As my way of saying farewell to the era of Worlds Collide and hello to KeyForge’s highly anticipated next set, I share with my fellow Archons a mental exercise that has engaged me during our extended wait for the U.S. release of Mass Mutation: which are the worst 10 cards in the Crucible?
What Makes a Keyforge Card Bad?
Let me begin by clarifying what I mean by “worst” and what this article is not setting out to do. Lacking any pretense of objectivity, I will not crunch numbers, regurgitate statistics, or provide any meaningful data analysis whatsoever (although I do spotlight win rates, courtesy of Decks of Keyforge, for illustrative purposes only). These “worsts” are highly subjective and debatable selections, based exclusively on my visceral reaction to the cards and my experience playing with them casually and competitively, from the release of Call of the Archons through the present moment. The key criteria (Did you see what I did there?) in analyzing "badness" for purposes of this inquiry are as follows:
- Does the card make my heart sink when I encounter it in a decklist at the outset of sealed play (or when reviewing a deck for possible purchase or trade)?
- Is the card so acutely situational that the likelihood of it being played for tangible value during a game is minuscule? (Situational, in this context, refers not only to in-game timing and opportunity, but also to the need for other particular cards to be present in the deck to make the card in question worthwhile.)
- Is the card at least as likely to backfire on its owner as to advance their strategic intent?
My supplemental general guidelines for this process were these: (1) the presence of a readily usable Æmber pip reduces significantly the risk of a card being considered horrible; (2) most artifacts have the advantage of sticking to the board and not cycling as recurring annoyances; and (3) I tend to view creatures more sympathetically because even a sub-par creature typically has some potential worth. But these are rules of thumb only, and, in my book, each type of KeyForge card is fair game (Did you see what I did there?). My own personal experience with a card’s uselessness might color my opinion of it somewhat. Think of it as poetic license. I was tempted also to consider whether a card makes playing a game of KeyForge more fun or less fun, but, as they say, one man’s Brew is another man’s Bonerot Venom.
You may disagree with my top ten picks, perhaps strenuously. You may point to statistical proofs and to anecdotal instances of these cards heroically turning the tide. Fire away. But know that even your most elegant and persuasive rebuttals will not cause my heart to soar when I come across these duds.
Structurally, what follows is one “worst” selection for each of the Crucible’s nine houses (with a few “dishonorable mentions” added for variety), arranged alphabetically. The article concludes with the overall worst-card-in-KeyForge as a grand finale.
Without further ado, here are my Worst Ten Cards in KeyForge (So Far):
Narp (46.4% win rate)
I told you that creature status would not in itself assure any card a bye. Sure, Narp is big (but not that big), and it has one (puny) point of armor value. But beyond that, it’s all downhill. The prohibition on reaping by Narp’s neighbors is surprisingly troublesome, and it can become unexpectedly problematic when a battleline collapses or is manipulated. See, e.g., Quantum Fingertrap. (“Hey, there’s a Narp between my Wormhole Technician and my Babbling Bibliophile. Oh joy.”) And, if things weren’t already bad enough, it’s common. My own experience is that Narps seem often, and depressingly, to come in pairs. Æmber Forge reports that there are 56 registered decks featuring four copies of Narp. Imagine that.
Wretched Doll (46.6% win rate)
Spoiler Alert: Dis ultimately goes on to win the Grand Prize (wait for it), so this selection was an exercise in choosing a runner-up. As such exercises go, it was a challenging one. There are many cards in Dis that I dislike and might qualify for Dishonorable Mention. Key Imps depend on timing and can backfire (but they are otherwise usable elusive creatures), I have an aversion to the Masters of 1/2/3 (particularly 1), but they are seldom seen, the Banes annoy me (but bear an Æmber pip), etc. In the end, the prize goes to an artifact, Wretched Doll, notable only for being a complicated, slow, and cumbersome means to destroy one creature.
Chaos Portal (49.1% win rate)
I will confess that this selection surprised me somewhat, suggesting that House Logos has less than its fair share of disreputable cards. (And, indeed, many of my least favorite Logos cards bear Æmber pips.) Dr. Escotera was a close second, but in the end I had to give the nod to Chaos Portal. Yes, it’s another artifact, and, yes, it is random and unpredictable in a way that, as I see it, is conducive to fun and aligned with the spirit of Richard Garfield’s design. That being said, as compared to the slight, occasional likelihood of it doing something great or even moderately useful, its action has a good chance of doing essentially nothing and a non-zero chance of doing something undesirable. That, my friends, is the hallmark of a shabby KeyForge card.
Martian Hounds (46.6% win rate)
Thank you, Mars, for producing such a splendid array of potential worst-card candidates. The only real challenge here was separating the supreme Mars crap from the run-of-the-mill Mars crap. The award goes to Martian Hounds. If you can play it for value (i.e., there are damaged creatures in play), the payoff is a few +1 counters on a creature (hopefully one’s own), coupled with the faint hope that the now somewhat beefier creature will survive to provide some other sort of value later. Huzzah. Its chief merit is its rare rarity.
Hallowed Blaster (49.1% win rate)
Sanctum was easy. In fairness, I considered the Horsemen (particularly the Horseman of War) on grounds of their being formerly overrated. And, with apologies to one of my Moor Wolf Pack teammates, I am not a fan of Epic Quest (even as I acknowledge having been ingloriously defeated by it on more than one occasion). But take a good look at Hallowed Blaster: a pipless non-omni artifact that heals three damage from only one creature and grants no other benefit. Æmber Forge reports that there are 5 registered decks featuring five copies of Hallowed Blaster. Is there an Oath of Poverty in the house? (Did you see what I did there?)
Crassosaurus (52.5% win rate)
There are so many great cards in the Saurian house, and it would be fun to analyze and debate which of them is the best. That’s not my job. Look, I understand the theoretical value of Crassosaurus. It clearly has the potential to be a tide-turning or coffin-nailing card, it’s a creature, it’s elusive, and I have even been beaten by it at least once. With the right combination of cards in one’s deck and cards in one’s hand, you can use it to deal a devastating blow to an opponent. But in my experience, I never, never have those combinations, and I end up discarding the damned thing, sometimes more than once in a game. In a worst-case scenario, a new or inattentive player might play it and learn they just gave all their Æmber to their opponent. Begone, Crassosaurus! (Did you see . . . ?)
Key of Darkness (50% win rate)
Oh! How my heart sinks when I see a Key of Darkness. If only all the houses included such a no-brainer “worst.” Notable annoyances include its lack of an Æmber pip, the near-impossibility of it ever being both playable and worth playing, and its appearance in all three KeyForge sets to date.
Grand Star Alliance
Without a doubt, Star Alliance presented the most difficulty for me and my analytic objective. Sure, there are a number of very mediocre cards in the house, and artifacts like General Order 24 and Peace Accord can be challenging to play effectively and may very well backfire. At the end of the day, however, I realized that I don’t hate any Star Alliance cards. Not one of them makes my heart sink. So Star Alliance gets a pass. Remember, it is still a young house in KeyForge years, having made its first appearance in Worlds Collide, so its ignominious day may yet come. But not today. Please mentally adjust the title of this article to “THE WORST NINE CARDS IN KEYFORGE (SO FAR).”
Bumblebird (45.7% win rate)
We have yet to talk about the Alpha/Omega problem in the evaluation of the quality of KeyForge cards, and it really should be a factor in determining card badness. Bumblebird is the poster child. Think about it. Bumblebird’s principal effect is to boost other friendly Untamed creatures with +1 counters. (Not an amazing effect, although from time to time a useful one.) But because Bumblebird has the Alpha keyword, those Untamed creatures must already be in play in order for the effect to be of value. How many times have I had a hand full of Untamed creatures, and maybe even a Full Moon, and cursed Bumblebird for being so useless? (How many times have I embarrassed myself by forgetting Bumblebird’s Alpha restriction?) Bumblebird is uncommon, and I haven’t even mentioned the vexing double-Alpha problem. Have you ever had two Alphas of the same house in your hand? Not good. Æmber Forge reports that there are 2,710 registered decks featuring two or more copies of Bumblebird. I own one, and take it from me, you don’t want one.
Key Hammer (50.5% win rate)
This is the Worst
And now, I present the Worst-Card-in-KeyForge Award to . . . Key Hammer! As always, I recognize that it has its uses. Key Hammer’s unforge effect accompanied by Charettes, Drumbles, and the like can, in the right circumstances, serve a purpose. Even a Lash of Broken Dreams can do the trick sometimes! But those right circumstances arise sporadically at best, and, therefore, its situational nature is its downfall. But that’s not all. Yes, it has an Æmber pip, but there’s a catch, and it’s a big one. Key Hammer’s other effect—your opponent gains 6 Æmber—is stated in a separate sentence, and is therefore not conditional. If you play Key Hammer but your opponent has not forged a key the previous turn, sure, you get one Æmber, but your opponent gets six. This is a trap for unwary new players, and a frustration for experienced Archons. Yes, it’s probably a design error, but one that was never fixed with errata. And knowing that it’s a design error does not make the card any better. This is the worst.
Thank you for reading to the end. I hope you had half as much fun reading this as I did writing it (because that means I had twice as much fun as you). I look forward over the next few months to learning what badness Mass Mutation has in store. Until then, forge safely, and be well.
Doug started playing Dungeons & Dragons in 1976, Cosmic Encounter in 1977, and Magic: The Gathering in 1994. The rest is history. He is a closeted Richard Garfield fanboy, which partly explains his current obsession with KeyForge. He has played in five Vault Tours and once used his earned Æmbershards to acquire a Fuzzy Gruen stuffy for a damsel in distress. He is known as Chibigouazou (on TCO and Discord) but is too misanthropic for discourse on social media.