An interview with Joel Larsson

An interview with Joel Larsson
I had an opportunity to chat with the the winner from the Artifact Preview Tournament, hosted by BTSArtifact, Joel Larsson! In our conversation, we analyzed some of Joel's decisions during the tournament, some of his drafting strategies, as well as his potential future with Artifact!

What are your thoughts on Artifact?

Joel Larsson - I thoroughly enjoy it, when I first started playing, a long time ago, I was so excited. The game is structured around so many small moments, I never feel like I’m on autopilot while playing, and sometimes when I play, time just flies by. My mind is just moving so quickly from action and decisions I have to make, and there isn’t any kind of auto-pass feature. I’m always thinking about strategy, always thinking, progressing, predicting my opponent’s moves. A ton of small intricacies take place in a single round, and sometimes when player’s do nothing, that means something!
About playing with open decklists, I think it rewards more skillful playing, it’s better when there is more information available. If you are able to play a game with open decklists, this system would reward players with higher skill. Because of my background, I can understand from a player’s perspective, like a purist, that hidden information should be hidden. A tech card in your deck, for instance, should be hidden. But the problem is we live in the digital age, with live broadcasts, twitch streaming, which reveals hidden information.
And there is a point where broadcasters have to engage with their audience, which means they ill show off decklists, talk strategy, and reveal hidden information. Then, that becomes an issue because a player’s hidden deck list is no longer hidden. Now, that player is at a disadvantage in every match he would play after that. Should we have open decklist, I can see it from both points of view, and I think there are more positive things from showing the decklist than not.

What skills transfer from Magic the Gathering to Artifact, in the limited format?

Joel Larsson - Many of the same technical skills in Magic draft, apply to Artifact. Once you’ve grown accustomed to drafting main deck cards, taking into consideration what the overall deck list will be, the drafting process comes fairly naturally. Things like understanding Mana Curve, how many Creeps should be in a deck, things like that just come from experience.
One of the biggest differences between the two games, it’s much easier to splash a specific card or two in Magic, whereas in artifact, you need a Hero to play cards as well. This makes Artifact much more complex, because of the requirement of Heroes to fulfill the ability to play specific cards. When you are at a Limited event in Magic, you just go to the Mana station and get your Land cards, which will allow you to play whatever cards you want. But in Artifact, you need the specific Heroes in the deck and in play.

The tournament this past weekend was quite long, what do you think about this as a player and as an analyst?

Joel Larsson - It seems like the format is good for viewers, Where the format is kind of open, and all the information out there for viewers, which I think is a great thing for an audience. I’ve often times thought about a scenario where a player’s thoughts could be heard during a card game match and think about how exciting that game would be to watch. It would be engaging to an audience, and they could think about all the potential strategies a player could use from his hand. But of course, that technology won’t ever exist, and that’s probably a good thing! That’s why we need casters, to walk the audience through every step a player is thinking about. Casters have to constantly be in the player’s mind, weighing every option and calculating every instance of RNG, considering if it’s worth it or not to take the risk.
For me, the tournament was exhausting, mostly because my flight was delayed. I had a connection flight that was also delayed, and I actually landed the night before the tournament. So on top of the long hours both days, I had major jet lag. In the end, I guess it all worked out, maybe because of the jet lag, I played more on instinct after all!

Do any particular matches from your run in the tournament stick out to you?

Joel Larsson - My favorite play from the tournament was Game 1 of the finals vs. Mogwai. The play involved me figuring out a way to use my resources to get just enough gold to purchase a , which surprised both the players on the analyst deck and the casters. I wanted to play my cards in the right way to get enough gold, but I also didn’t want my opponent to see what I was trying to do, because then my opponent could have stopped me from accomplishing my goal.

When building your deck, do you often draft what comes to you, or do you try and force a specific type of deck?

Joel Larsson - I try to let the cards come to me. The thing with artifact is that when you’re drafting, everything is on a timer, and you have to figure out quickly what works together while drafting the deck. You have to stay open until a certain point, usually when you get a specific Hero. It makes it harder and adds a lot of complexity. Sometimes you might even want to splash another color in the deck, just to play a certain card or two. Heroes will direct a lot of what you are doing and dictate the draft, for the most part.

I've often heard Pack 3 is when you should have a clear idea of your deck's identity, do you agree?

Joel Larsson - I’ve heard the same thing as well, but I disagree. I think you can stay open until the very end. Sometimes the final hero in pack 4 or pack 5 could change the entire identity of your deck. You have to stay open to all possibilities. Because of how complex it can be to draft in Artifact, you can’t stick to a rigid concept. When picking your two cards in a pack, you sometimes will choose between taking them for value, for matching a Hero’s color, or even picking late game cards that are just powerful overall. Sometimes you also have to take a chance on the last two cards of a pack, where you get a randomly generated Hero. Sometimes, that can be huge. Like when I drafted Sorla Khan in my Day Two deck, at the end of pack 4, I had to wait for the randomly generated Hero and I hit , which was huge!
The most important piece of advice I can give someone is always build the deck around Heroes. Pick high value cards, pick strong cards, until you get solid Heroes. A major goal of mine, when drafting, is to never play 2 copies of a basic Hero. Maybe could work as a double basic Hero, depending on what Black cards you draft. It’s not the stats that matter all that much, but its running too many signature cards from that Hero. Your game changes so much because you are placing cards across three lanes and if you have too many signature cards, your deck becomes quite simple, and you have less options available to you. When this happens, the opponent knows what to expect from you, and it is difficult to get the upper hand. Some Heroes you’d love to have duplicates, , , , stacking double , all great things. But stacking something like or a Basic Hero, your deck becomes very one dimensional.

How do you feel about RNG?

Joel Larsson - I think most card games have RNG, and the better you become, the significance of RNG diminishes. If a player with more experience is playing against a newer player, RNG isn’t important. The experience player will likely never need to take risks at all, and can make plays without chance being involved. Most of the time RNG comes into play, is when a player has to lean on it to win, with something like lucky spawns, and Pathing cards to avoid losing a tower, or even crazy things like . Usually, a player will take the chance of RNG when they are behind and need to stay in the game. Rarely does a player who is winning, use RNG to win more. It can happen, but if the player is winning, why would they take that risk?
In my opinion, RNG is a good thing. It increases variability, new players can use RNG in their favor to win games that they shouldn’t have, and learn from that experience. They’ll be behind a lot of the time, and will maybe stay alive long enough to win from RNG. Lastly, RNG can create exciting moments in a match, the series between Lifecoach and Dane was so exciting because of the RNG, cards like and , I was actually casting that game. Lifecoach was put in this place where he had to lean on RNG to keep him alive, because he was so far behind. Lifecoach had a worse deck overall, and his only option was to try and use RNG.

What do you think about the future of Artifact? Do you have any plans to play it professionally?

Joel Larsson - I think the future of Artifact will be bright. The thing that I’m not sure about his how many people will end up playing it, how many people come from DotA, or other card games in general, but I am very optimistic. Artifact fills a void between Magic and Hearthstone. Hearthstone is so simple, a lot of new cards coming out, but it doesn’t matter that much because of the structure of the game. It was built to be accessible to a massive audience, regardless of how complex new cards end up being, the game design is just too simple. While Magic is expensive, hard to learn, hard to watch, there can be so many moving parts, it can get extremely complicated, and of course it isn’t built to be played on phones, with how much depth and complexity is involved.
Artifact kind of hits that sweet spot in the middle, it touches on both, complexity and being accessible. It’s certainly more friendly to new players, compared to Magic. Also the way the game is structured, it keeps the depth and complexity built in, regardless if the cards are overtly simple. The way the game is setup, dividing resources between three lanes, having to win two out of the three, deployment phases, spawns, it means Artifact will have a bright future. I can imagine so many new cards that might come out in the future, and all the ways they could affect the game, it’s very exciting.
I’ve been studying in University, focusing on my Degree, and playing Artifact more for fun, where Magic has been less of a focus of mine. I’ve played a lot of Magic, done a lot within the game, right now I’m more interested in trying new things. I’ll focus on studying and see where Artifact takes me, but I guess I am open to all things, even though I’m sure I’ll continue to have somewhat of a presence in Magic.

Thank you for your time, any shoutouts? And where can people follow you?

Joel Larsson - Follow me on twitter, @JoelLarson1991, I’ll be streaming in the future and we’ll see what happens. A lot of people are asking me to stream on twitch, so expect to see me on there in the near future!
I’d like to thank Bruno and Valve, for giving me the opportunity to play the Artifact closed beta. I know a lot of people are desperate to play, and I understand all of the community’s frustration, it can be annoying, but you have to remember every gaming company does this. The reason they do this, Valve wants to make the game as good as possible, collecting data, polishing, and iterating to make the game really good. I promise, the wait will be worth it, in the end.
Thank you to the Beyond the Summit team for believing in me, for inviting me to the Artifact Preview Tournament, and having me as an analyst on the desk. It’s given me an opportunity to connect with the esports world, which I really haven’t had that opportunity before. So, I really appreciate it.
Lastly, I’d like to thank Rebecka, she knows who she is.