Keyforge and Thinking Strategically

Written by Michael Georgiou

Crazy Killing Machine Network

I am really interested in what makes for an effective strategic approach to playing traditional and non-traditional CCGs such as KeyForge. I also know that as a player, I need to be a learner - I need to learn from the games I play and the opponents I face, but I also need to carry out research that will help me sharpen my own skills.

The below threefold approach to an effective strategy is based on Professor Richard P. Reumelt's book, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters (Profile Books Ltd., 2012). I came across this as I was researching different strategic approaches and thought that it would be a good place to start. I apply this approach to my own strategic planning when playing KeyForge.


The initial stage of formulating an effective strategy involves diagnosing the weaknesses and issues in your own deck and considering your opponent's deck - addressing what is preventing you from reaching your goal.

Guiding Policy

The next stage of formulating an effective strategy requires you to develop a plan that will enable you to overcome the problems set out in the diagnosis.

Coherent Actions

Finally, you need to identify a set of coherent actions that will enable you to implement your guiding policy. This will ensure that you can realise your strategy effectively.

Devising a strategic approach using these three key steps puts you in a strong position to make the most of your deck and, ultimately, win the games you play. Let's consider what this might look like in practice.

The Diagnosis.

Look at your deck for example:


Here is your opponent’s deck for reference: 


You can’t say you have a strategy if you don’t diagnose the problem. Examine the opponent’s deck list. What are going to be the key cards in this match that your opponent will utilise? Auto-Encoder (which may be the best card in set), two copies Bo Nithing with Safe House, City State Interest with Spoils of Battle and Axiom of Grisk will be a problem.  Fighting will also be tough with Charybdis and Scylla

What is your reality? Less archiving, means fewer cards and therefore fewer options.  You may have trouble keeping up.  Less fighting power means the Saurian creatures will be problematic and if you don’t have an answer to Praefectus Ludo, all your Shadows shenanigans will be for nothing.  What are the strengths within your deck in this particular match up? Well, two Gateway to Dis is a necessary card in this match-up as it may be with many match-ups in Mass Mutation. If you have no way to manage big boards, you are in a lot of trouble. Imp-losion and Painmail are good pieces of spot removal too.  All these Dis cards are welcome in this match-up because your creatures are not as tenacious or sticky.  Your creatures could be problematic for your opponent in lots of ways too. Drecker surrounded by Brabbles will mean your opponent will be losing aember. Along with the triple Subject Kirby, you may be able to keep up with the board state. This is certainly not a rush deck, though.  The deck may have nuances and cards that will become more important then you initially thought. Johnny Longfingers with all your mutants will be impact once Praefectus Ludo is dealt with. 

As you can see from the above, studying your opponent’s deck list is essential. I have in the past made the mistake of not being attentive to the opponent’s deck list for the full minute I was entitled to. This was preventing me from full diagnosing the challenge I faced and formulating the strategy necessary to win. 

The Guiding Policy

In the game of KeyForge a winning game is likely to be based on a combination of six key strategies:

1. You could aim to control the board

2. You could aim to reduce your opponent’s aember

3. You could aim to increase your own aember

4. You could draw as many cards as possible to increase your options

5. You could out-tempo your opponent by capturing aember

6. You could plan combos for maximum impact

Your guiding policy should identify which strategies you should use to win the game; this could be one key strategy, or a combination of a few. You can work this out based on the diagnosis of your deck and your opponent’s deck.

In the example decks above, you can see that the most effective combination of strategies is likely be tempo, because of cards like Lights-Out, Double Xenotraining and Ant1-10ny and board control because of the strong removal suite like Gateway to Dis, Imp-Losion and Painmail. When your opponent plays their problematic card, you play around it by deploying your answer when it was needed most. All too often I see players squander answers early to keep reloading their hand in the hope of “momentum”. A lot of good strategy is doing things in the right order. Don’t rush. This should form the basis of your guiding policy for this game. Have a plan, stick to it, but be flexible enough to adapt to your opponent’s play. 

Coherent Actions.

Coherent actions need to be grounded in your guiding policies. In this match up, you may want to start off by playing nothing more than a couple of Brabbles with “Gateway” backup if the opponent swamps the board quickly. If you’re too hasty in getting rid of your Dis creatures then that Waking Nightmare is a dead card.  Of course, everything is dependent on the tools you have at any one time, so as I have said earlier, it is important that you can be flexible and adapt your coherent actions to the cards you have and the board state in front of you. With practice, you will be reviewing every turn; diagnosing, working with your guiding policy and following through with coherent action.

The tensions between decks and different strategic approaches make for a great game of KeyForge. The game is apparently straightforward (forge three keys) but the methods are diverse, unique, individual and defined in reference to what you are facing. So often I have seen people just open a pack, sleeve up and play in a tournament without necessarily having a plan or strategy. It almost always turns out badly. But thinking strategically before you play not only makes the play more challenging and exciting, it also gives the player an edge that could make all the difference.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. Let me know what you think and how you develop your own strategies for playing KeyForge in the comments section.

To find out more about strategy and gaming, see below (disclosure: I have not read all of these myself!):

Professor Richard P. Reumelt's book, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters (Profile Books Ltd., 2012)

Avinash K. Dixit, The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s Guide to Success in Business (W. W. Norton & Company, 2010)

Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness: Strategic Thinking

Michael Georgiou

Lincoln, UK

1,086 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All