As in other card games, players can build decks from a wide variety of cards, including five hero cards which represent the many heroes of Dota 2 as well as some new characters, and hero-specific skill cards allowing them to use their signature abilities. Defeating enemy units earns gold which can be used to buy item cards and upgrade heroes.
Artifact's most distinctive feature is the lane system: the game board is split into three areas, which basically means playing three games at the same time. However, interaction between lanes is possible with certain cards, so one must pay attention to the whole board in order to succeed. Each player has a tower in each lane, and destroying one allows an assault on the enemy's Ancient through that lane. Victory can be attained either by destroying two of the enemy's towers, or by destroying one tower then the Ancient. In other words, it's like the card game version of a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.
Additionally, Artifact featured a strong Player-Generated Economy, allowing players to buy and sell cards with each other via the Steam Marketplace.
Due to the game's very mixed reception, Artifact was seemingly abandoned a few months after launch, with more than a year going by without any updates. On March 30, 2020, it was announced that Artifact 2.0 was in the works, with plans for a dramatic retooling of both gameplay and progression. This plan fell through, however, and development was stopped, with the original Artifact (Artifact Classic) and the retooled Artifact Foundry both being made into fully free-to-play games (Classic grants every card to all players for free, while Foundry has them unlocked through play) with no plans for further development.
Artifact contains examples of the following tropes:
- Some cards directly target the enemy's towers. For example, Lightning Strike deals 6 damage to it, while Bolt of Damocles does a whopping 20 damage (but has a much higher mana cost).
- Cards with the "Siege" keyword damage the opposing tower for their Siege value when blocked.
- Breakout Mook Character: Several of the heroes introduced in this game belong to the same species as some of Dota 2's neutral jungle creeps.
- Bribing Your Way to Victory: Shockingly averted, after being one of the most egregious examples. Originally, as with nearly every Card Battle Game out there, players could buy extra card packs. Unlike most other games in the genre, there was no in-game currency with which to purchase cards or packs, only mitigated by the ability to directly buy a specific card from other players, which could have, in turn, been financed by selling your own unwanted cards. However, with the game moving to a Free to Play model when the game was renamed to Artifact Classic, every player now owns as many copies of every card as you could have had in a legal deck, and the old specific cards are just marketable legacy editions with mildly changed art.
- Color-Coded Item Tiers: There are three rarity levels: common (bronze), uncommon (silver), and rare (gold). However, for the sake of balance and fairness, rarer cards aren't necessarily stronger than common ones.
- Cooldown Manipulation: The "Quicken" keyword lowers an active ability's cooldown by one turn, though it can't lower it to zero.
- Counter-Attack: The "Retaliate" keyword causes a unit to damage other units that attack it.
- Grievous Harm with a Body: The Ogre Corpse Tosser creep, which deals 2 damage to the enemy tower when a friendly creep dies in its lane.
- Hero Unit: The hero cards. Players have five of them each, they are stronger than creep units and can be further upgraded with items, and each has its own unique skill cards.
- Magikarp Power: Blue cards are late-game focused, being magic-users who are weak in terms of stats, but benefit strongly from spells, meaning that they become more useful the longer the game goes on and the more mana your towers have.
- Alternatively, black decks that heavily rely on Payday typically avoid purchasing anything from the store until they can play 2 Payday cards in one turn, quadrupling their money in the process. If played right, this allows them to completely buy out the entire shop in one turn, even if they have the most expensive cards in their deck.
- Mana Meter: Each lane's tower starts off with 3 mana, which is refilled and has its capacity increased by 1 each turn. Some cards and effects also affect a tower's mana.
- Money Mauling: Wrath Of Gold, a blue spell, costs all your gold and deals 4 damage to a random unit (friend or foe) for each coin you spent.
- Money Multiplier: Payday, a black spell, doubles the amount of gold you have.
- Some cards increase gold gain. For example, Iron Fog Goldmine gives you 3 gold after the combat phase.
- Inverted by the Revtel Signet Ring, an item which lowers the equipped hero's bounty, making the opponent earn three less gold when they die.
- Our Imps Are Different: Lux (the blue one) and Nox (the red one), two NPCs and the Mascots of Artifact, are identical-looking furred imps that wouldn't look out of place as minions.
- Original Generation: Although most heroes originate from Dota 2, several, such as Rix, Kanna, and Sorla Kahn, make their debuts here.
- Signature Move: Each hero has their own unique "signature card", which is a special card that automatically has three copies added to your deck along with them. Though a signature card can also be a special creep or improvement, it is most often a spell.
- Unskilled, but Strong: Some heroes, such as Axe, don't have an innate ability, but make up for it with strong base stats.