Welcome back to Meta Watch, where each week we discuss a different deck archetype that is driving the competitive metagame. The past couple weeks have been focused on general categories of decks but for this week, we’re going to discuss a more particular combo deck to be on the lookout for. With a vault tour coming up this weekend in Nuremberg, Germany this would be my best pick for a breakout deck that could put up some great results.
You may be thinking “wait, Key Abduction has been around since CotA, why are we just now talking about it?” and you would be correct, Key Abduction is indeed not a new card by any means. However, AoA brought some new cards that have substantially elevated it from a kind of quirky card that usually didn’t do much to a potential powerhouse in the right shell (more on that later). First, let’s talk about how the card itself works.
What is Key Abduction?
The text of Key Abduction reads “Play: Return each Mars creature to its owner’s hand. Then, you may forge a key at +9 current cost, reduced by 1 for each card in your hand.” While having the ability to forge a key out-of-sequence is almost always useful, Key Abduction really shines when you have ways to end up with so many cards in your hand that you are forging for fewer aember than you would need without it or ideally, for free. Key Abduction has always had the potential for huge plays but typically necessitated having numerous mars creatures in the deck and keeping those creatures on the board until you could play the Key Abduction; not a very reliable strategy. There are a good number of cards, old and new, that can help enable an effective Key Abduction which can be broadly put into two groups: card draw and archive.
Card Draw: There are two cards that most effectively provide you the card draw needed to reach the hand size necessary for a free key abduction: Battle Fleet and Martian Generosity. For Battle Fleet to reach the hand size necessary to forge for free with Key Abduction, you typically need to have multiple copies. While it’s possible to do with two, having three or more copies of Battle Fleet often allows you to draw through your entire deck, causing a reshuffle that may allow you to redraw a Battle Fleet or a Key Abduction that you’ve already used. But since Battle Fleet and Key Abduction are both uncommon cards, decks with multiple Battle Fleets and/or Key Abductions are quite rare, so it’s likely not a combo you’ll see showing up at your LGS. Much more common is the combo of Martian Generosity and Key Abduction. Martian Generosity sacrifices all your aember to draw 2 cards for each aember lost, so when you are using key abduction, this essentially makes each aember count for 2 towards forging a key (or multiple keys), not even taking into account the benefit of having all those extra cards in your hand for the current and following turns. Other card draw effects that work well with Key Abduction include effects that increase hand size like Mother and Howling Pit and effects that return more than just Mars creatures to your hand like Hysteria (when used the turn before) and Total Recall.
Archive: AoA provided us with a ton of new archiving tools that can be key to the perfect Key Abduction including Memory Chip, the Z.Y.X. cards, Dusk Chronicles, and Eureka in addition to the tools we already had like Zyzzix the Many and Incubation Chamber. To start, being able to archive Key Abduction itself can save you from having to either use it too early or hold it in your hand and reduce your card draw. The same goes for those combo cards like Martian Generosity. This can make a huge difference when you’re up against Rush decks where you need to move as quickly as possible but still execute your own game plan when the time comes. Beyond archiving Key Abduction itself, you can also think of your archived cards in terms of reducing the cost of Key Abduction. If you can get 10 cards in your archive, once added to the 6 in your hand you’ll already have enough to forge for free when you play your Key Abduction(s) without even counting any creatures on the board. When going for this strategy, you need to be aware of what is going into your archive, however. If you end up archiving a card central to your win-con or to stopping your opponent’s, you may have to pick up your archive earlier than is ideal, effectively losing all of the progress you had made towards a Key Abduction combo. Also be wary of using cards like Collector Worm, Uxlyx the Zookeeper, and Mass Abduction to put your opponent’s creatures into your archive since picking it up will return these creatures to your opponent’s hand. This isn’t an issue if you intend to win the game on the turn you pick up your archive but if you can’t, it could cause problems by returning serious threats to your opponent that they could use to respond.
How to Beat it
Combo decks that focus on setting up a single big turn to pull the game right out from under an opponent are often the subject of much ire from players of any TCG. The strategy is often seen as unbeatable since if your opponent is just stalling until they can make one big move to win the game, you don’t have much of a chance to respond. To take down something like a Key Abduction combo, you have to predict what your opponent is going to do and disrupt that game plan as much as possible. There are a few particular cards as well as general strategies that can be quite effective at taking down a Key Abduction deck.
Dysania: More than any other single card, Dysania is an absolute nightmare for any Key Abduction deck making use of their archive. If an opponent goes with their normal game plan, archiving up to 10+ cards, they are risking not only losing all that progress, but also giving you a massive pile of aember depending on how many cards were discarded from their archive. Even if they are only using their archive to hold onto combo pieces like Martian Generosity or Key Abduction itself, having them discarded by Dysania can be disastrous if they were planning around using those to forge one or more of their keys. Having multiple copies of Dysania or a way to return it to your hand or deck is even better for maintaining pressure even after it has been played.
Tantadlin: Definitely less effective than Dysania, but still a form of archive disruption that could devastate a Key Abduction deck if left unchecked. Keep in mind you are likely going to want to attack with this card as many times as possible, so attacking elusive creatures or otherwise preventing it from taking damage is ideal.
Restringuntus/Tezmal: In most cases, your opponent needs to be able to choose Mars to play Key Abduction. Using creature effects like Restringuntus and Tezmal to keep your opponent away from Mars can buy you a few valuable turns that may give you just enough time to get across the finish line before your opponent can combo. Just be mindful that your opponent may have a Phase Shift, Helper Bot, Jargogle, or Masterplan that could allow them to play their Key Abduction without choosing Mars as their active house.
Control the Weak: Similar to Restringuntus and Tezmal, preventing an opponent from choosing Mars as their active house can buy you valuable time to execute your own game plan. Control the Weak does only buy you one turn, however, so make sure you can use it wisely.
Scrambler Storm: If you opponent can’t play action cards, they can’t play Key Abduction. Like Control the Weak, this is a great way to buy yourself one more turn to draw into a more permanent answer or to just win the game yourself. This has the added bonus of being immune to the tricks opponents could use to get around house control. (Funny story: not too long ago I lost a very close match to my teammate Dave Cordeiro when I was prepared to use my Scrambler Storm to prevent his game-winning Key Abduction until he played his own Scrambler Storm the turn before to prevent my Scrambler Storm!)
Hand Disruption: Cards like Perplexing Sophistry, Subtle Maul, and Tocsin make it so that combo pieces are no longer safe in your opponent’s hand, pressuring them to play those cards early for less value or face the risk of not getting to play them at all. While a single copy of Mind Barb likely isn’t going to mean much, discarding randomly turn after turn can really hurt any sort of combo deck, especially if hand size is already reduced by a Succubus or Streke.
Destruction: Rather than discussing creature and artifact destruction separately, I figure it’s easier to just lump them into one since it depends on what sort of strategy a Key Abduction opponent is going for. If they’re relying on artifacts like Memory Chip and Library of the Damned to stock their archive, stealing or destroying these will slow them down. If they are relying on creatures like Zyzzyx the Many and Ganymede Archivist, taking them off the board is crucial. Either way, shutting down your opponent’s engines can slow a Key Abduction deck quite a bit as they’ll be relying on one-time actions like Eureka and Hidden Stash to build up their archive, rather than abilities they can use over multiple turns.
Rush: If you don’t have a way to effectively interact with an opponent’s Key Abduction combo, you’re going to want to close out the game as quickly as possible and pray that they can’t amass the cards they need in time. This is definitely a risky strategy since the best Key Abduction decks often have a good amount of aember control to buy time for their combo with cards like Shatter Storm, Phylyx the Disintigrator, and Grabber Jammer. Staying in control of the tempo is crucial for this matchup, so pay close attention to when you are threatening keys, putting down your threats, and disrupting your opponent’s game plan.
Before I conclude, I want to point out a few quirks with Key Abduction that you’ll want to be aware of both for playing it and for playing against it:
1. Key Abduction doesn’t just return your Mars creatures to your hand, it returns every mars creature to its owner’s hand. This means that if an opponent has taken control of any of your Mars creatures with Collar of Subordination, Harland Mindlock, or Hypnobeam, they will come back to your hand and count for reducing your key cost. It also means that when playing opponents with their own Mars creatures, playing Key Abduction will return those to their hand as well, sometimes providing you a lot of value even if you don’t get a key out of it.
2. Since you must play the card to get its effect, it does not count itself towards reducing key cost. It does, however, give you an aember on play, which can be used to forge a key using the effect, so it effectively offsets the loss of a card in hand. Just make sure you are counting carefully to avoid the disastrous situation where you attempt to forge a key (maybe even to win the game) but fall just one aember short because you accidentally counted both the bonus aember from Key Abduction as well as the card itself towards the total.
3. While it is a helpful shortcut to think about always counting to 15 for Key Abduction, don’t forget that the actual text is “+9 current cost”, so key cost modifiers do change the number of cards needed in hand to forge. This is good news if there are, say, 2 Titan Mechanics on the board, reducing the number of cards needed in hand but bad news if your opponent has a Grump Buggy or Angwish, increasing the requirement to 17, 18, even 20+ cards in hand to forge a key for free. Most important to watch out for is Proclamation 346E, as returning your mars creatures to your hand will most likely put its ability online, increasing key cost by 2 before you forge. Pay careful attention to how picking up your Mars creatures will change the board state, as anything that changes the cost of keys will also change the number of cards needed in hand.
4. Brain Stem Antenna makes the upgraded creature belong to house Mars for the remainder of the turn once you play a Mars creature, so if this requirement is met, that card will also be returned to your hand when you play Key Abduction. Similarly, Experimental Therapy makes a creature belong to all houses, so that creature will always be returned to its owner’s hand when Key Abduction is played. While Brain Stem Antenna only takes effect on the controller’s turn, Experimental Therapy applies at all times, regardless of the active player, controller, or owner.
Key Abduction has always been one of my favorite cards but did not amount to much in most CotA decks. Thankfully, AoA has significantly increased the card’s potential to the point that I would not be surprised to see one or more of these decks showing up at the upcoming vault tours, maybe even this weekend in Nuremberg. See you again next week. Until then, happy forging!