By David ‘Panda’ Nolskog – 17/10/2018
As Blizzard’s Hearthstone arrived to take over the digital card game world, David ‘Dog’ Caero was sucked right into its vortex. He fell in love with it right away, mastering the game in no time at all and dominating the competition. As time went on, Dog’s name became a regular at the very top of the ladder, and he participated in tournaments left and right, putting up fantastic results. His competitive career started with compLexity gaming, where he inaugurated the Hearthstone Division and represented the team on the big stage. Following his time at compLexity, David ‘Dog’ Caero joined Team Liquid alongside Savjz, Sjow and Neirea and has represented Liquid since late 2015. As a streamer, Dog quickly grew on Twitch as one of the first high legend streamers to offer an in-depth perspective with a competitive focus. While most top streamers catered to a more casual audience, Dog streamed his games at the very top of the ladder, recently going on a record-breaking 50 winstreak at the start of a new season.
With almost 400,000 followers on Twitch and over $100,000 in winnings from his competitive Hearthstone career, David ‘Dog’ Caero not only plays CCGs at a top level, he also knows exactly what a game needs to be successful on Twitch. I had the opportunity to chat with David about his time playing the Artifact Alpha, his competitive aspirations going forward and Artifact’s potential as a successor to Hearthstone on Twitch.
ImpetuousPanda: First of all, thanks for joining me! I imagine you’ve had a busy schedule with Hearthstone in the past few months, how much time have you been able to spend on Artifact? When did you get access to the alpha test?
I got alpha access pretty early, probably around May or so. I wasn’t really playing as much when I first joined, and there weren’t that many people in the alpha yet so it wasn’t really as accessible. When they added Gauntlet a few months back I got into it more and started putting a lot more time into Artifact. I was around when constructed was the main focus, but in the one tournament I played I was pretty awful to be honest, I hadn’t really played much Artifact at that point so I guess it was normal. In the Alpha, I think playing Gauntlet is a little more noob-friendly, you can see progress more easily and it’s just a tiny bit more accessible than constructed for players completely new to the game.
With constructed, you have to make a really solid flowing deck, whereas with Gauntlet you just have to pick the best cards and then start to find synergies between them to make your deck work. Gauntlet decks are much less refined and I think that makes it a little less complex for new players.
P: You’re a part of one of the leading organizations in esports, Team Liquid. Have you discussed with them the possibility of switching over to Artifact once it releases?
Team Liquid is fine with any decision I want to make regarding my future, be it in Hearthstone or by switching over to Artifact. That being said, it’s not really a decision I can make right now because I’m not entirely sure how Artifact will work out from a streaming perspective and what kind of audience it’ll bring in. I’ll just keep doing my thing for now, and I’ll definitely stream Artifact when it releases, but as far as committing to one game or another, I think it’s a bit too early to make that decision.
P: Have you been able to practice with other players or have you been going at it solo? I know quite a few Hearthstone pros like Fr0zen or Mryagut are also in the Alpha, have you practiced with them at all?
I never really do constructed, just in general. I know Fr0zen has been playing a ton, we’ve called each other a few times and have done a few drafts together and it’s always been great. Artifact is a lot of fun to play with other people, because you get to see a ton of different lines of play and I think you improve and learn much more this way. There are so many decisions to make that two players might go down completely different routes when it comes to what cards to play and hero deployment and it’s really beneficial to play with others. I think Artifact is pretty thought intensive and taxing, it’s not really something I can play if I’m tired because it really pushes you from a strategic point of view.
P: What do you think are Artifact’s key selling points?
I think the main thing is that it’s really skill intensive, it has a pretty high ceiling. A good player in Hearthstone doesn’t always beat a mediocre player, but I have the feeling in Artifact it definitely will not be that way and the truly skilled players will have much higher win rates against mediocre players. When it comes to actually playing the game and the balance, I think a lot of players might make a few misconceptions early on when they first try out Artifact. There are a ton of tiny decisions that can maybe not go your way, when it comes to hero deployment, creep targets, what cards you draw, etc and you can maybe think you’re getting screwed over by RNG. The fact that there are so many small RNG rolls is actually the thing that benefits the game the most. Instead of having major RNG rolls that are extremely impactful to the outcome of the game, like in Hearthstone for example, you have many small rolls, and because there are so many they’re much less impactful. In the end you can still get really unlucky in a game, it’ll happen, but overall I think a few instances of bad RNG might be a tiny bit annoying but nowhere near game losing.
P: How does it differ from Hearthstone? Do you think it will be successful? Having played Artifact and other CCGs, how do you rate it’s potential in the CCG market?
I think there are a few similarities between both Hearthstone and Artifact, but Artifact simply seems to have a little more depth to it, it’s a little more advanced in the amount of layers of strategy you have to take into account every game. When I got into Magic, every single card looked like an essay and I thought it would take me forever to learn, but after that I had a ton of fun with it. I think Artifact is very similar in that regard, not specifically in the length of card text but more understanding the board, and the affect all of your different decisions will have on the game. Artifact is definitely one of the best CCGs I’ve ever played, but I think if we start talking about Artifact’s potential for success and it’s chance at taking over Hearthstone, it’s really hard to compare both. The majority of Hearthstone players aren’t these super serious card game nerds, I think there are very different audiences. The bulk of the playerbase plays Hearthstone casually, it’s a game you can play on mobile and take it to the toilet or play it in bed and I’m not sure the majority of its players would be interested in Artifact. I think Hearthstone has created a player base that didn’t really exist before in the CCG market, they converted a lot of gamers that I imagine previously had no interest in playing overly complex CCGs, like for example Magic: The Gathering.
P: How has the closed beta meta evolved over the past few months that you’ve been playing Artifact? Has there been an evolution in the different colors or decks that dominated?
I think at the very start since I got into the Alpha there was a huge focus on the stats and not so much on things like signature cards or abilities when it came to choosing heroes. At the beginning people were pretty bad at the game, but I’ve definitely seen it evolve a little over the past few months. Players quickly started playing blue a lot more because it has an incredibly powerful late game, and I know a lot of gold decks have been played in the meta, relying strongly on the color black and items as well.
There has also been a pretty big evolution in draft as well. When you play against a lot of the same players, it’s easy to look at their decklists and maybe change your mind on a card or two that they have that you would have never considered drafting. In the end, players influence each other a lot and I’ve certainly seen certain cards snowball in popularity all of a sudden and I think it has a lot to do with players influencing each other while playing in the Gauntlet.
P: Who are some of the strongest players you’ve faced? Do you believe a specific CCG background will benefit players more?
I think players coming just from Hearthstone will struggle a bit, and that definitely includes me. Players coming from Magic: The Gathering will probably have a pretty sizeable advantage, and it’ll be the same with players coming from Gwent as well. I think it has a lot of similarities to Gwent specifically, I don’t think Hearthstone players will do that well if they just come from Hearthstone. As for strong players, I think Hyped is insanely good. I played in a call with him at one point and I was blown away. He’s definitely been putting in a lot of time as well, but when we played I was thinking maybe a lane or two ahead in terms of possible plays and he was thinking four boardstates ahead in terms of sequencing. I played Wifecoach as well in one of the draft tournaments, she destroyed me and ended up going 7-0 in swiss so I’d definitely consider her a strong player. I think Mryagut also got a lot better in the last month or two, so he’d definitely be one to watch out for.
P: Experience with the last draft tournament? What are your go to rules when drafting?
I can’t really speak to my experience in the latest tournament because I only ended up playing the first round or two. I had a Hearthstone tournament that same weekend so I ended up playing that instead. As for drafting, there’s a lot to talk about really. For the start I normally just pick the best cards possible, and then in pack 2 or so I definitely start focusing on the heroes as well. If you end up picking a hero early you know to commit to that color with your card picks so it becomes a lot easier to have a good quality card pool for that color at the end of the draft. Early on, red heroes are pretty dominant, if you’re new to the game I’d definitely recommend them as the early lane pressure will help your gameplan a lot. When I started out playing I could not play a draft without red, it just makes things a lot easier when your heroes survive the first round or two of combat.
P: What concepts are the hardest to master in Artifact? Do you believe Artifact has a higher skill ceiling and complexity compared to other CCGs?
I think there isn’t a single thing you need to master, it’s a bit of a mix of everything. You have to play a lot and learn the game entirely. For example hero redeployment is massive, it can swing the game drastically in your favor. Knowing when to abandon a lane or how much you need to commit or stall a lane is massive as well. I guess resource management would be the best way to group all of that together, knowing how much you have to commit to win the race against an opponent is huge. In the end I think these are things you learn by just playing a lot, once you’re in a lot of different situations you learn from them and apply what you learned to the next game. Every single combination of heroes, colors, and cards produce different situations so it feels new almost all the time.
P: If you could go back to the first day you tried out Artifact, what would you do differently from the get-go? Any quick tips you’d give yourself to improve more quickly?
The absolute first thing I would do is find a friend to play with. When you first start out playing Artifact it can be really overwhelming, and tackling it with a friend helps a lot in understanding things much quicker. There are a lot of different gameplay features and possibilities you don’t even consider when playing alone, and I think having a friend with you can really help with that. Especially if you’re big into card games, I think it’s really beneficial. You’re going to learn a lot by yourself, but having someone else to contrast ideas and lines of play can help a lot. Maybe they suggest something you didn’t even know was possible, it would have taken you much longer to think about that if you were playing alone.
P: Strongest hero? Favorite? What about color combinations, which would you highlight?
As for my favorite hero, I’d probably say Prellex. I love her signature card and I think her ability is really really strong as well. There’s a lot of versatility to Barracks, you can play it in a lane you abandoned and save a lot of damage with the creep spawns blocking damage from say a black hero trying to race down the tower. The strongest hero I’d probably have to say is Axe, he really just has it all. As for color combination, I really enjoy playing Red/Blue a lot. Red gives you a very strong early game, the heroes have great stats and you can trade really well in the first two rounds of combat. Later on, blue really takes over as they have extremely strong late game spells that help win you the game. The mid game is a little iffy in some matchups but you know, you can get there. I think the strongest color is probably blue, it has a lot of different options in its late-game and some very impactful cards like Annihilation or Conflagration. Especially in draft, I think you really have to be on your toes when playing blue or black because they have a lot of cards that have immediate effects as well that could potentially ruin your strategy completely.
P: You’re known as one of the biggest streamers in Hearthstone, and I’m sure you’re very familiar with the general requirements a game must have to be successful to stream. Do you think Artifact qualifies?
I think it’s hard to say right now. I didn’t really think Hearthstone would be a huge streaming game when I first started playing it, but there’s so much time between turns to talk to chat and go through my plays, it ended up being ideal. I think that’s just the case with card games, they work quite well in that sense. I think it’ll come down to how big of a player base Artifact will have, aside from the “pro” or competitive players, is there going to be a casual audience? How many players from Hearthstone will transfer over because they’re just so tired of all the random effects that are too game-deciding? I think Artifact will definitely have a lot of very hardcore fans, I know a lot of people that already say Artifact is the best card game in the world. Will it be the best game for streaming though? I’m not sure, I guess we’ll find out soon.
P: As a successful Hearthstone player, how do you think Artifact should approach the esports side of things? What formats should be used? How should events be organized?
I’m a big fan of tournament qualifiers with a big swiss format. I know it might take a long time to set it up and go through a tournament like this, but I think it’s the best way to handle qualifiers. Ladder is a little weird to do, for example in Hearthstone you can be Rank 1 legend the whole month, but then the very last day you drop and it kind of sucks. I do think a sort of ladder system could be used to add a base prerequisite to enter into tournaments, for example Legend rank in Hearthstone. That would help with not making the tournament too big and much more streamlined.
As for the format, I am definitely not a fan of Arena in Hearthstone, but I am a big big fan of Gauntlet in Artifact. I honestly think both is fine, constructed and gauntlet are both great formats and it will be interesting to see what Valve decides on. I think the tournament structure Dota 2 uses it fine, something like four big tournaments a year and then one major tournament like TI. They could also do a point system as well that could add up, maybe with third party organizers doing tournaments as well with a point reward as well that adds up towards the final tournament.
P: Let’s talk economy. Hearthstone is considered by many players as quite expensive? Do you think there will be similarities between Hearthstone and Artifact when it comes to the total cost of building several meta decks?
I really have no idea about the economy, not sure how much packs or even cards will go for. I think the marketplace will make it much more accessible though for most players. It is a little strange for me that they’re selling the base game, F2P just seems to be the way to go nowadays so we’ll see how that affects the game’s playerbase. As for the total cost of a Tier 1 deck, I think an acceptable price would be around $60-$70, I think most serious players would be more than willing to pay that amount. I think a good deck with a few replacements for the costliest cards would cost maybe around $30 so definitely affordable. Again, I’m much speculating at this point and have no idea what the actual prices might look like when the final game launches.
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