Artifact’s Controversial Cards-For-Money System Has Been Good So Far

Artifact’s Controversial Cards-For-Money System Has Been Good So Far
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I’ve been having a lot of fun playing Valve’s new card game, Artifact, since it launched on Wednesday. It is surprisingly easy to learn and is an interesting take that borrows from Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering while doing something new. The game also treats its digital cards unusually, letting people buy and sell their cards. I was sceptical about that last bit, but I’ve found it refreshing.

Artifact costs $US20 ($27) and gives players 10 card packs that will contain some of the game’s current 310 cards. You can’t grind through matches to earn the right or the in-game currency to obtain new cards. In fact, there’s no real progression system in the game. The only way to get more cards is to spend real money on cards, with Valve getting a cut of each purchase.

This has earned the game grief on its Steam page as player reviews denounce it for being pay-to-win.

The game’s most expensive card is Axe. At the time of writing, there are about 400 circulating on the Steam Marketplace with a median sell price of around $US20 ($27). The card features a red giant wielding a giant axe. His impressive stat line is: 7 attack, 2 armour, and 11 health. He’s a beast in the early rounds. Axe is highly prized in Artifact‘s meta-game strategy, which has been slowly building since the closed beta.

Prices for the card have fluctuated, reaching $US30 ($41) on Wednesday, dropping to the teens hours later than going back up.

After some wild spikes the market price for Axe appears to be levelling out.

This volatility may be driven by supply as more people open card packs or by speculation on the part of people looking to game the Steam Marketplace to turn a quick profit. It is understandably frustrating. I want to buy Axe, and I’ve struggled to figure out the right price to pay. There’s a silver lining though: most cards in Artifact aren’t Axe.

There are currently 310 cards in the game. That’s slightly more than the core set in Magic: The Gathering that gets updated each year. There are three types denoting how likely they are to drop when opening new packs: common, uncommon, and rare. A common New Orders spell card is going for $US0.04 ($0.05). An uncommon hero Viper is going for $US0.07 ($0.1). A rare Poaching Knife is going for $US0.47 ($0.64).

Players have already created programs to measure how much it would cost to buy the entire set at a given moment. That number is around $US300 ($410), but it fluctuates. You can currently buy all common and uncommon cards for just under $US40 ($55).

Buying some of the currently most competitive decks might cost $US30 ($41) or more. You can effectively play with most of the cards in the game, exploring all of their strategies and styles, for very little compared to most other card games, including free-to-play ones like Hearthstone, where serious players can be expected to spend $US200 ($274) to get most of the cards in a new expansion.

Some players have been arguing that  Artifact isn’t a rip-off on the game’s subreddit. While there’s no way to grind for new cards for free, Artifact is unique among digital card games in making it possible to skip grinding and loot boxes by spending a little extra money.

Today I spent $US15.92 ($22) to make a black deck based around casting death spells and outfitting my heroes with powerful items throughout the course of a match. It’s been a blast to play, and it’s helped me do well in the casual mode I’ve been matchmaking in.

It was also wonderful to be able to simply buy the cards for rather than have to hope for the luck of the draw while opening pack after pack. It was a relief to no have to grind for weeks on end as I would in Hearthstone.

This is a model familiar to anyone who’s played Magic: The Gathering, where players can buy boxes of booster packs when a new expansion hits or wait and buy individual cards when they’re resold. While Artifact cards each cost less on average, you also don’t need duplicate copies of many of the most expensive ones. An Artifact deck can only have one Axe card, whereas MTG decks can include up to four copies of the rarest and most powerful cards.

It’s unclear how Artifact‘s economy will shake out over the long term as more card packs are open and new players stop joining its market, but currently the game also has another virtue other digital card games don’t: if I decide to stop playing, I can cash out my collection and go buy other Steam games with it.


  • I’ve bought a few cards to round off my decks. I’ve spent less than $5. If I were playing Hearthstone I would have had to grind for god knows how long, or bought well and truly worth more than $5 worth of packs to either a) be lucky and get the specific cards I’ve wanted or b) had enough dust to trade to craft the card.

    People had reason to be skeptical about the model, but I think it’s far far better than Hearthstone. Perhaps the unemployed bums who have nothing but time to grind away will prefer it, but for everyone else – this system is far far superior (IMO).

  • It’s a lot better than hearthstone, the fact that I can just buy the cards I need to make a deck is way better. I’ve spent around 100 (including the game cost) and have complete commons and all black cards. I also have several dupes that I can sell to make some of that money back, and as noted above the fact that I can sell all my cards if I get sick of this game and put the money towards a new game is pretty great.

  • As someone who enjoys card games but doesn’t play them at a competitive level, I wonder what’s the motivation to keep playing if you can’t get more cards as a reward?

    Is there any form of reward for winning (beyond ranking) or is it purely for the love of it?

      • Agreed. I’m confident that we will end up with that functionality overtime, but the lack of it is a bit annoying.

        The tournament feature is cool though.

        If you look at DOTA 2 and what capability that game had a launch VS what was added in overtime it is incredible. What’s happened to Hearthstone??

        I mean, it should have some basic progression stuff given you’ve paid for the game, but I’m hopeful of what will come.

        PS – The fact I cannot watch a friends game in the client is frustrating. Please fix Valve 🙂

  • I’d have to strongly disagree that the game is easy to learn. Compared to magic or hearthstone it’s very hard to tell whether you’ve actually made a correct or incorrect play. There is more depth to the game, but it comes at a huge cost to accessibility.

  • I wonder if this is going to fall afoul of gambling laws now that you can sell those cards for “real” (Steam credit) money. There are probably differences but on the surface it seems like it could be exploited in a similar way to Counter Strike skin gambling.

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