Keyforge formats: Adaptive

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This is a first in a series of articles about the various formats available in keyforge. This time, I’m going to write about Adaptive. I’m expecting this to be a controversial topic, since Adaptive is celebrated by many as the best format for keyforge. I’ve heard it described as “The truest and purest form of keyforge”. Which is fine, we have many formats and people can have their preferences. Feel free to voice your opinion!


The basic principle of Adaptive is bidding chains on one of the decks, usually the stronger one, in order to bridge a theoretical gap in power between them.

The official Adaptive format is a best of 3 match, and can be found on the rules section of, under Formats and Variants.

For ease of reading, I’ll copy it here:

Compatible Format(s): Archon, Sealed

Each round of this tournament consists of best-of-three matches. For the first game of each match, players use their own decks. For the second game, each player swaps decks with his or her opponent and plays using his or her opponent’s deck.

If the third game occurs, players bid chains to use the deck which won both of the previous games. The player who brought the deck starts by bidding 0 chains, and then the players take turns outbidding each other until a player declines to bid higher. The player who bid the highest uses that deck for the third game (with their bid number of chains applied at the start).

Chains are a balancing mechanic built into the base rules of KeyForge. They can be utilized to allow two decks with a large difference in strength to play at roughly even footing. This helps to emphasize the skill of the player over the strength of an individual deck and allows each player the chance to do well with whatever deck they happen to use.

There are two ways this is commonly used, either as a finals of an event, or as a format throughout the event. I’ll be talking about Adaptive as a format for an entire event, since Adaptive as a finals is likely not going to remain from what I gather, and it is also the most discussed. You can listen to BDQ’s podcast episode on chain bidding, they discuss the finals only format.

Variance in Adaptive Match

Edit: Thank you everyone for the constructive criticism regarding my argument that Adaptive increases variance. I am receding this argument as I have been convinced it is false. I instead wrote a new paragraph regarding variance in adaptive.

For context: My argument was that in the case a deck will high roll, then low roll then average, then an Adaptive match will result in a 2-0 while a best of 3 will go to game 3. However the chance of this happening is symmetrical to the chance of two high rolls resulting in a best of 3 also ending in 2-0.

When a deck I bring to an Adaptive match low rolls for me and high rolls for my opponent, or their deck high rolling for them and low rolling for me, it just feels worse than low rolling in a best of 3. It may be an illogical and unsubstantiated feeling, but it’s still there. I would rather, personally, give my deck an option to perform in my hands after losing with it, than give my opponent that chance.

Power Disparity

I’ve talked over the case of roughly equal decks, but what happens when there is a very big gap in power level is even more discouraging to me. In a match where one deck is far superior to the other, then the two first games of the match are a forgone conclusion, and playing them is just going through the motions. Still, you have to play them, both because conceding a game before it started just reduces your chance of success, and also you’re missing an opportunity to learn from your opponent how to play their deck..

I’ve been told that if the power disparity is really that big, those games will be quick. However, there is no guarantee of that, and it’s a perception that comes from Æmber Rush decks dominating the current meta in Archon events. Even now, a really strong deck might be controlling and slow, but we have no idea what the future holds, it might be even slower.

So you’ve wasted two thirds of the match length playing games with an obvious result and games that were probably not very fun for either player, and move on to bidding chains. During the Germany Grand Championship the chain bidding went to 22 chains, and the chained deck won. Just imagine a deck disparity so big that 22 chains could not swing it in the other players favor. Yes, the higher chained deck might have been piloted by a better player, but still, 22 chains did not cover deck disparity plus player disparity? How many chains would make the match go the other way? I wish I had the lists so I could test this.

Sealed Adaptive

The aforementioned Grand Championship was in fact sealed Adaptive, which is even worse than Archon Adaptive, as players don’t have control over the variance of their own deck, nor the variance of their opponent’s deck, resulting in more variance, in a sealed environment which is already high variance. Variance. Yes, I typed that word too many times now.

People have suggested to still use pick one of three even if it’s Adaptive, and I agree it’s a better choice, to at least allow players to pick a more consistent deck for themselves.

Adaptive as Finals

Most of what I said is not relevant for Adaptive finals, since the two decks that have reached the finals are of comparable power, and have proven to be consistent, which results in a proper high quality Adaptive match. Still, I don’t really see the benefit. The only thing the Adaptive Finals could help with, is a really bad matchup, a deck and it’s counter.


The problem here is that it’s extremely hard to put a chain number on a hard counter. What if one player has a Heart of the Forest deck and the other has no artifact control? No amount of chains are going to make this match equal, it is only a matter of how many chains will cause the Heart of the Forest deck to not draw it before the match ends, but even with 24 chains, it might just be in the opening hand.

Adaptive Short Variant

Similar to the Adaptive format, only you go directly to game three. Both players assess each other’s decks and then pick a deck simultaneously to play. If both players pick the same deck, then chain bidding commences for that deck.

I like this format a lot better than full Adaptive matches. Best of 1 is already rather high variance and this format does not increase it. It takes much less time and doesn’t have the potential for two dead games. The huge power disparity issue still exists, but if you bring a middle of the road deck, you can largely mitigate this, so it’s within your control.

It also has an added benefit. In a full Adaptive match, you get to see your opponent play their deck, see their synergies. In an Adaptive short, you need to find those synergies and possibly figure out how to execute them without being taught. Bringing the idea of high complexity decks being good for Adaptive to fruition. This can also be accomplished in a best of 3 Adaptive if people start by playing their opponent’s deck in game 1, rather than their own.

Contact and afterward

I personally don’t like adaptive, and I chose to start with this format because everyone else seems to adore it. If I had to play Adaptive, I prefer it as an Adaptive Short, or only in finals. I also feel it is the least accessible of all the formats available.

Next I hope to cover some formats I do like. We’re starting a Triad league soon on Sanctumonious discord server (Come join us!) so it will help me form a more complete opinion on it.

As always, you can follow me on twitter for updates. And join us at the Sanctumonious discord server if you’d like to chat with me, or join an awesome community of keyforge players.


Aurore is a competitive KeyForge player and the founder of Timeshapers. She's a content writer by trade and aspiring game designer. Follow @Timeshapers1