In 1994 Richard Garfield designed what would become the world’s first collectable card game. This game is called Magic the Gathering and although Mr. Garfield designed the game there were many unforseen avenues the game took that Garfield didn’t have in mind for the game. For one, players could build their own decks freely, there was no rule against it. Originally Richard Garfield thought that players would just go out and buy a starter deck and simply use that deck through all their games. These starter decks were made up of random cards and part of the joy and fun of the game would come from exploring your new random assortment of cards each game. However, this wasn’t the case. In fact, players started buying cases (of cards) to accumulate the most powerful cards. Few cards were better than others so players began making decks using many copies, and sometimes only copies, of these more powerful cards. A secondary market soon emerged for cards so that players could build powerful decks to beat their friends with and win tournaments. With supply of rare cards at a minimum and demand high the market price for some of these cards soared. Players who couldn’t afford these premium cards would always be at a disadvantage and those who could afford to pay cards’ high prices had a huge advantage (and still do to this day). The game that Mr. Garfield envisioned became the most successful card game of recent years. Now entering it’s 26th year the game continues to grow success and has recently ramped up its marketing campaign to introduce more players to the game. Despite all this great success the fact that the spirit of the game wasn’t as Richard had intended he has recently focused his efforts on the development of Keyforge.
Keyforge is a card game much like Magic the Gathering is but it has one main difference in that it isn’t a collectable card game. It is the world’s first unique card game. It is unique in the sense that players buy entire decks rather than packs of cards or single cards. Each of these decks that players purchase are completely random and completely unique. No other deck out there is the same. This keeps the game feeling fresh and exciting each and every time you play. Even when you play with your same deck it plays out differently because of how you draw your cards. With this game you don’t sit through round after round of stale netdeck burn vs netdeck midrange, or have to worry about getting completely crushed because your opponent spend $1200 on their deck and you’re playing the $30 precon (or because you didn’t draw any lands). Players cannot craft their own decks from many overpriced secondary market cards or play netdecks. It is exactly what Mr. Garfield envisioned Magic to be from the start, it’s a game about discovery, for players to have fun figuring out their random assortment of cards without feeling pressured to spend piles of dough. It puts the game outcomes on the skill of the player and not one how good the cards in their pool are. And since there’s no mana, I find the outcome of Keyforge less dependent on variance and more dependent on how you play your cards. All decks in Keyforge are more or less equal in Power and all are fun to play!
Well, you go to your favourite gaming store and purchase a sealed deck. Sleeve it up, if you like, and play. The game does require a wide variety of tokens to play, something to represent amber and damage on creatures, stuns, power boosts, etc. but you can use almost anything for this; coins, paper, bits of string. There you have it, you’re good to play Keyforge. $12 all in! Well, you need to find a partner to play against, or import your deck into the fan made site The Crucible Online and find a match, or play on Table Top Simulator. There’s no official on-line version yet but it’s in the works!
I won’t go too deep into the rules and play as there is already a nice article by Team Covenant but here are some main differences.
The game is much less complicated than Magic in terms of the play order and turn steps. Instead of countless shifts in priority between every one of the several phases in Magic the active player’s turn is as simple as this:
One of the main differences is that there is no instant speed shenanigans. The active player does their plays and that’s it. No counter spells, no interrupts. And it’s quite refreshing! You get to play your cards, worry free. The active player also decide what happens with all triggers during their turn.
Notice #5 there… After each turn you get to draw up to a full hand of cards! This means you’re always in the action. I remember playing Magic some games and I’d run out of cards and be sitting there turn of turn hopelessly drawing into garbage. My heart is no longer broken by variance!
There’s also no mana system, which means no more mana screw. Keyforge has dealt with this through variance in the houses you draw. Each deck is made up of three random houses, each card is part of a certain house. At the start of your turn you announce which house you’d like to play and during your turn you may play all, or some, of the cards of your active house, attack or reap with those cards if they’re ready, essentially ignoring all other cards of that house until your next turns. The game is really about how you play your cards, in what order you play them, and how well you play the tempo game.
I can guarantee you that it is not. The game relies heavily on card sequencing, tempo swings, and learning your unique deck. Magic is limited by its mana base and in Magic each turn you decide what spell (or spells if you’re lucky) you’d like to play according to what mana you have available to you. In Keyforge you simply call a house and can play all the cards of that house during your turn. Because of this many cards and plays in the game can rely on what has been played first. Being able to sequence your cards properly is a highly valued skill in Keyforge. If you play them out of order you’re potentially losing Amber and thus losing tempo. When you start playing Keyforge there will be many circumstances where you find yourself taking back turns or wanting to move back a couple of steps. And you know what? Your opponent most-likely will let you go back a few steps. The game is refreshingly less cut throat than Magic. From my experience, online and in-store, the Keyforge community is competitive yet forgiving. Everyone wants to have a good time and wants their deck to play out as well as possible. I’d still ask before doing a take backsies but I bet your opponent will be ok with it, especially if you’re new.
It’s true that some are slightly more powerful than others and some are less powerful but this is built into the game play via the chaining system. As you accumulate wins with your deck, you apply chains to the deck, as you lose you shed chains. For each number of chains you have you draw one less card when you go to draw at the end of your turn and lose a chain. As you gain more experience with a deck you will also find its unique and intricate characteristics that give it an edge. I’ve played with some awful decks with success as I was able to learn how the deck wants to play. It’s an awesome experience! This means that even if you have a poor deck you can beat someone who just popped a freshie and doesn’t know how to play it or beat them because they’re deck is chained up.
I remember trying to play competitive Magic and never wanting to fully commit to any high powered decks. There was always the flavour of the week/month decks that were completely powerful. They also had a price tag to go along with that power level. The next month something else comes along, or the meta-game shifts, and that $1200 deck you’ve bought is down to $800. Then down another 30-40% on the trade in to the store to get into the next flavour of the month deck. It was a constant money sinkhole to remain competitive.
With Keyforge any deck is competitive! This means that you can spend $12 retail on a deck and use it forever. There are some hyped combos and special decks within the game that draw a premium value on the secondary market but Fantasy Flight games has remedied this. Through the deck chaining system and a proactive approach to errata cards the decks of game remains balanced and over priced decks on the secondary market is discouraged.
A few months ago the first Keyforge expansion to the game came out which released 204 new cards and included some cards from the first expansion. The beauty of it all is that the designers of the game build each expansion with the idea that all sets will be able to play and compete with one another. The great thing about Keyforge here is that it remains inexpensive to the player, even with its expansions. This means that all you really need to buy is one $12 deck and you’re good to go forever. Or you can buy one deck from each expansion, or a bunch from each, choose your own adventure. I remember playing Magic with, what felt like, a new expansion being released each month and trying to keep up with the spoilers, buying new cards, trying new cards, keeping up with the meta, it felt exhausting and took a lot of extra time, especially for a new dad. Keyforge takes away the burden and time sink needed with magic to remain competitive. All you really need to know is the rules of the game and how to play your deck effectively (this last part comes naturally as you’re having fun playing).
When I was playing Magic semi competitively deck builds were constantly on my mind. I sometimes spent more time each week thinking about a deck or trying to build a deck for the weekend’s tournament. Which cards should I put in my sideboard? What cards will trump the metagame in this flavour of deck. Keyforge has eliminated all of that and freed up so much time to just play or do other things. I’m getting so many more games of Keyforge in per week than I ever did with Magic because I’m not constantly stressed about my deck nor lacking funds to buy a different deck.
Because each deck is unique there has been some really interesting formats developed for the game.
Archon – The main format is Archon format and is much similar to a game of Magic. You take your deck and play it vs your opponent’s deck.
Sealed – also similar to Magic. You get between 1 and 3 sealed decks and play one for the tournament.
Reversal – the uniqueness of the decks has given rise to reversal tournaments. As you collect a few archons (decks) some will be less powerful than others. These low power decks are what reversal is made for! You bring your awful deck to the tournament, sit down across from your opponent, and swap decks for the game. Essentially you want your deck to be worse than your opponents so you can win the game with their deck. It’s a blast
Adaptive – This one is a best of three match, similar to Magic. Again, since each deck is unique, and this one can be combine with any format above, you and your opponent play a best of three series. First game you play as normal, your deck vs theirs. Next game you swap decks and play against one another. If there’s no winner of the best of three series the decks go to auction. A chain auction! This has been touted as the best way to play Keyforge as you need the skill to play your own deck, a new deck, and have the knowledge about how many chains a deck may win with. You also get to experience playing with many different decks. I haven’t tried this one yet but am excited to do so!
Keyforge has completely turned me off Magic. Its super fun, highly interesting, unique game play both challenges and excites. The community that plays is very friendly and enjoyable to interact with and each just want to have a fun experience. You would like this game if you enjoy both the casual and competitive sides of Magic the Gathering as it has the best attributes from both, unique personable decks as well as intricate and thoughtful gameplay. Tempo swings are the name of the game in Keyforge so if that’s your play style in Magic this game is for you! There’s also race (aggro) decks and multiple types of control decks. I hope you are able to try the game as it is a tonne of fun and really removes the stressfulness of the game that Magic has (money, deckbuilding, metagame). And I say, at $12 for a deck, it’s completely worth at least dabling in a game or two.