This game currently has two forms of play: (1) Playing against a human opponent(s) (sealed or constructed) on an evenly designed map with both players getting twelve cards and attempting to out duel each other; and (2) Playing against the AI (campaign or co-op) on a specially designed map with AI forces in certain locations with specific orders of action that depend on certain circumstances (i.e. moving and attacking once enemy is encountered).
These two game types revolve around fundamentally different strategies. For the first, the goal is to beat an opponent on an even map based on an even start. The varying strategies involve which map locations to push for, what units to use for this, what cards my opponent might have, and what units he may have purchased. For the second form of game, what is required is memorizing where the enemy forces start, what prompts them into action, and what the quickest overall method is to defeat a static group of enemy forces.
The second form is fine for learning how the game works and can be entertaining at times. But there is no way to "practice" the first form of play without having an actual human opponent on the other side. Obviously, it would be great if there were a lot of human opponents on the server at all times, but in reality this is not the current case and I feel that not having an actual AI for the first form of play helps form a vicious cycle.
A player is in the mood to play the first form of play. They are in the mood to play a head-to-head match (or maybe FFA match) based on a style of play where both players start with even money, even starting locations, 12 cards each, on an even map. That player logs in: (a) nobody is online; (b) a few people are online but are afk or playing some other mode. Suddenly, because no real AI exists, this player has to choose between playing the campaign (which he may or may not have) or training missions, of which he may not want to play either. Instead of being able to play this form of game against an AI until other players show up, he instead logs off, and this cycle repeats.
Additionally, a player may be rather tired and not want to play a human opponent and instead play a casual game against an AI. Again, this is not possible except in the second form, which can get boring rather quickly. There is no way to practice head-to-head play, as it exists with players, without having another player. Newer players may want to practice playing the head-to-head style against an AI for a while before jumping into actual multi-player and it may be a big turn off not to have the head-to-head style accessible except when playing another human.
I got some good games in against Roth last night so its quite possible to get a human opponent. But suppose I only have time for one game, or I'm in a situation where I may need to get up and leave at any point. It feels kind of lame to go request a human opponent on the facebook page if I only have time for one game or if I may need to leave the game partway through.
Almost all games, even extremely cheap ones, come with some version of an AI to play against. I think not having a possible AI opponent really holds this game back. There are other things that could also be done with an AI - for instance, two players could play a four person FFA with two AI opponents. I'm not saying an AI is the cure. Maybe it wouldn't make much difference. But maybe also it would increase the population as players who enjoy this game for the first form of play as opposed to the second form are online more because they can play the first form against an AI while they wait for a human opponent. Maybe when this game is re-marketed new players will stick around because they can get their legs underneath against an AI rather than being thrown into action against a human.
Just throwing this out there.