Getting the Most Out of Your Artifacts: Auto-Encoder
I got the idea for this article from a conversation with Tutenkharnage and Ketzer on the Sanctumonius Discord, so I wanted to drop them a quick thank you for the inspiration.
Artifacts occupy a special place within the game of Keyforge. Artifact control is relatively sparse in most sets, and many top-tier competitive decks lack it. That means that a powerful artifact is much more likely to stick around and impact the game than a powerful creature is. This is the first of what will hopefully be a series covering some of the more powerful artifacts in Keyforge. I hope to highlight strategies for playing with them and, where possible, playing against them.
I am going to begin this series with an article about one of my favorite artifacts, Auto-Encoder. This topic has been covered before on the Help From Future Self podcast in episode 69, and I encourage you to check out that podcast for some great insights. With that said, let’s jump in.
Why is Auto-Encoder impactful?
Auto-Encoder offers several advantages. Primarily, it allows you to take your dead plays and turn them into archived cards instead. Have a Bo Nithing clogging up your hand when your opponent hasn’t forged any keys? Discard it to Auto-Encoder. Don’t want to play that useless Gloriana’s Attendant? Toss it to the Encoder.
It also disadvantages your opponent’s discard effects. Sure, my opponent can play Subtle Chain or Mindfire, but I am getting a card into archives for the card that they make me discard. It also effectively shuts down one of the most powerful cards in the game, Punctuated Equilibrium. If your opponent forces you to discard six, then you get six cards in archives and six new cards in hand, effectively doubling what you had before. Your opponent is usually left with no choice but to discard Punctuated Equilibrium, and they don’t even get a card for doing so.
Auto-Encoder also plays well with self-discard effects, such as Sloppy Labwork, Novu Dynamo, or the hybrid Bot/Techno creatures. The ability to not only discard a card you didn’t need but then also get a card in archive for it, is a powerful effect.
One of the most important aspects of Auto-Encoder is that it can take a dead house in a deck and make it useful. A lot of Mass Mutation decks have two really powerful houses and a dead Untamed house. Because that Untamed house puts all of its bonus icons from Gloriana’s Attendant or Wild Bounty into the other two houses. After a while, you have to call an Untamed turn and clear out the Untamed. Auto-Encoder lets you gain a benefit from doing so, instead of just wasting a turn.
How do decks use Auto-Encoder?
I picked out from my collection several decks that use Auto-Encoder in different ways. These are by no means the only archetypes for Auto-Encoder decks, but they are informative.
Archetype #1: The Archivist Deck
Decks that can combine Auto-Encoder and The Archivist together can be very effective. If I recall correctly, when Mass Mutation was first released, Big Z of the Archon’s Corner podcast predicted that one of the major competitive archetypes would be Auto-Encoder/Archivist decks. That doesn’t seem to have materialized, but nonetheless, it’s a great combination if you can get it with the tools to make it work. Every turn you can pull an entire house worth of cards from your archives, use the ones you need, and then discard the ones you don’t in order to refill your archives.
I find that some form of targeted archiving is necessary to make the combo operate. Hoping to randomly archive The Archivist on a discard usually isn’t reliable. A Sloppy Labwork or a Chronus can be good options. Dusty uses Sloppy Labwork, but can also use Safe House to archive The Archivist off-house if need be.
Notice too how Dusty is able to create a toolbox of answers in its archive. Even if I call Logos, I won’t pull Krrrzzzaaap!!! unless I need it. That ability to create a toolbox of answers is one of the primary values of decks that combine The Archivist with Auto-Encoder. Of course, sometimes it makes more sense to toss your answers if you don’t expect to need them soon. For instance, in Dusty it often makes sense to discard the two Reclaimed by Natures in order to refill the archive as long as my opponent doesn’t have any high impact artifacts that I am waiting for.
Archetype #2: The Discard Everything Deck
Some decks have no use for the majority, or at least a substantial portion, of their cards. Those decks will often call a house for no other reason than to dump the entire house to Auto-Encoder. The Nebulous Operator is an example of that type of deck. With its triple Fangtooth Cavern, it has no use for playing creatures most of the time, so it will often call Logos or Untamed just to dump the entire house.
This type of deck usually has a few key cards it depends on, and the Encoder helps dig to those cards. In the case of Operator, cards like Etan’s Jar and Infurnace are important to how the deck functions, so the Auto-Encoder is primarily a tool to dig to them.
From what I have seen, this is a pretty rare archetype. However, it’s one that is worth keeping in mind, because you might find that a deck that looks like it has a bunch of junk cards can actually be really good with an Auto-Encoder.
Archetype #3: The Strong Cards Deck
These decks are the toughest decks to use Auto-Encoder in. Most of the cards are good, so there aren’t a lot of good places to use Auto-Encoder. You might use it to toss an unnecessary board sweep or maybe a useless Exile, but for the most part the Encoder doesn’t do a lot in these decks. I am going to get into how to make these hard choices in the next section.
What are the hard decisions about Auto-Encoder?
There are two main ways in which Auto-Encoder forces hard decisions. First of all, the choice of what to discard can be a hard choice. Some choices are easy, of course. Toad is an easy discard, as is half of Deusillus when the other half has been purged. However, what about Infomorph? Obviously, if your deck has Dark Æmber Vault, then you play Infomorph. But what if it doesn’t? If your deck has no real mutant synergy, then is it worth playing Infomorph as a four-power vanilla creature? Obviously, it depends on the board state, but I think most of the time it is worthwhile. Creatures are threats to fight and to reap even if they don’t have any other abilities, and thus usually worth more than a card in archives. However, a smaller creature that isn’t a risk to fight, like a Splinter for example, is probably better to just toss in most scenarios. You always have to weigh improving your delta against the value of an extra card.
The other hard decision that comes up with Auto-Encoder is whether to play it against artifact control. The answer there depends upon the type of artifact control. If your opponent has Sneklifter or Borrow, don’t play the Auto-Encoder. Gifting your opponent an Auto-Encoder can take an inefficient deck and suddenly make it run very efficiently. I played a game where my opponent played Auto-Encoder against a deck of mine that has a very weak Shadows house. I used Sneklifter to grab the Encoder, and suddenly my other two houses became a lot stronger as I discarded Shadows cards to the Encoder. If your opponent has hard R, play the Encoder and try to get as much use out of it as you can before it gets destroyed.
How do you play against Auto-Encoder?
Clearly, there are two primary lines of attack against Auto-Encoder, artifact control and archive control. Artifact control involves effects that will destroy the Encoder, such as Poltergeist, Neutron Shark, or best of all, Reclaimed by Nature. It also includes cards that will steal the Encoder, such as Sneklifter or Borrow. The latter effects are better, but the former will work as well. When targeting your artifact control, it helps to determine what archetype your opponent is playing. If they are using a Discard Everything archetype, then the Encoder is a “must kill as soon as possible” type of priority. However, if they are playing a Strong Cards archetype, then their other artifacts might be more of a priority, especially if they have another high-value artifact like Library Card or Etan’s Jar.
Archive control involves cards that will attack your opponent’s archive. These include cards like Tantadlin and Murkens, but the best of them is clearly Dysania. Any of those cards make your opponent have to seriously think about how much they archive.
If you don’t have either artifact control or archive control, then your best line of play against an Auto-Encoder deck is to do what your deck does, and just avoid discarding effects. However, there is one exception to this rule. If your opponent has no deck, then discard effects are fine to play, as Auto-Encoder cannot archive the top card of the deck if there is no top card of the deck. This is the perfect time to play cards like Punctuated Equilibrium or Subtle Chain. It could be argued that Mindfire should be played regardless, as the potential steal outweighs the potential archived card.
While Auto-Encoder hasn’t taken down any major events since Mass Mutation first showed up on the scene, it continues to be an impact card in many decks. Like Bait and Switch in Call of the Archons, the designers clearly understood how powerful Auto-Encoder was going to be, and so despite being a common it is limited to one per deck. As an aside, I have yet to see a game where someone uses a Borrow to have two Auto-Encoders, so let me know if you have seen this happen. If you agree with me about Auto-Encoder, or if you disagree or think I missed something, please feel free to let me know. I can be reached on most Keyforge Discords as jfkziegler or on TCO as SecondAct.