Undefeated Runner-up: My Experience in ABR Season 5

Like everyone else, I have played a lot of online Keyforge by this point. I have played Swindle, KOTE, Average Joe’s, Archon’s Corner weekly events, and others. In general, I find that I prefer tournaments over leagues, because the time commitment isn’t as great. Thus, although I had heard of ABR, it hadn’t really piqued my interest.

However, after I heard BlvdBlake and JulieJuly discuss ABR with SCSteele on the Help From Future Self podcast (Episode 118), I was intrigued. Team Keyforge has always been one of my favorite ways to play, and I liked the idea of switching formats from week to week instead of playing the same formats over and over again.

What is ABR?

Let me explain a bit about what ABR is. ABR stands for Ancient Bear Republic, which is a California-based Keyforge group. They run a league where players are divided into teams, with each team picked and led by a captain. In Season 5, there were eight teams of twelve players each. The season runs for nine weeks, during which there are seven rounds. Each round, the teams compete in a different format. Some are traditional formats like archon or adaptive, while others are more unique formats like SAS cap survival or artifact week. At the end of the season the top four teams go to the playoffs, where they compete in more formats, earning points for each format they win. The winners get not only bragging rights, but also ABR playmats.

Drafting

The teams are picked by a secret draft among the captains before the season starts. I figured that I would be picked by one of three people. Two of the captains, jtrussell and drazkor, know me quite well, so I figured one of them would pick me, but there was an outside chance that BlvdBlake would pick me, as we have interacted a few times. I didn’t know any of the other captains well, and I am not a big name Keyforge player, so I didn’t figure anyone else would be likely to use a pick on me.

My intuitions proved correct, as I did get picked by jtrussell. We are old friends from when we used to be part of the same local Keyforge scene here in Maine, so I was happy to be playing for him. Our team, Cyber Clone Army, featured a lot of players who were both highly skilled and great teammates. My best Keyforge friend Arly was on the team, as was jtrussell’s brother strussell. MiBluffin brought skilled play and a fantastic deck collection. JDG314 was not only a great player, but also a great practice partner. rhhaeder was on the team, and we are well acquainted from the Archon’s Corner weekly games. He pretty much always beats me, so I figured he would be a strong asset. xoque was our resident streamer, and he, Krill, and duk were all super supportive teammates. Rounding out the team were Shadowmeld and Dragonmaster, who would both provide valuable contributions.

Week 1 – Adaptiver

I was excited by the fact that Week 1 was adaptive week. Adaptive is my favorite format, as I consider it to be more skill intensive than any other format. A lot of people look for adaptive decks that are hard to play, but I look for adaptive decks that have distinct lines of attack that can be used against them. My favorite deck, The Nebulous Operator, is my adaptive deck. It can be absolutely oppressive, but it has distinct weaknesses that I know how to go after. My goal in adaptive is to avoid going to game three, but of course against good players it can be hard to avoid. My Week 1 opponent, dpuck1998, was a good player, and so managed to force a game three. My deck had won both of the first two games, but I was pretty sure that dpuck’s deck could beat mine if mine was slowed down with enough chains, so I took his deck after running up some chains in the bidding. Thankfully, my gamble worked out, and I was able to win the week. My teammates also played really well, and we were tied for first at the end of the first week.

Week 2 – Oubliette

Week 2 was oubliette week. I had never played the format before, but I had played the similar ouroboros format. Both formats are based upon the idea of bringing two decks without house overlap. I knew that I had two decks that I liked for this format, as they both avoided Logos, which I wanted to ban. My first deck, The Sir of Chesterrealm, is a Saurian/Star Alliance/Untamed Worlds Collide deck that I bought from joelker a while back. My second deck, Lord Lawname Jaxson, was a Mars/Dis/Brobnar AOA deck with a Genka and a Gangernaut combo. My opponent, Orion0497, banned Dis. My Logos ban forced Orion to bring a Saurian/Shadows/Star Alliance deck, Maven S. Tenflip. Chesterrealm’s triple Nature’s Call is really good against Saurians, so I felt good about the matchup, and thankfully I was able to win the game. Unfortunately, while the Clones were able to put up six wins this week, we lost the Feature Match (tiebreaker), and so lost the week.

Week 3 – Triad

In Week 3, we were playing triad. I had been doing well, and so I wasn’t surprised to see myself matched up against a very good opponent, the aforementioned joelker. He and I know each other very well from the Archon’s Corner weekly games, and we are about as even a skill matchup as you could find. Everyone told me that you want to have a theme for your triad, so I put together a triad of three decks with powerful artifacts. I figured I could ban joelker’s best artifact control, and then hopefully go to town. The first deck that I chose was E. Zambian, Techie of the Warped College. It is a Quixxle Stone deck that had done very well for me at Vault Tour Albany, so I felt good about it. The second deck was Patch, Weirdhollow Mutant. It is a Dark Æmber Vault deck with thirteen mutants, four board sweeps, and double Infurnace. The third deck was a Russian deck with an Amphora/Curia combo, as well as double Bo Nithing with double Safe House.

I banned joelker’s Neutron Shark deck, and he banned Patch. I assumed that he didn’t want to deal with the Infurnaces. I was able to win the first game pretty easily against Khan Gopple of Riverglass, a Dr. Verokter DT deck with Star Alliance and Shadows support. Of course, a lot of the reason I won easily is because joelker had his famous crappy draw luck. In game two, we both switched decks, and my Russian deck lost to joelker’s AOA rush deck, Nightingayle, the Bard of Chronorock. My deck is mostly Æmber control, and I just couldn’t get it fast enough to deal with his rush speed. In the third game, Khan Gopple again faltered in its draws, and I was able to get my Russian deck functioning well enough to take the round. Our team bounced back with eight wins in Week 3 to take the week. We also had three undefeated players, as none of Arly, MiBluffin, or I had lost to that point. I was feeling really good about our chances.

Week 4 – Sealed

The format for Week 4 was to be sealed. I wanted to play the feature match for this week, because we were playing against Horsemen of the Hiatus. They were in first place, and drazkor had built himself something of a dream team with many of the best Keyforge players I know. Besides drazkor himself, his team featured DRSheep, xraycreator, AnxiousPirate, Lokekar, and rkellis, all of whom I knew from the Archon’s Corner weekly matches. He also had several other players I knew were strong, such as EmperorRiku and scrowner. However, I wouldn’t be facing any of them in the feature match. Instead, I would be facing Phillyno1, who was new to me. This was difficult because I had been counting on my knowledge of my opponent being an advantage, but of course they would have had the same advantage back against me.

The sealed pools for ABR were wonky. They were nothing like normal sealed pools. Caruso, DaveC’s famous deck, ended up in one of the sealed pools. My best deck, Mira, a 97 SAS deck, ended up in a sealed pool. I am guessing that the sealed pools were pulled from the collections of players in the ABR, but this resulted in some fairly uneven pools. I think it might have been better if all the decks were curated to be between certain SAS numbers, but that’s more of a note for the future. I got first pick of the decks in our sealed pool because I was playing Feature Match. I didn’t pick the highest SAS deck, but instead I picked a deck that had all the elements I look for in sealed: a strong board presence and a board sweep in case of emergencies. Lokekar knows how much I hate Sanctum, so he will probably find it funny that I intentionally picked a Sanctum deck, but I thought it synergized exactly how I wanted it to. The deck was called Jedediah, Heberpark Guardian, if you’re curious. I felt like all my sealed play at Archon’s Corner provided me a major advantage this week, and I was able to pick up the W. With the Feature Match in hand, I thought we had a good chance to beat the seemingly unbeatable Horsemen, but unfortunately the same advantage I had also applied to them. They were able to squeak out seven wins to make the Feature Match irrelevant, and they defeated us. Even sadder, Arly and MiBluffin both went down this week, leaving me as the only undefeated on our team. That was pressure I didn’t really want.

Week 5 – Survival

Format-wise, I think Week 5 was my least favorite week. It was a Survival Format where you bring two decks, one 65 SAS cap, and the other 75 SAS cap, and you have to eliminate both of your opponent’s decks. My 65 SAS cap deck was an old standby, The Shadow that Tours Goblins. On the other hand, my 75 SAS cap deck was new to me. It was called The Chancellor of Sandberg, and I had traded for it just before ABR had begun, swapping with another ABR player, pspidey. It had done really well for me in testing games, so I figured I would give it a shot. My opponent was dinobot. In the first game, he played well, but I also got very unlucky, with all the cards coming in the wrong order and my hands never lining up. I was a bit tilted at the bad luck in that game, so I went to complain about it in the team chat. However, Discord flummoxed me, and I accidentally posted it to my opponent. I felt really bad about that. With The Shadow gone, I was going to have to win twice with The Chancellor. Thankfully, The Chancellor proved up to the task, and I was able to win a nail-biter of a game three to deliver a win for the Clones and keep the streak alive. Unfortunately, this was our worst week. Besides me, only duk and strussell delivered wins, and Together! stomped us. I felt really bad for MiBluffin, who had to play against drazkor in sealed in week four and then Big Z in week five. That’s a murderer’s row of opponents.

Week 6 – Archon Solo

I know I was happy to get back to a more standard format in Week 6. In fact, we were going to play the most standard format, straight archon. Normally I would use my best deck, Mira, for archon. However, I knew that Arly wanted to borrow it, and he is probably a better AOA player than I am anyway. Thus, I decided to take Winter the Absurdly Wistful. There are two philosophies of having a competitive Keyforge deck. One philosophy, which I ascribe primarily to xraycreator, is that you want your deck to have answers. You want to have artifact control, board sweeps, adequate Æmber control, all those sorts of things, so that you can respond to your opponent. The other philosophy, which I ascribe primarily to Big Z, is that you want to put pressure on your opponent. If you are the one applying the pressure, then it doesn’t matter if you have responses or not, because your opponent has to respond to you. Winter is the type of deck that fits into Z’s camp. It has no board sweep, no artifact control, and little Æmber control. What it does have is a double Ultra Gravitron, which is supplemented by a double Mark of Dis, double Discombobulator, and a double Subject Kirby. It applies lots of pressure, and forces the opponent to respond. My opponent this week was knightlypeacock. He brought a real good deck, The Wizard’s Chest’s Torpid Tailor. In fact, both decks were 87 SAS decks. However, The Wizard’s Chest had a terrible matchup against Winter. He needed to be able to steal, and I kept sticking Discombobulator on my Ultra Gravitrons. The only way he had to deal with that was to use Lights Out on them, but that just allowed me to archive five more cards and keep cycling my deck. Even his Control the Weak did nothing, as I could comfortably play out of any of my three houses. It was the least close game I had in ABR, but sometimes the matchup will just do that. 

The team did really well this week, winning eight games, and JDG314 took home the Feature Match for us. Leading into archon week, our team was really nervous about a particular deck, Cardath, the Illustrator of the Market. None of us knew which player on the opposing team would be using it, and everyone was nervous about facing it. Well, I wasn’t nervous, because I hadn’t heard of it before and ignorance is bliss, but most players were nervous about facing it. It turned out that the deck’s owner, FlamingHobo, who is also the person who runs the ABR league, was using the deck. He was facing Arly, who was using my best deck, Mira. That was the best possible outcome for us, as Arly was able to take down Cardath fairly easily using Mira. I was also happy to see that DragonMaster was able get a win with my deck Yanaan K. Vegedon, the Eighth, and duk took the W with my deck, A. W. Hipposiren of the Orange Palace.

Week 7 – Artifact Week

Heading into the final week of the regular season, there was a lot at stake. Our team was 3-3, and we had a good shot at playoffs. Together! had taken over first place from Horsemen, and we needed to hold off Ballcano Busters and Floomf I Did It Again in order to qualify for the playoffs. Thankfully, we were playing Floomf, so we controlled our own destiny. For me, there was a lot personally at stake as well. MrKPop and I were the only two undefeated players left, and I wanted to see if I could keep it going. Unfortunately, my opponent was Eccoedo, and I knew he was really good. This was artifact week, and so the format called for you to choose a permanent artifact that would start in play, be unremovable, and affect both players. It took me a long time to choose a deck, as I really had no idea how to approach the format. I thought about just taking a good deck and pairing it with a random artifact, but that seemed against the spirit of the format. Then one day as I was scrolling through the artifact list, I finally saw an artifact that jumped out at me. It was The Big One. I have a deck that I refer to as my COTA-killer, because it does really well against rush decks, but can’t deal with boards at all. That deck is Digimogul Kingsley-Giménez, Captain. I figured that if I paired it with The Big One, then The Big One would take care of boards and opposing artifacts. It even neutralized artifacts like Soul Snatcher and Annihilation Ritual. It was a match made in heaven.

Eccoedo brought a deck with double ANT1-1ONY and paired it with Whirlpool. I was doing well early in the game, and had just completed a good Shadows turn. I was in position to forge, but Eccoedo played out an ANT1-1ONY and shipped it over to me with Whirlpool. I realized that this was a dangerous game of hot potato. I took a dead turn where all I did was fight all my Shadows creatures into his board to kill them, and then I shipped ANT1-1ONY back to him. On my next turn I used The Big One to blow up ANT1-1ONY and get my Æmber back, and after that I controlled the game. My deck actually captures Æmber really well, so I was able to capture gobs of his Æmber and constantly send it over to his side of the board with Whirlpool. Even better, my Rad Pennys were cycling back into my deck all the time, so I was constantly stealing Æmber as well. I was able to get the W and go to 7-0. MrKPop also joined me at 7-0. Even more importantly, though, Shadowmeld delivered a big feature match win for the team, and that meant that we were in the playoffs. In fact, we even tied the Horsemen for second place in the regular season, although I think they held the tiebreaker for beating us.

Playoffs

The ABR playoffs are interesting. There are twelve formats to play, and every playoff team assigns one player to each format. In addition to the regular season formats, the playoffs included favorite formats like reversal and netdeck. rhhaeder was our netdeck player, and he was actually considering using Mira as a netdeck. That would have been interesting, because Arly and I convinced JDG314 to use it as our archon deck, so it would have actually been used four times in ABR if rhhaeder had used it (the fourth time being the sealed week). 

The playoffs started out rough for us, with a bunch of our players all going down in one day. My matchup was against DougS from Together! We were playing artifact format again. He brought Z’s triple Battle Fleet deck with Key Abduction. I brought Arly’s deck W. V. Dwarfmon of the Stale Resort. I knew it hadn’t been used in the first round, and I liked it for the format. Dwarfmon’s only major weakness is that it has double TMTP, but no way to take your opponent off key afterwards. Thus, I paired it with Universal Keylock, so that TMTP would be enough to remove a check by itself. In testing, it did really well, but as soon as I saw Doug’s deck, I realized that the matchup was not good for me, as the OTK would get around my Keylock. Thankfully, Doug had brought Howling Pit as an artifact, and that allowed me to start with a great hand with the Gangernaut combo already ready to go. I hit the board hard with Brobnar early, and pumped Æmber as fast as I could. I knew racing was going to be my only way to win. Thankfully, Dwarfmon had a secret weapon. Dysania was a killer card against a combo deck, and I managed to knock two Mars cards out of Doug’s archive, including Key Abduction. Doug also had bad luck with his draw, getting his Mars too early, and so I was able to pick up the win, although it was close.

Besides me, we had four other players win from our team and make it to the finals. MiBluffin was able to win his triad match against DaveC. I am glad it was MiBluffin playing instead of me, as I don’t know if I have the depth of decks to compete against someone like Dave in triad. JDG314 played against Rickster, and was able to get a win using Mira. duk won in the sealed format, and Krill won in adaptive.

Finals

To say that I was nervous going into the finals would be an understatement. I figured if we could win all five of our finals matches, we had a shot at winning the league, although it was a longshot. Additionally, MrKPop lost his finals match, so I was now standing alone in the undefeated bracket. My opponent was to be scrowner from Horsemen. Since Horsemen were now in the lead after the first playoff round, winning was especially important here. I couldn’t think of anything better, so I went back to using Digimogul with The Big One as its artifact. scrowner brought a Genka deck with Universal Keylock. In some ways, the game felt like the last round, as I was desperately trying to win before I could get beaten with a Key Abduction. He got to his first key first, and then to his second key first, so things weren’t going well on the racing front. Thankfully, a clutch Subtle Otto knocked Martian Generosity out of scrowner’s hand, and I was able to get ahead while he tried to cycle back to it. I knew that I had to keep his Æmber total low, so on my last turn I played two Saurian creatures, warded them, and used Spoils of Battle to capture most of scrowner’s Æmber onto them. That prevented him from being able to Genka, and I was able to squeak out a win.

Our team did very well in the finals. xraycreator beat MiBluffin, unfortunately, but we were able to win the other four. duk took the sealed finals against Lokekar, JDG defeated AnxiousPirate in the archon finals, and most impressively, Krill defeated Disthis in the adaptive finals. I say most impressively because Krill had a rough season, finishing at 2-5, but was able to turn it on when it mattered most and pick up those clutch playoff wins. The Cyber Clone Army finished in second place, trailing Horsemen but overcoming Together! I give a lot of the credit for that to our captain, jtrussell. Even though he also finished 2-5, he was a steady leader who gave us tons of his time, energy, and enthusiasm. He set the tone for the team, and I was proud to play for him.

Summary

For me, finishing undefeated was a tremendously unexpected event. There are so many players in ABR that are better than me and have better decks than me that I didn’t have high expectations walking in. I figured I would be happy if I finished the regular season 4-3 or 5-2. I have to say that I am very grateful to my teammates for helping me practice and giving me good advice on deck selection and matchup ideas. You have to get pretty lucky along the way to beat the talented individuals that I beat, so I am thankful to Lady Luck for staying on my side throughout most of the league.

I greatly enjoyed my ABR experience. I did find it nerve-wracking trying to not let my teammates down, but at the same time I was appreciative of their support. If I had dropped a game, I know they would have been the first people there offering pick-me-ups. If you haven’t played ABR before and would like to try it, I do recommend it. It has fun formats, but most of all fun people. And really, that’s what Keyforge is all about.

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