Carrying the Flag: My Experience in KFPL Season 4
When Jupiter first announced the creation of the Keyforge Premier League, I remember hearing about it on several podcasts and thinking that ever getting to appear in it was something of a pipe dream. This was a place for the best of the best Keyforge players to duke it out with the best of the best decks. Players like Big Z, Dave C, CorayThan, and George Keagle would be the featured players. Jupiter ran qualifiers, but typically on weekends, which are always busy for me, so I never got a chance to even attempt to qualify.
Three seasons of KFPL went by, and Jupiter announced that he was leaving Keyforge for the game that shall not be named. I figured that any chance that I had to compete against the best players in the world had gone by. However, it became more difficult to run qualifiers over time, and so Jupiter starting letting existing events serve as qualifiers. One of those events was ABR Season 6, where I was the only undefeated player. As a result, I got an invitation to KFPL Season 4, the last run of KFPL under Jupiter.
The format for KFPL Season 4 was four deck triad. It basically worked the exact same as normal triad, except that you brought four decks, and had to win with three. This made the rounds a little longer and the deck requirements a little tougher, but it wasn’t a significant change from the usual format. Jupiter also made it so that winning by bigger margins netted you more points during the qualifying rounds.
When it came to selecting my decks, I knew that two of my decks were automatic. Mira was my best deck, so it was definitely getting picked, and Winter had always been my most reliable archon deck, so it was also getting picked. That meant having to figure out what decks three and four were going to be. I had recently acquired Strenge, a double gigantic deck, but it had been getting mixed results on TCO so far. Still, I didn’t have anything better, so I took it. For my final deck, I went back and forth between a few possibilities before finally landing on The Nebulous Operator. I picked it mostly because it’s my favorite deck, I have played it more than any other deck, and I know it extremely well. I knew that it has some really bad, unwinnable matchups, but it can also win matchups that other decks can’t. Thus, my field was set.
The qualifying rounds were played in groups. In each group, the first place winner would get a bye in the first playoff round, and the second and third place finishers would also advance to the playoffs. The rest of the group would be eliminated. I ended up in Group C along with AlgernonR, futurebeans, hisoka-44, MrKPop, and WoodrowS.
Unfortunately, just by looking over the decks, I could have told you how our group was going to play out. I would have predicted it was going to be hisoka winning the group, followed by MrKPop and I in some order, then futurebeans, then AlgernonR, then WoodrowS. It’s a shame, but archon formats can be a real challenge if you haven’t spent the money to build up an elite deck collection.
My first match was against AlgernonR, a well-known player from the Nordic Keyforge League. I think he regularly played in their top division before they changed the format, so I figured that he was a really good player. However, I also didn’t think his decks measured up to mine. He had a nice Genka deck with Hypnotic Command (Shiver the Squalid), but instead of banning that I chose to ban Bastbaple, a triple Stealth Mode deck with Quixxle Stone. I knew that both Mira and Winter were weak against Quixxle Stone, so I didn’t want to deal with it. I also figured that even if he managed a win with Shiver, I could probably beat the other two.
I was expecting everyone to ban Mira, so it caught me by surprise when AlgernonR banned Strenge instead. I asked him about his thinking after the match, and he explained that he didn’t feel like he had adequate C, and Strenge’s board looked like it could easily get out of control. That turned out to be an adept observation, as Strenge was probably my best deck over the course of the entire KFPL.
In the end, AlgernonR managed to sneak in one win against Operator, which I expected. Operator is entirely matchup dependent, even more so than most Keyforge decks, and so it can just be an auto-loss in a bad matchup. However, I took the other three games, and earned four points in the standings.
For some reason unknown to me, but probably related to masochism, I decided to schedule my matches against futurebeans and WoodrowS back to back. I remembered futurebeans from having played him in the Average Joe’s league a few years back, and knew that he was a solid player. Once again, though, I felt like his deck collection was going to hold him back. He had two COTA decks that were solid but not amazing, and two WC decks that each had two strong houses and one weak house that dragged the deck down.
Banning went a little more conventionally this time, with futurebeans banning Mira, which would remain the usual ban for most of the rest of the league. I banned Absurdly Red Magnolia, one of the COTA decks. It ended up only going 2-5 over the course of the league, so I am not sure that it was a good ban choice. However, I worried about how fast its Untamed could be, and I wasn’t sure that any of my three decks could keep up, as none of them had strong protection against burst.
Of all my competitive decks, Winter might be the one that most needs to roll well. If it high rolls, it can beat almost anything, but if it low rolls, it’s in a lot of trouble. In game one, it low rolled, and futurebeans beat it with Stormie, Arena Gatekeeper, a Rex/Spiral deck. However, it came back strong in game two, getting a good opening draw and defeating Gascoyne the Presto, a general good stuff COTA deck. His double Speed Sigil was a real liability against Winter’s Ultra Gravitrons and Star Alliance, and Discombobulator shut down his Shadows.
My usual order of decks stayed pretty consistent throughout the KFPL. I kept Operator last to give it the most chances to win and give the opponent the least exposure to it ahead of time. That meant that game three was going to be a Strenge game (see what I did there?). The Gravitron/Kong deck would be facing They that Collects Collectibles, which might be my favorite of all the deck names I saw in KFPL. Strenge’s gigantics got control of the board, and I was able to ride the results to victory. After the game, I commented to futurebeans that I was sure he was glad to not have to see any more gigantics.
Unfortunately for futurebeans, Collectibles lacked any artifact control, and so it had no way of dealing with Operator’s strangle lock. I was able to get Etan’s Jar down on Tribute and that removed his best threat. From there, Infurnace took his deck apart, leading to another four points in the standings for me.
Immediately after facing futurebeans, I started my match against WoodrowS. I thought it was funny that I had a Winter in my decks, and he had a Wynter in his. I had an Operator in my decks, and he had an Operator in his. However, I felt bad for him, because of all the players in the group, it was obvious that his decks were going to give him the most trouble.
He had an Asian deck with a Jar in it, so I banned that deck because Winter and Mira both dislike Jar. As it turned out, it didn’t matter whether Mira disliked Jar, because it got banned again.
The first two games were close, but Winter won game one, and Strenge won game two, both against S. Auric, Chief of the Thoughtful Tavern, WoodrowS’s highest SAS deck. For the third game, he shifted to his Operator deck, Proglyst Luxa-Curry, Operator, to face my Operator. Unfortunately for him, his Operator had no artifact control, and so I was able to get the usual strange lock with The Nebulous Operator and take all five points in the standings.
As I stated earlier, from the moment I first read the deck lists, I knew that hisoka would win Group C. His decks were really good, with all kinds of crazy shenanigans. I had a hard time picking which one to ban. I ended up banning Leila “Trix”, Arciere della Strada, as that deck was going to cause all sorts of problems for my decks. Mira might have been able to handle it, but the other three couldn’t, and I was pretty sure Mira was getting banned anyway. As it turned out, I was right.
I was probably going to lose this match no matter what, but of all the KFPL matches I played, this is the one where random chance made the biggest difference. hisoka high rolled all three games, I low rolled all three games, and he beat Winter twice and Strenge once. I never even made it to Operator, which is probably fine, as I don’t know that Operator could have handled his decks anyway. Interestingly, that one loss was the only loss Strenge had in the entire league. That deck went from a deck that I was uncertain about to one of my mainstays of competitive play over the course of KFPL.
hisoka was a graceful opponent, and I was appreciative of that, because I was definitely a bit tilted towards the end of the match with all the one-sided luck. I really wish there was a way to reduce the role of luck in Keyforge and have it be more about player skill. It’s never fun when a game is decided because one person drew a six Logos card opening hand or an Impspector happens to nail the most important card in the deck. Speaking of which, that leads me into my next match.
Of all the matches I was going to have in Group C, I figured this one would be the closest. Our decks looked pretty even, and I suspected that we were pretty even as players. We both qualified from the same place, the last ABR league, where we were the last two undefeated players standing. Interestingly, as of this writing, if you check the top players on BoardGameGeek for the most logged plays of Keyforge, we are the top two, although he has more than double my logged plays. He’s also a class act, and the two of us were rooting for each other to keep the undefeated streak going in ABR.
Mira was banned yet again in this matchup, and I banned E. Red, the College Warlock. That deck didn’t have much C, but it had everything else, and I was particularly worried about the Poltergeist and Infurnaces in a matchup against Operator, so it was an easy ban. My wins came from Winter and Strenge in this matchup, and I jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, Operator is heavily matchup dependent, and some of the matchups were just bad for it. However, there was one game where I thought I had the match under control. I had dealt with all the major threats, and I thought Operator was going to cruise to victory. Then an Impspector purged my Infurnace, and that was the game. As I said in the last section, it sucks when a random event swings the entire match, but it is what it is. At least I was locked into third place at this point, so I knew I was making it to the playoffs.
Before the playoffs even began, I had told my girlfriend that I was pretty confident that I was going to be one and done. I simply didn’t feel like I had the decks to compete at the top levels of Keyforge. My opponent in the first round was to be Zep90, an Italian player. When I looked through his list, I was surprised to see Mira’s counterpart, F.L. Pan, in Zep’s list. I was surprised because I thought that dick_roland owned it. It turned out that dick_roland did own it, but Zep had originally opened it, and dick_roland had loaned it back to Zep for the event.
I know there are many people who are proponents of borrowing in online Keyforge, but I think the practice generally does more harm than good. It leads to the propagation of super-teams that have cornered the market on all the best decks. Small teams like mine have a hard time competing with that. I am glad that leagues like ABR have deck verification requirements.
I banned Pan, and Zep banned Mira, so there wasn’t going to be a clash of the AOA titans in this match. Thankfully, lacking Mira didn’t matter much, as all my decks did their thing and I was able to win the match three games to zero. I was honestly surprised to get off to such a fast start in the playoffs, but I didn’t expect it to last.
My next opponent, davidpappaianni, was one of my favorite opponents in KFPL. He just had a lot of personality, and it was fun to play against him. This was one of the weirdest games to schedule. We were trying to make times work, and finally he was like, “Why don’t we just play now?” That worked for me, so we just started the games and jumped right into it.
This was the first unique ban that I had in a while. Instead of banning Mira like everyone else, david banned Operator. That one caught me totally off guard, but there was a good reason. One of his decks, Onyxphone, She that Falsifies the Den, was a really bad matchup against Operator and its Jar, so he decided to get it out of the way. That worked out well for him, as Onyxphone won its game, I believe beating Mira. Unfortunately, his other decks couldn’t follow that up, and I was able to win three games to one.
The last message that david sent me on Discord said, “I’ll get my revenge one day.” It came to pass that a few weeks after the match occurred, I was testing my decks from the Asmodee fire sale, and I ended up in a random game against david on TCO. I gave my usual greetings, and he responded with “Darn you!” I was caught a bit off-guard, and then he followed up with, “You kicked me out of KFPL.” I was like, “Oh, yeah, right, sorry about that.” We ended up having a good game, but I did win, so he told me that he will still have his revenge. I have no doubt that he will.
After we played our match, I started looking around at how the other matches were going. It seemed like all the American players were going down in defeat. Great players like CorayThan and xraycreator got bounced in very competitive matches. Soon, the only two U.S. players left were nedmike from ABR and I. I sent him a Discord message telling him that he had to win so that he could help me carry the flag for U.S. Keyforge, but unfortunately he got bounced by AnxiousPirate, leaving me as the sole American remaining.
My next match was against IrieDaily. This was the hardest game to schedule, and then when we did get it scheduled, Irie apparently messed up the time conversion and so didn’t show up. I had come home from work early to get the match played, and so I was none too thrilled when I was left sitting there for nearly an hour. Finally I decided to leave and go get my errands done, and then Irie showed up fifteen minutes later. The entire matter was referred to Jupiter, and he basically told us to get it rescheduled at whatever time worked for me. Irie did apologize for the mess, so I appreciated that, and we ended up playing on a Friday afternoon.
Irie had a ridiculous set of decks, with none lower than 92 SAS, so I knew it was going to be difficult. This was another game with a unique ban situation. Irie banned Strenge rather than Mira, which by now I thought actually made sense. Good as Mira is, Strenge actually had the better record, and Strenge could answer anything, while Mira does have certain matchup weaknesses. I banned They who Flirts with Cleavers, as it had Infurnaces and Reclaimed by Nature, and both of those things were bad for Operator.
This one came right down to the wire. As usual, it came down to whether Operator could steal a win or not. I thought I might be able to beat Jupiter’s old deck, X. Peters, but Irie was able to do just enough to get the win. Thus, it came down to Operator against Noel, Illustrator of the Frazzled Shelter. Creature heavy decks do not match up well against Operator, and I held back a Reclaimed by Nature long enough to deal with Crazy Killing Machine, his only artifact control. Operator is very much like Thanos in that it eventually becomes inevitable, and this was no exception. I was able to win the final game and thus sneak away with a 3-2 win, putting me into the top four. I was still carrying the flag.
If you had told me when KFPL started that I would end up making the top four, I would have asked you what you were smoking. The problem now was that my expectations were starting to come up a bit. I started to think, “Maybe I could win this thing.”
Thankfully, I had a lot of help and support. Many of my ABR teammates came out to support me, and of course I got lots of help from my best Keyforge friend, Arly. I ran practice rounds through with jtrussell, nedmike, Gmanic, yrstruly, and Arly. I knew the matchups inside and out, and I knew which match-ups were more favorable than others. Gmanic helped me see that Winter was going to have a hard time against my opponent’s creature spam decks, and Arly helped me realize that I would be smart to switch my usual order and play Operator first.
My opponent this round was KelvinLam. Until I went to send him a Discord message to arrange a time, I didn’t realize that he was the same person that I had recently bought a deck from (my first Chinese deck, with four Control the Weak in it). We arranged to play on Sunday at 2:30 PM EDT. Interestingly, the other semi-final match, between the brothers Lorenzo and Vincenzo, scheduled to play just a couple hours after our game. Unlike all my other KFPL games, this one promised to be a public affair, with plenty of spectators and siaka recording it. I just hoped that I didn’t make a stupid mistake and make myself look like an idiot.
Banning phase went as expected. I banned Pronto “Car Chaser” Enki, as it had a number of cards that I didn’t want to deal with, Etan’s Jar and Reclaimed by Nature primary amongst them. KelvinLam banned Mira. I also realized during the banning phase that KelvinLam hadn’t practiced the matchup at all, so I hoped that would give me a small edge.
The first round was exactly what I expected. I brought Operator, and he brought his double Dysania deck. The deck was a great meta choice, especially against me. Mira might have been able to survive Dysania, but my other decks had Ultra Gravitrons and Auto-Encoders. The deck also had a great Untamed rush element, which my non-Mira decks tend to be weak against. I found Jar right before I flipped my deck, and he was already up two keys. I had an impossible choice. I could Jar Dysania, which was the smart play to mitigate the long-term harm, or I could Jar the Dust Pixie that was about to come down and win the game for him. I hit the Dust Pixie, but he hit me with a big Dysania a couple turns later, and that was game. I wasn’t upset, though, as I knew that match would always be an auto-loss.
KelvinLam next went to his triple Subject Kirby deck. I stayed on Operator, as this was the match that I felt Operator had the best chance to win. He had three threats in the deck: an Infurnace, an Impspector, and an enhanced Q-Mechs. He also had a bunch of artifacts, but I figured double Reclaimed could take care of those. I got down double Fangtooth early to help keep his board spam under control. He played out the Q-Mechs, but I had a Cyber-Clone ready for it. One threat down. He followed up by Infurnacing one of my Reclaimeds and my Cyber-Clone. I played down a bunch of Brabbles, used Gateway to Dis, and then Infurnaced his Infurnace. Two threats down. A short while later, I found Jar and used it to prevent his Impspector from being played, eliminating the final threat. From there, Operator became inevitable, and I eventually won the game to tie the match at 1-1.
I didn’t like the matchup of his triple Kirby against Winter very much, so I went to Strenge next. Niffle Kong got control of the board, wrecked his artifacts, stole his Æmber, and pretty much single handedly won the game. I love Strenge for its ability to both put down significant threats, and be able to answer the opponent’s threats. Even Etan’s Jar won’t stop it, as Reclaimed or Niffle Kong can both eat a Jar. I was now up 2-1 and feeling like I had a shot. Unfortunately, a lot of my friends and teammates didn’t realize it was best of five, and so they left after this game thinking I had won. It might have been best that way, though, given how the next two games unfolded.
I knew I needed a good start to be able to beat his triple Kirby with Winter, or the board would quickly get out of control. I didn’t get that good start, and his board got out of control. I was flailing in the wind towards the end of the game, and probably should have just conceded earlier and gone to game five.
It all came down to this game. His deck had double Kirby and one Ultra Gravitron, while my deck had double Kirby and two Ultra Gravitron. It was going to come down to which one of us got the better start. I looked at my opening hand and it was trash. I mulliganed into an even worse hand. I knew the match was over. He found his one Ultra Gravitron before I could find either of mine, my removal never showed up, and the game was a slaughter. As I said above, it’s a real shame that luck plays such a major role in Keyforge. Nonetheless, KelvinLam played well, and I wish him all the best of luck in the future.
After the loss, I went back to my ABR team Discord feeling pretty crappy. I felt like I had let everyone down and failed to carry the flag. Arly told me that, “It literally wasn’t your fault,” and I knew he was right, but it still felt bad. I also had to question whether my deck stable was good enough.
Still, in perspective, it’s pretty good that a random guy from Maine made it all the way to the top four of a Keyforge tournament against the best players with the best decks in the world. It wasn’t over yet, though. There was one match still to come, the “Who Cares?” Bowl between Lorenzo and I for third place.
Lorenzo is a former KFPL champion, and had made it out of the toughest group, Group D. Besides Lorenzo, KelvinLam and Zep90 were also in that group. Gorlami put up 17 points in that group and didn’t even make the playoffs. Aurore, my editor here and one of the best players in the world, only managed three game wins in the entire group. It was a brutal group.
I had watched on Sunday as Lorenzo barely lost to his brother Vincenzo in the other semi-final. I think he is probably the most accomplished player I have ever played against in a tournament setting (I would argue that EmperorRiku is the best), and I knew it was going to take a lot to have a chance. Thus, the worst thing I could do was to get distracted and completely blow the first game, which is exactly what I did.
Before I get to that, though, let’s talk about bans. I banned Alfar „Das Ass“, Seelsorger der Kirche. Its Untamed rush looked too fast for many of my decks, and its Neutron Shark would be a problem for Operator, and maybe for Strenge. Lorenzo, predictably, banned Mira.
In the first game, I went back to my usual ordering, bringing Winter against a Chinese deck that Google says translates as Violent Vale Agent Randolph. Kiddynamite was over at my apartment, and he was running a tournament where people were playing for a five Infurnace deck he just opened. That was going on at the same time as my game, and so he was talking to our friend Turtle on the phone while I was trying to play, and it was a huge distraction. Somewhat irritated, I sent him to go hang out in the living room, but in all the chaos, I never got to take a good look at Lorenzo’s list. These are the types of things that happen with online Keyforge that would never happen at a real life tournament. At any rate, I didn’t see the Too Much to Protect in Lorenzo’s list, so I burst for a bunch of Æmber and then got hit with the TMTP, losing the first game.
In game two, I brought Winter again, and this time there was no TMTP to stop me. Winter got a bit of a slow start, but once the Ultra Gravitrons hit the board, they dominated. The deck was flying, and I managed to tie the match up at 1-1.
In game three, I moved over to Strenge, and by this point I felt total confidence in that deck. I knew it was going to win. Niffle Kong came out, and he wiped my board except for the Kong. I was able to use the Dis to activate the Kong, and was able to hold Lorenzo off long enough to go to 2-1.
Now it was all down to Operator. These matches were going to swing on how quickly Lorenzo figured out what Operator was trying to do. Most players don’t catch on very quickly, but Lorenzo is an exceptional player, and I was a bit worried. In game four, Operator faced off against Spezialist „Sandsturm“ Greifswald. The deck was just slightly too fast for Operator, and Lorenzo was able to get across the finish line right when I ran out of Æmber control. We were tied at 2-2.
Game five was for all the marbles. Maybe if I won this game, I could redeem myself a bit for the idiot mistake in game one, and for failing to carry the flag in the semi-finals. Lorenzo brought Matrosin V. Schöpf against Operator. I knew that the key to the game was his two Infurnaces. If I could get rid of them, I should be able to slow him down enough to be able to win. He played out of one his Infurnaces early, taking out two cards I didn’t really care much about. However, I couldn’t show my Infurnace until I saw where his other Infurnace was. Thus, I raced to the end of the deck, purged his first Infurnace, then played Gateway to send my Infurnace into discard right before I flipped the deck. One down, one to go. He eventually showed the second one, and I was able to take it out as well. From there, it was all about removing his Æmber. He held back, waiting for me to make a mistake and play too much Æmber control, allowing him to burst. However, I was careful and I always played just enough to keep him contained while holding some back. It took me a while to make it to two keys and six Æmber myself, as Operator is notoriously slow, but I finally made it there, and so finished off the “Who Cares” Bowl the same way I had finished off so many other rounds, with Operator’s strangle lock.
I want to point out here that Lorenzo was not only a skilled player, but also a classy opponent. I hope that I didn’t seem out of sorts after the game one experience, but I apologize to him if I did.
In the Olympics, if you end up on the right side of the podium in that third place spot, does that mean you did a good job representing your country? I don’t know the answer to that, but in the absence of big name players, I hope that I did a passable job of showing that American Keyforge has a new crop of players to be reckoned with.
One of the major lessons that I learned out of this experience was that my deck collection is better than I originally gave it credit for. Strenge showed itself to be a top caliber deck, as no one had consistent answers to it. Mira mostly just got banned, but performed well when it got the chance to. Winter struggled in certain matchups and showed that it doesn’t deal well with board spam, but still won the majority of its games. Operator proved to be so unique that opponents had a hard time adjusting to it and what it was trying to do. It makes a great wild card deck, as it can win matchups that none of my other decks can.
I hope you enjoyed reading my account of my KFPL experiences, and kudos if you managed to make it all the way through to the end. If you have any questions or anything you want to discuss, feel free to message me. I am SecondAct on most Keyforge Discords and on TCO.