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 features a strong Player-Generated Economy, allowing players to buy and sell cards with each other via the Steam Marketplace.
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: As with nearly every Card Battle Game out there, players can buy extra card packs. Notably, unlike most other games in the genre, there is no in-game currency with which to purchase cards or packs. However, this is mitigated by the ability to directly buy a specific card from other players, which can in turn be financed by selling your own unwanted cards. There is also the Draft game mode, where you build a deck from randomly selected cards, meaning that having more and better cards in your collection doesn't give you an advantage there.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.