Crowdsourcing is a powerful thing, so I put out a call on Twitter of what people would like me to talk about in my articles; and one of the topics suggested was by Zach Armstrong: End Game Strategy. More specifically, the last key general strategy when you and your opponent both have two keys, and next forge wins.
For this idea, a few concepts come to mind. Firstly, what does your deck do, as there are a few approaches that come to mind with this. Is your deck a burst deck that can generate æmber quickly in one turn? Are you piloting a control deck that looks to take your opponent’s æmber via stealing? Maybe you have a combo deck that allows some forging out of the traditional start-of-turn forge step with a key cheat. All these factors will come into play with the final key on the line. Knowing what your deck likes to do is a crucial factor at this junction in the game, and knowing what cards are left in your deck is the other.
There are two things that can be very important when you are both on your final key of the game, one is simple. Do you have any cards that can take your opponent off of check? If you have them in hand, great! But if not, how many cards are left in your deck, and what can you do to find them as quickly as possible. The same question must be asked if your opponent has a big board, especially if one or two houses in dominant on the board and can reap into check quite easily. Creature removal or board clears may be the next tool that must be considered at this point. Again, do you have this answer in hand, or will you have to dig for it?
For myself, I’m a believer that once you are nearing the forging of the second key, any cards you have that will aid in you winning the game should be considered to be held for that End Game scenario— keep in mind, sometimes continuing to cycle may trump this, but with experience you will know the difference. Inefficiently playing æmber control cards mid-game, and not having any answers End Game is not going to help. Even if you can shuffle your deck in the next two turns, you are now facing the probability of drawing those answers a lot less. If you know you have answers in your deck still, and you are getting near to the end, perfect! Start digging and playing out as many cards as possible to cycle into those for when they will be needed. This concept translates to any other answer that may be needed at this point in the game, for example, creature/board control, if you have it, artifact control, even creatures or key cheats that can swing the tempo in your favor at the end. This seems very straight forward, but the main point I’m trying to convey in this part is that it is possible you may need to sacrifice the present to prepare for the future, so don’t be afraid to chain yourself for some certainty moving forward into that End Game.
When I was at the Vegas VT, I was using a deck that I considered a tool chest. This deck had answers for everything, and part of my strategy with it was to identify cards on my opponent’s decklist that were game-changing threats, and once I drew the answer to those threats, hold them. That may seem counter-intuitive, but it worked to great success. There are cards in this game that can make such an impact on the game, that having an answer to them right away is a huge tempo swing in your favor, and can completely rattle your opponent. This is especially true If they have been digging for that card, as they could have played some other houses or cards sub-optimally to go through their deck faster. Keep this in mind at the final key of the game, do you have your tool chest available?
Let’s talk about a less ideal situation. What if most of your End Game tools came early, and now you are stuck with a limited amount of options heading into the later parts of a game. If you are identifying this scenario at the End Game, it may be too little too late, unless the RNG Gods are smiling upon you. If you know a lot of your answers came really early, you may have put yourself in a situation where you need to be making plays that go for maximum hand cycling to get your discard shuffled up again. I think we have all been in this situation before, and it is definitely not a good look. Coming out of this can be tricky, and staying focused on your aim can be a big factor.
Another way to deal with this potential less ideal situation is to stop focusing on the strategy of æmber control if you know the odds are low of getting those back or possibly drawing into them. Just start going on the offensive! Get as much æmber each turn moving forward and make your opponent have to answer. Now obviously with this strategy, you will have to be aware of Too Much to Protect and Doorsteps, etc., but by making your opponent respond to you instead of you responding to them, you are controlling the tempo of the game. There is one caveat to this, if your opponent’s decklist shows a lot of stealing cards, then that can be a big way that they can generate æmber, so you must be mindful of that, and what has already been played up until this part of the game. Another aspect of this is your opponent’s creatures that want to interact with your board, you may not want to have a board at the End Game if that is the case. Think Umbra, Maruck, etc. Practice taking in as much info as possible in those two minutes at the start of the game, as well as identifying how many cards have the potential to control æmber, and in what form.
Speaking of getting late game answers early, archiving is probably one of the best tools to prepare yourself for the End Game. I know this seems obvious, but is without a doubt a great way to set up for the End Game. So utilize that archive and put that card(s) into storage for later, even build up an archive with the house that those answers come from. Nothing has a greater impact on the game than picking up your archive and essentially doubling your hand size. This is part of the reason Martian Generosity is such a strong card, whether you have Key Abduction or not, you are going to have a huge card advantage, and with that a better selection of answers as you move forward.
There are moments I’ve experienced in the late game where I’m faced with a decision that can be challenging. This moment is when you have an answer in hand to get your opponent off of check, but it requires two turns to work. The big one for this is Lash of Broken Dreams, or creature æmber control abilities, such as Umbra, Pit Demon, Mindwarper, Maruck the Marked, etc. I’m going to talk about the Lash aspects of this, as it comes to mind as being one of the more difficult decisions. Scenarios have occurred when I have a Lash in hand plus one other Dis card and maybe one or two other Dis creatures on board, along with another house that has more creatures on board, and three cards in hand. Now utilizing these non-Dis creatures and cards in hand puts me in check, but if my opponent has steal capabilities in hand, this will take me off check, and potentially aid them in going in to check, meanwhile, my answers need one more turn to set up before they can go off. This is the point where I personally have the most struggle. You are faced with going in check to potentially win, or put yourself in a position where your opponent takes you off of check and they are now able to win. It’s not easy deciding whether or not to forgo the potential win in that moment to set up a move to ensure you can survive moving forward. With the Lash example, in retrospect, I find myself wondering if not going in check that turn and set up a potential safety blanket makes more sense. This is the most difficult scenario, and being aware of what your opponent still has left in their deck, as well as what has been played can be the deciding factor at that moment.
To sum everything up, when facing the End Game, it is important to have true awareness of what your opponent has left in their deck, or if they cycled through their deck and didn’t play a threat, being aware of what they are holding, as you know that is still to come. Then on the flip side, you need to be aware of what you need for your End Game, and when you are on the brink of that third key, do you have what it takes to execute your game plan, and act accordingly to make it so, whether that be holding cards to ensure you have answers moving forward, or are you going digging to cycle into them.
One last thought, when you have a lot of ways to answer your opponent, and multiple in one house, if you are the one to go in check first for the third key, don’t go crazy and play out all of those answers one after the other on your turn. Hold some to keep responding to your opponent. As long as you are in check, your opponent must keep responding to that, and turn after turn will they continue to have the answers? If you are holding a bunch of responses and keep staying in check, they will run out of options and you win by being patient. Again, decklist knowledge is crucial to making this work. But hey, you could always just burst to 12 and pray they don’t have a Too Much to Protect! Thanks for taking the time to digest my KeForge literature. As always, may your æmber never be stolen, and you forge your keys promptly. Have a good one!