The Master of Chains
An Interview with Ryan Roulston, the KeyForge Player with the Most Chains
“I will not chain you. You have already chained yourself through your blind affection for these mortals.”
–Judge Slenderwile, Archon
In KeyForge, special tournaments like ChainBound events use chains as a balancing mechanic, reducing your starting hand size for more powerful Archon decks. If those decks continue to win, they will eventually gain enough Power Levels to level out of the ChainBound environment entirely! Today, we talk with Ryan Roulston, who not only leveled out of the ChainBound environment with his fabled deck, Elder "Hedge Bet" Haas, but did so while gaining a record-setting 21 chains in the process! Through the combined forces of Logos, Mars, and Sanctum, Ryan has managed reach new heights in the Crucible that were never thought possible.
Today, Ryan Roulston talks with us about how he first got into KeyForge, what makes his deck special, the recent KeyForge Organized Play announcements, and what players can do to climb the Master Vault leaderboards.
Fantasy Flight Games: Hi Ryan! Tell us about your gaming background.
Ryan Roulston: I’ve played video games ever since I was a kid. Mostly roleplaying games, but I’ve played most of the video gaming staples you’d expect. My wife got me into Magic: The Gathering back when we were first dating and that’s what led me here.
FFG: How did you get started with KeyForge, specifically?
RR: KeyForge sounded like a cool game when my local game store owner told me about it. I was really attracted to the ways in which it seemed to be targeted at fixing some issues—expensive deck-building, resource problems, counterspells existing—while also adding its own new twists from other card games, as well as Æmber being the win condition, procedurally generated decks, and the whole house mechanic. In general, it just seemed like a cool game and the more I’ve played it, the more I’ve liked it!
FFG: What do you do as a day job?
RR: I teach high school math, mostly. I also teach a video editing class, which is pretty cool. We livestream and have students do commentary for our home basketball games. I also coach track in the spring.
FFG: What is your gaming store of choice? Where have you been gaining all these chains?
RR: I play at a local shop called ProSoul Games. I earned all the chains there and hope Tom, Clay, Ashton, and the rest of the crew don’t think I’m going to go easy on them now that ol’ Elder Haas is banned in ChainBound.
FFG: It seems like you made this a personal mission of sorts! What was your motivation behind taking on this particular challenge? At what point did you realize you had done something pretty unique?
RR: There were two reasons.
First, I think that the whole chain system is pretty cool. I like semi-arbitrary progress bars in my games and the odd flex of getting a deck loaded up with chains really clicks with me. The second big reason is that ProSoul does this cool thing where they give out “golden tickets” for events that get you an invite to a special New Year's event for that game. My love of weirdly flexing on people combined with there being a golden ticket for being the first person to get a deck to power level four made me decide it was my personal mission to be the first one at ProSoul to get a deck above 18 chains.
I didn’t realize the rarity of doing it until I was sitting at 18 chains and staring down a seemingly impossible task of going 2-1 to finally achieve my dream. Then, we had enough people at ChainBound for four rounds and I went 2-2, leaving me at 18 chains. I think at that point getting to 21 instead of 20 sounded really nice, kind of like super payback, you know? As a side note, one of the decks I lost to in the 2-2 week I got to beat when I finally made it to 21 chains. That felt nice. Sorry, not sorry, Nathan.
FFG: I’d love to hear a little about your favorite combos or pieces of the deck, what you like about them, and maybe a bit about how you use it to counter your local meta.
RR: The most powerful combo is Xanthyx Harvester (Age of Ascension, 173) on board with Mars First (Age of Ascension, 165) and Martian Generosity (Age of Ascension, 202) in hand with five Æmber already in the pool. Math on that works out to “lose all your Æmber to draw 22 cards” or, in more accurate terms, "forge three keys and win the game.”
Beyond that, I think my favorite part about the deck—especially with heavy chains—is that there is a lot more strategy to it than just “do the combo and win.” In particular, I found that cards like Golden Aura (Age of Ascension, 217), Smite (Age of Ascension, 224), and Grey Rider (Age of Ascension, 226) let me do things I wasn’t supposed to that turn, like un-stun and fight with Zorg (Age of Ascension, 191), throw Hexpion (Age of Ascension, 113) at something to pseudo-draw a card, stuff like that—was really fun to discover once the deck slowed down a little with all the chains.
As far as local meta goes, I think we all started off loving board wipes, then we went to Æmber control decks, then eventually the meta kind of became, “Ryan’s playing his stupid deck again, how do we beat it?” Which the crew at ProSoul did plenty of times, the deck just always has a chance to archive a couple of key cards, get a lucky draw, and then explode for massive card advantage and win. Honestly, I think towards the end most games would end one way or the other while I still had over ten chains.
FFG: How do you mitigate or overcome the impact of all those chains with this particular deck? Do you feel like Elder "Hedge Bet" Haas is particularly suited to playing with so many chains?
RR: This deck certainly has the tools to overcome chains, but there is also plenty of strategy to it as well. The Sanctum house has tons of ways to buy another turn like Doorstep to Heaven (Age of Ascension, 231) and Aubade the Grim (Age of Ascension, 213), but even Bordan the Redeemed (Age of Ascension, 215) can buy you a turn or two if your opponent ignores him. Logos archives stuff really well—even Research Smoko (Age of Ascension, 135) is good in the deck and great if you put him next to Archimedes (Age of Ascension, 108). Titan Librarians (Age of Ascension, 120) are the best librarians (besides my friend Clay, of course) and the value plays from Helper Bot (Age of Ascension, 112) can be nuts.
Mars is the big one, of course, but even outside the combo there are great cards to buy you time— Nyzyk Resonator (Age of Ascension, 184) increases costs, Storm Crawler (Age of Ascension, 189) forces them to make tough decisions, Tyxl Beambuckler (Age of Ascension, 171) takes out pesky creatures, and Mars First (Age of Ascension, 165) is one of the most flexible cards in the game.
Then, of course, there is the "GenKA combo." Martian Generosity (Age of Ascension, 202) and Key Abduction (Age of Ascension, 182) is stupid good together. Instead of “lose all your Æmber and draw some cards” Martian Generosity really reads “double your Æmber and pick up half your deck” which is the real key to this deck’s success: forging keys is good, but forging keys for free is better.
FFG: Have you taken the deck to any recent KeyForge events? If so, how was that experience?
RR: I took Elder Haas to the Vault Tour in Las Vegas. Overall, it was a fun time and I ended up 4-2. The deck went 6-1, with the one loss being to a deck that used Common Cold (Call of the Archons, 336) to wreck my board, forge the first key with Key Charge (Call of the Archons, 325) and protect his Æmber from my Doorstep to Heaven, and then follow up with a Control the Weak (Call of the Archons, 55) into Mars the next turn which forced me to just pass and watch him forge his second key. After that, he just rode out his board state to the victory. Honestly, I was just glad to get to play Elder Haas without chains on it and I think the deck showed its worth at the event, I just didn't have a good enough pair of backup decks to make day two.
RR: World Collide looks super fun! I'm interested to find out how the new houses play, as well as to see how some opinions of the Age of Ascension and Call of the Archons cards might change when paired with the new cards. The VaultWarrior series seems awesome. It's a good sign for the long-term health of competitive play that there is money getting invested already. Store Leaderboards are possibly what I'm most excited about because I love playing competitively and adding this tracking to the store level will make for some fun friendly competition, I think.
FFG: What would you love to see next from KeyForge Organized Play?
RR: There's been a ton of stuff announced lately, so I'm just excited for more details to come out about everything. I really like that the Store Leaderboard prizes are including alternate art cards, I think the unique decks of KeyForge make promo cards like this even cooler; you can't just get a promo and put it in whatever deck you want so it makes it more rare than similar rewards for other games.
Along those lines, I really think that high-level competitions like the VaultWarrior Championship and the World Championship should do something to immortalize the winning deck, like a foil copy of the deck or adding something about it to the Master Vault. I've also heard rumors about an official judge program being in the works. As soon as that is announced I'll be signing up, for sure. That's definitely something I’ll be looking into.
FFG: When you open an Archon deck, what are you typically hoping to find? Do you have any preferred houses?
RR: I know there are lots of theories out there for looking at a deck and evaluating it, but I personally like to start with one question: How many cards do they have to play around? Cards like Too Much To Protect (Age of Ascension, 298), Duskwitch (Age of Ascension, 320), and Doorstep to Heaven are things that your opponent has to keep in mind or they might cost themselves the game, but even beyond that, I think there are lots of cards that are more subtle in how they win games.
That's why Logos is my favorite house: there are so many small cards that seem like only small advantages, but they can snowball games. Titan Librarian, Eyegor (Age of Ascension, 111), and Helper Bot provide such great value in Elder Haas, but other cards like Director of Z.Y.X. (Age of Ascension, 127) or Professor Sutterkin (Age of Ascension, 118) are all great examples of cards that don't win the game by themselves but enable you to make explosive plays later. There was a Crucible Cast that went through decklist stats of a Vault Tour pointed out this same sort of thing: Logos is a great support house.
FFG: Do you have any tips for players looking to climb the leaderboards?
RR: Play your decks. I mean, this deck has a super-strong combo with great support, but I learned a lot about the deck by playing on with it even after I slid back a couple of chains. A lot of what I like about KeyForge is the fact that each deck being unique means there is some learning to playing it. I've handed Elder Haas to great KeyForge players and had them lose against me because they didn't know the deck well enough to make the right decisions when it mattered.
So, if you're out there thinking you have a fun deck that is just dead at six or seven chains, I'd suggest you keep trying it at your local ChainBound events; odds are you'll learn a lot about both that deck and Keyforge in general by working with fewer cards in hand.
FFG: Ryan, thank you for talking to us about your deck today. Good luck with Elder "Hedge Bet" Haas!