Meta Watch: AoA Surprises: Duds and Hits
Age of Ascension cards are finally in our hands and while theorycrafting based on spoilers is always fun, nothing compares to actually getting some games in. We all had a lot of predictions regarding what was going to be powerful and what was going to flop. In many cases, those predictions were correct: Martian Generosity is indeed incredibly powerful. But I personally have also been surprised by a number of cards once I actually started playing with them. Some proved quite a bit weaker than I expected while others really surprised me with their power. These aren’t necessarily the most trash-tier or most overpowered cards in the set, but rather the cards that can be easy to misevaluate when playing a sealed deck, for instance. So, without further ado, here are my most disappointing and surprising AoA cards from each house.
As a whole, I’ve been really enjoying the massive boost in archiving we’ve seen in this set for Logos. The archive is one of the most unique aspects of Keyforge’s gameplay and it’s a lot of fun to see more and more decks making full use of it. That said, the cards that have surprised me the most have been the new removal tools.
Dud: Standardized Testing
I was incredibly excited for this card when it was announced. It seemed like it would introduce really interesting gameplay and would often be quite powerful with the prevalence of 2 power creatures on the low end and 5 or 6 power creatures on the high end. However, AoA has shown a pretty sizable increase in the number of creatures at both the low and high end of the power curve. With more 1 power creatures like Helper Bot and Glimmer and more massive creatures like Lollop the Titanic and Knoxx, it definitely feels more difficult to control what gets destroyed with this than I had initially anticipated.
While the increase in 1 power creatures might have weakened Standardized Testing, it has definitely made Poke stand out in AoA. Powerful board-focused cards like Lamindra and especially Duskwitch need answers as soon as possible and Poke is the perfect response. Removing the threat, giving you an aember, and even allowing you to draw a card in the process.
In contrast to their incredibly powerful aember generation in Call of the Archons, Untamed seems to be much more board focused in this set. Now featuring a number of quite powerful creatures and fight-enablers. Unfortunately for Untamed, some of the new cards still feel more oriented to the older aember rush style of play. All in all, I’ve been a bit disappointed with Untamed thus far, feeling quite a bit less focused than some of the other houses.
Dud: Song of Spring
With powerful play effects in Call of the Archons like Dust Pixie and Mighty Tiger, it seemed Song of Spring would be perfect to recur all of those abilities for tons of extra value (not to mention efficiency once your deck is running low). Unfortunately, Untamed in this set has fewer play effects, most of which aren’t worth slowing down your cycling and weakening your board for. While it can still be a powerful tool for increasing efficiency, it feels a bit mediocre to shuffle fighting-focused creatures back into your deck rather than filtering it for powerful aember generation plays.
While I don’t think Fanghouse is necessarily super powerful, it has definitely performed quite a bit better than I initially expected. Assault 3 makes it a great answer to elusive threats and gives it the ability to take down some pretty big bodies while Hazardous 3 makes it difficult to take out. Put together, this pair of abilities makes Fanghouse a mid-level threat that can create a lot of value while being a big pain for opponents to deal with.
Mars seems to have gotten a pretty big buff in this set. Many awkward cards like Psychic Network were rotated out in favor of more powerful board threats and some pretty crazy new action cards. There is still a bit of an issue with Mars often not synergizing well with other houses, however. As a friend at my LGS put it, “it often feels as if Mars wants you to only play mars and nothing else.”
Dud: Mars Needs Aember
With cards like Ammonia Clouds and Yxilo Bolter in CotA, I figured it wouldn’t prove too difficult to have damaged enemy creatures for Mars Needs Aember to go off. In AoA, however, it seems like Mars is a bit more focused on reaping and using abilities than fighting. Meaning there are fewer damaged targets for Mars Needs Aember to capitalize on. In my experience, I’ve frequently found myself just playing it for the bonus aember.
Hit: Collector Worm
I have heard this card referred to as a worse version of Uxlyx the Zookeeper since it requires fighting rather than reaping. While I might have initially been inclined to agree, after playing a few games with Collector Worm, it’s clear that the 5 armor makes a huge difference. Where Uxlyx the Zookeeper is almost always killed before his ability can be used, Collector Worm is a pain to get rid of. Even Life for a Life can’t do it without a little help. While Zookeeper may seem stronger in a vacuum, all of the errant damage flying around in AoA makes 2 power a tough sell without armor to back it up.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who would argue Shadows feels quite a bit weaker than it did in CotA. However, that is probably more a reflection on how overwhelmingly powerful the house was in CotA than anything. Shadows still has quite a few powerful tools and has certainly offered players a lot more flexibility and choice in their play. While Shadows in CotA was largely about just playing whatever you draw, Shadows in AoA presents a lot of really interesting strategic decisions that can be very rewarding to players who study them well.
Dud: Sucker Punch
At first glance this seems incredible. You get an aember, can take out a threat, and then do it again on a later turn. In practice, the increase in archiving in this set means you’re often already using your archive to set up some combo, store cards that will be valuable later, or to prepare for a big turn of one house. This often means you will already have a house other than shadows in your archive, so you’re stuck with a choice between picking up the archive when you next go Shadows just to use Sucker Punch again, or just leaving Sucker Punch in your archive indefinitely, only to return to your hand once you’re ready to play cards in another house and then you end up with an extra shadows card as well. Either way, it feels like a bit of a catch 22.
Hit: Knuckles Bolton
3 power, Elusive, and Skirmish isn’t the most exciting card in the world. On its surface, it can even seem a bit counterintuitive. In playing with it though, I’ve found Knuckles to be a really nice board presence. Similar to Fanghouse, it can take out small threats indefinitely while simultaneously being difficult to kill, making it a mid-level threat that can provide some desperately needed board presence to fragile shadows fields.
In CotA, Dis was all about controlling your opponent’s gameplay from their house choice, to their hand, to their board, and discard pile. In AoA, Dis has maintained many of the same control elements with even more ways to control the discard with cards like Exhume and Not Finished With You. Additionally, Dis was given new forging and board control tools, some more effective than others.
Dud: Bronze/Silver/Gold Key Imp
I’m lumping all three of these together because they feel roughly similar to each other in how they play. While their abilities seem incredibly powerful, they often require too much set up or simply luck in drawing them at the right time. Additionally, even when they are drawn at the right time, they can often feel pretty “win more”. While playing a Silver Key Imp is certainly powerful if I’m at two keys and my opponent is still at one, I think I’d rather just have better tools to get me to my third key. All in all, the Key Imps just feel like a lot of investment in abilities that are often very difficult to capitalize on.
Putting an opponent’s creature into their archives really does not sound ideal. It doesn’t slow down their draws like bouncing it to their hand would and will ultimately just come back when they’re ready to replay it. However, the amount of archiving going on in the AoA meta means that your opponent will often already have a couple of cards in their archive. If you can get a sense of what house they are building up in their archive, putting a creature from a different house in there can really throw a wrench in their plans, making it very inconvenient to get that card back without having to pick up their archive at an inopportune time. Even better, if they have been using Mars abilities to archive your creatures, it can force them to give you your cards back by picking up their archive to get their own creature back.
As a strong contender for worst house in CotA, Sanctum really had nowhere to go but up in AoA, and go up they certainly did. The new set has introduced tons of really powerful new Sanctum tools for protecting valuable threats and even generating tons of aember. For the house that has been the most transformed by AoA, my vote would be Sanctum.
Dud: The Grey Rider
While the fight-focused ability of The Grey Rider would have been a huge hit in CotA, it seems that Sanctum in AoA is a lot less interested in fighting. Cards like Aubade the Grim or the Ambassadors would much rather reap to take advantage of their abilities. While The Grey Rider’s ability can still be extremely valuable with creatures more interested in fighting (mostly from Brobnar in this set), it often fails to synergize well with other sanctum creatures in a deck.
Hit: Rothias the Fierce
I had every expectation that taunt with Hazardous 4 would be powerful, but I didn’t suspect just how powerful this would be. In a lot of situations, Rothias will simply kill anything that tries to attack him, serving as extremely valuable protection for whatever creatures are next to him. 4 Power and 2 Armor means that it will take an opponent trading a creature with at least 6 power to remove him, destroying any attacker with fewer than 9 power. In a meta that seems much more focused on fighting, Rothias can be an insurmountable force to many opponents.
If Sanctum is the most transformed house between CotA and AoA, Brobnar is probably the most improved. While still primarily focused on big creatures and fighting, Brobnar received many new tools like Bingle Bang Bang and Into the Fray to maintain board control through fighting and cards like The Flex and Might Makes Right to continue gaining aember and keys despite the fighting focus. This plus having Coward’s End, one of the few, highly coveted board wipes in AoA, sets Brobnar up to be very competitive in AoA decks.
Now I never expected Groggins to be a great card, but I have to say it performs so much worse than I even thought it would. Only being able to attack flank creatures seems like a pretty serious downside for a creature with just 8 power, especially considering CotA had Troll, an 8 power creature with a pretty decent upside. The prevalence of Taunt in this set makes Groggins even weaker, since it will often only have one option to attack if any. In too many cases, Groggins is really only valuable to use The Flex for 4 aember or to reach 25 power to sacrifice for Might Makes Right.
In contrast to Groggins, I knew Drummernaut was going to be pretty decent when it was spoiled, but I certainly underestimated just how powerful it would be. Brobnar also gained a really powerful play effects in Brammo which, in addition to Ganger Chieftain carried over from CotA, serve as great targets to bounce and replay using Drummernaut. Combined with Gauntlet of Command and Into the Fray, it is quite easy to use Drummernaut’s ability multiple times each turn. One could devastate an opponent’s board and bounce all of their own creatures to fully heal them. Not to mention typically getting a decent bit of aember from reaping once the board is clear.
If looking at the spoilers leading up to the release of this set has taught me anything, it’s pretty tough to evaluate the strength of individually spoiled cards without playing them in context of a deck. The AoA sealed meta has already proven to be extremely dynamic and interactive. It seems that with this set the interactions and synergies between cards are quite crucial. Each deck is truly more than the sum of its cards.