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Double Elimination Brackets: The problem, the solution.

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The first vault tour is underway in Philadelphia, and it seems that Ghost Galaxy have stuck with the double elimination bracket for the main events. There are some advantages and some disadvantages to their method, which I’d like to briefly touch on.


The Swiss style tournament is a tried and true method of running live events. There are 3 main ways to resolve a Swiss tournament: No Top cut, with X player top cut, or record based top cut. In all cases people are matched with players that have the same record. In case of an odd number of players one player with no wins will receive a Bye, which is effectively an automatic win but is very bad for tie-breakers (see no top cut). Unless the number of players is a power of 2 (8,16,32, etc) then some players will play down, meaning a player with X wins will play against someone with X-1 wins.

No Top Cut

In a no top cut Swiss tournament you play until there is a single undefeated player. This means that the tournament is effectively single-elimination as a single loss means you can no longer win. If there are prizes for lower places then those will be determined by record and then tie breakers. The generic form of tie breakers is strength of schedule, which means if you defeated players with better overall records you will have a better record. Other tie breakers may be used, such as number of keys forged.

This method of Swiss tournament is faster and is usually what you will see in local tournaments of up to 16 players. The disadvantages are obvious, a single bad draw and you’re out of contention. Tie breakers can result in a lot of feel bad moments too.

X players top cut

The number of players to make the top cut is predetermined based on the number of participants. Usually it will be something like top 4 for up to 64 players, top 8 up to 128 players, etc. Much like in the no top cut variant prizes, the players that will make top cut are often determined by tie-breakers. The disadvantages of tie breakers are similar to no top cuts, but this form allows players to lose a round or two and still make top cut, meaning they could still win the tournament after a bad draw.

This does result in a clean single elimination bracket for top cut with no byes. The advantage of finishing first will be to get matched against the worst record holder.

Record based top cut

Swiss rounds are played normally, with players needing to get a specific record to make top cut, usually X-1 or better. X-1 or better is effectively double elimination, as a second loss means you can no longer make top cut. The advantage of record based top cut over x player top cut is that no tie-breakers are used to make top cut. However, tie-breakers may still be used to determine seeds for the top cut single elimination bracket. A better seed may mean a Bye in the top cut.

Record based top cut was the common tournament structure used during KeyForge’s time with FFG.

Double Elimination Brackets

A double elimination bracket works very differently than Swiss rounds. The entire bracket is pre-determined based on random seeds. Many players receive first round byes, and there is a lot of dead time in the winner’s bracket as you wait for the loser’s bracket to catch up. Double Elimination brackets are a favorite for leagues, because you don’t need to wait for matches to finish to play further matches, and since games are player over several weeks, you don’t really sit around and wait for matches to finish.

This is the 48 player bracket for KFPL, and this is the 18 player bracket for Timeshapers Oubliette. As you can see, if you try to run this with set rounds, you’re going to have players waiting a long time to get their matches. Remember that loser’s round 1 only happens after winner’s round 1 is done.

People come to vault tours to play KeyForge, not sit around for 2-4 rounds waiting for their next match.

Double Elimination Swiss

The solution is simple, and nothing new. You run a Swiss tournament where players are automatically dropped when they get their second loss. This is very similar to X-1 record based top cut, but has the same advantages of Double Elimination Brackets without the downsides:

  • you avoid the awkward match down in which one player with X-2 record can eliminate the other player with X-1 record, but can’t make the top cut (which can result in collusion, or worse).
  • Reduces admin as you don’t need to check if people drop.
  • Reduces no-shows of people that forgot to drop (or simply don’t care), leaving players that want to play without opponents.
  • Allows them to run second aember events instead of offering prizes per wins like FFG did. which is a good thing.

There are also two ways to finish a Double Elimination Swiss tournament, you either finish with X players in a single elimination bracket, or you do a true double elimination and play until there is only 1 player left. Both have merits, I personally prefer true double elimination, but I can see the case for a single elimination top cut, to smooth out the disadvantage of getting an unlucky draw one round.

You could, if you wanted, play a double elimination bracket for top cut, smoothing out the bad experience of a bad matchup in the top cut. This is particularly good in sealed, where some matchups are simply unwinnable.

Contact Ghost Galaxy

If you feel like I do, that double elimination Swiss would be better, please contact Ghost Galaxy and tell them so, they are open to feedback.


Aurore is a competitive KeyForge player and the founder of Timeshapers. She's a content writer by trade and aspiring game designer. Follow @Timeshapers1