What a happy coincidence that the week I’m writing about rating systems and decks, Decks of Keyforge— or DoK, releases an update that has the community feeling all kinds of ways now that the ratings of their decks have drastically changed. I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about this. What I really want to address in this article is how a rating system does not necessarily correctly identify, or define, a good deck. This new update of SAS actually makes this point I’m trying to make that much more important. It is never just about the number, there is always more to it than that, so don’t let that be the sole factor in how you define how good a deck is. Now let’s get into this!
First off, I’m not advocating that a rating system is bad or good; rating systems are a tool to short cut your own evaluations by assigning a number to the deck based on metrics determined by the creator of that system. The point of this article is to demonstrate how the rating system can overlook something great, so be mindful of that when you use them. You have probably heard this before, but it cannot be said enough times, the only true way to properly evaluate a deck is to play it in different arenas!
Enough time has been spent addressing the new SAS system update, both Jupiter and the Wookie have podcast episodes with the creator of SAS, Nathan, going over what the new rating system update means. Links can be found at the end of this article to check those out, they are a great resource to understand how DoK works, and what all the metrics mean now, as well as how they total up your overall deck scores.
Let me get down to the example of how this system can miss something. The other weekend I went to a best of three Archon Chainbound event that had three rounds, win two out of three games per round for the match win. I managed to win the tournament that day going 3-0, with my only loss from any of the rounds coming in game two of the finals. The deck below is what I used, and it was my first time playing the deck. Before the update, it was a 62 SAS, after, as you can see, it dropped.
So this is a deck I purchased as an add-on when getting something else. I liked the look of the deck and wanted an Ortannu deck for my collection, and I thought this looked fun. The Plague Rats, with Ortannu, and Pile of Skulls is very spicy! To me, if you look at the card pool on a card-by-card basis, you don’t see too many things that get you excited, and that is what I think creates the low SAS score. The fact that it has only a +2 synergy is what really blows my mind! So many things in this deck work amazingly with one another. There are many cards that provide direct damage to make Pile of Skulls trigger, not to mention this is a deck where Misery Exploit shines! I will say that the Sting is a trap in this deck. I found out it is almost never worth playing and puts me in sticky situations almost every time. Another synergy in this deck is Ortannu’s Binding, Plague Rats and Cybergiant Rig. The ability to keep Ortannu around and recur his reap ability is next level—especially if Pile of Skulls is on board! Another synergy with all this direct damage is the ability to crack Lifeward after you wipe the board so your opponent can’t play creatures the following turn. So the SAS score did not accurately represent this deck to me, but even with that score, I found traits within the AERC aspect of SAS that met some of the standards I look for.
Let me go over what drove my decision to buy this beyond the SAS score. For me personally, the individual AERC components are what I focus on; specifically the “A” æmber control, “E” expected æmber and “C” creature control. Bonus æmber and Speed/Misc. make up aspects to be aware of, but are not always a reason to overlook a deck, especially one that you are looking to have a fun theme, and not just for a Vault Tour. For this particular deck, I was first drawn to the Ortannu aspects, then noticed the Plague Rats and Pile of Skulls, which got me really excited! My own criteria for decks is as follows: “A” 10+, “E” 20+, and “C” 10+. Those are the numbers I’m looking for in those main areas, so anything in that range is of interest. Now sometimes there are factors that make some of these numbers less relevant, but that is usually with personal preference, or particular reason based on a deck’s strategy. Bonus æmber above 10 is another aspect to be aware of, as well as creature count between 15 and 21. Again, this number varies based on the deck and card pool composition. As with everything in KeyForge, you must play a deck to truly understand it, but after enough experience playing decks that have certain AERC stats—like as mentioned above, you begin to notice a pattern for what you most enjoy playing/have success with. This is what shapes the pattern of traits you can look for in a deck, and what you can expect a deck to do as a result.
You may have heard of a deck owned by Dave Cordeiro called Nuvolari the Strongly Apologetic. This deck is not very highly rated overall, but has an amazing record, and was the runner up at Gen-Con. If you look at the AERC stats more closely, you will see it has the numbers that make sense for a fantastic deck, and Dave has a ton of experience with this one! Another example of a deck that SAS can overlook, but the owner saw other traits that made him stick with it, and demonstrate it’s true potential.
To sum everything up, don’t let a final “number” be the deciding factor of whether or not a deck is good. Use it as a tool, and be sure to look into the finer details that exist in AERC, as well as the card pool itself. Granted, knowledge of a set’s card pool is needed for that type of analysis, but it does make a huge difference in being able to identify which decks are quality or not, not just based on a final score itself. I think this new evaluation has better lined up the decks overall—with some exceptions, of course. It has also skewed the way we look at decks, since we are so used to the previous system. But don’t jump to conclusions when that good deck you’ve piloted 50 times is now a 75 instead of 98, nothing has changed with the deck except a number. So make sure you still understand the numbers that create that final score, and what they represent when you pilot them. As mentioned before, below you can find links to the podcasts going over the meaning, and concept behind the SAS and AERC system with it’s creator, Nathan. As always, may your æmber never be stolen, and you forge your keys promptly. Have a good one!