Shard of the Week: Fantastic Creature Decks, And How To Play Them
Playing a deck with a lot of creatures can be one of the most educational experiences in this game. At first glance, decks with around 25 or more creatures appear to lack the “required” cards for tournament level play. With the influx of higher creature counts comes lowered odds for typically vital action and artifact cards like Bait and Switch, Lash of Broken Dreams, Library Access, Miasma, etc. I, however, am a fan of creature decks. According to some of the data driven ratings websites, creature count has zero impact on the potential for a deck. In addition a Keyforge seller, I have noticed a trend in high creature count decks being less sought after. Although, these decks can be great, really great. I believe creature decks get overlooked because they require a different play-style than normal in order to win. I’m here today to share my take on this play-style and the strategies there in.
When evaluating the opponent’s Archon card before the game, I value each creature as one point, and each board wipe as two points. I like to put board wipes into the same grouping as creatures, since both are a form of board control. Using this method, I quickly estimate how my deck will match up and if I should value more reaping or more efficiency. Are creature decks just about reaping? Not necessarily. If you are looking at a higher creature count than your opponent, the goal will sometimes be to value board state even more than aember. Rather than reaping to six, I will commonly opt to play out high efficiency creatures instead, at least, until the endgame. It might sound counter intuitive, but building a board can be more advantageous in the long game than trying to get ahead early in keys. Static abilities such as Succubus, Mother, Ember Imp, Hunting Witch, Grabber Jammer, and many others take high priority for me. These types of creatures can be so impactful for you that they are usually must remove targets for your opponent. They have to spend their resources to remove them, either way, your late game odds improve.
This is a drastic shift from action heavy decks that are far more concerned with getting to six and preventing the opponent from getting to six. Our tactics will get to that point but not right away. This playstyle starts as a turtle before transforming into a racehorse. During the first three to six turns, the focus should mostly be on building up your board state with static abilities and reap effects. The turning point comes once we’ve got multiple creatures out in two or three of our houses. This gives us options no matter what house we’re in.
This brings me to one of my favorite gameplay techniques. Let’s consider a scenario. In this particular game, we have an opponent who has four creatures in play. One from Dis, three from Logos. For this example, all the creatures have the same power with no special abilities. We have the opportunity to destroy only one this turn. Instinct might guide us to just knock out a Logos creature to try and level out the playing field. Another option is to kill the single Dis demon, but how will we know for sure which is correct? To answer that question we need to know what is in their hand to determine what their next turn will be. While we can’t see what’s in their hand, we can see the cards in the opponent’s discard pile. We can assume the opponent’s goal will be six aember. If we know their discard pile has a lot of Logos cards already, odds are good that their hand is full of something other than Logos. By playing to these odds and destroying the dis creature, we bait the opponent to select a house that is null from their hand. When they fall into this trap it increases your own board state by decreasing their cards played. The easiest way to win with a board state is making sure your opponent keeps missing out on playing and drawing cards. It’s a fantastic strategy. If they reap to reach that magic number of six, we will need a follow up with some capture, steal, or key cost increase. If they don’t take the bait and go with a house to empty their hand, they aren’t using the board or getting value from it. Sometimes that standalone creature is the house you need to target because that’s the house they plan on using and removing it reduces the value of their next turn. This quick analysis turns your deck into a late game threat.
Now let’s go back to that “value the reap” thing one more time and ask ourselves a question. “When do we NOT value the reap?” That is the biggest question to ask from your deck, with a plethora of answers. For now, I’ll stick to the simplest answers I can for four situations when you will typically ignore reaping:
1) Fighting off your opponent’s efficiency creatures. Your goal is to win through static and reap abilities. Having an opponent playing that game against you can really drag down your chances of winning. Your board state needs to truly tower above your opponent’s. Just as you want static abilities on your board, it is important to eliminate those such as Succubus, Ember Imp… and of course burn ANY witch on your opponent’s board. But creatures like Headhunter? Nah… it isn’t going to do much to bother you.
2) What stage of the game are you in? Is the opponent about to forge their first key? The game is early yet and playing out more cards from your hand to build your board are a bit more relevant than reaping. If you already have all three houses represented in play, perhaps you’ve entered the mid to late game and need to start valuing reaping a little more. If your Archon can outclass the opponent in board state you will have less concern for the early keys and aember. If, however, you know your opponent can outclass you on the board then it can be more important to get value by reaping when you can before your opponent removes your creatures. Especially if your next turn is a gateway to get wrecked. There is a delicate balance. Due to the slow nature of this playstyle, your opponent may forge an early first key but their second and third keys become much more difficult. Valuing the board state and card plays early can alter the game down the road.
3) Preventing the opponent from reaping. The typical turn will generate two aember from hand (three from some better decks) and the rest is up to reaping. That logic can help you limit opponent’s reap production in the late game long enough to pull out a win. If you both need your last key, leaving them four creatures in play of the same house is very dangerous. But holding them back to two or three while gaining just a few aember can buy you an additional turn to safely get to six or more.
4) Knowing your opponent’s Archon. If you see a lot of effects that punish a player with seven or more aember, it can be hugely beneficial to sometimes stop at six instead of having your stockpile burned, or captured. Gatekeeper, Lomir Flamefist, and Drumble are what I refer to as soft control cards. If you know your opponent has them they lose a portion of their value because they can be played around.
In conclusion, there is a time in the game for every play under the sun. Learning to understand how your opponent’s deck and discard pile will relate to your plays is the most vital skill you can learn. Those two minutes spent looking at an Archon card are the most important two minutes of the entire game, so put your time into practicing that skill. Hopefully you have found some value from my playtesting and advice. Until next time, keep forging and Glory be to Mars!