Powering Down the Powerful
The Problem at Hand
At the time of writing this, Keyforge has had a total of 14 Vault Tours, each one granting a new archon the glory of reaching Power Level 8*, a feat that, in the current state of the game, can only be achieved by conquering one of these events. These 14 Vault Tours have resulted in 13 Power Level 8 decks. No, that is no typo nor mistake on behalf of FFG. That difference among tournaments and decks is all thanks to George Keagle, who, impressively, recently became the first person to win two Vault Tours, his first at AdeptiCon in Schaumburg, IL and his second in Collinsville, IL on September 8th. He managed to win both events piloting the same deck: “Gasoline” Maximiliano, Dungeon Keeper. And that, in my opinion, is where the problem lies. Before I continue, I would like to make clear: I, in no way, intend to criticize or diminish George’s accomplishment, this just happens to exemplify the issue and, for the sake of clarity, is the easiest to examine. The problem lies not in George’s two Vault Tour victories but rather the fact that he was able to bring a deck that he had already won a Vault Tour with to another event. This is not the only instance of this happening. For example, Adm. Inslang, the Pink Fraud after being piloted to victory at the Nürnberg, Germany Vault Tour, was taken to the top 4 of the Krakow, Poland Vault Tour. And these are only two of many instances of the same thing occurring: Power Level 8 decks showing up again at additional Vault Tours. Over 8 Archon-format Vault Tours, at least 3 of the previous winning decks have come back and at the very least made day 2 of another event, with a 4th deck just barely missing the chance for day 2.
Why Should You Care?
Some of you may be wondering, “Why should I care what other people play at a Vault Tour?” From the eyes of a competitive player, the clear answer is that you shouldn’t. But I ask that you take a step back and try to look at it through the eyes of a casual player, the one who occasionally goes to a Chainbound event and keeps up enough to be familiar with a few of the current Power Level 8 decks but isn’t there week in and week out like many of us are. They go to their local store championship and sit down across from their opponent, look over the decklist they are handed, and discover their opponent is playing Maxima, Hunter of the Eloquent Strand. That can be an extremely discouraging moment for that player, knowing that they are about to face a deck that has previously won a Vault Tour. While there are only 13 people who have won Vault Tours, the number of people who can have that same discouraging feeling is in the thousands. For example a close friend of mine, who I feel is a highly skilled and competitive player, was in the same seat as the previously mentioned casual player at GenCon. He sat down across the table from the Power Level 8 deck that emerged from Denver, CO: Bahamut “Alp Larissa” Heifetz. In researching this article, I asked him what it felt like playing against Bahamut, knowing that it had previously won a Vault Tour. He explains, “Yeah, I wasn’t too happy about that. As close as the game was, it felt like an automatic 0-1 and it put a lot more pressure on me afterwards.” That created a negative experience for not only my friend but also the other players who faced the same deck in that tournament. With Keyforge still in its infancy, these negative experiences need to be minimized to help the game continue its growth and popularity for the foreseeable future.
My Suggested Solution
I believe that this issue, although minor now, could later become problematic for the overall health of the game and should be addressed as quickly as possible. My proposed solution is quite simple: implement Power Level restrictions on ALL official Organized Play events. The question then follows, “What Power Level should each event be restricted to?” I believe the simplest and most effective strategy would be to only allow the use of decks with power levels below that which will be awarded to the winning deck. So for example, Vault Tours award the winning deck Power Level 8, and thus only decks at Power Level 7 or below would be permitted. Store Championships grant Power Level 3 to the Champion, and therefore all initial contenders would have to be Power Level 2 or below. This power level restriction would also line up with the one already implemented for Chainbound events, where the maximum reachable power level through those events is 4 and the decks that can participate in Chainbound Events are restricted to Power Level 3 or below. The goal of this change would not be to “ban” the successful decks, but rather to improve the overall play experience for most players. To compensate for the loss of eligibility for those most powerful decks, I would also propose another style of event, let’s call them Hall of Fame events, that have minimum Power Level requirements attached with them. While FFG has previously mentioned such Power Level restricted events, no information about them has been given to the community as of yet. Since these events are hopefully already in the works, their unveiling would be a perfect time to also institute Power Level restrictions for organized play that would help to broaden the player base who feel welcome at competitive events and facilitate a diverse meta-game that the high Power Level decks diminish when they keep returning to events they have already conquered.
*A note on adaptive finals: in adaptive, a deck can win all three games of the finals but belong to the losing player. Presently, the deck that is granted Power Level 8 is the deck of the player that won the best of three match, rather than the deck that actually won the best of three. This is worth consideration for how decks should be restricted in competitive play.
Devin “FlamingHobo” Chiriboga