Advanced Key Concepts #1: Tempo
Advanced Key Concepts is a series exploring deeper strategy in KeyForge to help players hopefully get better at the game, as well as achieve higher success in more competitive environments. I am assuming readers know the basics of the game, and have some working knowledge of Keyforge. So let’s skip past all the introductory basics and get to the good stuff!
Today’s topic is all about Tempo. If you listen to the Bouncing Deathquark podcast, you may be familiar with the concept of Delta discussed by their host, Codameron. The following excerpt is his own viewpoint on Delta:
“The idea of the Delta is how much more efficiency you can get on board than your opponent can. If all cards were blank, then me having 3 creatures to a house would give me more efficiency than having one creature of each house on board. (note that this is strictly board position and is ignoring all variables like hand composition and archive – this is NOT cards + board). If I had 3 creatures in one house, and you had 3 creatures all from separate houses, that would put me at 3 to your 1, despite us having the same body count. The Delta in this spot is 2, since on straight reaps, I can race 2 amber faster than you can. ”
While I think it is important to understand Delta for high level KeyForge play, I also think it is possible to win from behind on Delta, or by completely ignoring it via locks or combos, and that is where Tempo and Clicks come into play.
‘Click’ is a term from another game by Dr. Richard Garfield- Android: Netrunner. In Netrunner, taking actions like drawing a card or gaining a resource requires you to use a ‘Click’. Clicks control how many things you can do each turn. I like to use the word Click as it does not currently appear in KeyForge, whereas ‘Action’ appears many times and can mean different things. Therefore, my definition of Tempo in KeyForge is “How many Clicks does it take for you to win the game?”
We know KeyForge is a racing game. The first player to forge 3 keys is the winner. While there is not an alternate win condition primarily, it is possible to completely stop your opponent’s ability to forge ANY keys via locks and combos. In this sense there are actually more ways to win than solely aember generation. Each individual thing you must do to reach any of these given points to win a game is a Click. A few examples include, but are DEFINITELY not limited to: Fighting takes a Click, Reaping takes a Click, playing any card takes a Click. Sometimes you get additional value from a specific action. Such as Dust Pixie- adding 2 aember when played, and is also a creature that will be able to Reap, Fight, or do other things next turn. I would call this 3 Clicks, but it only took 1 card. This is a Tempo rich card. To go further, if your entire deck was Dust Pixies, you would play 6 of them on your first turn (not on the play) generating 12 aember. Then assuming they survived, you could reap with all 6 to 18 aember. If this scenario happens with no interruption, you’ll have won the game from 12 Clicks. If you didn’t Reap and merely played 3 more Dust Pixies, you’ll have won the game with 9 Clicks.
Fortunately for us, because it would be boring, our decks are not filled completely with Dust Pixies. They are filled with a variety of cards that either speed ourselves up, or slow our opponents down during our race to get those keys. Creatures, arguably the focus of KeyForge, can do both. Creatures can Reap to produce aember, or Fight to reduce the opponent’s ability to Reap or use other Actions, which also often effect how much aember they can generate on their turn. We have likely all experienced an annoying creature that has Elusive, or is sitting next to a Shadow Self or Taunt creature. It feels very bad when you have to Fight something multiple times to remove it from play. That feeling is the Tempo you have lost. You are taking multiple Clicks to reduce the opponent’s ability to do something, most likely something that will give them a Tempo advantage over you. For another example- Hunting Witch or Witch of the Eye. These witches must be removed from the board or else they pose a devastating advantage. That removal costs clicks, and it is what really makes the witches great in a deck. We have likely all felt good when we ‘Too Much to Protect’ our opponent’s 12 aember. Subtracting 6 from the opponent while gaining 7 aember is like 13 Clicks on a single card! That is a LOT of Tempo!
It’s also likely we’ve all experienced those hands with cards like Dimension Door or Take Hostages with no board state to use them. These cards have powerful effects that work as combos, but are often at the cost of narrowing you into a specific strategy or turn that is easily disrupted on your opponent’s turn. What’s better? Take Hostages or Terms of Redress? That not only depends on how many creatures you have, but also how many the opponent has. These cards often take up a slot in your hand, at the opportunity cost of any other card. Every time you discard a card that is using a Click to “draw a card”. These are Tempo barren cards. These examples at least give an aember, but many will not be that generous. Typically any card that requires you to start your turn with multiple ready creatures is going to be useless the majority of the time. Additionally, if you are able to use these cards it likely means you already have a high Delta. The card was probably unnecessary at that point. Alternatively, it’s possible, you have held onto the card in hopes of using it in a future turn, at the cost of your own plays. When the card pays off, it will need to have been worth the amount of “self-chains” you put on yourself to make that play. It likely will not.
So how do we use this knowledge in a game? This often comes down to counting up your available plays in each house, and find which has the most available Clicks. However, I don’t like stopping there. Count the RESULTS of each of these individual turns. It’s a lot to think about, but it gets easier the more you play. Let’s say that your opponent has 3 creatures that you ABSOLUTELY have to destroy. A likely scenario is Ganger Cheiftan and Drummernaut…and one other Brobnar creature. Somehow, (despite the combo) you have 3 creatures that survived last turn. You have Three Fates in hand. Your three possible turns look like this:
A) Using 3 creatures to fight into Brobnar. Possibly losing creatures or at least getting damage on them.
B) Calling Dis and playing Three Fates.
C) Calling third available house, committing to the board, likely to have them destroyed by this combo, but at least drawing more cards.
Turns A and B are essentially the same exact result, but Three Fates actually gives you an aember. By playing one card, you not only interrupt their combo, which is essentially infinite Tempo AND Delta, but also save your own creatures in the process by choosing the option that is actually the LEAST “cards plus board”.
Often when playing, my opponents are concerned about controlling my board… even when they already have complete control and should be reaping. This is where Delta and Tempo are actually very similar. If you have a Delta that is so much higher than your opponent’s, you should be closing out the game as fast as possible by reaping and NOT playing cards. At this point reaping for multiple aember is going to be a much higher Click value than playing more creatures that enter Exhausted without generating any aember that turn. This does not mean to rest on your laurels though. If possible, it is a good idea to attempt to sculpt a hand with answers while advancing the win condition.
Likewise, if your opponent has this type of intimidating board state, don’t forget that the game is about aember, NOT creatures. Tempo-rich plays from behind can launch into a win. Glorious Few, Healing Wave, and Treasure Map are all great cards for closing out a game from behind. A timely rush turn ended with a Key Charge has won many games.
It’s these incredibly swingy games that make KeyForge so exciting! It’s important to read the overall Tempo of the game to determine who is actually in the lead. Is your opponent losing because they don’t have any creatures and you keep crushing them? Or are they slowly setting up their archives for a giant combo turn that you won’t be able to come back from? Is their win condition a lock out? It may be best to work your hand to keep some removal for that Restringuntus. Are they a combo deck? You may need to focus on disrupting their plan, at the cost of letting them forge keys that feel bad for you. If they are a large board state deck, you may need to actually lose some of your better creatures to attack into their key pieces and keep your Delta higher than theirs. Following their Tempo will allow you to better respond and utilize less Clicks for maximum value. Anytime I am surprised in a game, it’s usually when my opponent’s Tempo completely catches me off guard. One of my better examples of this was caught on stream. Scott Jones completely surprises me with a Tolas getting him to Check for 3rd Key on Day 2, first round at Birmingham Sealed. It was the first event with Age of Ascension and can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/h4eDC3nmXNk?t=2820
The last point I would like to make on this is knowing your deck and trusting it. This is much harder in Sealed events, but at larger tournaments such as Vault Tours, you have more rounds to really understand your deck. Reading over your list and organizing the cards in different ways will help you find out your game plan. Knowing what TYPE of deck you are playing is important to know what your win condition is, then use your Clicks advancing it and preventing your opponent from stopping it. At Archon events, you should have loads of practice with your chosen deck, and understand its win condition as much as possible. Decks that can win via non-aember means often catch people by surprise, because they were never even playing the same game. The Tempo in those decks is much harder to read, and if you don’t understand how close your opponent is to winning, you likely won’t be able to stop them from doing so. In both cases, you should trust in your deck’s ability to do what it does, and have confidence to follow through with your plan. Keep your win condition in mind, and take the shortest path to victory.