Episode #4 – A Casually Competitive Conundrum

Admit it.  All of us KeyForgers have done it.  We may do it in secret late at night, staring at a computer screen in the dark.  Or maybe some of us take a peek in the wee hours of the morning as we catch a ride to work, covertly shielding our cellphones as to dissuade any unwanted attention or judgments.  We fantasize about the images we encounter, and the combinations that begin to play out in our minds are endless. We might even get bold and decide to take one for a spin, just to see how it handles in real life and not just in our imaginations.  But as the lines between fact and fiction begin to blur, that’s when things truly get…interesting. And expensive!

Wait, what did you think I was talking about?  I thought it was fairly obvious that I was describing deck shopping online.  I can’t even fathom what else I could have been recounting, so as I leave those thoughts where they may lie, I want to start this week’s episode by admitting that I spent quite a substantial amount of time this past week looking to acquire a fresh deck for my evergrowing arsenal.  And I was searching not just for any deck, but a deck worthy of bringing into battle. A deck worthy of launching itself into the fray and walking out a victor. I was in search of a champion…

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of The Random Ramblings of Raspberry Eyes!  I’m your host, exceptionally psychotic Raspberry Eyes, and in this week’s episode, we are going to delve into the aboveground world of purchasing KeyForge decks on the secondary market.  Having immersed myself in this no-rules realm over the past week or so, obviously in order to bring you a truly investigative journalistic experience (and definitely not because I’m also addicted to purchasing potential powerhouse decks), I felt it would be more than timely to present my findings on the subject at hand, so without further ado, let’s get right down to it!

With the possibility of both store and prime championships looming around the corner in my neck of the woods, I decided to partake in this always daunting task of finding that perfect deck to add to my coveted Ultimate Guard Superhive cache of what I feel to be my most competitive of decks.  Having recently obtained a promotion of sorts in my particular professional field, I also found myself with a slight increase in my KeyForge funds. Nothing to write home about, but I felt I was in a comfortable position to splurge a little bit on something different and exciting to add to my personal collection.  And so my search began where all great expeditions arise, in the mysterious digital kingdom we call FaceBook!

Now, first and foremost, I would refer to myself as a casually competitive player when it comes to the art of forging keys.  I have been able to persuade my siblings, a few friends, and occasionally even my loving in partaking in the great sport of KeyForge, but I don’t usually find myself playing a lot of in-person casual games.  Not because I wouldn’t love to, but being an adult with responsibilities makes it tough to coordinate consistent gaming nights with those who would normally be willing to play. So while many of you loyal followers out there know, I would play mostly online through TCO, where I quickly elevated my skill level from casual to competitive, both in the figurative and literal forms as provided by The Crucible Online.  Since I need to travel at least an hour to play any type of KeyForge with real-life players in any capacity, I tend to bring a slightly aggressive mindset to most of those encounters. Not that I am anything but a delight to play with, but I do go all out and tend to perform quite admirably in the tournaments I have participated in. I wouldn’t count myself as a top-level player yet, but I feel the potential is there, and as a student of the game, I am only going to progressively get better with each and every event I attend.

And this is exactly while I would refer to myself as a casually competitive player.  Now, what exactly is my point here? Well, when you aren’t out there competing in a weekly chainbound tournament and don’t have the means to find your way to a Vault Tour quite yet, one really has to step back and consider how much a potentially devastating new deck is worth to a player such as myself.  But, with championships of all varieties starting to take shape, I made a vow to attend as many of them in my state as physically possible, so I wanted to have some more options in case Archon is the format of choice for any of those championship offerings. But there is a unique dilemma when it comes to purchasing decks of KeyForge, that being that each deck is actually unique and pricing is about as subjective as it gets.

When you want to build a deck in almost any other card game on the market, you would simply determine which cards you need for your dream decklist, price out those singles on eBay or other card selling sites, and begin to tally up a total cost for your deck.  Sure, it can get pricey depending on what you are trying to build, but you can gauge the overall cost with some fairly simple mathematics. But with KeyForge, all of that logic in purchasing decks is completely thrown out the window, which makes my initial posting on FaceBook signaling that I was in the market for something new even more imperative when stating what specifically I was looking for.  I personally like to begin my searches based on statistics, where I tend to look for a solid trifecta of a high SAS, high AERC, and my personal favorite attribute, a high raw aember count. I know my methods are not perfect, but I feel like I have found some very strong decks utilizing this mindset, so that is where I started my quest.

As one would expect, I was immediately bombarded with private messages and replies to my posting with all kinds of hypothetical juggernauts, which is where the second phase of my hunt commenced.  I began to wade through decklists, not entirely sure what I was looking for, but knowing deep within that I would know it when I saw it. That is another thing that I love about this game and its subjectivity.  While it is usually common knowledge which cards and deck builds are the most dominant in any given meta for most collectible card games, KeyForge presents a slightly different and skewed perspective on what the current meta truly is.  It’s not enough to simply look for a prevailing combo, as even decks that contain those combinations won’t typically survive without some very strong support cards to round out the deck. When a deck is lacking a few key cards or card types, with artifact removal and board wiping capabilities a few that come to mind from my own experiences, even a seemingly unbeatable deck will have consistent problems with deck types that it can’t deal with.  And that is why I started to focus my efforts on looking through all of those potential decklists with an eye on well-rounded stats and strong cards, preferably strong cards in duplicates or triplicate even.

It was at this point in my journey that I stumbled across a Discord conversation concerning the fabled “Top Tier” decks.  The discussion was talking about how strong decks could be had for a few hundred dollars, but when talking about next-level decks, sometimes you might find yourself entering the insane world of four-figure pricing!  I decided to reach out to one of the authorities in that regard and had a brief exchange with a Vault Tour winner and one of the highest-ranked players on TCO (who I didn’t officially ask to be named in this article, so they won’t be named here…but if they want credit I will totally make that happen, ha!) about how they go about finding those “Top Tier” decks themselves.

While it was mentioned how a powerful deck can become super-powered by the addition of just a few cards that round out the deck itself, thus eliminating a glaring weakness in one way or another, the same could just as easily be said when a percieved super-powered deck happens to be lacking one of those key elements of KeyForge, knocking it off that upper-echelon pedestal.  I mentioned the possibility that more often than not it is the player that makes a deck “Top Tier”, and my fellow forger offered up that fact that most of the time the best players in the game are using the best decks in the game, which has to be true. Just take a look at our recently crowned two-time Vault Tour winner who took down both VTs with the same deck. But our conversation ended on the fun fact that so far neither of us have spent more than a few hundred on any of what we consider to be our best decks, so if you know what you are looking for, one doesn’t have to break the bank to find something magical in a KeyForge deck.

The next phase of finding a potential titleholder would be the most difficult part of purchasing decks on the secondary market, and that is deck testing.  You can always just obtain a deck by purchasing it blindly based on stats and lists alone, but until you take that new toy out for a spin, you won’t truly know what you’ve got.  When searching for “Top Tier” decks, it is vital to test it out and see if it plays to your strengths as a player. I have picked up a few decks without thoroughly testing them out first, and for one reason or another, I have never been able to get them to fire properly.  That may be just because my skill level is subpar or maybe I didn’t fully understand how the deck was supposed to work, but the beauty of this game is that not everyone has to play the same style of deck to compete, so finding the type of deck that fits your strategic philosophies is of the utmost importance.

When thinking back to my idea swap on what it takes to make a deck “Top Tier”, playtesting that deck extensively is the only way to get a feel for a deck and to know how it handles in any given situation, but how many times can you play a deck before deciding to pass or pull the trigger on an acquisition?  For decks that are in high demand or up for auction, if you decide to play the deck too much, you might completely miss the chance to own it, so I try to squeeze in at least five games competitively when testing out a potential purchase myself. This should give you a decent feel for the deck, and it’s nowhere near a foolproof system, but if you can go either 5-0 or even 4-1 with a new deck, you might just have something worth taking a chance with.

All of this is predicated on what I would retroactively refer to as phase 2.5, and that is asking a deck owner what price tag they would put on a deck prior to going through the hassle of testing it out.  I knew my price range on decks was in the $100 to $200 range, so when I would receive a deck price in that range for something I thought looked like it was my speed, then I would take it to that next step of actually trying it out.  When you get a response where the owner doesn’t know what it is worth or wants you to make an offer, I tend to typically shy away from that drama and look for players who know what they want out of a deck instead. I also always want to find a deck that offers something in terms of extra value as well, which might be a deck that carries a price that you might feel is a little undervalued, but since KeyForge is all about speculation, if an owner gets their price in the long run, I don’t see anything wrong with that.

After some time spent playtesting a deck I felt was priced nicely and played well, earning me a 5-0 TCO experience at the competitive level even with a handful of misplays on my behalf as I attempted to learn a new deck, I pulled the trigger on a Call of the Archons titan with the houses of Dis, Sanctum, and Shadows.  Is the deck perfect? No, it’s currently sitting at a win percentage of around 70% at the competitive level, but I am still learning to use it and I feel it could be very strong overall.  And as is the case so often when attempting to add one deck to your arsenal, I ultimately found an Age of Ascension monster going by the grandiose name of Elwood T. Cullassa, the Third.  You just have to believe that Archon rocks a top hat all day long, right?  Another deck found in my price range, and after all was said and done I picked up two great new decks for the price of $250, which isn’t bad at all if I end up using them in any of those championships that were mentioned at the top of this article.

I’m not sure if any of this is valuable to anyone out there, but I thought I would share my thoughts on tracking down potential deck powerhouses on a relatively slim budget, at least when comparing oneself to some of the players who are constantly throwing big money at big decks, so hopefully other casually competitive players out there can glean something from my ramblings this week.  That about wraps it up for me and my thoughts on how to navigate the secondary market. I’m still always looking for opinions or judgments on my incoherentness, so feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line as I would love to get some real honest feedback. Plus, if you have anything you would love for me to comment on, no matter how strange or wacky it may be, don’t hesitate to throw it out there!  And with that, I’m RaspberryEyes, signing off and reminding you all to ramble on!

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