Assessing An Archon
I recently attended a sealed survival tournament where everyone got three new decks. Lose with one and you can’t use it again during the tournament, last deck standing wins. As soon as everyone opened their decks, they were talking about their SAS scores. Everyone was hoping to pull a 90 or 100+ SAS score on their decks. Many were disappointed after looking it up to see a number in the 70s. However, this perspective is foolish. Rating systems or at least the current ones have never been the end all be all of a deck. Most ratings systems try to evaluate a deck by each card’s value in a vacuum. The issue behind these rating systems is the cards have more or less value when paired with other cards. This is generally referred to as a synergy or anti-synergy. SAS identifies this to an extent, however, it is quite far from perfect. Unfortunately, rating systems cannot account for all the possibilities that occur in your deck, or by extension the possibilities that occur between your deck and an opponent’s deck. That’s right, Keyforge can be very match-up dependent at times and there are enough cards in the current set that interact off of your opponent’s cards. Mimicry may be the best example. What is the value of Mimicry, considering it can be any action you want it to be based purely on what is in your opponent’s discard pile? There really isn’t a concrete answer because it is so variable.
While playing your deck is the absolute best way to evaluate it, what if it’s not your deck? What if you’re trying to evaluate your opponent’s deck in 2 minutes before a match, or you’re in a sealed Vault Tour and have to figure out which of the three decks you pulled gives you the best chance? One of the most important and underrated skills in the game of Keyforge is the ability to read an Archon card. Yes, some of us are slow readers but what I actually mean by that is evaluating the cards on the deck list. Understanding what any combination of 36 cards does or can do will tell you all you need to know about the deck. Its strengths, its weaknesses, and the general play style of the Archon itself. A fundamental part of assessing an archon card is understanding the archetypes. Now if you’re reading this article you probably know about Racing decks, Aember Control, Control, and OTK/Lockout combos, but do you know what cards make up these kinds of decks?
Racing decks are fairly easy to tell. They generally have a lot of raw aember and/or have lots of ways to make aember from different card effects. Hunting witch is one of the most common cards in a racing deck, but Cleansing Wave, Loot the Bodies, Total Recall, and Hecatomb are a few different examples of cards that also do this. Just having these cards does not necessarily make it a racing deck but the more cards that generate aember the more consistently it will be able to ramp up and likely to race. If your opponent has a racing deck, you’ll need some sort of way to slow it down.
Aember control is key… to preventing keys. Aember control is what I look for the most in my decks and in my opponent’s. One, because aember control is very important to set the pace of the game. It allows the player to catch up or prevent their opponent from making a comeback. Cards like Miasma, Charrette, Old Bruno, Lash of Broken Dreams, can buy you time to close out a game. This is why everyone loves the Shadows house. It’s focused on setting the pace of the game. Two, many aember control cards tend to be conditional. Drumble, Burn the Stockpile, Gatekeeper, and Too Much to Protect all require the opponent to have 7 or more aember. Anytime you see those cards in an opponent’s deck that tells you to go to 6 aember and stop. Even if you can generate more because otherwise it’s all going to get captured, lost, or stolen. In addition, Effervescent Principle, Shatter Storm, and Doorstep to Heaven all hurt your opponent just as much as they hurt you, so they require timing. These cards can all be played around if you know what you’re doing. However, it is a combination of these conditional cards and one off control cards such as Pit Demon, Dextre, and Nerve Blast for example that make a deck potent. Then you have to decide, “Do I gain more aember to prevent a one off Urchin or Neuro Syphon, or do I stay at 6 aember to prevent a bigger play like Bait & Switch?” It is these kind of decisions that will separate a good player from an average one and it all comes down to knowing the archon card.
Now, let’s talk about Bait and Switch. Arguably one of the best cards in the game. However, many people assume its Meta and a game winning card. While it can definitely be game changing but it is not game winning. I’ve beat a fair share of people who used Bait and Switch against me and likewise have lost games with Bait and Switch in my deck. Although, it can pay off to chain myself with it in my hand for multiple turns, it can also be unplayable at times. At the end of the day, it’s just one card. One card out of 36 total in the deck. You might not even draw it. Which is ultimately why having Bait and Switch, Control the Weak, or Library Access and Nepenthe seed in your deck doesn’t mean it’s a good or competitive Archon. I’m not saying these cards aren’t impactful but one or two cards do not make an Archon great. There are 35 other cards that have to likewise work together. So to say, “I would have won if I had drawn Bait and Switch.” Maybe? Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference? If the deck can’t win without pulling Bait and Switch, or without the Library Access combo is it even a good deck?
The last archetype I’m going to mention is control. I’m referencing board control, hand control, and turn control as opposed to controlling aember but I’m also going to include lockout decks and combo decks since they both tend to have some essence of control. The main objective of these Archons is to prevent you from making an optimal play or in the case of one turn kill and lockout decks, playing at all. This is done by building and dominating the board state with large creatures. Others use cards such as Ember Imp, Restringuntus, or Succubus to reduce the amount of cards you can play, draw, or lock you out of a house all together. As you may have noticed Dis is one of the best houses as far as control. Dealing with these types of control generally requires direct damage, removal abilities, or fighting if you have no other options. Control the Weak, however, generally has few answers. Don’t make a suboptimal move to give away what house they should call? Easier said than done. Thankfully it only last a turn, right? Well as I mentioned before, every card’s value on other cards in the deck and yes there are ways to recur Control the Weak. Witch of the Eye and Dominator Bauble, Library Access and Nepenthe Seed combo with Phase Shift being another. The combo decks generally lock you out through action cards and because combo decks draw through the deck they can continue to lock you out every turn. Or as I mentioned one turn kill decks earlier, win the game in a single turn. These kind of decks are rare as they require a certain combination of cards. The best way to combat them is to either race to three keys before they combo, or have some way to deal with the Nepenthe Seed artifact. If Nepenthe Seed is on the board, Sneklifter will be a great card to take it from them, Poltergeist and Nexus are also great ways to use it against them.
Assessing an Archon is one of the most important skills in the game of Keyforge. Having an idea of what your deck can do and what your opponent’s deck can do, goes a long way in terms of how a match will be played. This ability is generally dismissed due to the current rating systems. Rating systems are neither bad nor good, they serve merely as a suggestion of whether to play this deck or don’t. Of the three decks I pulled at the sealed survival tournament, two of them had a SAS score of 76 and the third was at 70. It was the 70 rated deck that carried me to finish third place, going 5-1 after the other two decks had gone 2-1, and 0-1. In this game synergy is key, I challenge you to find out what your deck can do!