Do you want to start playing a new and affordable card game? In that case, Keyforge might be the perfect choice for you. In this Keyforge guide, I’ll talk about everything you need to know about the game, including:
- How to play Keyforge
- What types of decks are there
- Which products to get first
- and more!
What is Keyforge?
Despite the obvious lack of in-person tournaments, card games are experiencing a surge of new players. (Either online or the classic “kitchen table” setting.)
There are a lot of different games to choose from, but many of them are quite pricey. A single competitive deck can cost you more than an average AAA video game. That might leave you restrained to just a deck or two in that game.
Keyforge quite successfully manages to find a solution to this problem.
Usually, tournament players have problems keeping up with the best decks that could be banned or pushed out of the meta in weeks. Casual players cracking packs and building decks together might struggle with keeping games fun and balanced. After all, card games are part deck building, part actual gameplay, right?
A Different Approach to the Trading Card Game
Keyforge, released in 2018 with the first set Call of the Archons, experimented in removing the deck building aspect entirely. It’s creator, Richard Garfield, who is most known for creating Magic the Gathering, wanted Keyforge to be a solution to what some players felt were the negative side of a collectible card game:
- secondary markets and speculators driving up the price of individual cards
- the prevalence of netdecking, meant a store tournament of 20 people might only have three or four different decks among them.
Keyforge is brands itself as a Unique Deck Game. It is sold in boxes containing a complete, ready-to-play 36-card deck. Each deck contains a keycard with the deck’s card list and randomly generated name.
Deck construction is a constant among all decks from all sets. Each deck contains three of seven houses with 12 cards each. Every one of those cards feature the unique name of the deck on both the front and the back.
No card goes in. No card goes out. You get what you get, and you work with it.
What does this mean in practice?
I’ve got a deck, Dahn’te ‘Okie-Dokie’ Justcap. It contains the houses Shadows, Untamed, and Dis. They each have twelve cards, some having multiple copies of some cards, but mostly singles.
The deck has remained unchanged since the first time I opened it up, and I couldn’t upgrade or fine tune it with cards even if I wanted to. But after playing dozens of times, while the deck never changed, I certainly did. I learned:
- subtle interactions and combos
- what the deck’s strengths and weaknesses were
- how to squeeze some use out of cards that I had deemed useless.
The satisfaction of opening up a new deck, trying to figure out how it wants to be played, and eventually mastering it is what makes card games so enjoyable for me. Keyforge definitely provides that experience. There’s also the added bonus of knowing the exact composition of your deck is yours alone.
Part of the fun is seeing what kinds of decks you’ll play against. Since Keyforge feels more like a race to get an engine started and running than a fight to the death, card and deck discovery feels more significant here than any card game before it.
Generated by Algorithm
It’s also important to note that decks aren’t randomly generated; they’re generated via some complicated algorithms.
So that means if you’ve got a card that rewards you for playing artifacts, the deckbuilding algorithm will make sure there’s at least a few artifacts in the deck. Some cards might always be printed together, like the iconic Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Other cards might have a limit on how many copies a deck can have.
Keyforge Guide: Game Rules
Keyforge gameplay is best explained starting with the game objective, which the title so aptly tells us: forge keys!
How many? Three!
How do I do that? You’ll need six aember for each key.
And how do I get that? You play cards and summon creatures that get you aember.
At the start of your turn, if you’ve got six aember, you spend it all to forge a key. Do that three times and that’s the game! Unless, of course, your adversary on the other side of the table can get there first. (whether by outpacing you or slowing you down)
Here’s some of the most key aspects of Keyforge gameplay. You’ll find that they make the game just as unique as the deck creation process:
- You may play and discard as many cards as you want during your turn, but only from one of your three houses.
Keyforge has no resource cards like energy in the Pokemon TCG or land in Magic. Instead, since every deck consists of 12 cards of the deck’s three houses. This way, resource balance comes in the form of careful planning of future turns.
Should you go House Sanctum and squeeze what you can out of the surviving creatures you played last turn? Or would it be better to go House Dis and destroy everything on the board, giving you a clean slate?
Keyforge offers a number of options in every turn. The choices being split into three branches actually make it easier to process and plan.
- You draw at the end of your turn, refilling your hand to six cards.
Most card games have each player draw one card at the start of their turn. Keyforge, on the other hand, encourages the player to do as much as possible on their turn. (Either by playing or discarding the cards of their active house.)
If you play three cards and discard another — even if they weren’t the most useful to you at the moment — you’ll draw four cards at the end of your turn. This way, you’ll hopefully find something more relevant.
Given this, Keyforge is a less reliant on player’s starting hands than other games. This means there are less dead games where one player simply doesn’t get a good starting hand and never catches up.
It’s also a helpful reminder if you’re not sure which house to choose. Usually, whatever lets you do the most is the right call.
- Creatures and artifacts can’t be used the turn they are played. To use them in future turns, you must have their house chosen as your active.
Similarly to many card games, your creatures and artifacts can’t be used the turn they are played. They enter play “exhausted” until they get “ready” at the end of the turn. But they can only be used if they’re of the house you choose at the start of your turn. All creatures can either reap or fight when ready, which exhausts them until the end of the turn.
Reaping is simple: turn your creature sideways, get an aember.
Fighting is fairly easy too. You choose which creature yours will fight, and they deal their damage to each other at the same time. Creatures have a number for their power (on the left side), which is how much damage they do, and also how much damage they can take before being discarded.
- Damage done to creatures, either by fighting another creature or card effects, stays in between turns.
Running Out of Cards
- If you run out of cards to draw, you simply shuffle up your discard pile and continue drawing from that.
With only 36 cards in a deck and constant drawing, you’ll likely go through a Keyforge game seeing every card in your deck at least once. When that deck runs out, instead of auto-losing like other card games, you get to do it all over again!
Games often come down not to which cards are played, but when they are played. Knowing which cards are left in your deck and will eventually come to you helps you plan turns in advance.
Keyforge Guide: Lore
If you’re wondering what exactly these aember are and why these keys are so important, Keyforge has some simple lore that binds the different wacky, sci-fi flavors of the game.
The game takes place in The Crucible. That’s a sort of multidimensional meeting spot where these mysterious, god-like beings known as Archons compete against each other.
They’re trying to unlock secrets of the multiverse, likely to become less “god-like” and more of a straight god. These secrets are contained in very rare “vaults” that require three keys made of aember, powerful gemstones with infinite potential.
Open the Vault
So in Keyforge, players take on the role of these archons. The vaults they want to open are very rare. So when one is discovered, two archons compete to open it first and obtain that sweet, sweet knowledge.
But in all their god-like power, archons can’t do much on their own. But by bringing factions from all over the Multiverse to the Crucible (from alien robots to knights on horseback), the archons have a steady supply of minions to help them acquire those precious aember.
It’s a loose setting that conveniently ties these unique factions together. The developers stuck to it throughout the four sets and developed the lore. Fantasy Flight has even released a tabletop role-playing game setting for the Genesys system, Secrets of the Crucible.
And if you want you’re curious how you should pronounce aember, rest assured you can say it as amber, ember, or anything in between. Almost everyone I’ve introduced to the game has called it different things: gold, garnets, nuggets, big ol’ MacGuffin rocks.
Keyforge Guide – Different Types of Decks
In Keyforge, there’s no limit to the number of play strategies and nuances. The reason for this is a potentially infinite number of unique decks. However, you can quickly judge a deck by which three houses it contains.
One Brobnar-Shadows-Dis deck might not share any cards with another Brobnar-Shadows-Dis deck from the same set. However, they will likely try to win in similar ways.
As of the most recent set, Mass Mutation, there are nine different houses that can make up the seven in a set. Houses rotate in and out with new sets. There are as follows:
Of course, you’re not guaranteed to open any of these houses, unless you buy a second-hand deck online (which does exist, allowing the selling or trading of decks). But after playing through a few houses, you might find some favorites.
What Keyforge Set Should a Beginner Buy?
There are four sets currently available, plus there’s an additional one coming out in February/March 2021.
So which product should you get if you’re just starting out? Starter sets, for sure! Each starter set contains two random tournament-legal decks, plus all the tokens you need to play the game.
The best starter set comes from the very first set, Call of the Archons. On top of two random decks and tokens, you also get two pre-generated decks (same in every CotA starter set).
These decks are not tournament legal. However, if you’re only planning to play at home, you’re getting four decks instead of the usual two.
Furthermore, Call of the Archons features fast and simple game play, which is amazing for beginners.
If you want more options, you can find which Keyforge set is best to buy here.
Where to Play Keyforge?
There are multiple different options for Keyforge play. In this Keyforge guide, we’ll take a look at the three most popular ones.
Keyforge works well for casual style game play, whether friends bring their own decks or share from a deck collection. With as little as four decks, you’ve got six different matchups with their own nuances.
In that way, Keyforge can be played like a LCG — living card game, that can be expanded whenever you want. Most of my Keyforge games were me and my friend picking two random decks from a box, taking a minute or so to look at our decklists, and jumping right into a game.
If you prefer tournament play, Keyforge events fall into two categories:
- Archon, where players bring their own deck
- Sealed, where players open and compete with brand-new decks.
Before the pandemic, many of the card stores near me, hosted weekly Archon events with a monthly Sealed as well. So once in-person play is possible, I would encourage you to check out your local Keyforge community. Sealed is a good start for newer players, looking to start with Keyforge. When you’ve mastered a deck, consider trying a local Archon event, commonly known as Chainbound.
Keyforge currently doesn’t have an official client like Arena for Magic the Gathering. Nevertheless, it’s confirmed that one is in the works.
For the present moment in these lockdown times, you can use thecrucible.online. This is an unofficial barebones client, which that allows you to play your own decks and any deck from the registered database as well – for free. It even features a pseudo-Sealed mode that selects two random decks.
Anyway, it’s a free way to try out the game without the in-person contact. It should be noted that The Crucible is a little unforgiving on misclicks. So it’s a good idea to plan out your turn order before going through it.
The Future of Keyforge
Keyforge continues to maintain a quiet but loyal community that appreciate what the game is and actively try to play it despite current circumstances. There’s also a new set coming out in early 2022, called Winds of Change.
I will continue to play and find how these strange new decks I bought want to be played, but I’d also love to see any interesting decks from you. You can post them in the comments below. Maybe it’s a crazy deck you want to show off, or a Vault Tour (Keyforge’s Open Tournaments) deck you can’t quite figure out.
Deck techs still exist in Keyforge, and you’d be surprised what you can learn from seeing all the weird interactions of another deck.
That concludes this Keyforge Guide. Let me know if there’s some written Keyforge content you’d like to see.