Mastery: What it means for KeyForge

I have recently watched Veritasium’s video on what it takes to be an expert, or mastery. The old adage of 10,000 hours of practice is insufficient. My previous article on the topic focused on thinking about the game and how that is a necessary step in moving the threshold before you can get to it again by playing. I’m here to explore what Derek’s video means for mastering KeyForge.

The 4 things it takes to be an expert

I recommend watching the video, it’s very good. But to summarize, there are four things you need to become an expert in any field:

  • Valid Environment – By this he means that your actions have meaningful impact on the result. Gambling is, in most cases, entirely random, and therefore does not provide a valid environment. Neither is stock market investment. KeyForge has a large random element in the card draw, but it is clear that skill has impact on the game. You can be better or worse at it.
  • Many Repetitions – This is, of course, the 10,000 hours idea. For KeyForge this means playing about 20,000-40,000 games. Thanks to Cryogen, one of the developers of TCO, I know I have played 6205 games online, so lets round that up to 7000 total. I expect I’ll be at 10,000 hours in 3-4 years if the game keeps going strong.
  • Timely Feedback – This means that you can see the causation from your actions to the result. It’s very hard to get better at an activity where you only know if you did well in several years. It’s possible as a generational thing, passing knowledge onto the next generation allows humans to get better at large scale operations. But luckily, in a game of KeyForge, you immediately know if you won or lost. Sometimes you even get feedback you made a mistake much faster, like attacking an Elusive creature when you thought it didn’t havbe Elusive.
  • Deliberate Practice – There are many ways to practice deliberately, one of them is studying, which is what I thought of as thinking about the game. But Derek outlines another, which is getting out of your comfort zone.

Deliberate practice is what I wish to explore. How do you practice KeyForge, besides playing many games? How do you get out of your comfort zone?

Deliberate Practice

The closest game to draw ideas from would be Magic: The Gathering, but I am not familiar with methodologies of deliberate practice in MTG. Chess is a very different game than KeyForge, but it has hundreds of years of history and a rich culture of deliberate practice, so there are definitely some ideas we can use. I also have some ideas of my own, specific to KeyForge.


A classic chess practice method is to play KeyForge blindfolded, which is an idea I have raised in the past and have yet to try. This forces you to maintain the board state in their head, which is definitely outside my comfort zone, and probably yours too. It wouldn’t be easy to play KeyForge blindfolded since the game state can get quite complex and there aren’t neat annotation you can use. I still think that have someone mediate between the opponent and the blindfolded player can work. I’m looking forward to trying this.


Chess has a lot of puzzles and they are relatively easy to set up. KeyForge isn’t that easy, and the only puzzles we have right now is the ones Neil Crompton created to demonstrate odd and ambiguous rules interactions. In chess, it is said puzzles can help teach you to recognize certain game situations so you can play the correct move when they arise in the game.

Duma the Martyr Puzzle

Although a fictional character, Elizabeth Harmon in Queen’s Gambit said she doesn’t do puzzles because they are situations that never come up in games, I am sure some chess players believe that too. There are puzzles that are there for fun an there are puzzles that teach game states, and there are puzzles that teach rules. Neil’s puzzles teach rules. We, as a community, would greatly benefit from puzzles that teach game states. Sometimes when I find myself pondering over a turn I’ll screenshot it and post it on discord to discuss with other players. We could certainly do better, creating puzzles that teach game states.

Reviewing Games

Looking over your past performances is a fantastic way to improve, and isn’t only a chess thing. Reviewing your decisions to see what you could have done differently is probably the best way to think outside the box. Find a weakness in your play and you can cover that weakness. Does a matchup seem unwinnable? Maybe there is a way to play in a way that would usually be suboptimal, but would give better chances of winning a certain matchup?

Chess is much better for reviewing games because there is no hidden information and so you can repeat a game and explore branching paths. Doing this in KeyForge is certainly possible, but you’d have to record the order of your deck and play with a willing opponent. Play the same game, make different decisions, see how it develops. There has been suggestions of making an online client with a seed for purposes of playing duplicate KeyForge, but it could also help this kind of exploration.

Playing with chains

I don’t like chains, but they would certainly force a player to explore their deck with restricted resources. Chainbound was good for this, but it’s hard to get chainbound games these days, and I don’t know if they’ll come back or not. Chains are most often used in Adaptive variants but then it is used to balance decks. Try and play with chains on both players, or even against an equal deck without chains. Get out of that comfort zone!

Bad Draws

Sometimes your best cards are at the bottom of the deck. About 8% of the time your key card will be at the bottom 3 cards of your deck, but you only get to practice that 8% of the time, unless you practice it more deliberately. You could place your key card at the bottom of your deck or even purge it before the game. See what your deck does without it. Are there several key cards? Remove some or all of them and see what you can do.

Perhaps you can start with a bad hand. Maybe even draw into a 2/2/2 hand the entire game. Split your deck into houses and always draw into 2/2/2 until you finish a house, then you can draw into 3/3, etc. This will likely never happen in a game, but it will force you to play differently.

Deliberately practice bad luck. Find the way to use your deck while having bad luck. The downside is, you might not be able to blame bad luck anymore.

Playing a Simultaneous

Another idea from chess is for a strong player to play against multiple players. This is often done as a show, but it can also be done as practice. It is harder to form a strategy and maintain it over multiple games, but that’s the point. Try to maintain a strategy over multiple games at the same time and then sticking to a plan will be easier when playing 1v1. I’ve made strategic plans and failed to follow through many times, maybe this can help.

Play odd Variants

The KeyForge community has come up with many variants that push you outside the comfortable proposition of Archon solo. Why not jump into a Tesla game on Monday run by Mortivas, or a Newton league I run on Sanctumonius-Timeshapers. KarenB is running many interesting variants both for teams and individuals. Those are all excellent ways to explore KeyForge and learn new things.

Practice Makes Perfect

Well, it doesn’t, but it can push you in the right direction. The more you practice outside your comfort zones, the more you’ll learn about the game. I hope that the future holds more organized play that will push me to practice outside my comfort zone.


Aurore is a competitive KeyForge player and the founder of Timeshapers. She's a programmer and a content creator by trade. Her hobbies are woodworking, game development, board games, writing, and of course KeyForge. Follow @MaterialPoetics

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