Lessons from a Vault Tour: My First High Level Keyforge Experience

                This is an article that I have been meaning to write for a while, but never quite got around to. Given that the Vault Tour I am discussing is the Albany Vault Tour from January 2020, I guess I am about a year and a half late for this article. However, with the recent Keyforge Live event, and the hopefully soon return of other live events, I think that the lessons I learned are still relevant. So today I am going to delve into what I was able to take away from my first Vault Tour experience.

Heading to Albany

                I was aware of Vault Tours for a while but had never had the chance to go to one because one hadn’t come to the Northeast U.S. yet. I had been to a Store Championship, coming in second while my friend yrstruly took home the prize (unfortunately, FFG never logged the tournament at all, but c’est la vie). I also played in two Prime Championships. In the New Hampshire Prime, I battled my way to the finals undefeated but took a draw there because it was after midnight by then. Sealed Triad is a terrible format. At the Massachusetts Prime, I again battled my way to the finals undefeated but dropped to Will from the New York crew, who flat-out outplayed me.

                When my friends and I heard that there would be a Vault Tour in Albany, New York, we were excited to finally have one within reasonable driving distance of our home in Maine. My friend Skunktrain and I met up with Arly and yrstruly and we formed Team Weekend, named after our friendly local gaming store, Weekend Anime. We had playmats and t-shirts and everything. I didn’t expect that we would do especially well when playing against the best players in the country, but I was excited to try. I figured if I made Day 2, I would be super happy and consider it a successful tournament.

From left to right: Skunktrain, yrstruly, SecondAct, Arly

Lesson 1: Do Your Homework

                The first lesson that I learned about the Vault Tour was the importance of preparation. This started with deck selection. Albany was three-deck survival, so I knew that I was going to need three quality decks. I had never opened a really good COTA deck at that point, so I was going to have to rely on my Worlds Collide. My finisher was obvious. I knew that my best deck was Duke H. Gauntvision, and I knew that I was going to put that into my third slot. I wasn’t going to go down on anything but my best deck.

My second choice was E. Zambian, Techie of the Warped College. I had recently purchased it from a friend, and I knew it was strong.

My third deck was a tougher choice. I had been having a lot of success in Chainbound with Felicity, Breadybay Healer, so I went with that. It was also easy to play compared to the other two, so I figured it would be a stress reliever.

                Ordering the decks was an interesting exercise. With Duke entrenched in third, I decided to put Zambian first. This was for two reasons. First of all, Duke and Zambian are both dino decks that have a similar playstyle, so I was worried that if I played them consecutively, I might start mixing up what was in which deck. Putting Felicity, which is a dramatically different deck, in between them alleviated that concern.

                Secondly, I believe in slotting your decks 2-3-1 in survival. In other words, put your second-best deck first, with your worst deck in the middle, and your best deck last. A lot of people will slot their worst deck first, so 2-3-1 can give you a chance to go on a run with your second deck.

                Once I had selected my decks, it was time to test. I tested my decks in solo matchups against each other, I tested my decks in games against Arly and yrstruly, and I tested my decks online on TCO. I was looking to make sure that I knew each deck inside and out, and that I always knew what to do in a given situation. I was also looking to see how each deck performed against the meta, but that was a lower priority. As it turned out, it was a good thing that I made it a lower priority, because my meta guesses would have been completely wrong. The live meta is not nearly as tough as the online meta is.

Lesson 2: Manage Stress

                On one of the Archon’s Corner podcasts, Ewok Jr. talked about how he performs his best in Keyforge when his expectations are low. I think this is spot-on advice. When my expectations are high, I get easily stressed, and I feel like I am letting everyone down if I don’t do well. When my expectations are low, I simply do the best I can, and being less stressed leads to better play.

Of course, that only works for so long. As I went deeper into the tournament, the stress started building no matter what I did to manage it. That was where doing things like taking short walks in between rounds, drinking plenty of water, and having a solid support network all come into play.

Lesson 3: Trust Your Decks

                To my surprise, I started off the Vault Tour on a tear. Zambian jumped out to 4-0, and that took a tremendous weight off my shoulders. Once I was 4-0, I knew that I had made Day 2. Unfortunately, Zambian finally dropped in Round 5, and then Felicity was one and done in Round 6. That left me with no choices for Day 2. I was going to be playing Duke.

                Duke and I have a tempestuous relationship. Sometimes I think it’s my best deck, and other times all I can see are its weaknesses, and I feel like everyone else knows exactly how to attack it. I was definitely having a crisis of confidence on it the night before Day 2. I felt like I was going to lose immediately in the first round of Day 2, before I even got into the playoff brackets.

                However, in my first round on Day 2, I got out an early Zenzizenzizenzic. My opponent wasn’t able to deal with it, and I rolled through to a win against a deck that I felt I probably should have lost to. That gave me confidence, and Duke and I started to synergize together. All the preparation work really paid off, too. I knew how to read an opponent decklist and look for the things that could hurt my dinos. If my opponent had them, I knew not to exalt. If they didn’t, I knew it was open season.

                The important takeaway is that everyone has that one deck that is their signature deck. You have to trust that deck and be willing to have confidence that it will come through for you in the end. Your knowledge of a deck might be just as important as the power of that deck, and it can pull you through when a game looks unwinnable.

Lesson 4: Trust Your Friends

                Going into the sixth round on Day 1, all three of my Team Weekend teammates were on the bubble. Skunktrain and Arly, unfortunately, fell just short, but yrstruly made it in. Unfortunately, he went out in the first round on Day 2. Ironically, he lost to Kori from Team Reapout, the same person that I had drawn with at the finals of the NH Prime. Small world.

                From that point on, I went on a win streak. I felt like the pride of my entire team was entirely on my shoulders, and I didn’t want to let everyone down. As the number of players dropped from 32 to 16 to 8 and so on, I got more and more nervous. That’s where having a support system of friends came in very handy. All my teammates were there for me, but none more so than yrstruly. He watched every one of my games and cheered me on relentlessly. A judge actually had to shoo him away from the table at one point, so I think that tells you how into it he was.

                You would think that having my teammate there watching would have made me more nervous because I didn’t want to let him down, but it actually helped calm my nerves. His positivity was infectious, and I have no doubt that it helped me to maintain my win streak. Even when I was in bad positions, I felt like I would get out of them in part because of the fact that yrstruly was there.

                Other friends helped me as well. Even though I had been defeated by Will at the Massachusetts Prime, I became friends with him and his wife Rowan, who is also an excellent player. In fact, if I remember correctly, they let Rowan judge for part of the Vault Tour.

                In between rounds, I had taken to sitting by myself in a corner with my water bottle. I don’t know why I was doing this; I think it was just a way to work through nerves. A lot of people, including even yrstruly, were nervous to come over and disturb me. Will and Rowan both came over to check on me, though, and make sure that I was doing okay. I really appreciated it, and I think it’s a great example of how tight-knit the Keyforge community can be.

Lesson 5: Trust Yourself

                During the tournament, I kept thinking of myself as some random guy from Maine. After a Day 2 win, I would always say to myself, “Who would have ever expected that a random guy from Maine would make it this far at his first Vault Tour?” That did help me keep expectations low. Maybe I should have been giving myself more credit, though. Maybe I should have been thinking of myself as the guy who was runner-up at a Store Championship and two Primes.

                I’m not saying to be cocky at a Vault Tour. Far from it. At a Vault Tour, you will face some of the best players in the world, and going into those matches overconfident is a surefire way to lose. However, you should be confident in yourself. If you’re a good Keyforge player on your local scene, then you’re probably a good Keyforge player. If you have the right deck and a few things break your way, that gives you a chance in any matchup.

                I was able to ride Duke all the way to the Albany finals, where I lost to Luke of Team SAS-LP playing “Galaxy” Tycho, Manor Arrowsmith. Still, even though I lost, I was proud of my performance. I had bested my low expectations, and with the support of my teammates and friends, and the cooperation of Duke, I had done better than I ever expected to in my wildest dreams. I hope that these lessons will help you do the same when Vault Tours resume. I would love to hear what you think of this article. I can be found on most Keyforge Discords as jfkziegler or on TCO as SecondAct.