Essay:Adapting To Adaptive

From Archon Arcana - The KeyForge Wiki

This essay was originally published by Jason Shearer on, on July 9, 2019, with the full title, "Shard of the Week: Adapting to Adaptive: My Unconventional Methods for Bidding Chains". However, I've copied it here with his permission for easy access, since I think it's an excellent introduction to thoughtful chain bidding. I wasn't able to preserve the accompanying graphics from the original article, but the full text follows.

Players generally agree that adaptive is one of the most skill intensive formats of the game. Matching the strength of a deck with the appropriate number of Chains can be a daunting task. That winning list might be worth a lot of chains, but what is a “lot”?

How do we pin down an exact value?

Do we just pick a number that “feels right”?

With the the standard of Vault Tour finals as adaptive, I decided that ‘sooner’ is the right time for me to share my method for determining appropriate Chain bidding. Hopefully this method works for you, but at worst you will gain insight into the mind of another player.

Æmber Æmber Æmber… that’s what it’s all about!

My perspective focuses on Aember. It’s the heart and soul of the entire game. Games are won and lost by it, so it would seem a fair measure of a match.

I always keep track of Aember at the end of each Adaptive game. Knowing that a deck has won by X Aember above the other deck is a crucial measurement.

The results from each of the first two games are added together, then divided by 2 to determine the the average. This tells me how dominating a particular deck was. Of course I value Keys here as six Aember each.

Here we see an Archon that has won a clear victory with a 13 Aember differential.

Going further down this rabbit hole has led me to even more questions, the most notable being “how much Aember is one Chain really worth?”

This equation would be difficult to determine for every unknown deck you play against… and pulling out a calculator at the gaming table just doesn’t feel like something you should be doing.

Fortunately, we have all the time in the world to study averages from every registered Archon deck. After seeing hundreds of averages, you begin to realize how static these numbers really tend to be. While not an exact measurement, we can get pretty close to determining what to expect from an average card.

The typical Aember gained by playing a card in Keyforge is around 0.42. However, knowing that players tend to bring their favorite decks to events, the number you will enounter is probably closer to 0.45.

Of course, Keyforge isn’t just about gaining Aember from playing cards. It’s about reaping, too. So we also need to factor in the value of creatures.

On average, we see that about fifty percent of a deck will be Creatures. Of those Creatures, half will reap early in their lifetime during a typical game. This means you can expect an additional 0.25 Aember per card.

The breakdown of this info shows each card to be worth about 0.7 Aember.

So for an example, three cards should be worth 2.1 Aember.

So a deck that won by 2 Aember each game should be worth bidding 3 Chains.

In theory.

But this is where I noticed something strange. The initial playtesting runs were penalizing too harsh. But oddly enough, when I swapped these figures it miraculously started working! Now, valuing each Aember as 0.7 cards was doing the trick. It left me scratching my head… but hey as long as it works, right?

+1 Chain on the Play. 0-2 a = 1 chain, 3 a = 2 chains, 4-5 a = 3 chains, 6 a = 4 chains, 7-8 a = 5 chains, 9 a = 6 chains, 10-12 a = 7 chains, 13-15 a = 8 chains, 16-18 a = 9 chains, 20+ = 10 chains
Jason Shearer's chain bidding guide

If this sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t worry, I made a chart (shown below). It even takes into consideration the harsher draw penalties achieved from each Chain after the 6th…

It would be ridiculous of me to expect you to bring a chart to your events, but glancing over these figures should at least give you a rough idea of some appropriate bids. It’s not an exact science, so a rough outlook will just need to be good enough.

You might notice at the top of the chart is a crucial aspect we haven’t discussed yet… who is going first? The first active player is less affected from the penalty of Chains on turn one, since they can only play one card anyway. So if you are going to be on the play, you might consider raising that bid by one Chain.

So to recap… we calculate the winning deck by the averages of how much Aember it had exceeded the losing deck. Then, each of those Aember is worth 0.7 Chains. Add one extra bid for being on the play. Then, put on your Einstein wig as you explain this all to your defeated opponent.

So that’s how I decide my bids. It might not work for everyone, but after using this method through 30 games of Adaptive analysis, my friends and I have come to the agreement that these figures are at least very reasonable.

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

So now with those statistics behind us, we can approach HOW I go about bidding from a psychological perspective.

This is your opportunity to guide the opponent to incorrectly value the deck.

The technique here is to appear very calm and reserved during the first few bids. Just don’t overact, this isn’t a peformance but rather the lack of one. The goal is to give no emotional cues whatsoever. There are some skilled individuals in the world who can read anyone, and during a major event you might encounter such an example. On a personal note, I have spent years of study in microexpressions specifically for the purpose of competitive gaming. So I can assure you, “Poker” players on a TCG level are a reality.

But a lack of input does more than hide your bidding intentions. This lack of emotional interaction is a type of psychological trigger. It can lead the opponent to internally worry that they have misjudged the power level of the winning list. You might snag a good deal here if you don’t appear too eager, but whatever you do… don’t doublecheck the Archon list now. There are good reasons which you’ll soon understand.

If the opponent seems determined in “winning” the bid, you can always change your approach. One simple way to do this switchup is by now giving a second look to the Archon list we had previously ignored. Peer over it intently and come back bidding stronger than ever. Research in behavioral economics led to the discovery of something known as the “endowment effect”. An example of this effect in action would look something like this:

As you show your own interest in the Archon card their desire for it will increase. The more you lead them to think about winning with the deck, the more likely they are to want it. Putting this kind of spotlight on the Archon list makes for some good irrational bidding. So take your time, run your pointer finger along some crucial cards, and maybe even add a subtle head bob of agreement with the list to subtly indicate how good it looks. A personal favorite of mine is a slight eyebrow raise. This microexpression of surprise is one of the most easily percieved on a subconscious level.

You’ve already calculated the Chain value, so leading your opponent to the very edge of that value (or slightly beyond it) can make all the difference. You may have missed out on a good deal here, but at least you can have one last fair game.

So until next time, keep forging ahead and Glory be to Mars!