Artifact is a fantastic CCG, if you can stomach its serpentine complexity. Today Valve release the second update that's made it even better, allaying my two main concerns: there's now a ranking system, and you can earn cards just by playing. Up to 15 packs and event tickets can be nabbed during this 'season', which will last a few months and reset players' ranking at its end. Axe and Drow, two of the scariest heroes in town, have also been toned down.
All of this is pretty damn great.
The free cards and event tickets - which let you play the competitive modes - are doled out by an XP system. You earn more XP by winning, and accomplishing certain in-game feats like never losing a hero. I'm pleased to see the levels are front-loaded with rewards I actually care about: the first 16 all hand out cards and tickets. After that, its just profile pictures up to level 200. I'm yet to see how long it takes to actually level up, but at first glance that seems fairly generous.
On to skill rankings, which I'm actually more invested in since I spend 95% of my time drafting anyway. You start each season with a "Skill Rating" of 1, which caps out at 75 and increases with every victory over someone with a higher one. Presumably beating someone of your own rank raises it a little too, and everyone isn't going to be stuck at rank 1 forever. You get rated separately for draft and constructed play.
Valve initially aligned themselves with traditional CCG design goals, and aimed to make new cards that didn't require old ones to be rebalanced. "In the end", though, they "struggled to see the benefits of immutability outweighing the numerous downsides." "Players who focus a lot on deck building would prefer a more diverse and engaging meta to play around. While some card collectors enjoy having a small number of really valuable cards, many others are happier in a world where the full set value isn’t overly dominated by one or two cards."
So, expect to see incremental balance changes on a regular basis. If your thoughts have jumped to the £16 you dropped on a now weakened Axe, Valve say you can sell back certain previously bought cards for "what their peak selling price was in the 24 hours prior to this announcement". That offer stays good for the next two weeks, though note that it does only apply to cards that have seen significant changes.
I'm buzzing. Just two weeks after it came out, here's an update that addresses every flaw I found in a game I've already enjoyed enough to sink nearly a hundred hours into. Have a read of my Artifact review to see why.
As with Dota, I relish the prospect of a constantly shifting meta that wraps itself around new balance changes on the regs. The changes themselves had me nodding away in appreciation, too, particularly the nerf to Drow's card that's transformed it from an unavoidable 'off button' into something that can be played around.
If only they'd adopted a more generous business model from the get-go, eh?