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Keyforge Sealed Tournaments: The Pros and Cons

I, like a lot of gamers at the end of 2018 and start of 2019, got into Keyforge. As a game, it has a lot going for it, and has kind of become a deck building game for people who don’t like deck building. Designed by veteran game designer Richard Garfield, Keyforge became one of the hottest games of last year, and continues to be one of our most played.

One of the biggest draws to Keyforge is that you don’t have to build a deck, but instead get a unique combination of cards that, in and of themselves, form a deck. That deck is made up of three houses out of a total seven (Dis, Brobnar, Sanctum, Untamed, Mars, Logos, and Shadows), with twelve cards from each. Each plays completely uniquely and can be incredibly fun to get to understand.

What this has done, and for this I have to take my gamer hat off to Garfield, is introduce the Keyforge Sealed Deck Tournament into the gaming scene. These are tournaments where players turn up and buy a brand new (and completely sealed) deck. It means you can’t just buy good cards for a deck, but literally have to play with what you get.

Now, I personally adore the fact that sealed deck tournaments exist. Anything that levels the playing field and moves away from the traditional card game model, anything that mixes things up, had to be worth checking out.

Since Christmas I have actually partaken in a few sealed deck tournaments, and have had a mixture of experiences – so coming out of the back of those I thought I would share a few of the lessons learned. This I’ve broken down into pros and cons.

Before we begin, please note that this is just my opinion from my own observations and your experiences may vary – however, I hope you find it interesting nevertheless.

Pro: The Keyforge Sealed Tournament Levels The Playing Field When It Comes To Resources

This is one of the biggest pros of the whole Keyforge sealed tournament – the whole format has been designed to level the playing field when it comes to resources. Having played a fair bit of Star Wars: Destiny, and also having played a fair amount of casual A Game of Thrones LCG, it is easy to see (in both competitive and casual play) that the more you are prepared to spend on the game the higher your chances of doing well.

Okay, so it doesn’t always work like that; however, it is often the case. With CCGs (collectable card games) like Star Wars: Destiny or Magic the Gathering you either need to buy a lot of booster packs or buy a lot of specific cards in order to be able to compete with a competitive deck. A friend of mine recently estimated that it costs about £300 for a tournament winning Destiny deck, and up to around £700 for a tournament winning Magic the Gathering deck. With LCGs (Living Card Games) like A Game of Thrones, you are expected to be up to date with all releases before you can play competitively. In some cases, staying up to date costs a lot.

Now, Keyforge hasn’t managed to stay away for that kind of deck/card market, with some decks selling for hundreds of pounds on eBay for other tournament structures; however, that isn’t the case with the sealed deck format. The most you are going to spend on a deck in a sealed tournament is the entry fee. From experience, I can tell you this is around £10 to £15, but it depends on the store.

Pro: The Decks Are Sprung On Everyone

Since everyone opens their decks only a few minutes before they have to play, they are all in the same boat. There are, of course, ways to prepare by simply playing with lots of decks in your own time; however, it is impossible to prepare for everything. If you practice a lot with Shadows (as an example) then you can understand the concepts behind how Shadows play, and you can understand a few synergies, but it is impossible to understand Shadows in relation to every single other card combination in the game.

Within Keyforge there is a natural strength to decks, and sites like decksofkeyforge have algorithms to evaluate the strength of decks. What this means that there is a natural bell curve of deck strength. Using the Decks of Keyforge, the highest deck they have ranked is 102 SAS (their unit of measurement which stands for “Synergy and Anti-Synergy Rating”). The lowest rated is a 45. That provides a lot of scope; however, most decks rate around the 75 to 85 mark.

What this means, since all players are in the same position, and since they will (on average) pull an average deck and (on average) have average knowledge, then anything between around a 70 and a 90 can be a fair game. It means that there can be some swing and for the games to still be fair and rely on the skill of the player to win rather than just a great deck.

There is a reason why Keyforge has a reputation for being a balanced game.

Con: Drawing A Really Bad Deck Can Mean A Bad Day

Of course, drawing a certain strength on average is great; however, in order to make that law of averages work, there are still decks at either end of the scale.

Recently, I entered a tournament in Milton-Keynes with a few friends of mine. As we played it became clear that some of us had pulled better decks than others, and it was clear that a few decks didn’t stand a chance. I, for one, has pulled a deck that turned out to have a SAS of 60.

Now, I don’t have to tell you folks, that on a scale from 45 to 102, where the median 73.5, a 60 is pretty low. To give you a rough breakdown – the whole deck only generated 11 Aember through cards and had nothing in the control department. It was poor.

I, dear reader, am not precious when it comes to board games or card games, and enter for fun rather than to win. I don’t mind losing games if it means having a good time. That day, however, was not fun. Every single game I was slaughtered, and in all of my games I was lucky to forge one key, yet alone three. One game I ended up with three Aember – not keys, and not after forging keys. Three Aember full stop.

The worst thing though wasn’t the fact I did badly. The worst thing was there was nothing fun about the deck. There were no moments where I was happy with either the cards I had or the combos I could make because the deck was just rubbish. It didn’t help that I was playing Brobnar and Mars (and Untamed, for those interested), who I don’t generally like playing as, but it was made 10x worse by the fact that the anti-synergy was so high I usually ended up just discarding cards until I found a card I could play that didn’t feel bad.

That lasted for a day, and this is one of the weaknesses of the Keyforge sealed tournament. If you get stuck – you really get stuck.

Pro: You Get To Discover Something New

Having spoken to quite a few players now, one of the themes that keeps coming up is being able to play something new every time they play. Once again, with traditional deck building games, it is possible to work out a few successful deck formats and practice with those decks. Where this is the case with Keyforge it is much harder, and with a sealed tournament it is harder still.

Instead, opening a new deck in a sealed tournament is a journey of discovery. It allows for you to feel that same experience of finding something new that discovering a new kind of playing style does. It means the game doesn’t get stale as you discover combos and ideas you haven’t tried before.

Con: Due To The New Game Type, The Rules Are Still Up For Debate

There is a somewhat unusual con in Keyforge and that is that the game format is still very new. There are still a lot of rules that are being discussed as to what they precisely mean and, although there are often official rulings, this can lead to a fair amount of confusion around the table. This is made slightly trickier with a sealed tournament for a couple of reasons. Most notably though – you may actually come across rules you haven’t yet seen in your Keyforge career.

Within a normal card game tournament the odds are that you have built your deck. There are specific things that may have been up for debate; however, since you have played that specific deck for so long the odds are you know precisely how the cards play.

When playing a deck in a Keyforge sealed tournament you are more likely to come across rules you are less familiar with and this can either be confusing or daunting to play.

There is a way around this and that is to memorise the terminology before hand. This can be found in the rules on the FFG website (around Page 10) or in the Starter Set. There are only a few terms that could cause confusion in the game – however, it is worth looking them up.

It is also possible to find yourself unsure of certain cards and the etiquette around them. If this is the case, the only thing I can recommend is discussing it with either your opponent or the adjudicator of the event. Usually there is a simple solution to an imposing card.

Pro: It’s New And It’s Different (And It’s Attracting New Players To The Game)

Okay, over the past 1,500 words we have looked at a few different pros and cons around Keyforge but there is one thing that is yet to arise. Keyforge is a fun game. It is new and it is different. If you enjoy new and different, if you enjoy the challenge of picking up something you have never seen in its entirety before, then you will probably enjoy the sealed deck format.

It is because of the fact that it breaks expectations that it is attracting new players to the game. It is even attracting new players to the competitive gaming scene. Due to the playing field becoming more even, it is becoming more and more popular, and that is great to see.

So, there we have it – a few pros and cons (in my opinion) surrounding the Keyforge sealed tournament structure. If you are curious then I seriously recommend checking out your local FLGS, as they could be running tournaments. Alternatively, if you want to give it a go to feel what it is like, you can just buy two decks, sit down with a friend and play.

What are your thoughts? Do you like the new Keyforge tournament structures? Let me know in the comments below.

Other Keyforge Articles:
The Great Bait and Switch Debate of 2019
5 Supreme Sanctum Cards


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