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Top 10 Tips for Returning to Live Play

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When was the last time you shuffled a KeyForge deck and flipped some physical keys? If your answer is some time at the beginning of 2020, this article is for you. Have you gotten into the game recently and only ever gotten to play on This article is for you, too! Either way, here are my top 10 tips to get you smoothly into live (possibly competitive) play.

#1 Flip the keys!

A very common mistake even among regular key flippers is forgetting to flip keys after forging (Ironic, I know!). You pay the Æmber and are so focused on your next play you neglect to actually flip the key. Coming from online play makes you more prone to this, as the software prompts you to forge the key. Forgetting to flip a key is a rules violation on both players, so if you notice your opponent hasn’t flipped their key you must tell them. My tip for remembering to flip a key when forging is to say out loud the color of the key you’re forging. In fact, you should say as much of the process out loud as possible.


“I have 8 Æmber, current key cost is 7. I forge red, my second key and have 1 left.”

This not only helps you remember to flip the key but also in case you somehow still forget it will be much easier to remember that you have indeed forged a key already. And it clears up potential issues as your opponent can say “Wait, the key cost is actually 8.”

#2 Read the cards

One of the reasons I like exploring new sets in live play rather than online is because it forces you to completely internalized how a card works since you’re the one that has to resolve it. Although there are definitely some interactions I am not sure I would have realized myself, like Qinqan + Gargantodon causing capture from the active player’s pool onto their own creature. In live play, you can’t rely on software to resolve your cards for you, so you should know them well. And since you can’t rely on your opponent knowing the cards, you should pay attention to what they are doing and read their cards too. This brings us to:

#3 Watch your opponent play

KeyForge is a complex game and humans aren’t perfect execution machines. Resolution mistakes happen and they happen often. When playing at top tables there are sometimes judges spectating to ensure the game state is properly maintained, but when you’re playing at lower tables you and your opponent are the sole people responsible for tracking the game.

Two sets of eyes are better than one, and while it is tempting to think about your next turn while your opponent plays, the game state will likely change too much for you to make real decisions before your turn starts. A trend that started just before Covid-19 was to place your hand face down on the table while your opponent plays and watch them. This is not only good to help maintain the game state, but also helps remember what they have done.

#4 Look at their discard pile

When playing online you get to click on their discard pile to review it. It is quick, easy, and unintrusive. I know I do it often. In live play, you need to ask your opponent to review their discard pile. You should do it. It is open information and it is extremely useful. You don’t have to do it every turn, but if you think there is information to glean from it, ask and review.

Reverse Time

Furthermore, there is one thing that is much easier to do in live play than online and that is reviewing the discard pile before a shuffle or Reverse Time deck and discard swap. Before a discard pile is shuffled into a deck you’re allowed to review it, and this gives you knowledge of the house distribution of the card in their hands at a minimum, or perfect information about it if you remember their decklist. So if you are properly watching your opponent, stop them before the shuffle and ask to see their discard pile. Some opponents will offer you the opportunity. Though the only player I know that always does it is Dunkoro. Do like Dunkoro.

#5 Call a judge

Online play sees a lot fewer judge calls than live play, especially since the vast majority of bugs on TCO have been resolved. Calling a judge should not be an issue and you should feel comfortable calling them over if you need a judge. Your opponent did something that you’re unsure of? Ask a judge. There is some card interaction you want clarified? Ask a judge. Something in the game state got messed up? Call a judge to oversee fixing it. If you have never called a judge before, do so at least once. Even if you could just ask your opponent, just once call a judge over to explain a rules interaction. This will make you more comfortable doing so in the future. So call a judge!

Also, as unpleasant as it is if you sense something fishy is going on with your opponent. Especially in premium play, you’re allowed to ask a judge to oversee the game.

#6 Know how to fix overdrawing

Overdrawing never happens online. The software draws cards for you. Chains are applied automatically. In live play overdrawing is a fairly common issue, especially with chains involved. When a player overdraws always call a judge to oversee fixing it. If both players can agree on which card was overdrawn, that card should be placed back into the deck and shuffled. If players cannot agree on which card was overdrawn, the hand of the player that overdrew is shown to their opponent. Their opponent then picks any card from their hand. That card is shuffled back into their deck.

Brain Drain

This is a brutal punishment for overdrawing, it’s basically a free, much worse, Brain Drain for your opponent! So don’t overdraw. Make sure that if you take chains, your chain tracker or chain tokens are placed on top of your deck, or some other indicator is placed there. This will help with forgetting. Also relevant with Succubus. I like placing a damage token on my deck if there is a consistent effect that lowers my card draw.

#7 Be prepared for premier play

Premier play is a step up from the chainbound events you haven’t been able to play for over a year. There are several things you need to be prepared for. The most common one is that you need Opaque sleeves, and you need sufficient backup sleeves to replace any damaged sleeves.

You also should be prepared for no takebacks. Opponents are under no obligation to allow you to undo plays even if they are obvious play mistakes like fighting into an Elusive creature. Be aware that if you choose to allow your opponent a takeback, they are under no obligation to reciprocate later. Assume your opponent will not allow you one, and if you still want to let them take back something, by all means, do so.

I know I myself sometimes allow takebacks and sometimes don’t. During swiss rounds of a Vault Tour in a round that is not win-and-in, I will most likely do so, unless I am tilted by a loss. This is because I find winning more satisfying when my opponent doesn’t make blunders that they realize 0.2 seconds after making them. But in top cut, I will likely not allows takebacks. There is something to be said about maintaining stamina and bandwidth after a long day of forging keys, and not making obvious play mistakes is part of it.

#8 Give yourself some slack

tilting is not exclusive to live play. You’re going to make mistakes and some of those mistakes might cost you a game. Give yourself some slack. Have compassion for yourself. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn and grow. Embrace them. Embrace yourself. You’ll have a much better time if you don’t beat yourself up. If you get tilted take a moment to regain composure.

What is exclusive to live play is that your opponent can tell you’re tilted. That can be an unpleasant feeling for both of you. I’m going to reiterate a story from the Dutch Grand championship. Round 3 I made a blunder. I fought with my Francus into a Flame-Wreathed Charette. I asked for a takeback and they would not allow it. I lost my Francus and lost the game. I was visibly tilted. My mind raced. My thoughts were to blame them for taking a win after an obvious blunder. I sat there and took time to process. I realized I was tilted. I relaxed and told my opponent that I don’t blame them and respect their play. The tension eased and the rest of the day was better for both of us.

So give yourself some slack. And also, if your opponent is tilted, let them have a moment to compose themselves. Not every opponent will get themselves out of it, but if they will, you’ll both benefit from it. And remember, you can’t help with it. They need to do it with themselves.

#9 Read the clean play document

In the before-fore times, there was a serious blunder caught on camera where a player didn’t shuffle their deck and simply flipped it over, maintaining the order of cards from the discard pile. Regardless of intent, this is a major game state violation. We as players should strive to maintain the game state as best as we can and be as forthcoming with information to our opponent as we can. KeyForge is not about helping your opponent forget lasting effects or obscuring information, it is a puzzle we help create and solve every turn we play.

A Fair Game
But not like demons like it. An actual fair game, yes?

To that effect, a few people got together to write the clean play document. Among them yours truly. I feel it is still one of the most important documents written for the game and you should read it. Not everyone is going to pick up everything the clean play document suggests. But the more you pick up, the cleaner your play will be, and the more enjoyment we can all get out of it. Go read it. I’m not kidding.

#10 Know the cards in your deck

Since you are responsible for resolving all game interactions you must know how all the cards in your deck work and how they interact with other cards. Luckily, the good people at Archon Arcana can help you out. Navigate to your deck page on Archon Arcana, like this one for Evil Twin of Lord Wyomia Q. Macedon. Archon Arcana will show you all FAQs, Rulings, and commentary about every card in your deck. Isn’t that neat? It is so neat.

But nothing prepares you for live play like live play. So find a friend and get some live games in. Shuffle those cards. Flip those keys. Practice clean play. And have fun while doing it.


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