As Kansas City was coming up, I had a conversation with LadyRedd, a relatively new but promising player, to help her get ready for the event. The topic of how to read an archon card came up, and I tried to direct her to an article that Aurore wrote a while ago on that very topic. However, neither Aurore nor I could find that article (if it ever existed and wasn’t just a figment of my imagination), and so I decided to write that article. Hopefully this article will help players going to future events know what to look for when they read an archon card.
#1: Scaling Aember Control
There are two cards that one wants to watch out for here, Too Much to Protect and Interdimensional Graft. There are certainly other forms of scaling Æmber control, such as Doorstep to Heaven, Effervescent Principle, and Submersive Principle, but those cards don’t give you a reason to stop gaining Æmber. In fact, against the latter two, gaining more Æmber is better. By contrast, you don’t want to push too hard against TMTP or Graft, or you will be giving your opponent a substantial pile of Æmber.
Another dangerous set of cards is cards that punish you for going to seven Æmber. These include Ronnie Wristclocks, Burn the Stockpile, Drumble, and Lomir Flamefist. If your opponent has a bunch of these cards, it can be useful to stop at six Æmber so as to not give them a chance to trigger.
It’s worth noting that scaling Æmber control is a much bigger concern in earlier sets. TMTP and Graft only exist in COTA, AOA, and WC, so unless you run into a legacy card, you are probably in the clear against MM and DT. Those sets do have a lot of “taxing” cards such as Faust the Great, Lieutenant Valmart, and EDAI “Edie” 4×4, and they have a lot of cards that will capture all your Æmber such as Deusillus, ANT1-1ONY, and Envy, but they don’t have any cards that take large chunks of Æmber aside from the Envy/Gluttony combo.
#2: Board Sweeps
Board sweeps come in many varieties, and it’s helpful to know what board sweeps your opponent has so you know how to play against them. It’s also helpful to know how many board sweeps your opponent has.
Some board sweeps, such as Gateway to Dis, work in pretty much any circumstance. Sure, it’s weak against wards, but that’s true of all board sweeps. Playing against a universal board sweep, oftentimes the best strategy is to hold back a strong hand of creatures until the Gateway comes out, and then dump the hand onto the board the next turn to replenish your losses.
When playing against specialty board sweeps, play appropriately to negate them. For example, against Axiom of Grisk, capture aember onto your creatures. There’s a lot of other strategy to play against other specific board sweeps, but I think I will save that for another article.
In general, there are two rules that hold true against all board sweeps. Count your opponent’s board sweeps, and don’t play into them. If your opponent has only one board sweep and it’s now gone, then feel free to go wild with building a board. Until that happens, though, make sure that you don’t overextend.
#3: Artifact Control
If your deck has key artifacts, then you want to know what kind of artifact control your opponent has. If you are using one-time use artifacts such as Nepenthe Seed or Key to Dis, then even “soft” artifact control cards like Remote Access or Nexus can be a significant threat. If you have artifacts that primarily benefit their controller, such as Dark Æmber Vault, Auto-Encoder, or Lash of Broken Dreams, then cards like Borrow or Sneklifter could be a serious threat. Of course, all artifacts are vulnerable to hard artifact control such as Hock, Poltergeist, Mollymawk, and the most dreaded two, Reclaimed by Nature and Harvest Time.
It’s important to know what artifact control your opponent has so you know when to play your artifacts, or whether to play them at all. Sometimes you can even use a lesser artifact to bait out the artifact control so that you can then play down your more important artifact. In a recent game, I played Orb of Invidius to bait out my opponent’s artifact control so that I could then land my DAV. This won’t work against really good players, but some players will fall victim to it.
If you don’t have any artifacts of note, then obviously reading for artifact control is not a priority. In fact, it can even put your opponent in a bind if they want to play something like Poltergeist for the Æmber, but they don’t want to destroy their own artifacts.
#4: Game-Warping Cards
Game-warping cards fall into two categories: cards that change the way the game is played and cards that change the win condition. The prior category tends to be almost exclusively artifacts. Artifacts such as Heart of the Forest, Quixxle Stone, and Whirlpool all change the way that the game is played. Each requires their own strategy, and you can simply be out of luck against them if you don’t have a way to counter their game-plan (usually hard artifact control). At Vault Tour Albany, I played against an unfortunate opponent who was running a creature heavy deck without hard R. I landed a first turn Quixxle Stone, and the game was effectively over.
If you see that your opponent has one of these game-warping cards in their list and you don’t have hard R, oftentimes the best thing that you can do is to try to race to win the game before they can find the artifact. It’s also useful to have these types of decks in your collection, so that you are familiar with playing with or against them.
Cards that change the win condition are typically cards that produce locks. Sometimes they require a combo, or sometimes they are one card. For instance, one famous lock is Witch of the Eye, Dominator Bauble, and Control the Weak. However, Witch of the Eye is fairly easy to kill, so that combo isn’t typically a serious threat. The most famous card that produces locks is Restringuntus. If your opponent has Guntus in deck, and especially if it is paired with a board wipe like Gateway to Dis, then you have to be aware of it. Guntus isn’t quite the threat it used to be because MM tends to have damage pips everywhere to get rid of it, but it can still win games against unsuspecting players. Try to avoid getting caught with your hand entirely filled with one house, as that is the perfect recipe for the Guntus player to bring down a lock.
#5: Key Cheats
What kind of key cheats does the opponent have available? If they have Might Makes Right, then you probably don’t want to let them build a large board. If they have [REDACTED], you probably want to make it disadvantageous for them to call Logos by killing their Logos stuff. If they have Imperial Forge, then you probably want to prevent them from putting too much Æmber onto their creatures. Of course, if they have the Shrix/Tribute combo, this can be hard to do.
Of course, the most common key cheats you will see are Key Charge, Chota Hazri, and Keyfrog. Unfortunately, short of Etan’s Jar, there is probably no good way to defend against these cards (except the Keyfrog, which should be killed immediately if your opponent is not in a position to forge, and sometimes even if they are). The best you can do is try to keep their Æmber supply under control and hope that they can’t burst enough to key cheat.
Dysania gets its own category because there is nothing else that has the same devastating impact on an archive. If you are playing any deck that archives a lot, such as an Ultra Gravitron deck or an Edie deck, then Dysania can completely swing a game. This has to change the way you play. For example, an a UG deck, you have to pull your archive immediately after playing the UG to prevent the five Æmber gain. Edie decks can just be out of luck, as the best that they can do is wait for the Dysania to come down, or hope to be able to pick it off with an Impspector or Subtle Chain or something.
Other cards can also do archive hate, such as Murkens, Fidgit, or Tantadlin, but those are minor effects by comparison. As an aside, you can also sometimes be sneaky against a Murkens or a Fidgit by sticking a card in your archive that your opponent won’t want to play (maybe an Unlocked Gateway) and wait until they trigger it.
#7: General Deck Stats
Try to get a general idea of what your opponent’s deck is good at. Do you see Hunting Witch and a bunch of Dust Pixies (or Chelonia and a bunch of Deepwater Gruens)? Chances are your opponent is going to try to burst a bunch of Æmber, and you need to hold back some type of scaling Æmber control. Do you see any serious Æmber control in your opponent’s deck? If not, you might want to try to race to victory as fast as possible, knowing that your opponent probably can’t stop you. Do you see a large number of creatures? Hold back your board wipes.
One thing in particular to look for here are cards that show up in multiples. If an opponent’s deck has five Edies (not that any decks have that), chances are that Edie is a key part of their strategy. Finding those multiples can help you key in on what their deck is trying to do.
#8: Cards That Are Bad for Your Deck
This category relies on knowing your own deck. It probably applies to Saurians more than anything else. If you are playing a Saurian deck, you need to know what kind of anti-Saurian cards your opponent has. Cards like Nature’s Call, Lost in the Woods, Lights Out, Word of Returning, and Guilty Hearts can all devastate Saurians, so knowing your opponent has them should influence your decision-making process. For instance, if my opponent has no bounce or purge, then I can feel safe putting an Imperial Scutum on my Shrix and exalting her as much as possible. However, if my opponent has Nature’s Call, then I might capture onto my Shrix, but I am unlikely to exalt her, as that is just giving my opponent free Æmber.
Shadows can also be dramatically affected by an opponent’s deck list. Shadows relies very heavily on steal, so anti-steal cards such as Odoac the Partician, Vaultkeeper, Gargantodon, and Redhand Registry can be very effective against Shadows decks. If you are playing Shadows, you need to have answers to those types of cards or your Shadows can become useless.
Infurnace is a card that is bad for many decks. If your deck relies on a lot of Æmber from hand, and especially if it has Fertility Chant, Infurnace can be devastating against you. Decks that rely on reaping for most of their Æmber, such as Sanctum decks, can oftentimes fair better against Infurnace than other decks. Infurnace is also really bad for Gigantic creatures, as it can purge one half of the Gigantic creature, effectively making the other two cards dead cards.
I want to give some credit here to articles that I referenced as I was writing this article, primarily CMDR_Supagoat’s excellent Reddit article. Aurore’s post about reading an Archon card in Worlds Collide was also very helpful. I hope that all the readers of this article find it helpful as well, and I hope that it helps lead you to many Keyforge victories in live events. If you would like to further discuss the article, or anything else Keyforge, I can be found on most Keyforge Discords as jfkziegler or on TCO as SecondAct.