Unofficial Variants, Tournament Structures, and House Rules
KeyForge has a wide variety of Formats and Variants that create different experiences for players. While there are many formats and variants available as official KeyForge Organized Play, the KeyForge community has created some very interesting variants of their own. Any game of KeyForge, whether in a tournament or at the kitchen table, is a combination of 5 elements: Format + Match Variant + Tournament Structure Variant + Restrictions & Alterations + Competition Type.
For example, an event might be Archon Reversal Best of One Two Deck Survival played in Swiss Rounds, and players are barred from using decks that have Brobnar or Mars as one of their houses.
There are two formats in KeyForge Organized Play: Archon format and Sealed format. Each tournament utilizes one or the other, and each variant builds upon either one or both formats as a base. The standard way to play for both formats is Solo play. In a Solo tournament, each player uses the same single deck for the entirety of the tournament. Tournament rounds can be played either as one-game (Best of One of BO1) matches or as best-of-three (BO3) matches.
In Team Play, players form teams of two or three players, which then play simultaneous matches against an opposing team using standard KeyForge rules. Players on the same team sit side by side and table talk between teammates is allowed and encouraged.
In the Archon format, each player brings a deck (or decks) to the tournament. This deck must be an official, unaltered KeyForge Archon Deck that the player either obtained ahead of time or bought at the event itself. Before each match, players are allowed to review their opponent's Identity card (containing a list of all cards in the deck) for 2 minutes. Except in the VaultWarrior series, decks from all KeyForge sets are eligible for Archon tournaments. The duration of an Archon match is limited to 35 minutes for official Organized Play, after which time is called and end of time rules apply.
In the Sealed format, each player receives a new deck at the tournament, usually by purchasing it from the hosting retailer. In official play, only decks from the current KeyForge set are used for Sealed events. Players do not open their sealed decks until the official start of the event, and players are encouraged to wait to register the decks to their Master Vault accounts until the end. After opening their decks, players are given a few moments to read through and familiarize themselves with their contents, then the tournament begins. The duration of a Sealed match is limited to 45 minutes for official Organized Play, after which time is called and end of time rules apply. In Sealed play, players are not allowed to review the identity card of the deck the opponent is playing and thus do not know the contents of their opponent’s deck (unless playing sealed reversal).
Variants are optional, and do not need to be utilized in an event. Some variants require best-of-three matches or multiple decks for each player. All variants can be used for either Archon or Sealed format.
For official Tournament Rules, see Solo
The standard way to play KeyForge making it the most played match variant and is either played in the Archon format or the Sealed format.
In a Sealed Solo match, players are not allowed to look at the identity card of the deck the opponent is playing, but are allowed to look at their own identity card and deck prior to the match. In Blind Sealed, players are not allowed to look at their own deck/identity card either. Blind Sealed is highly recommended when playing decks from a new set for the first time, and is even more enjoyable if you have remained spoiler free, it is ‘the excitement of discovery’ in a nutshell.
For official Tournament Rules, see Reversal
Each player brings a deck to the tournament which they believe is challenging to win with. Each round of the tournament, opponents temporarily swap decks for that match, and try to win the round with the deck their opponent brought.
Sealed Reversal was initially regarded as a bizarre variant, but has since proven to be a player favorite.
Blind Sealed Reversal
As in Sealed Reversal players open a sealed deck prior to the match, familiarize themselves with the deck they have opened, swap decks with the opponent and are then no longer allowed to look at the identity card of the deck they have handed to their opponent. Players are also playing blind i.e. they are not allowed to look at the identity card and deck that they have just received from their opponent.
Double Blind Sealed Reversal
Similar to Blind Sealed Reversal, except neither player (hence the ‘double’) is allowed to look at the deck they opened, nor the deck they receive from the opponent.
|Variant||Decklist of the deck I am playing||Decklist of the deck my opponent is playing|
|Blind Sealed Reversal||Unknown||Known|
|Double Blind Sealed Reversal||Unknown||Unknown|
For official Tournament Rules, see Adaptive
Each round of this tournament consists of best-of-three matches. For the first game of each match, players use their own decks. For the second game, each player swaps decks with his or her opponent and plays using his or her opponent’s deck.
If the third game occurs, players bid chains to use the deck which won both of the previous games. The player who brought the deck starts by bidding 0 chains, and then the players take turns outbidding each other until a player declines to bid higher. The player who bid the highest uses that deck for the third game (with their bid number of chains applied at the start).
Considered by many to be the most skill-testing variant, it will be used at the upcoming $100,000 prize pool VaultWarrior Championships.
(Also known as Adaptive Modified or Adaptive Best of One)
This is a shorter, one-game version of the Adaptive variant, where players immediately proceed to choosing and bidding for decks. If both players choose their own deck, they play a regular match. If both players choose their opponent's deck, they play a Reversal match. If both players choose the same deck, they bid chains as in the third game of an Adaptive match.
Adaptive Reversal First
Identical to Adaptive, however the order of the first two rounds is switched i.e. the first match is played Archon Reversal, and the second match is played Archon Solo. Preferred by many over regular Adaptive, as players are no longer able to learn how to play the opponent’s deck by seeing the opponent play it in the first match.
Played in teams of 3 players designated red, blue, green. During a round each player of a team faces an opponent with the same designated color. Red players play Archon, Blue players play reversal, and the Green players play Adaptive Short.
For official Tournament Rules, see Triad
Each player has 3 decks that they can use throughout the tournament. Each round, each player chooses one of their opponent’s decks to “bench,” making that deck unusable for that match.Each round consists of a best-of-three match. When a player wins a game, they must switch to their other deck for the rest of the match. This means that a player must win a game with each of their non-benched decks to win the match.
In a Sealed Triad event, players choose to "bench" a deck only based on the houses of their opponent's decks, as looking at their opponent's Identity card is not permitted.
Played with two players per team (a red and a blue player), and three decks per team. Teams proceed to “bench” one deck of the opposing team. Then players pick one of their remaining decks to play the Triad matches with. In the first round the red players face each other and the blue players face each other. In case of 2-0 in round 1, the Triad is over as both non-benched decks of the winning team have won. In case of 1-1 in round 1, a second round is played where red players play against blue players. In case of 2-0 in round 2, the Triad is over as both non-benched decks of the winning team have won. In case of 1-1 in round 2, the Team that won with both decks wins the Triad.
(Also known as Modified Triad or Triad Best of One)
After benching one of their opponent's decks, both players simultaneously pick one of the remaining decks to play in a best of one.
Two Deck Elimination
This is a new sub-variant introduced for the VaultWarrior series, where it will be used on the 2nd day of all Qualifier events. Players bring two decks (each from a different set) and before every round each player chooses one of two decks from their opponent to play against; the other deck is eliminated from that round. After both players choose a deck to eliminate, they then play using the Adaptive, Best of 3 or Reversal variant, depending on the event.
Each player brings 3 decks for a best-of-three match. During a round of Moirai, participants will first play an archon match, then a reversal match, and then an adaptive short match. Prior to the matches, your opponent will decide which one of your three decks will play each match variant and you will do the same for their decks (decisions submitted simultaneously).
Players are on teams of 3 and each brings one deck. Moirai then proceeds as before with each team assigning a format to their opponent’s decks.
Although initially not part of official KeyForge Organized Play, team play has quickly grown in popularity and was acknowledged by Fantasy Flight Games when it was chosen to be the official format of the first World Championships event.
Players form teams of three players, which then play three simultaneous matches against an opposing team using standard KeyForge rules. Players on the same team sit side by side and table talk between teammates is allowed and encouraged. Different formats and variants can be used for team play, including different variants for different players within a team. Sometimes, restrictions are placed on the number of decks that can contain a house within a team.
Currently the most popular version of team play includes a different variant for each player and designated player positions within a team: Player 1 from each team plays with their own deck. Player 2 from each team plays reversal. Player 3 bids chains to choose which deck they'll play.
Official team play rules have not yet been published by Fantasy Flight Games.
Tournament Structure Variants
The previous section details the many ways a game of KeyForge can be played. Generally speaking, a tournament consists of multiple rounds consisting of one or more match variants being played. The various ways the match variants can be structured to form a tournament is explained here. Additionally, some variants are introduced where you draft a deck, or where there are specific win conditions to win a tournament. Although it is possible to combine deck selection, win condition and tournament structure variants, it might overcomplicate playing a game of KeyForge and form a barrier of entry. It is advised to only use one of the following variants during an event.
Deck Drafting Variants
For official Tournament Rules, see Auction
This Deck Selection Variant is typically played as a sealed event in which each player buys and opens a deck before the start of the event. Unlike a normal Sealed event, after all players have opened and registered their decks, each deck is placed on a table. Players are arranged in a random order around the table. The event organizer then randomly selects and calls out a deck. That deck’s owner must start by bidding 0 chains. Then, in clockwise order, other players may bid higher than the current bid, or pass on bidding further for that deck. When all players have passed, the highest bidder wins that deck to use for the duration of the tournament and passes bidding on all other decks. Repeat the process for each deck. If a deck is randomly selected and its owner has already won the bid for another deck, the next player in clockwise order must place the initial bid of 0 chains for that deck. Players start each game in that tournament with chains equal to their highest bid for the deck they are using. At the end of the event, each deck returns to the person who originally purchased and opened it.
Ideally played in pods of 8. A pool of houses is made available to self-ban. As of this writing, 6 copies of each of the 9 houses are available. During each player’s turn in the draft, they will pick one of the available houses to self-ban, meaning they will not be able to play a deck with that house. Draft continues in snake-draft manner, until each player has banned 6 houses and have 3 remaining. At the end of the draft, each player picks a deck from their own collection, or from a community curated list of decks, to play for the event. During the first and second rounds of the draft, the same house may not be picked twice in the same round by another player. During the third and fourth rounds of the draft, the same house may not be picked twice consecutively. A player may not ban a house they have already banned. In the event a player is 'locked' into a house (by virtue of that house running out in the available pool) they may need to auto-ban houses.
- An auto-ban will fill in the last available ban slot of a player.
- In case a player is locked into Mars, they will auto-ban both Saurian and Star alliance if they have not yet banned them.
- In case a player is locked into Star Alliance or Saurian, they will auto-ban Mars if they have not yet banned it.
Ideally played in pods of 8. A pool of decks is made by each player bringing 2 decks and adding 1 deck per player from a community pool of decks. After reviewing the pool of decks, player order for deck selection is randomized, and each player receives one veto. Players then start with deck selection with player 1 going first. After deck selection of the first player, following player order, each other player is asked if they want to issue their veto and ban the selected deck. A player may pass on the opportunity to issue their veto, or issue their veto to ban the selected deck. If someone issues their veto, the player that selected the banned deck is moved to the end of the player order after which the next player selects a deck that has not been banned. If no one bans the selected deck, the next player selects a deck that has not been banned and the cycle continues until all players have a deck.
Win Condition Variants
Ideally played in pods of 8 or less players. Each player brings a deck to the tournament and each player votes on which deck in their pod they think will win the most matches. The tournament is then played round robin. A player receives a point for each win/bye in the tournament, but loses a point for each vote that their deck received at the beginning of the tournament. Player with the most points wins the tournament.
Best played with a benchmark deck. Prior to the start of the tournament a random deck is picked from the Master Vault. This is a benchmark deck that will not be played during the tournament. Players are advised to bring a deck that matches the power level of the benchmark so that they don’t accidentally bring a deck that is too strong (which would get all the votes and therefore auto loses).
Each player brings a single deck to a Swiss style tournament. Decks are then randomly distributed among the players (you may not receive your own). Each round consists of a single bo1 archon game. Each time you win a game, you receive 2 points. When the deck that you brought wins, you lose one point. Bye rounds are worth 1 point. Best played with a minimum SAS cap, otherwise everyone will bring their reversal decks.
Instead of counting the amount of wins/byes to determine the winner of a tournament, the total amount of forged keys determines the winner.
Other Tournament Structure Variants
For official Tournament Rules, see Survival
In this Tournament Structure Variant, each player enters the tournament with 2 or 3 decks (number determined by the organizer). The decks are ranked in an order of the player’s choosing before the first round. Each player must start with their first deck. Whenever a player loses a round, the deck they played with is “out” and cannot be used for the remainder of the tournament. When a player no longer has decks remaining, they are eliminated from the tournament.
Tournaments can be played either as "pure" survival (play proceeds until all decks are eliminated), or as survival events with a single-elimination bracket for the top cut (this format is used in the Vault Tour).
Ideally played in pods of 8. Each player enters the tournament with 3 decks. Whenever a player wins a round, the deck they played with is “out” and cannot be used for the remainder of the tournament. First player to win with their 3 decks wins the tournament.
Each round of the tournament alternates between solo and reversal variants.
Played in teams of two in which each team brings one deck. Each round of the tournament, one player on the team always plays reversal bo1, the other player plays archon solo bo1 against another team. 1-1 scores during a round yield 1 point per team. 2-0 scores during a round yield 3 points for the winning team.
Adaptive Best of Two
Identical to Versatile Pairs but not played in teams. Each round consists of two matches where players play an archon match first and then a reversal match during odd rounds, and vice versa for even rounds. 1-1 results in each player gaining 1 point. 2-0 yields 3 points.
There are multiple suggestions for applying principles of duplicate bridge to KeyForge:
As during Moirai, each player brings 3 decks. Prior to each round of the tournament the match variant (archon, reversal, or adaptive short) is decided. Opponents then pick each other’s decks for the given format. This format is intended to allow a similar feel to standard Moirai within a Swiss tournament structure.
In this tournament format, each player will bring 4 decks. The tournament will consist of 4 rounds and a top 4 cut. In each round your opponent will decide which of your decks you will play. After a deck is chosen for one round, it cannot be chosen again during the 4 Swiss rounds. (so, for example, in round 4 everyone will already know what deck they are playing).
Top Cut Rules: The top 4 players after the Swiss rounds will play two rounds of single elimination games in order to determine the winner of this tournament. As before, in each top cut round, your opponent will select the deck that you will play. In each top cut game, they may choose from all 4 of your decks.
Playing a game or tournament of KeyForge with predetermined restrictions and alterations in place is a popular way to play. It creates a meta bubble that is specific to the restrictions and alterations applied and is interesting to try and understand. What deck do you bring to a Call of the Archons tournament with no Shadows allowed?
- Players rediscover their deck collection to find the best deck given the restrictions that are in place.
- It allows players to play decks in a competitive environment that would otherwise not be viable.
- To some degree it levels the playing field. Although players/teams with a large collection of decks still have more viable decks to select from, the difference is less pronounced than unrestricted archon.
Restrictions that either force players to bring a deck with a specific card(s), house(s) or from a particular set(s). Or the exact opposite where certain cards, houses, or sets are banned. Some examples:
- No Heart of the Forest
- Dark Tidings Only
- No Martian Generosity + Key Abduction (GENKA)
- No Saurians
- No house overlap (when bringing multiple decks)
Although the SAS rating system is not perfect, it is a popular system to rate deck strength.
Tournaments often featured a SAS cap where players may only bring decks above or below a certain rating, e.g. max. 70 SAS, min. 65 SAS.
Cumulative SAS Cap
When multiple decks are brought to a tournament it can be used to restrict the total deck strength (e.g. 200 SAS when bringing 3 decks). It then allows players to strategize whether it is better to bring for example a line up of 60,60,80 or 66,66,67 given the format and variant of the tournament.
The KOTE8 online tournament featured a SAS Ladder in which each tournament round the SAS cap went up. It started at 60 in round 1 and then progressed in increments of 2 during the following rounds to 72 SAS, only to reverse the ladder during the top cut in steps of 4 SAS.
In a matchup chains are applied 1:1 based on either the SAS difference between decks or any of the key SAS parameters e.g. expected Æmber, efficiency.
Another category of restrictions is tied to the archon card and archon name. Ranging from only bringing decks with a blue archon color, to only playing decks with a “nickname” e.g. Honk “Tinkerbell” Osteotusk. On a more serious note, to prevent the strongest decks (from a global or local meta) from reappearing, restrictions can also be applied by stating:
- No Vault Tour winning decks
- No decks with a power level X allowed (earned through FFG organized play)
- No decks allowed that played/won the previous tournament or league
Chains serve as a balancing mechanic in a particular matchup. The stronger deck draws less cards and is therefore on a more equal footing with the weaker deck.
- Reverse chains: Instead of the stronger deck shedding a chain by drawing fewer cards, the weaker deck sheds a chain by drawing more cards.
- Æmber chains: Instead of the stronger deck shedding a chain by drawing fewer cards, the stronger deck sheds a chain by losing Æmber at the end of turn.
- Reverse Æmber chains: Instead of the stronger deck shedding an chain by losing Æmber at the end of turn, the weaker deck sheds a chain by gaining an Æmber at the end of turn.
- Mixed reverse chains: The weaker deck sheds a chain by opting to draw more cards or gain Æmber at the end of their turn.
KeyForge's asynchronous play lends itself well to the use of Chess Clocks, both as a time keeper and a handicapping mechanism. The winner of the game is the first to forge three keys or have their opponent run out of time.
End of Time
"When time is called for the round, the game continues until the active player finishes their next forge a key step or either player forges their 3rd key. If neither player has achieved victory (forged three Keys) by that time, they must follow the steps below, in order to determine who receives a win for the current game."
Kitchen Table/Casual KeyForge
More focused on having fun playing KeyForge than to win. Players are encouraged to take a relaxed approach to the official rules e.g. it’s ok to not have opaque sleeves, it’s ok to take back a house choice or a card played as long as the gamestate can be rolled back properly.
Tournaments with a Top Cut
Large tournaments typically feature a ‘top cut’ where the best (performing) players from the total number of registered players face each other. In order to make it to the ‘top cut’, all registered players:
- Form one large field and face each other playing a series of Swiss rounds. Depending on the number of players and rounds, all players that go for example 5-2 or better make the cut.
- Form several smaller fields (pods) of for example 6 or 8 players where from each pod 1 or more players make it to the cut. The rounds in the pods can either be played Swiss or Round Robin.
If there are more players making the cut than places in the top cut, then some places in the top cut will be reserved for some players that made the cut to play an additional play off. The players with the worst results among the ones making the cut will comprise the playoff.
The top cut may be played single elimination or double elimination and depending on format and variant either be BO1 or BO3 matches. Typically, Top 4 matches are played BO3.
Each round of the tournament players are matched up with players that are performing similarly. Matchup of players per round is determined by their wins, Strength of Schedule, and Extended Strength of Schedule. If a player won the first round of a tournament, the player will be matched in round 2 with an opponent that also won their first match. In subsequent rounds in case there are multiple players that went e.g. 4-0, Strength of Schedule is calculated to ensure the best performing players keep facing each other. Strength of Schedule is calculated based on the amount of wins of the opponents someone has faced. Similarly Extended Strength of Schedule is based on the amount of wins of the opponents of a player’s opponents.
Each round of the tournament players are matched up with a player they have not played before in that tournament, with the goal of playing each other player once. In case there are not enough rounds to be able to face each player, players are matched pseudo-randomly in the sense that they are matched randomly with someone they have not played before in that tournament.
Typically featured in the top cut of a tournament. Players that lose a match get eliminated from the tournament.
Typically featured in the top cut of a tournament. Players that lose 2 matches get eliminated from the tournament. After losing 1 match, players drop down to a ‘losers bracket’ where they keep competing against other players that have also lost 1 match, until the player either loses their second match, or continues to win the losers bracket and then faces the undefeated winner of the winner’s bracket.
Players face each other in a series of matches that span multiple weeks or months. Leagues can be structured in a variety of ways:
- Play a tournament each week in which for example each win/bye gains the player a league point, the tournament winner gains 2 additional league points, and the runner-up gains 1 additional league point.
- Gain a point by challenging the ‘leader’ and winning. After then becoming the ‘leader’, gain additional points for each win when successfully defending your position. Swindle Leaderboard for inspiration.
- Rounds of a large tournament, both pre-cut and top cut, can be spread out over multiple weeks in which each week a round of the tournament is played.
Organizing a KeyForge event for your community
Not much is needed to organize your own KeyForge events for your KeyForge friends or community. You will need the following at a minimum:
- A small group of KeyForge players (4-12) that are willing to regularly play KeyForge together.
- A location for IRL play, or thecrucible.online for online play.
- A client to run the tournament. G.E.M. from FFG for official play, TOME from FFG for casual play (see this easy guide on how to use it), or 3rd party clients such as Challonge, or Decks of KeyForge.
- A discord server where players can meet before the start of the event and between rounds. Ideally with audio channels where matched players can hop into during their match.
- Interesting formats & variants as described above.
A few things to keep in mind when running a tournament:
- Keep the event accessible to players with smaller deck collections.
- Even if some of the players are competitive by nature, strive to maintain a welcoming, casual atmosphere.
- A prize pool is not necessarily required, but making it possible to win a deck of the most recent set that gets shipped home can be achieved with minimal buy-in of the players (2-3 dollar/euro). Transparency is required regarding any leftovers from the buy-ins.
Remember the larger the tournament, the higher the expectations of it being well organized and executed, especially if there is a buy-in and a prize pool.
|KeyForge Organized Play|