Into the Jungle
Investigating the KeyForge Sealed Format
If you’re unfamiliar with KeyForge, you may not immediately know that the game offers two distinct formats—Archon and Sealed. In the Archon format, you carefully choose the deck that you’re going to use, drawing on your full collection and picking the deck you want to play. When you play Sealed, however, you’re put in the pilot’s seat of a brand-new deck you’ve never played before, challenging you to very quickly determine your deck’s strengths, weaknesses, and unique strategies.
Today, guest writer Austin Kukay joins us to discuss the Sealed format, and the best ways to quickly analyze and evaluate your deck—some tips that may help you out the next time you’re playing Sealed!
Austin Kukay on Evaluating Your Deck in the Sealed Format
Richard Garfield, the creator of KeyForge, has famously compared the game to a jungle; since KeyForge is a Unique Deck Game, you have to work with what you have. You have the opportunity to make those cards shine like no one else, because you're the only one in the world with that specific combination of 36 cards. The game has always had a huge focus on discovery—finding new cards and new ways to use your cards, a sentiment that’s pushed into higher gear with the upcoming Mass Mutation set. To maximize your discovery and really feel the excitement of “the jungle,” there's no better way to play KeyForge than the Sealed format.
The Sealed format in KeyForge requires a slightly different set of skills compared to the Archon format. In an Archon game, you get time to evaluate your opponent's deck and plan ahead for its intricacies. Do they have cards that can easily stop your game plan? Do you need to adjust your plans to succeed? Archon tests your skills in evaluating your opponent's decklist, your card knowledge, and your understanding of the deck you brought to the table. The Sealed format undoubtedly tests your card knowledge, but also your ability to adapt on the fly and learn as you go. It challenges you to be prepared for what's coming or be ready to respond at a moment's notice. Can you understand your own deck before even playing a single game? Can you learn what went well and improve from match to match? Can you anticipate the cards and combos your opponent may be trying to pull off?
While every player in the game has their own methods of evaluating a decklist (and sometimes it can be exciting to see what each person discovers through evaluating), I wanted to share some of the methods I use while staring down a brand-new deck at a Sealed competition. I'll be analyzing a new Worlds Collide deck from the perspective of the Sealed Solo variant (for more information on the different KeyForge variants, click here), but each of the other Sealed variants hold their own important strategies. Let's jump into it!
Rustriver, the Doctor Doctor
Assuming we're only playing against Worlds Collide, the first thing I look at is my deck's name and Houses. For the deck today, I have Rustriver, the Doctor Doctor, a deck composed of Dis, Logos, and Star Alliance. Knowing the Houses, I usually consider what I can project the composition of the deck will be. Dis tends to be quite disruptive and destructive, Logos efficiently gets you through your deck, and Star Alliance works well with other Houses and tends to have plenty of upgrades to go around. Let's see how that holds up for the Doctor Doctor.
In a Sealed competition environment, you want to find lines of play in your deck before the first match so you can test your strategy early and refine it. My recommendation to find these lines is to start by looking at the rare cards and the cards with multiple copies in the deck. Cards with multiple copies add consistency to a unique deck, while rare cards present less frequent combinations. For Doctor Doctor our rare cards and cards with multiples are:
Outside of this, I recommend paying special attention to any Special and Variant rarities (usually linked cards or different versions of a card), Mavericks (cards outside of their normal House), Legacies (cards from previous sets), and Anomalies (potential cards from future sets) to guide your analysis. All of these cards are also great advantages in the Sealed environment because they’re unexpected.
Using these cards as guides, you can start to find connections and themes across Houses. For example, starting with Universal Keylock and We Can ALL Win in Doctor Doctor, we can see that this deck has many cards that allow us to manipulate the opponent’s key cost.
We Can ALL Win is a tricky card to play correctly, since the key cost is lowered for yourself and your opponent till the end of your next turn. This is where these other key increases can help, since you can increase your opponent’s key cost while keeping yours low. Taking this line of play further, the Doctor Doctor also has Obsidian Forge (Worlds Collide, 93). This card is known as a “key cheat,” since it lets you forge a key outside of the “Forge a Key” step at the beginning of your turn. The deck also has Poltergeist (Worlds Collide, 94), which allows you to both use an artifact in play AND destroy it.
This means one potential line of play you could follow is playing We Can ALL Win while Universal Keylock is in play, bringing your opponent’s key cost to seven (or up to nine again if you play Sensor Chief Garcia (Worlds Collide, 305) as well). Then, on your next turn you can use Poltergeist to destroy your own Universal Keylock to reduce your key cost, followed by using Obsidian Forge to key cheat. Whoa!
Now, this is an extremely specific line of play, requiring at least four cards to work (not to mention creatures in play for Obsidian Forge). While this may not happen in the three-to-four games you play at your Sealed competition, this is just one direction you could take the deck. The beauty of Sealed is that your opponent doesn’t know your decklist. At the same time, you are also still trying to learn how to play your list! Following this line of play would be more risky or more obvious in an Archon format, but it has a chance in a Sealed format to catch your opponent off guard. You can choose just about any cards in the decklist or a couple of those “focus cards” from earlier and investigate a line of play around them.
After contemplating some directions I can take the deck, I like looking at the “stats” of the deck. By this I mean looking at the counts of card types and the card characteristics. For example, the Doctor Doctor has the following stats:
Considering the stats can help us learn a couple things about the deck. Firstly, with sixteen bonus æmber in the deck, you would only be short two æmber for your three keys if you played every card once (and your opponent did nothing to stop you) without having to reap! On average, decks normally have around ten bonus æmber, so this is quite a bit higher! We can also tell that the deck has a slightly lower than average creature count (average is ~18) and a below average total creature power (average is ~68).
Notably, it’s also important to consider the overall shape of the set you’re playing. In Worlds Collide, creature characteristics are important. Sometimes you’ll stare down huge Saurian Republic dinosaurs or bulky Brobnar giants, so having a board that can stick around can be very beneficial in these situations. Looking back at the deck, while many of the creatures are small, there are many ways to protect them, like with Armsmaster Molina and Titan Guardian (Worlds Collide, 141).
In contrast, when playing in the Call of the Archons set, your action count, your ability to generate æmber, and your ability to control your opponent’s æmber (typically through stealing or capturing) were more important characteristics to track. While these are still important to consider, it’s important to shift your analysis strategies and priorities depending on the set you’re playing.
After considering the many lines of play and continuing my analysis further, I arrive at this final game plan for Rustriver, the Doctor Doctor:
My plan is to control the opponent’s board with damage while disrupting their play and decisions with the many disruptive cards. While my creatures are small and few, I can keep them alive with the protective cards in the deck. My æmber control primarily relies on increasing the cost of my opponent’s keys, but I can attempt to out-race my opponent with bonus æmber and plenty of draw and archive cards. I need to be careful with my rares, Wild Wormhole, and Mini Groupthink Tank, for they can all be very strong plays or devastating for me
With that said, this is just one interpretation of Rustriver. KeyForge decks have a lot of depth. Depending on your playstyle and knowledge about the game, you and a friend can see something completely different in a deck. Even from game to game you can see something new in a deck and continue to discover interesting plays and strategies that the world has never seen. But the only way to learn a jungle’s secrets is to explore it… so get exploring!
Cheers, and may your æmber always shine bright.
Austin J. Kukay, or RealPlayerOne, is the creator and a writer at the The Epic Quest Blog and a member of the Moor Wolf Pack community-team. While he isn't searching for new Epic Quest decks, you can find Austin preparing for the next Vault Tour or finding new stories to tell from the Crucible. Austin supports Organized Play tournaments and events in his local KeyForge community in Seattle, Washington by creating tokens and trophies as prize support. You can continue the conversation with Austin on social media @TheEpicQuestKF.