After six months of Age of Ascension still largely dominated by Call of the Archon decks, I want to ask a question that should have been asked long ago: Is Æmber Control essential to winning?
What is Æmber control?
Let’s start by defining the concept we wish to investigate. Everyone knows KeyForge is a race, but that is true for almost any game with a victory condition rather than a set number of rounds. Even in games where you’re fighting to reduce your opponent’s hit point total to zero, it’s a race to see who can do so first.
What sets KeyForge apart from other games are the checkpoints along the way. Once you have forged a key, there is no way (Aside from Key Hammer) to unforge it and set you back. We’ll get back to this concept later.
In other card games, healing can mean the same thing as Æmber control. If my hit points are your race condition, and I move my hit points up, it is the same concept as reducing your Æmber in keyforge. It is setting you back.
Stealing can be equated to life steal, deal damage and gain that much health. Capture however is a concept unique to keyforge. It would be the same as a creature granting it’s owner health upon entering play, and taking it away once it dies. Not only that, in KeyForge you have other cards that capture onto creatures, which would be the same as putting, say a bomb, on a friendly creature and gaining health, when the creature dies the bomb explodes and you lose the health. This can definitely be done, but is just a bit odd thematically.
So Æmber control is a way to set your opponent back in the race. However, due to the aforementioned checkpoints, you have a narrow window of opportunity to do so. If you don’t set your opponent back when they’re in check, you might not have that opportunity again.
Inconsistency of decks
If you’ve played other card games, you know that healing is generally weak or not used much. Stopping your opponent from reaching their win condition is better done by other means, such as blocking attacks, killing creatures and putting pressure on them with your own win condition.
So why is it that keyforge seems to rely so much on Æmber control? Well, the first thing is a design choice. If you make healing too strong in other games, they will drag on forever. This can also happen in keyforge, of course. Decks with multiple Effervescent Principles or Shatter storms can certainly drag games on. Not to mention Heart of the Forest, which can literally shut the game down on it’s own. In KeyForge though, there is a mitigating factor to the power of Æmber control. Forging keys. Keys provide a threshold from which you cannot be set back any further.
The second thing, and the one I’m more interested in talking about, is inconsistency of decks. Because there is no deck building in KeyForge, there are very few decks, if at all, that are as consistent at getting what they need at the right time as other games.
Imagine a worlds without Æmber control and without reaping (boring, I know, but go with it), now that deck needs to see 18 Æmber pips to win, out of say 25 cards with 1 Æmber pip.
This can happen in as little is 3 turns if you’re lucky, but more likely a good scenario would be 5-6 turns. If however 8 of those 25 cards are sitting at the bottom 10 cards of your deck, you’re going to need to see at least 27 cards in order to find 18 of them. And that could easily take 9-11 turns.
Assuming you and your opponent have the same deck composition, it’s basically a toss up to see who gets their 18 Æmber pips first. What aember control allows, is that if your opponent is set to see those 18 aeber pips before you, then you might be able to delay them long enough to see all of yours.
This entire thought experiment was to illustrate what Æmber control achieves, it allows for inconsistent decks to find the pieces they need in order to win. And not only that, it allows to reduce the effect of randomness dictating your opponent sees theirs first.
What makes a deck consistent can vary, it can be multiple copies of a required card, or ways to find the needed cards. It can be card draw, redundancies of similar effects or multiple paths to victory.
It is easy to imagine a deck filled with Æmber burst and key cheats that doesn’t care about controlling opponent’s Æmber or care about opponent’s Æmber control. It follows then that decks with high consistency will require less aember control in order to win.
There are 28 decks with power level 5 and Æmber control of 5 or less. You know what most of them have in common? Logos. Out of those 28 decks, 24 have Logos. One is a Martian Generosity Key Abduction deck, and the other 3 have have relatively high expected Æmber. They are consistent decks due to card draw and archiving from logos.
Decks without high Æmber control can definitely win, and the most important factor is likely speed and consistency. If you don’t allow your opponent time to find their Æmber control, or if you keep posing threats, you can definitely win. Æmber control is definitely not necessary in absolute terms.
Losing feels bad and bad experiences affect us more than good ones. When I lose due to not having the answer to my opponent’s rush it feels worse than if I went through my deck and they went through theirs and they came out on top.
In my top 16 game in Krakow, I dug for my Grump Buggy as fast as I could, and I just didn’t get it in time. That felt worse than a well fought out battle where we each see our decks and got incremental tactical advantage until I finally lost.
I’ll even go further and say that my opponent having good luck doesn’t feel as bad as me having bad luck. If my opponent finds the answer to my threat, it’s a story to tell. If I just never got to see the card I needed to win, it feels like I was cheated out of the game. I didn’t actually get to play the game.
This is Negativity Bias, and I believe it is causing people to shy away from decks that don’t have, or have very few, answers. If a deck is highly consistent, and wins when it finds all the pieces in time, it can be just as good as a less consistent deck that can stall until it finds those pieces.
Contact and afterward
I don’t know what Worlds Collide holds for us as I’m spoiler free until the Dutch Grand Championship, but I’m curious to see what it brings in terms of consistency, and if it will reduce the need to always have Æmber control. In the meantime, those that don’t live near a Target, check out some of your Logos AoA decks that you threw in a drawer, and see if maybe their consistency makes up for the lack of Æmber control.
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.
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