A KeyForge Story to Remember

Cait and I spent the last weekend playing KeyForge at the Albany Vault Tour. We both had a ton of fun and met up with friends old and new.

I wanted to write up a report so I don’t forget. It was a ton of fun and my last game had an epic last two turns that was the most dramatic KeyForge I may have ever played, and an emotional rollercoaster that followed when I started reflecting on it.

The Format

Each team was made up of three people, and got six Worlds Collide decks to open. From those, we had to pick three. One would be for standard Archon, one would be for reversal, and the last would be for chain-bidding Archon. (Someone described this as the three stages of Adaptive, just played in parallel. Deconstructed Adaptive, if you will.)

Each teammate would take one deck for the four rounds.

My Team!

I was very fortunate to play with two pals from New York City: Will and Jonesy. Will I had met when he and his also-awesome wife Rowan came to Cambridge for the KeyForge Prime Championship at Pandemonium. (Will won it, by the way.) In Albany they introduced me to Jonesy who, besides being the most dapper person in attendance, was likewise tremendously friendly and a great KeyForge player.

I was the least experienced of the three of us, and Will’s brain was fried at that point from going 4–2 in the main event, so we nominated Jonesy to take on the chain-bidding role. Will very kindly deferred to me for the choice of remaining roles. I picked reversal because it was the best fit for my less-than-complete familiarity with Worlds Collide, and because it sounded like the most fun.

It was.

The format was actually blind reversal. Which meant that, after we got the deck from our opponent, we weren’t allowed to flip through it or even look at the list on the back of the Archon card. The only way you knew what was in the deck was to draw it.

This is now my favorite way to play a KeyForge tournament. What got so exciting was that, by the end of the tournament, I was very familiar with what was in the deck I was playing against, so I knew what to watch out for, but had no idea each game what my tools for stopping it might be. Every draw was a surprise.

The Deck

Our reversal deck was Pvt. Barbaxe Brant which, at an SAS of 65, is actually not that bad of a deck. A bit above average, maybe.

Prv. Barbaxe Brant

Sadly, not a very sucky deck.

Here’s what I learned to watch out for when playing against it:

  • 2 Musthic Murmook, both for the +1 key cost and the substantial direct damage.
  • EDAI “Edie” 4x4, which was good for at least +1 key cost.
  • Interdimensional Graft. Not that hard to play around, though, especially as the decks I was handed weren’t generating piles of AEmber.
  • A huge Brobnar board, hopped up on power counters from their various brews.

I lost the first two games (though as a team we ended 1-and-1) from not guarding enough against that last point. I learned not to waste a board wipe on anything less than a ton of giants.

I also learned not to hope that a Cauldron Boil — which I kept seeing, and holding — could do work for me. These decks were not giving me a lot of ways to get the damage on in the first place. Doubling it would do nothing.

I was able to sneak in a win in my third game, though. I had a nicely-timed Grasping Vines of my own Fangtooth Cavern for a little aember boost that put me over the edge. It was a good thing, too, as Jonesy and Will split their matches, so mine was the one that gave us our second team win.

Will gave me a thumbs-up.

The Finale

I have to write about this because it was so dramatic. If you can follow KeyForge, you’re going to want to read this. See you after the jump.

Update, 1/18/20: I found the deck I played against: Titanlight, the Adviser of The Legend. Descriptions updated to be more certain, now that I can look at the exact card list.

For our last match, we got put up against Big Z, Little Z, and Breana from Team SAS-LP. I faced Little Z for reversal, and he handed me Titanlight, the Adviser of The Legend. It was Brobnar / Logos / Shadows.

In the Brobnar lineup there are 3 copies of Narp (Big Z later called it “the worst card in the game” and he probably isn’t wrong) and 2 copies of Gargantes Scrapper, which. Just. A 3-power alpha creature whose already weak ability rarely fires?

The Shadows doesn’t have much steal. 1 Trust No One, 1 Umbra. I mean, The Shadow Council, but good luck getting that to stick around, let alone activate. And I discovered my removal was seemingly limited to Kymoor Eclipse, Mini Groupthink Tank, and Ballcano. Not the most reliable options.

Nevertheless we were able to keep things pretty even. Not seeing the decklist I can’t remember where exactly my aember was coming from (some reaping on the Brobnar end, and Logos events with aember pips, I think), but it was a long road that led us to be tied at two keys each.

At this point, our teammates’ games had ended, so Big Z was helping on their side and Jonesy was advising me (team talk is allowed in this format). Will had won, but Jonesy had lost, so the reversal match would once again decide the round.

Both Musthic Murmooks were out, so we were forging at 8. The EDAI was also out, but I had cleared his archives with Dysania so it wasn’t bumping my key cost any.

I was also very lucky to have two copies of Logos Plant on the board.

And so, through whatever means, I end up at 9 aember. 1 more than I need to forge my third key through the Murmooks. He’s maybe at 5. I can already see the EDAI. That’s all I had to watch out for, right? There’s no steal in that deck. It’s in the bag. Good game all around. I relax.

But the Zs are conferring. Counting creatures. Crap. I know what that means. Little Z had drawn the Dr. Milli. If it archives, EDAI could increase my key cost past 9. But he has to call Logos to play the Dr. Milli… so the Logos Plants bring me up to 11.

He needs to end his turn with 4 cards in his archives to keep me off.

We were both even at 7 creatures, so Little Z started ramming his into my Narps to kill them off (thanks, Narp). He kills his own EDAI, too, though… what?

The exact order of steps is not clear in my memory but here’s what went down.

  • Dr. Milli comes out when I have three more creatures. That’s three in the archives, but he still needs one more.
  • A reap with Quant. One more aember, and now even though it’s a Logos turn he can play…
  • Unnatural Selection. One more aember for him. My Narps get to stay, along with my Mini Groupthink Tank. My Logos Plants do not.
  • The EDAI’s still gone, though. But his Jargoggle has died. What had he been keeping underneath?
  • Regrowth. Another aember. EDAI comes back, comes down, and its play effect puts the 4th card into the archives.

My jaw is on the floor. Incredible.

He passes the turn and now he’s at check for his third key with at least 8 aember. My 11 is not enough to win. My keys cost 12.

I check my hand. There’s no steal. The Umbra had been on the table at some point, but if it had even lasted that long it definitely got cleared out by the Unnatural Selection. He wins next turn. I’m just stunned by the Rube Goldberg contraption of a turn that the Zs had just put together. Not only had I been dramatically taken off check, Little Z had enough aember now to win.

Jonesy and I look in my hand. We have one turn left. No immediate help. But… there is a Tautau Vapors. Could we draw into something? Is there anything to draw into? What is even in this deck? I know I saw it all because I reshuffled, but I can’t remember. 10 games today.

I call Logos and hope.

I get lucky.

Data Forge

Holy fucking shit.

Data Forge. A key cheat. There’s a chance. I can forge this turn, right now, at current cost + 10, minus one for each card in my hand. What is even in my hand? It doesn’t matter. It’s this or nothing.

I slam my Mini Groupthink Tank into EDAI, killing them both. Back to forging at 8.

I lay down the Data Forge, take its bonus aember, and look up. Cost + 10.

“I’m forging at 18, right?” I confirm with the Zs. Data Forge + 2 Musthic Murmooks. “Let’s just see what happens. I’m not doing the math.”

I begin laying down the cards from my hand, counting down Data Forge’s discount, unsure of where it will end.

“17. 16. 15. 14. 13…”

“12.” I lay down my last card. I look over at my pool. 4 neat rows of 3 aember. I had exactly enough. Luck piled on luck, blood pressure on blood pressure. I win.

This is blind reversal. This is KeyForge. I had it won, then holy crap the Zs pulled off something amazing and I had it lost and then holy fucking shit I had it won again. This was skill (mostly theirs) and luck (mostly mine) crafting a hugely memorable moment that happened to be my last game of the Vault Tour, and I couldn’t ask for a better end. I thanked Little Z for the game, and for the memory. We shook hands.

I got my aember shards scanned in up at the table with my team, said goodbyes, went back to my room, where Cait was waiting with a burrito, and then, finally,

I did the math.

The Math

I guess this is the part of the story that makes this a blog post, or maybe just notes for my next therapy session.

I was still high on nervous energy as I sat munching the burrito. There were images crystal clear in my memory, and I ran through them over and over. What a game, huh?

Aember laid out in three neat columns. Incomplete until the pip on Data Forge made a perfect 3x4. Twelve aember. Clear as anything.

Mini Groupthink Tank into EDAI. Two creatures left on each side. Two pairs. Two Musthic Murmooks, two Narps.

Counting down from 18 to 12. Definitely 18, definitely 12. My stunned relief when I realized I had enough to forge.

17… 16… ok. My fingers twitch as I count. 6 cards in my hand. I laid them down. 18 - 6 = 12 = key. Such math.

In KeyForge your hand is 6 cards, so yeah. 18 - 6 = 12 = key.


One of those 6 cards had to have been the Data Forge, which gets played so it doesn’t count for the discount. That means 18 - 5 = 13 = one short. No key.

No, no, that’s ok. Tautau Vapors. You draw 2 archive 1 no problem. Math checks out. 18 - 6 = 12 = key.

But I played Tautau Vapors from my hand. It’s also a card. Play 1 draw 2 archive 1 doesn’t give you an extra card at the end. It’s still 18 - 5 = 13 = no key = loss.

How had there still been 6 cards left in my hand when I played Data Forge?

Archive. Fuck. I must not have archived from Tautau Vapors.

I was so excited. I was tired and excited and there was a chance and I got caught up and I saw the Data Forge and forgot everything else and just jumped into playing it before I finished Tautau Vapors.

18 - 5 - fuckup = 12.

Some key cheat, huh?

Hadn’t I archived? I remember it, but I had just played 10 games. I knew I had archived after playing a Tautau Vapors, but was it against Little Z? I thought? It’s not clear. Not clear like 12 aember in my pool, a perfect 3x4 rectangle. Not clear like counting down from 18.

So I have to rely on the math:

  • 6 cards in hand
  • -1 Tautau Vapors
  • +2 draw
  • -1 archive
  • -1 Data Forge

would be only 5 cards. Forging at 13. I had 12.

The math didn’t check out. I cheated.

I cheated.

I didn’t mean to, but how else could I have still had 6 cards in hand? Did I play anything else on that turn that would have drawn? No, just Tautau Vapors. It had been the one chance after all.

Shit. I fucked up, in that moment, all of the excitement and I laid down the cards and I was so dramatic that everyone else got caught up in it, too and believed me when I said I had won. I thought I had been telling the truth.

Did that matter?

Where do you go from there? Had I just bullied a kid out of a win? Big Z would have, should have been paying attention, right? And caught it if I messed up? But it’s my responsibility to play right. To tell the truth at the gaming table. He must have been as tired as any of us. Did anyone make sure I had archived?

So what’s the worst? What were the stakes? I checked in my brain. OK, we went 3-1, they went 2-2, we got a handful more aember shards out of it. This was a side event. This wasn’t the Vault Tour itself. No glory, no leaderboard, no memory of it except us. Who cares, really?

Well, me for starters.

And Jonesy and Will had congratulated me. They knew that my last win was predicated on an unbelievably lucky pull but they were proud of me for even getting 2 wins against Pvt. Barbaxe Brant. We had been pals together, and now I sucked. Not for losing, but for fucking up. They had asked me to be on their team. That had felt so good. I would tell them abut my mistake, and they’d understand, right? Not all games are perfect. But… but now their thing, their experience, their sense of the night, it would be worse because of me. It had been good, and now, not.

An asterisk on the night.

It wasn’t the loss, or the win, that didn’t matter. It was the memories, it was the story. I broke them. Innocently, maybe, but my carelessness, my responsibility, my fault. I shouldn’t have been dramatic. I should have checked and triple checked and. I didn’t.

I fucked up the story. It was the most intense last two turns of a game I had ever been in. People were gathered around even. It should have been my tale to tell whenever folks swap ’Forge stories.

If I had played correctly? If my count had stopped at “13” and was one shy and lost dramatically? That would have been just as good. I would have thanked Little Z the same way for such a great experience and I would have been just as happy. Will and Jonesy wouldn’t have been disappointed in a loss, that’s not what we were there for. We all had fun, we now had a story. The Zs turned it around, amazingly, and we had almost, almost…

I would have been just as good.

But now? Now the story was poisoned. Now the thing that we thought had happened wasn’t the thing that should have happened. How could I talk about this now? It was joy and excitement before, now it was me getting caught up and full of myself and getting it so, so wrong, to be added to the pile of my mistakes that I think about when the room gets quiet.

And that’s really why I cared. The story was poisoned.

And the Zs… I mean, Team SAS. They’re good at this game. They’d be thinking it through too, now. They’d do the math, Z could do the math better than me. “How was it 6? It should have been 5. She must not have archived…”

I lay in bed.

I would go back, the next day. I’d ask a judge what to do. This clearly has happened before, they’d know how to handle it. Maybe I could make a gift to Little Z of my stun tokens, which he had admired during the game. Would that be appropriate? I’d check with his parents. That would probably be awkward.

What do you do, when you didn’t mean to cheat, but you did because you suck, and the game didn’t matter but the story mattered and now the memories aren’t happy anymore? Now they’re covered with regret, and mistakes, and a whole lot of shame.

Will would have good advice. Will would know what to do.

And maybe I could find forgiveness? Is that even appropriate? For a whatever game in a side event against folks I might never see again? Regardless, the story’s dead. Here, let me tell you about the time I got full of myself and misplayed into snatching a win away from people who had deserved it.

I lay in bed.

An asterisk on the weekend.

I lay in bed and another memory came floating up. I had overlooked it before, but it was the missing piece. And it was true, I knew it had happened. I was sure.

I heard the advice, from a father to a son, on playing KeyForge. When that Unnatural Selection came down, and Little Z was naming who would live and who would die.

“Always target Bad Penny. Always.”

It wasn’t 6 - 1 + 2 - 1 - 1 = 5, 18 - 5 = Fiona ruined the night.

It was 7.

There had been a Bad Penny on the table, and it had gone back to my hand when the Unnatural Selection went off. I started that turn not with 6, but 7 cards in hand. I had archived the card with Tautau Vapors after all. That’s why I was still able to count down, count 6 cards down from 18 to 12 and I had gotten it right.

The story was saved. Even got a little better, maybe.

The Aftermath

I fell asleep, eventually.

Some of my questions aren’t answered. I didn’t have to learn what my responsibility was, for misplaying into a win. What appropriate restitution is. But I can ask around. Will’s good at this stuff. And now it can be a hypothetical rather than emotional damage control.

My hindsight typically has very little trust in my past decisions. When I look back, it typically is under the hazy assumption that I did something wrong. Not just in this instance, but regularly. One of the reasons I go to therapy.

It’s a reminder to be — pardon the buzzword — mindful when playing. Read each card, follow each step. My mind is quick because I’m good at shortcuts. A tournament is not a good time for shortcuts.

Hats off to Zs both Big and Little for those last two turns and the story.

But especially, Little Z, for showing me how to actually use Jargoggle. I don’t know when you put that Regrowth under there, but what a great play. And LMK if you need any stun tokens.