What Is a KeyForge Metagame?
Two Vault Tours Reveal New Secrets of the KeyForge Metagame
'Tis a momentous age for KeyForge and a world-changing time for the Crucible—this…
Time of Triumph!
The first Vaults of the KeyForge Vault Tour have now been cracked—their secrets plundered by The Captain of Barrackslaunch and B. Celerinius, the City Archbishop. Yet there are many Vaults still before us, including those newly discovered in Schaumburg, Illinois, where hundreds of Archons will soon vie for their secrets during the Vault Tour at AdeptiCon.
And even for those of us unable to plunder that site for its Æmber (and redeem our Æmbershards for prizes), we find other secrets revealed within the successes—and failures—of those who went before us. And those secrets begin to whisper of a "metagame"—a larger knowledge of the possibilties within the game that informs our decisions as we head to our local Open Play nights, to our ChainBound events, and to the Vault Tour itself.
We find rumors of the cards we'll expect to face, even in this unique game of unique decks. No one can copy the dominant deck—there will never be two Captains of Barrackslaunch nor two City Archbishops by the name of B. Celerinius—but we may find certain cards rising to prominence among numerous Archons. And we may learn how to play against them.
1. Stay Out of the Shadows!
The thieves, rogues, elves, and con artists who work in the Shadows are everywhere right now in competitive KeyForge!
Of the eight decks to make Top 4 in Eindhoven and Seattle, seven of them were running Shadows. Indeed, no fewer than six of them were running Bait and Switch , which has currently positioned itself as the Number One card to expect to play around. With its ability to steal enough Æmber from your opponent to prevent the forging of a key—and to put yourself in good position to forge a key yourself—Bait and Switch exemplifies the many, many ways that Shadows cards can steal your opponent's Æmber and disrupt the game's momentum.
Accordingly, the Archon format Vault Tour in Eindhoven featured more Shadows than any other house. In fact, Shadows were almost twice as popular as the next house and were more than three times as popular as the least popular house, Mars.
Shadows weren't just popular in Eindhoven; they were successful, too. Shadows was again the most popular house after the cut to Day 2.
Interestingly, however, there was a good bit of movement among the other houses, and Mars vaulted into a three-way tie for third most popular—while Sanctum were struck back into last place.
The take-away, of course, is that you need to expect Shadows to come tip-toeing along, hoping to pickpocket your Æmber, so you need to learn how to play around their most powerful cards (and maybe co-opt some of their strategies, as well).
2. Expect the Unexpected
One of the things that sets KeyForge apart from most other card games is that it has no resource costs—at all. Instead, you choose one of your houses at the beginning of your turn, allowing you to play and use any number of cards from that house.
It's as easy to play a copy of Overlord Greking as it is to play a Dust Imp . Or, as your opponent considers her response to your loaded battleline, she can just as easily afford to play Gateway to Dis as she can play Foggify.
The result is that KeyForge leads to some truly swingy moments, in which momentum is wrested away from a player. And it can just as easily swing back. But as the Vault Tour suggests, the swingy nature of the game currently makes it difficult for players to rely upon any sort of sustained board advantage (where you might have more creatures activating each turn than your opponent).
At Eindhoven and Seattle, we saw that of the eight decks that made Top 4, six of them had at least one card capable of removing every enemy creature. Half of them boasted actions like Foggify that could subvert an opponent's plans to assail their creatures, and they all had four or more actions that could damage (and potentially destroy) enemy creatures—or exhaust them or return them to their controller's hand.
For now, then, this suggests that houses like Brobnar and Sanctum—that excel at battling through opponent's creatures to establish board presence—will continue to take a back seat to the houses that focus more on trickery and disruption. And even within these houses, we saw shifts among their most popular cards from Day 1 to Day 2 that reflected a greater degree of immediate impact.
3. Balance Your Approach
We saw a lot of different Archons over the course of the first two Vault Tours, and those Archons often went to great extremes—packing in as many as 28 creatures or 21 actions. We saw decks loaded with as many as eight or nine artifacts and trying to buff their creatures with as many as seven upgrades.
But none of these decks found their way to the final rounds.
Even among the limited number of Day 2 decks, the Archons who battled their way into the Top 4 at either event tended not to load up heavily on any specific category of card. The two exceptions were "Steel" Gisaell, Hall Forest Keeper—with 18 actions, they were the most action-laden of all Day 2 Archons at Eindhoven, and Beulah l'Abondante, Meurtrière du Fjord, who was tied with five other Day 2 Archons at Eindhoven for the most creatures (at 21).
Otherwise, the winning deck at Eindhoven only placed in one category for the "most" of anything, tying for third place in the Most Upgrades category… with a whopping two upgrades. And B. Celerinius, the City Archbishop, who won Seattle, went completely unrecognized in any of these "most of" lists.
What does this tell us? It likely hearkens back to Point 2 above—that relying too heavily on any one part of the game can result in failure because it's too easily countered.
Yes, if you have 28 creatures in your deck, you might get your battleline loaded with twelve of them, but you can only use so many creatures before your opponent destroys them all with Gateway to Dis. Even if you manage that one turn of reaping for seven Æmber, a single Bait and Switch can turn the momentum in the other direction.
Similarly, a deck with too many artifacts may find them stolen, activated by opponents, or destroyed. Decks with too many actions may fall off-pace against decks that play out enough creatures to reap faster than your actions can kill them.
So if you're trying to evaluate which of your decks is most likely to meet with success, the results from the first two Vault Tours suggest that you might want to aim for a deck that has enough artifacts to make good plays when your opponent destroys your creatures, enough creatures to make good plays when your opponent seizes your artifacts, and enough actions to disrupt your opponent's plans from turn to turn.
4. Draw Is Good
While the statistics we find from Day 1 at each Vault Tour suggest the types of decks and cards you're more likely to face in the larger community, the statistics from Day 2 provide a better picture of the decks that are winning. And the statistics from the Top 4 Archons at each event offer an even more accurate snapshot of what you might currently expect from the game's top decks.
In Eindhoven, we found Logos appearing as the fourth most popular house on Day 1, tied for the third most popular house on Day 2, and vaulting up into the second most common position among the Top 4, as three of the Top 4 decks boasted Logos and the house's focus on drawing and holding more cards (including the ability to archive cards and pull them into hand at the appropriate moment).
Similarly, in Seattle, we found Logos was the fourth most popular house on Day 1, dropped to the fifth most popular house on Day 2, but recovered again by the Top 4, tying for second place with Dis and Sanctum. And, of course, we saw Logos featured in the winning deck, as B. Celerinius, the City Archbishop used card draw and rapid Æmber generation to outrace his rival Archons—even without Shadows cards.
In a game as changeable as KeyForge, the ability to cycle rapidly through your deck means you can find and hold the "answer" cards sooner and play them at exactly the right time. It's worth noting that cycling through your deck isn't just a matter of card draw; it's also a matter of playing out cards, increasing your hand size, and archiving cards you don't want right away in favor of extra cards from other houses.
5. BYOA (Bring Your Own Æmber)
One of the most important things we can learn from the Vault Tour is that the game's top players are keenly aware that KeyForge is not a "battle" game. You're not trying to destroy your opponent. You're not even really all that concerned about your opponent's creatures. You're not trying to destroy a fortress or claim a throne. Your goal is simply to be the first Archon to forge three keys… and doing that requires Æmber.
While there were a good number of Archons who focused on spawning hordes of creatures or bashing their opponents' creatures, the most successful players stayed focused on gathering Æmber and forging keys. If they were winning the race for Æmber, they could care less about the number of creatures their opponents threw on the table.
But all that Æmber has to come from somewhere. Creatures can reap it, but as we saw, the top decks were not often focused on establishing and maintaining a greater number of creatures. Instead, we found that the eight decks to make Top 4 at either Vault Tour averaged no fewer than 12 raw Æmber they could play from hand.
Notably, The Captain of Barrackslaunch led this charge with a whopping 17 Æmber icons on her cards—all in addition to the steal effects and the creatures that could come in ready and reap immediately!
The ability to generate immediate Æmber is hard to overvalue, and it's perhaps a major part of the shift we saw among the top Dis cards. Day 1 in Eindhoven, Dis were driven primarily by the capture and steal effects of Charette and Shooler , and the most popular Dis card in Seattle on Day 1 was Pit Demon—with its ability to steal Æmber. But that theft required an action that it couldn't take immediately, so by Day 2, we saw Dis driven across the two Vault Tours primarily by Gateway to Dis, which allowed players to completely eliminate their opponents' battlelines.
Still, the Top 4 decks from each Vault Tour saw yet another shift. While Gateway to Dis remained a prominent part of the Dis contingent, it fell behind Mind Barb and Dust Imp, both of which offered immediate Æmber gains. Among the eight Top 4 decks, Mind Barb was the most common Dis card with six copies, and Dust Imp took second with five copies.
Use These Secrets Wisely!
So, Archons, these are the treasures of knowledge that we offer you. Have you learned anything interesting? Do these statistics confirm what you had already suspected? Did anything here surprise you?
Understanding the metagame is the first step to playing your way ahead of it. So is there anything you've learned that has helped you anticipate your opponents' plays? What advice can you offer to Archons looking for ways to get more from their creatures, actions, and artifacts?