I sold it (compared to the current purchase price of $24.61).
Most other cards will go for less than 5 cents, although a few outliers I found in my initial decks - Pit Fighter of Quoidge, Fog of War, Ogre Corpse Tosser, Demagicking Maul, Wrath of Gold - will go for more.
Cards are sold through the Steam Marketplace, in a similar process to how you'd buy or sell a CS:GO crate or a PUBG skin. Sellers put items on the market for a certain price, with buyers paying a small tax on top of that. If I were to sell a card that goes for 6 cents, for instance, the buyer would pay 8 cents, with the difference going to Valve.
I'd recommend checking the marketplace directly too, rather than relying on the prices quoted within Artifact. Artifact checks the market price of a card when you open the game, but it doesn't automatically refresh until you quit and restart the application.
Over the course of writing this article, the in-game listed price for Axe jumped from $20.23 to $23.60 - but checking the marketplace revealed hundreds of buy listings for more than $28, with the bridge between buy and sell orders hovering just over $27. That price is trending up, too.
So that's what you'll get for your initial Artifact buy-in. Whether Artifact is worth the investment - and you are making an investment, the same way you would if you tried to give Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh! or the Transformers card game a shot today - is a different story for a different day. I'll keep mucking around in Richard Garfield's new economy, however, and we'll have more coverage of the CCG and how it shapes up down the road.