How I Build Decks: Red/Black

How I Build Decks: Red/Black

Deck design is easily one of my favorite aspects of the card game genre. Each designer has their own style and process that they enlist when it comes to creating a deck. Some look to innovate and construct decks from the ground up, while others look to tweak and hone existing versions. It is fascinating to see the many different styles and interpretations that can be found within the constructed format. However, due to the dizzying number of choices and possibilities, it can be also intimidating for newer and inexperienced players. Today, I would like to share my process and hopefully help some newer players gain an appreciation for the constructed format.

First, I would like to present a deck that I had theory crafted back in November. I was not one of those fortunate closed beta testers, so I had to rely on personal interpretations of what I believed to be important points within the game of Artifact. I think it is useful to see the fresh ideas someone has in the beginning and then to compare it with the ideas that comes from experience.


Old Red Black Deck
The old RB deck

To start, I chose red and black because I had believed that heroes were an integral foundation of any deck since your ability to cast spells and creeps is directly tied to the presence of a hero in a lane. Games are often determined by whoever was able to maximize their resources and since RB had access to the heroes with the best stats as well as some potent removal spells, it simply seemed like a good place to start.


Artifact Relentless Pursuit Card
Relentless Pursuit

Relentless Pursuit was a nod to what I believed to be the importance of mobility between lanes for heroes. An ancient kill requires a cumulative 120 damage to succeed whereas two towers only require 80 so while ancient kills do happen, it is much easier to win via the two tower kill. However, winning by two towers, presents a new challenge in which players must properly allocate resources across separate lanes and over commitment is usually not ideal. Mobility Cards like Relentless Pursuit make it much easier and smoother to reallocate heroes.

There were also some ideas that were off the mark. The 3x Slay and Smash their Defenses were clearly an overestimation on the influence of creeps and improvements. RB is very much an archetype that revolves around momentum and snowballing hard in the early turns and then using their powerful removal options like Coup de Grace to shut the door in the late game. Since RB does not have as much access to card draw, there are only so many slots for situational cards in RB so overloading on cards like Slay and Smash is not a good idea.


Artifact Assassin's Apprentice Card
Assassin's Apprentice

Assassin's Apprentice was a card that I was pretty high on before release but even after just a couple of games, I saw it as a card that does not cut it for constructed play. In my opinion the bare minimum for any creep that a player chooses to put in their deck should trade with a melee creep profitably. While the ability is cute and has some application, losing an Apprentice to a melee creep feels really bad.

All in all, as most rough drafts go, the numbers of the deck was unrefined and a lot of cards were there just to test. Most players have ideas and pet cards that they believe to be strong or underestimated but generally stick to conventional wisdom or netdeck whatever the pros are doing. The best way to learn if a card is good is to see it in action and to not be afraid to try out new ideas.

Now I want to look at a RB Deck that I am currently playing:

Current Red Black Deck
The current RB deck


One of the most important concepts that I have learned after some time playing Artifact and a large reason behind the card choices in this deck is timing. This has a couple of meanings. First, from the way the cards are designed, mana turns four, six and eight are the important power spikes. There are a high number of power plays at each of those mana timings, so it is important to be aware of the long-term implications when making a decision.

A good example is a situation that occurs a lot when playing against Mono Blue. A large number of their high impact spells happen to be situated on mana six. Mono Blue generally does not mind having their heroes die on mana turn four since it allows them to deploy a healthy hero into whichever lane requires assistance on mana six. As the opponent, it would be in our best interest to avoid killing blue heroes on mana four and focus on killing them on mana turn five since it will cause the Mono Blue player to miss out on their timing. Every deck in Artifact contains these kinds of timings so it is important to pay attention and to be aware of the potential power timings of the opponent.


Artifact Tyler Estate Censor Card
Tyler Estate Censor

Secondly, for those coming from other card games, it is common to have the habit of playing cards on curve and to try to utilize all available mana on every turn. However, in Artifact, I have frequently found it to be prudent to hold certain spells until the correct moment, or timing occurs. A good example of a card that I think is misunderstood is Tyler Estate Censor. I have often seen opponents casting the Censor on curve even after the mana was already spent which is a waste. Censor offers very little in terms of board presence so it is usually correct to hold onto it and to play it on a turn where it can interfere with an opponent’s power spike. Being able to set back a potential Annihilation or Time of Triumph for a turn is a big swing and likely to provide an advantage.

RB has proven to be one of, if not the best, decks at disrupting the timing of opposing decks. Cards like Gank, Duel, and Coup are excellent at controlling the opponent’s ability to cast the cards when they want. Combined with the strongest hero start currently in the game, this deck aims to grab an early game advantage and never let go until the game is won. Let’s go over some card and Hero choices.


Red Black Heroes Opener
The Bristleback/Legion Commander/Axe Opener, Phantom Assassin on Position 4

These three heroes represent the most robust opening a player can have in Artifact. This flop ensures an early game advantage and will eat almost every non-red hero that is unfortunate enough to line up across as well as surviving or at the very least trading with a large percentage of the cast. Though Phantom Assassin kills any hero above 8 HP, I have found that I prefer to have her as position four since it allows me to place her in the first lane which maximizes the effectiveness of the cross lane spells.


Hero Alternatives
The Fifth Hero

This is a position that is a bit more debatable and I have tried a few different heroes in the slot. Lich, Tidehunter, Sniper, Sorla Khan, they all have different strengths and weaknesses and I have yet to definitively decide on one that is superior. As of writing, I have been using Sniper to test out an idea. I have found that against opposing Time of Triumph decks, it is usually a bad idea to kill a red hero on mana six since that allows them a red deploy on their ToT turn. Assassinate provides a reasonably reliable way to kill red heroes on mana 7 and as well as being powerful cross lane removal spell with piercing. I was on Lich for a long time but Chain Frost has been lacking in this red heavy meta but he has potential if a lot of Mono Blue is expected.


Artifact Spot Weakness Card
Spot Weakness

Adding the text Draw a Card raises the playability of a card regardless of how irrelevant the ability may seem. That being said, Spot Weakness has an important function which allows our flop to potentially beat out opposing red heroes. Being able to eat an opposing Legion Commander with Bristleback or our own LC is a huge advantage that completely swings a game in our favor. Also, since it draws a card, it lets us use our mana and dig through our deck for important cards, which comes up whenever an opponent abandons a lane.


Initiative Cards
Initiative Cards

It is a bit surprising that it lasted until near the end of the article before I mentioned the initiative cards. Understanding when to use these cards is one of the fundamental points of constructed play, right up there with Blink Dagger usage. I like having a color split in initiative cards because it can be inconvenient if I want to Blink out a red hero and want initiative for subsequent lanes. By having a split, it creates more options.

More options were one of the reasons that I was drawn to RB in the first place. There are a ton of choices in each game with RB and knowing when and which spell to cast is an important skill to learn that comes with more experience with the deck.

From looking at the changes that occurred between November and the present, it is always interesting to see the new ideas that come up as experience is gained. Gaining familiarity with an archetype and solidifying conclusions is a fulfilling experience but at the same time it is important to know when to let go or change those conclusions. In the end, the goal is always to design a deck that is successful and keeping track of ideas that have been successful as well ones that come up short are invaluable steps towards improvement.

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Odeko AvatarAboutodeko

odeko is a gamer who is currently playing Artifact and PUBG if his buddies are on. He was raised on CS 1.6 in CAL Main, while acquiring his CCG experience doing all night money drafts during Shards of Alara block. In his spare time, he enjoys reminiscing about raiding Black Temple and complaining about Terran and Protoss players. He currently lives with his Brigitte and Sheik body pillows and his dog named Yun.

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