Economic and Efficient Archaeology: Leveling, Keystones, and Epics

I have a pension for efficiency: I have my inscription business down to a science. It’s all fully automated, and my revenue and time investments are carefully calculated to contract out my milling and herb buying labor at a price that maximizes my gold per hour.

Archaeology taunts me with its complexity. I have no idea if I should be using keystones or not, nor do I know the best region in which to dig. There are many theories on the mechanics of discovery for rare and epic artifacts, but there isn’t a consensus in the community, nor a good source of data. Even with data, there are so many nuances that may or may not affect the outcomes. Apparently, Bountiful Bags is believed to be affecting fragment gathering. Patch 4.1 introduced a new mechanic: dig sites for races that you have completed all the rare finds for will be less likely to appear. Do races have different drop rates for keystones? Does the location of a dig site affect the number of fragments discovered? What determines which artifact you will have next, and what are the chances of getting which artifact?

These are only a few of the questions on the tip of my mind. What follows is my anecdotal account of leveling to 525 and a few weeks spent digging while skill capped, and my thoughts on the best way to level and dig.

Here’s how archaeology works in a nutshell. On each continent, you are given 4 pseudo-random dig sites to go play a minigame in to get fragments. The location of the dig site determines which race’s fragments you will discover. Fragments are bind-on-pickup and cannot be traded. For every race for which you have fragments, you’ll have a pseudo-random artifact to solve. In order to solve the artifact, you need a certain number of fragments. Once you have the required number of fragments, you can solve the artifact and receive the item it grants, and a new artifact is given to you. Artifacts can repeat. Gathering fragments and solving artifacts grants skill-ups, and the higher your skill, the cooler projects you can receive. At certain skill levels, you can discover keystones, which are race-specific, sellable, and tradeable. Keystones can be used to reduce the number of fragments needed to solve an artifact by 12 and are consumed when doing so. Most projects can take 1-2 keystones at a time, and some can take up to 3.

If you are considering leveling archaeology, the absolute first thing you should know is that you gain skill-ups from collecting fragments only up to level 75. Every common artifact you solve will give you 5 skill points, no matter your skill level. Fragments are a currency, just like justice points, so you should not actually complete any artifacts until you reach level 75, as you can hold lots of them (up to 200 per race) without recourse. You’ll probably have enough fragments to complete a dozen or so artifacts at level 75, so withhold the urge to solve until then, and after the ~30 dig sites it’ll take to get to 75, you’ll be able to jump right up to the 120s instead of being stuck at 75. Sorry to break it to you, but the only way to skill-up now is to solve artifacts. Yeah, thats about 80 solves, around 2400 artifacts, and about 250 dig sites to max out at 525.

A second key point of information is that the number of fragments that you discover increases as your skill level increases. The specifics of the mechanic aren’t clear, i.e. does the increase happen slowly and continuously, or does it “jump” every 75 levels? It seems to me from personal experience that it jumped every 75 levels or so. It isn’t clear if this applies to keystones as well, but it seems to, and my models assume that. I definitely didn’t see any keystones before skill level 75, and I seem to get them much more regularly at level 525 than at lower levels. Some players report that they seem to have gotten more keystones at lower levels, but I think this may just be the scaling of the ratio of fragments to keystones discovered increasing as archaeology skill grows and players find they can’t find keystones fast enough to keep up with the rate at which they solve.

Regardless of the price of keystones, as long as you can freely buy and sell them in reasonable quantities, this second assumption seems to imply that you should always use keystones if possible while leveling. The question of whether its more economical to use keystones at the skill cap or without this assumption is very complicated and the answer is unclear, but it seems clear that using them while leveling has a direct payoff.

Let us assume that the average project requires 28 fragments to solve and players have the option of using a keystone to reduce this number to 16. We’ll also assign a price X to keystones at which you can buy and sell as many as you want. Players start at skill 100 and want to get to 525. Let S denote their skill level. The average number of fragments they discover from each dig site is (S/525)*18 and the average number of keystones they discover at each dig site is (S/525)*2. How long does it take to reach 525?

We’ll measure time in number of dig sites the player had to visit. To simplify things a little more, let us allow skill level to scale continuously with the amount of fragments completed, e.g., discovering 14 fragments grants half of the 5 point skill-up.

Here are the graphs of skill level over time, with and without keystone usage. The spreadsheet is linked with additional explanation.

Notice that it took 272 dig sites to get to 525 without keystones, and with keystones it only took 156. Thats a 116 dig site savings, or about a 42% efficiency gain. Here are some other graphs illustrating some other statistics:

Number of fragments per dig while leveling:

Number of fragments per dig while leveling:

So let’s assume that at some point, we are going to make 272 digs past skill 100. If we used keystones while leveling, we would have been at 525 for some time, while if we didn’t, we would just be reaching 525. Since our skill is higher if we used keystones, we’d also be finding more keystones along the way. How many more? Does it make up for the ones we used up while leveling? How many more artifacts will you have completed, and how many more chances at rare artifacts would we have had? Lets assume that we make the choice to not spend keystones once we got to 525.

After 274 digs: Without Keystones With Keystones til 525
Number of keystones discovered 267 385
Number of keystones used 0 168
Net keystones obtained 267 217
Fragments observed 2403 3473
Approximate number of extra new projects at 525 til 274th dig 38

This means that it will cost you about 55 keystones to always use your keystones in this model in the long run. However, the benefit of that is more time spent at 525, and thus more chances at rare artifacts you can only discover at that skill level. We would complete about an extra 38 projects. If we assume a flat one percent of discovering a rare artifact Ceteris paribus, we would have a 31.1% chance to have an extra rare artifact if we used keystones while leveling by the 274th dig. If you are going for the Professor title from the It Belongs in a Museum! achievement or any of the rares you can only get at 525, this might be some extra incentive.

The big question is: is losing the value of ~55 keystones worth it for these extra benefits? If we scribble down some statistics and say keystones are traded at 75 gold, thats 4125 gold you would forgo or have to spend by using keystones. This doesn’t count the gold you get from common artifacts; if they sell for an average of 25 gold, that mitigates the cost by an additional 950 gold. Are the benefits of having 38 extra projects and the above chances at rares worth 3145 gold? You decide. I would say yes, but other people value gold differently.

Again, this model is very rough. Let’s review some of the assumptions:

  • You don’t discover rares while leveling
  • All artifacts and keystones are from the same race
  • Keystones can be freely traded at a constant price with no transaction costs
  • All artifacts require 28 fragments and can use up to two keystones
  • The number of fragments and keystones you discover increase as your skill level increases linearly.

Feel free to play with the numbers. Take a look at the spreadsheet, download, and modify it. The numbers I used are all estimates, and the mechanics of archaeology may not be so simple.

Let me know your own ideas on how to model archaeology and your strategies for digging and leveling!