As I consider “how to beat” each deck archetype discussed in this article series, I frequently find myself returning to the controlling powers of Dis to answer just about anything. Unsurprisingly, limiting your opponent’s house choices and/or ability to draw and play cards is incredibly powerful. Considering control is one of the most varied archetypes in all of Keyforge, I’ve been thinking for a while about how best to cover it and have come to the conclusion that one week simply won’t do. For this week, I’ll be covering general control strategies, staying away from anything too specific, in order to provide some tactics that will work against nearly any control deck.
What is control?
Control strategies are prevalent in virtually any card game, attempting to win games by limiting an opponent’s options as much as possible. This can involve preventing opponents from playing certain types of cards or playing cards at certain times, forcing them to discard cards, or immediately responding to any cards they do play. Exercising this sort of control often requires interacting on your opponent’s turn with instant speed spells in Magic the Gathering, trap cards in Yu-Gi-Oh, or secrets in Hearthstone. Since Keyforge doesn’t allow for any response during an opponent’s turn (at least not yet), control strategies must be more proactive in limiting an opponent’s options. Despite this limitation, the house mechanic in Keyforge provides a unique axis on which to exercise proactive control by preventing an opponent from selecting one or more houses and thus blocking them out of certain tools or potentially even playing at all.
The high concentration of control bombs in Dis means that pretty much any viable control deck is going to be playing the house. While it is technically possible to play a relatively control-focused gameplan without dis, pretty much all of the cards I’m discussing are from Dis. I classify these control cards into three categories: house control, card control, and aember control. Most control decks are going to want a good mix of all 3 to allow for multiple approaches to limiting an opponent’s options.
House Control: Preventing an opponent from playing one or more houses limits their options quite a bit, this is what makes Control the Weak one of the best cards in the game for countering nearly any strategy. Restringuntus and Tezmal, despite only preventing an opponent from choosing one house rather than two, have the benefit of affecting opponents over multiple turns, perhaps indefinitely if paired with the right suite of protection.
It’s not quite as easy as ‘play Restringuntus, win game,’ however, as you still have to make the call on which house you should prohibit your opponent from choosing. This is where thinking proactively becomes absolutely crucial. The most common strategy for picking which houses to lock an opponent out of is to count the cards in their discard and on their board to determine which house they have played the least (i.e. the house with the most cards still in their hand and deck). In a lot of cases, that house is going to be your best bet as your opponent is most likely to have a hand full of those cards that they are then unable to play. This strategy isn’t always the best idea, however. You need to think about not only what houses they’re most likely to have in hand, but also what tools they have in those houses. Let’s say you are playing Restringuntus and when you count up the cards your opponent has left in their hand or deck you count 5 Dis, 6 Untamed, and 8 Logos. The immediate response would be that you should make them play dis if you are using Control the Weak or lock them out of Untamed if you are using Restringuntus or Tezmal. But if you think about what cards they have left in each of these houses, this may not be the best idea. If you know that they still have a Gateway to Dis somewhere in their hand or deck but don’t have any removal in Logos, it may be a better call to make them choose Logos or to block them from Dis. Similarly, if you are trying to force your third key and most of their aember control is concentrated in Shadows, the best call may be to block them out of that house, even if they have played more Shadows cards than either of their other two houses. Beyond just counting up how many cards there are of each house, it’s important to consider what those cards actually are and what sort of impact they will have if an opponent is allowed to play them.
Card Control: Limiting an opponent’s ability to draw and/or play cards is more straightforward than house control; you play the cards, they answer them or pay the price.
That said, it can still be tough to discern the ideal time to play your Ember Imp, Succubus, Streke, or Tocsin. Because these are all relatively fragile creatures, plopping them down across from a board full of giant Brobnar creatures is going to provide you little to no benefit. They often require a little bit of setup to reach their full potential (the same applies to the fragile house control creatures discussed above). One of the best options is to wipe the board before playing creatures that will limit your opponent’s card play/draw. This leaves your opponent facing must-answer threats with no board and limited options due to restricted card play and draw. Other forms of protection like Shadow Self or creatures with taunt can serve a similar purpose by increasing the amount of investment needed to remove those card control threats. Some upgrades, but particularly Flame-Wreathed, can also do a lot of work in protecting your threats. After all, a 4-power creature with hazardous 2 is certainly a bigger challenge to take out than a measly vanilla 2-power one. If you’re lucky enough to combine all of these pieces of protection together, your opponent may well be limited to 2 cards per turn for the rest of the game.
Aember Control: The most straightforward of the three, aember control is simply necessary to stop an opponent from winning the game and (as any house that claims to be the “control” house should) Dis is also packing this in spades.
Increasing key cost is my favorite form of aember control, and Lash of Broken dreams is one of the best cards in the game for doing so. AoA also gave us Angwish, which gives Dis the potential to make those key costs soar even higher. Increasing key cost also combos well with some of the steal and capture mechanics that require opponents have a decently-sized aember pool like Shooler and Drumble. But no worries if an opponent isn’t going high enough to trigger either of those effects, Shaffles and Pit Demon don’t care how much aember your opponent has, just that they lose it. All this to say, control decks have a ton of options for controlling an opponent’s aember (without even mentioning cards outside of Dis), so make sure you have at least a few of them and are keeping an eye on your opponents pool so that you’re not caught without an answer at the worst moment.
How to Beat It
Playing against control can often feel like an uphill battle. Every time you start to get a foothold, they have some sort of answer. After all, their entire goal is to make sure you can do as little as possible. All is not lost, however, as there are a couple of strategies you can take to make sure you have your own answers to your control opponent’s tricky plays.
Lots of creatures: Having a wide board of creatures helps you in a couple of ways. First, it gives you the ability to destroy problem creatures through fighting, even if they are behind something like a Shadow Self or a taunt creature. Sure, you may end up having to sacrifice a creature or two, but it is worth it to regain the ability to draw up to 6, play more than 2 cards, or choose any of your 3 houses. Second, having a board full of creatures from multiple houses makes house control far less effective. If an opponent plays a Control the Weak while you have 3 creatures from each house on the board, worst case scenario you get to reap for 3 or fight a few problem creatures, certainly more effective than the completely passed turns that can happen in response to a Control the Weak. If a Restringuntus or Tezmal is being used, having creatures from multiple houses means no matter what they choose to lock you out of, you will have a way to kill the creature, making their effect last no longer than 1 turn. If this is your strategy, you just have to be on the lookout for board wipes and maybe hold back a little bit on playing out all of your creatures until you know they are safe, opting instead to use the ones already on the board.
House Cheating: It’s important to remember that Control the Weak, Restringuntus, and Tezmal only control which house you can choose as your active house, they do not outright prohibit you from playing or using cards from those houses. This makes cards like Phase Shift, Helper Bot, and Masterplan great for playing that Lava Ball, Unlocked Gateway, or whatever other removal you have for problem creatures. While they do take a little bit of foresight, artifacts like Signal Fire, Combat Pheromones, and Sigil of Brotherhood all allow you to use creatures on your board even when they are not of your active house to take out that Tezmal, Ember Imp, maverick Witch of the Eye, or whatever is causing you problems. Keep in mind that if you are using a Helper Bot or Phase Shift with the intention of killing an Ember Imp, that does count as one of your two cards for the turn (easy to forget since they often don’t feel like full cards themselves).
That’s all I’ve got for this week but I’m not done with control quite yet. Next week I’ll discuss some specific combos that control decks can use to lock out opponents, including the most recent vault tour winning deck: The Snappy Pariah. Until then, happy forging!