Defining the Constructed Meta

Defining the Constructed Meta

Introduction to Constructed

Many people criticize Constructed mode in card games, often claiming the mode quickly devolves into a Rock Paper Scissors game. Aggro, Midrange, and Control have traditionally been the most common example of this phenomenon. But if you want to debate the topic, you've come to the right place. I've also included some of the top deck lists currently in this article, so feel free to get an idea of what people are playing in the top cut brackets! First off, why do people hate Rock Paper Scissors so much?
There is actually strategy involved. And if you weren't aware, there was once a Rock Paper Scissors championship in Las Vegas, winner received $50,000. Here is an article from the Chicago Tribune which talks about some of the high level strategies in Rock Paper Scissors. It's all about playing the mind game. Humans aren't perfect, people will naturally consider what their opponent played in the previous game of RPS, so you can bring a pre-constructed strategy of Rock Paper Scissors. How about the "Fistful of Dollars" strategy? Rock-Paper-Paper. Or the infamous "Scissor Sandwich" tactic? Paper-Scissors-Paper? Don't forget my personal favorite, "Good ol' Rock" Rock-Rock-Rock. Just take a look at this video from the Finals match!
But is this really the case for Artifact? Is the constructed mode a highly strategic game of Rock Paper Scissors? I’ve been playing a lot of Artifact, and nearly all of my game time has been in the Constructed game modes. Because of my background in card games, I’ve always been more into Constructed, and generally never participated in Limited, other than the occasional pre-release tournament. From my experience in card games, I’d say the “Rock Paper Scissors” criticism is often true, but it’s merely an oversimplification of the developed meta. For Artifact, I’ve found this to not be the case. Let’s make a list of the various reasons why I disagree…

Traditional Deck archetypes aren’t as prevalent in Artifact.

Because of the game design in Artifact (Get used to that, I'll be saying it a few times here), traditional card game deck archetypes don't do quite the same thing that they do in other games. For example, an Aggro deck in another card game (with only one board) has a much easier time overwhelming the opponent than they would in Artifact, where resources have to be split up amongst three lanes. Sure, Aggro still exists, because of cards like and , but this is more of a "Face Aggro" strategy, versus a Minion/Creep based Aggro deck.
This concept also sort of applies to Midrange and Control, to a smaller extent. Sure, Control still exists in Artifact with things like and , but it's slightly different because of the three lanes thing. As for Midrange, Hero cards are sort of the Unit/Minion/Creep that you would be able to reach for a Mid game win with, so it's not the same Midrange, in the traditional sense. Basically what I'm saying is, in Artifact, your Hero cards (that you start the game with) is what can determine your deck archetype. That's a very different concept than other card games.

Board control isn't the same in Artifact.

As I hinted in the previous bullet point, game design in Artifact changes the typical card game dynamic of fighting over a single board. Because there are three boards, at any point you don't want to devote resources into fighting over control, you can just as easily give up, and let your opponent take it. You can't do that in other card games, obviously. But there's another side to this, in Artifact, you can also re-deploy dead Heroes into already lost lanes. No other card game, that I know of, allows you to bring back dead Creature cards when you've lost the board!

Right now, Artifact's cards are pretty simple.

The Call to Arms set, the first set for artifact, generally keeps things simple. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, because the entire world is just now being exposed to Artifact. It should be simple! The game design around Artifact is so complicated, overwhelming at times, and can feel slightly too complex, by having simple cards, with simple effects, the game is much more enjoyable to experience. If cards had long complicated effects, I don't think Artifact would be successful.
Because the cards are simple, that means most decks are relatively one dimensional. And with enough experience, you can easily predict what your opponent can play, and when. But most importantly, you can prepare your boards for what your opponent is likely carrying. 6 Mana with a Blue Hero in lane, and your dominating? The opponent might have , so don't play any more cards into this lane, or try to kill the Blue Hero with a single card! 8 Mana with an opponent's Green Hero and a bunch of Units in lane? Save your for a potential game winning drop of !

... And the late games cards are crazy powerful!

Sure, the cards are simple in Artifact. But the other side of that coin is the late game cards. While also simple, boy are they powerful! and are the game ending cards currently available. If your opponent is playing either Green or Red, you have to be prepared for when these cards are coming.
The most important reason I bring this up, is because that also means you can play them, as well! Of course Artifact isn't actually a game of Rock Paper Scissors, because nearly every deck will carry some form of end game, and whoever plays their end game cards first will typically win. Regardless of the deck matchups.

Individual skill is much more important than the deck.

Because of the game design in Artifact, there are a very high number of choices throughout a game. When one player is making the absolute best decision during each of those moments, versus a player who is making incorrect decisions, those small advantages will begin stacking up quickly. Some decks can offer more choices to the player, which translates to that deck having a higher skill ceiling. In those cases, the better player will typically win with that deck, in a mirror match. And more often than not, regardless of the decks being played, the better player will win more often than not.
This fact is amplified by a massive margin in the Draft format. Because you are drafting cards before you even play a match versus another opponent, whoever makes better decisions each draft phase is giving themselves that much more of an advantage in their games. While I don't want to directly compare Draft (or Limited) to Constructed, I do want to acknowledge that Draft outweighs individual skill way more than Constructed does. But that doesn't minimize skill's impact in Constructed.
With that basic primer into the Constructed Meta, let's take a look at some of the best decks right now...

Black/Red "Hero Killer"

Scrooge McDuck levels of Rich

In a flash, this deck can be Scrooge McDuck levels of rich, literally swimming in Gold. I've been able to buy ALL THREE by the River round in a game before! This deck can be stupid rich, swimming in 100's of gold, very easily. Especially if your opponent is playing weak Heroes like , , or . Pretty much any hero with less than 10 Health can fall victim to Round one and two kills, which does nothing but feed gold. With cards like and , it's easy for this deck to amass a vault full of gold...
And that's what this deck wants to do, acquire Gold, purchase , start spawning and win the game farily quickly. Kill all of your opponent's Heroes before they are able to cast things like and . You've also got a late game option in , if you didn't draw into your early enough in the match.

or ?

One of the biggest debates with this deck, is which hero is better? or ? Personally, I think is far better in this type of deck. allows your and to take quick and easy kills right off Initiative. And this deck is obviously all about Killing Heroes, right?
I can understand the argument for , can be the tiny bit of a finsher you need for a kill, after your opponent plays something like on an , putting him at 11 Health. Well, with a and a , all of your Heroes in the deck can one shot a full 11 Health . And this play will also set you up for easier future kills, whenever is re-deployed.
This choice comes down to personal preference. And in my opinion, is better in this deck, the Hero Killer deck. And just to set the record straight, this debate between or will come up almost every single time you make a deck running only two Red Heroes, so get used to both of them in the mean time.

Weaknesses

The weaknesses for this deck is first, when it gets a clunky start. No , no , no in your opening hand or first couple of draws, can make your early game a really difficult thing to get through. Especially in the list that uses over , without early game kills, you can struggle to acquire the gold your deck needs.
With early game pressure from strong Heroes, you might be forced into buying Healing items and Health Accessories. When this happens, you are setting yourself back further from getting into play. With a lot of low Health Heroes, a double can spell absolute disaster for you. In this instance, might actually be slightly better, because he can survive two , whereas can not.
Less played cards like and can also be a nightmare for this deck, for obvious reasons. One of the best things about , is that it gets infinite value, by being able to spawn more and more . Well, when your opponent can destroy it before you activate it, or chain copy it with and his Multicast, it really doesn't feel good having to face against a wall of . Thankfully, you do carry in your deck!

Blue/Green Combo

is broken

The Combo deck, also known as "Storm", is one of my absolute favorite meta decks to play, right now. I've completed a handful of Perfect Runs in Constructed Gauntlets, as well as competed in a handful of small 8-man tournaments with the deck. In my experience piloting the deck, the things I enjoy most is when it goes off. When my opponent gets to the face, on Initiative, and then I can use , in conjunction with , and then follow up with a and then the rest of my hand to win the game! And by the way, and is a fairly busted interaction. After you , you get 2 extra Mana to interact with. Then, after you use , you get the full 3 Mana after. Which means actually gave you 5 Mana in that lane. Yowzers!
As I've said before on this blog, is one of the absolute best cards in the game, period. Using this on Initiative can just shut an entire lane down. Fun fact, in Artifact, Silence also stops Units from Activating the Item cards equipped to them. In the DotA universe, that's a different effect called Mute, which means if you are only silenced, you can still activate Items in your bag. In Artifact however, there is no difference. This is one of nearly a dozen reasons why is so good. I've actually won games just by using before my opponent can out of the lane, or activate their , or even before they can use ! In my opinion, for the future of Artifact, I think it would be in Valve's best interest to separate these mechanics, like in DotA. shouldn't stop a guy from shooting his Musket!

? ?

I've probably played a hundred games with this deck, with various counts of different cards. At first, I wasn't sold on , I thought the card wasn't that strong. But then I was faced with a conundrum in a situation that came up fairly often. If my is in Lane Three, how could I possibly get her out of there quicker than 6 Mana cost ? Generally, you want in the first or second lane, where it's much easier to kill an Ancient, before your opponent can destroy two tower. If you're in the third lane, on the turn you would destroy the Ancient, your opponent can recognize this and go all-in on Lane One and Lane Two, attempting to finish you off before you can win. If you're in Lane One or Two, however, this is much harder to do. I also recognized situations where my opponent would give up in 's lane way too early. Leaving me with zero damaged units in the lane, meaning my would spawn exactly 0 !
solved both of these issues. in the early game is very strong, netting me two cards in my hand. This deck is all about drawing cards, so you'll have plenty of things to feed your later. Also, casting it from the third lane and killing Heroes in the first or second lane isn't actually that bad. In that situation, those Heroes only sit out for one round, technically speaking. It's like the opposite of an Upkeep Kill. also serves as a late game finisher, enabling to spawn more units, if you are ever in a pinch.
, however, I never felt gave me an edge. If anything, it was used as a way to get a tad more reach, so I can slightly sooner. But I never saw it complementing the deck's core strategy enough. Sure, it can help get a or out a tad quicker. But frankly, I find and to be more than enough Ramp to get to the end game cards. I just don't think has enough Umph for this deck.

Weaknesses

In general, this deck struggles with a weak early game. If Hero Killer gets all the right pieces, it can really go off on this deck. Since is the only thing that can really take hits from that deck, if you feed too much gold, too quickly, you have to play really carefully with your and to win the matchup. Maybe to help this matchup you could consider running ?
Against Red Heroes, with and , it can be difficult to keep your Heroes alive long enough to do anything. Especially after a late game , it can be hard to finish a game out. Thankfully going wide is a problem Red has issues dealing with, but if we aren't able to get our combo going or drawing enough cards early, this can be a grueling match.
Lastly, because of how much this deck can draw cards, to enable , Lock cards such as is an extremely difficult card to deal with for this deck. There are ways to play around it, when only one is in play, just draw as much as you can right away, allowing the Lock to wear off at the end of the round. But when multiple are in play, it becomes a serious issue. As you'll see in the next two decks, they both run 3 copies of , for this reason.

Blue/Red Control

Many variations

There's actually three different versions to this deck. The first variant is the above deck list, plain old Blue/Red Control. The second is the Lock variant. And lastly, the third version, Three Red/Two Blue Control. This is one of the decks where personal playstyle and preference will make the biggest impact on what the right decklist is for you. Some people play , some play , it's all about what feels right for the player. Personally, I love Lock decks, and I actually played the Lock version in the Brainscans.net Beta Bonanza tournament. I ended up going 4-1, missing the top 8 cut, but I had a great experience in the event. Thankfully, I'm participating in the Brainscans.net Launch Day tournament, so wish me luck!
As for the main list Blue/Red Control list, really enables Red to go much further than I expected. Two in the same Lane? Multiple ? That can get ugly incredibly fast, if your opponent isn't prepared for it. Red also covers Blue's biggest weakness, giving them staying power in lanes. gets a round one kill and your opponent is going to give up in that lane? Great, let's put a Blue Hero in that lane, which means they'll be safe for the rest of the game! Free to cast or into other lanes, without worrying about being killed!

or ? Again?

In the main list, when comparing or , we have a slightly different argument this time around. First off, will always be a fantastic card. But in this deck, we need beefy Red Heroes to support our frail Blue ones. So gets an edge there. Furthermore, really pairs well with this deck. If you weren't aware, negative armor stacks with and . That means if you slap a on an enemy Bounty Hunter, killing them that round, if they were ever to deploy into a lane with 2 and 1 , they'll die in the upkeep. would deal 3 total damage and would deal 4. wins again. Lastly, we can use to redirect 's attacks into enemy Heroes, stacking up his armor fairly easily. I just think makes much more sense in here versus , but again, it comes down to personal preference.

Weaknesses

Of all the decks we've covered, this deck I feel has the fewest weaknesses if the deck list is right and the player doesn't make any misplays. I will say that decks can beat this, when they get everything they want. For example, Hero Killer can really steamroll this deck, if they draw all the right cards in the early game. They'll keep coming for your Blue Heroes fairly easily, and if they can start doubling up their Gold with , you will have a hard time.
In general, is just a freakishly powerful card. If your opponent is able to lock you out of a few rounds with a on initiative, it might be hard to really get going. Just be mindful of Initiative, and whenever you think your opponent could have a big or waiting for you in the next lane!

Red/Green "Buff Boys"

To Heal or to Ramp?

This deck also has another version, the Ramp Variant, where instead of using Healing cards, it focuses on Ramping up, allowing a faster or even . I'd say both of these variants are very close to one another in power, but I'd give a slight edge to the Healing version, with and . Currently, every Red deck is running 2-3 , which can punish the Ramp version. The Ramp variant also prioritizes over , which I'm not sure about. I really like in this deck, because his Active, which summons pairs well with and , and his signature card, can do some serious work in the late game, giving the deck a slight Control element.
Overall, this deck is one of the strongest in the game currently. Ekop won the ArtifactShark Constructed Clash Tournament using the Ramp variant. And in the Brainscans.net Beta Bonanza tournament, RazDva won with the Healing variant. Because of 's immense strength, 's board wide effect and the power of , this is one of the toughest decks to face against. Since the cards in Artifact are fairly simple right now, there is an extra emphasis on the Combat Phase, naturally. This deck is hands down, the best Combat Phase deck you can build. It's all built around that, especially with Regeneration from .

Weaknesses

Of all the decks listed here, this deck struggles the most with a deck that can go wide, like Blue/Green Combo. Every other deck has board clear with , where this deck does not. To beat Blue/Green Combo, you need , , and on nearly every Initiative, to stop them from crushing you wide. Many times, you'll find yourself in a difficult spot, having to burn into a wide lane, hoping to get lucky Pathing arrows, to block incoming tower damage.
I've also come across games where I just never draw into my or , which can be quite annoying to deal with. makes this deck what it is, and without it, you're going to struggle somewhat. In those situations, could be the correct play instead of , in the Healing version of the deck. There is certainly an argument to be made, so take this into consideration when building your list.

Why are these decks the top decks?

, , and are without a doubt, the best Heroes in the game. Every deck I've talked about here uses two of these three Heroes in their deck, other than Hero Killer, which has only . There's a reason these three are so good. One, they all have incredible Signature cards, , , and . Second, both and will usually survive the Flop, without much trouble. is a staple Turn Hero, coming in on the second round, placed into whatever lane gives her the highest percent chance to survive. Lastly, these cards enable the strongest cards in the game, , , and .
Thanks for reading! You can follow Artibuff on twitter @Artibuff and you can follow me @rokmanfilms!
3 Comments
BadSpirit
Thank you for this article! Was looking for a place with good decks =)
raμza84
"Axe, Drow Ranger, and Kanna are without a doubt, the best Heroes in the game" i think we have a problem here, things shouldn't be so clear. hopefully we'll get a balance patch soon or later
Blueye
From what ive seen in some tourneys, the Red/Black hero killer seems to be more focused on Red (with a 3/2 split), only sometimes including bounty hunter with no gold package (so only relying on Track). So in a sense it it just red/black aggro. What are your thoughts on the variant of the archetype and how it does in the meta?