The Importance of Initiative

By David ‘Panda’ Nolskog – 25/09/2018

Initiative is a fairly novel concept in the world of digital card games, and it may be a difficult term to grasp for many players new to card games. Understanding the importance of initiative early on will allow you to make better decisions when it comes to passing or playing cards, improving the sequencing of your plays, and may even change your approach to deck building.


The Basic Breakdown – Defining Initiative


In Artifact, “having initiative” essentially means having first action priority in the following lane. Any action the player with initiative takes, excluding passing or playing a card with the Get Initiative keyword, will transfer the initiative over to his or her opponent. The opponent will then have the option to pass and retain initiative for the next lane or perform an action and transfer back the initiative to the original player. This back and forth will continue until both players have passed and initiative for the next lane is locked, starting the combat phase and subsequently moving on to the next lane.

There is an important distinction to make between initiative and turn priority, and this is the first hurdle many new players must comprehend to fully understand the concept of initiative. The player with initiative will have first action priority at the start of a lane and thus turn priority. If this player passes, he or she maintains initiative for the next lane BUT passes over turn priority to the opponent. The opponent may then pass, but initiative will remain with the first player. If the opponent performs an action, he or she will then pass turn priority back to the original player, and the turn cycle repeats itself. Passing does not turn over initiative, and this is the fundamental reason initiative and turn priority are two distinct concepts in Artifact. Playing a card with the Get Initiative keyword is the only exception to this rule, as it will allow you to both maintain/steal initiative and also maintain turn priority with a follow-up action.


The Rules of Initiative

  • “Having initiative” is represented by the golden initiative coin.
  • Initiative allows a player to perform the first action in a lane.
  • Initiative is transferred to the opposing player after every subsequent action.
  • Passing maintains initiative into the next lane and is not considered an action.
  • Cards with the Get Initiative keyword allow you to maintain or steal back initiative.
  • Initiative is passed on from the end of one round to the start of another.



The Complex Breakdown – Specific Initiative Scenarios


Having already reviewed the basic concept of initiative, it’s time to analyze the different scenarios that may appear in which initiative can be most impactful and, in some cases, game winning. This section will also delve into the details of some of the more confusing aspects of initiative and attempt to explain them with in-game board state scenarios.


Early Game vs. Late Game – The Scaling Impact of Initiative

The importance of initiative will in most cases scale proportionally to the amount of mana available, and this is true for multiple reasons. As the late game approaches, the amount of impact a single card can make changes significantly from the early game. The initiative game is much less important in the early game (3–5 mana), as most spells played will provide either very small bonuses or a large amount of trickle value in the form of improvements (Mist of Avernus or Iron Fog Goldmine). As the late game approaches, the available mana increases, and board-altering cards like Annihilation or Assassinate are introduced. Having initiative in a lane and being able to deny a board wipe like Annihilation by playing a well-timed Assassinate on the opponent’s blue hero can easily change the outcome of a game, and for this reason initiative is invaluable in the late game. The inevitability of persistent damage to towers as well as gold gain over previous rounds will also add to the importance of initiative, as first-action turn priority can easily give you sufficient control over the board state to combo your cards uninterrupted and enable you to win a lane.




Bluffing with Initiative – How to Use “Get Initiative” Cards Effectively

The retention of initiative and bluffing go hand in hand, and the correct bluff can yield positive results, while a bluff gone wrong can result in a terrible misplay. There will be a significant initiative meta game in play at all times, and as players familiarize themselves with opponents’ strategies and possible deck lists, the subtleties of initiative will truly shine.

If a player decides to maintain initiative for a “key lane” by immediately passing on various lanes, he or she will be forced to give up tempo and control over these lanes in order to do so. If the opponent is able to capitalize on this with a Get Initiative card as the last play before the transition to the “key lane,” it would be a tremendous swing in his or her favour. The same can be said of a single-lane bluff, where a player decides to immediately pass after any of the opponent’s actions, giving more importance to the secured initiative of the following lane. If the opponent plays a Get Initiative card as the last action in that lane, he or she will steal back initiative and maintain turn priority, allowing the action to go uncontested if followed by a pass, immediately transitioning into the combat phase. This would be a major game swing in the opponent’s favor and would punish any sacrifice the player with initiative made in an effort to maintain it.

In the majority of cases, passing after stealing initiative with a Get Initiative card will be the correct line of play. This allows you to have the card’s effect go uncontested while also maintaining initiative for the following lane and severely spoiling your opponent’s game plans. A card like Chain Frost can radically change the board state and, when unanswered, can easily open up direct damage to the tower and possibly even win a lane.




Initiative Used as a Hero Shut-Down Tool

As I previously mentioned, acquiring initiative in the late game will be a key tactic in securing the win. If you’re able to maintain initiative moving into a new round, you could easily play an impactful card such as Assassinate, shutting down your opponent’s hero in that lane. Not only will this play reward you with gold and possibly save your own hero from an unfavourable trade, it will shut down any possible mana plays your opponent could have made on the lane. With no hero in the lane, your opponent would not be able to play any corresponding cards and thus would be completely incapacitated, all thanks to initiative. This will allow you to freely use any remaining mana or, more importantly, items such as Horn of the Alpha to swing the board state in your favour and push for the win.

If the player has enough mana and the correct card combination in the late game, he or she could even win the game outright thanks to initiative. A Coup de Grace on an enemy hero in the first lane would open up the freedom to combo cards and items in that lane uninterrupted while also shutting down a hero in the following lane with a global card such as Hip Fire or Gank. Because of the fact that the hero in the first lane has been instantly shut down thanks to initiative, this also prohibits the use of items like Blink Dagger to try to salvage the next lane, essentially guaranteeing your victory by assuring initiative at the start of a key round.





At first glance, initiative may not appear to be a vital mechanic a player must master, but I think I have made abundantly clear the impact initiative may have in certain games. You will play many games in which initiative may not have a sizeable impact. The state of the board and hero deployment between rounds are factors that can mitigate or aggravate initiative’s importance in a game of Artifact, but it will always be a mechanic all players must take into account when deciding the best sequencing route to take with their actions.

The initiative system enables an extra layer of complexity within Artifact, adding additional weight to decisions that would otherwise be inconsequential and trivial while also solving the problem of turn priority and first say, which can be extremely impactful and game changing.