Combo decks in Keyforge have historically been extremely strong and demanded the highest prices on the secondary market, with some combo decks selling for thousands on decksofkeyforge.com or the Keyforge buy/sell Facebook group (I think the deck that won the most recent vault tour was bought for $15k, but I may be mistaken). Combo decks are volatile and extremely strong with the right hand, able to forge multiple keys on the spot or burst crazy aember from seemingly nowhere.
Combo decks are very tricky to pilot. The player must balance the combo and the chances of drawing into the combo versus playing other cards and just moving through their deck. Is it worth effectively chaining yourself in order to find the other combo piece? Can you guarantee that your combo will actually make a significant impact in the game even if you do end up getting the right cards? All these questions are important to answer when looking at combo decks and how to evaluate them.
Lets say you’re trying to combo off with Battle Fleet into Key Abduction, a classic and strong combo that works by drawing a ton of cards off Battle Fleet and then instantly forging a key for a heavily reduced cost with Key Abduction. When playing this deck you must ask yourself a few questions:
- How much value am I giving up while looking for the other combo piece?
- How impactful will this combo be even if I do hit the right cards?
- If I am searching for the combo does my opponent notice? Can they punish me for doing so in any way?
When looking at the value you are losing by looking for that other combo piece it is important to look at the state of the board, the state of your deck, and what kind of deck you are playing. In the case of the Battle Fleet combo, if you have Battle Fleet and 4 other Mars cards it’s usually not worth saving those cards for the combo turn. It can seem super frustrating to call Mars with a Key Abduction and 3 creatures only to draw into the Battle Fleet at the end of your turn, but you must keep it in context. If you have a hand of 6 cards and 4 of them are from Mars, that means you will only be able to draw a maximum of two cards per turn if you’re lucky by calling the other houses. Even if your Battle Fleet is 4 cards from the top of your deck, it would have taken 3 whole turns to play the combo if you saved your Mars cards, effectively chaining you for 4 cards over 3 turns. A whole key forged can look alluring, but it is almost never worth giving your opponent 3 turns to do whatever they want.
The next thing to look at is the impact of your combo. Before the Library Access Nepenthe Seed combo was nerfed, the right deck could forge 3 keys in a single turn to win the game if they got that combo off. This combo was so powerful it was worth taking multiple turns off or doing absolutely nothing for the majority of the game because as long as your opponent didn’t win before you drew the right cards they had no chance. The current combos are much weaker. Key Abduction usually requires some aember, a large board, setup cards and/or large archives to forge a key. The Ganger Chieftain Drummernaut combo requires your opponent to have an empty board and only nets you 6 aember, not a fully forged key. Understanding how your deck can reach the requirements to each combo and how quickly they can do so is vital to playing your combo deck well. And knowing when to just play the cards to get them out of your hand is important, too. Especially with players new to combo decks, players tend to really fall hard to sunk cost fallacies when playing combo decks. Too often I see people hold combo cards for a turn too long when they should have really just got that house out of their hand. The next turn you then feel that you have to save the combo cards because you already gave up so much to save them the turn before. Players will sometimes waste 3 or 4 turns chaining themselves trying to get a combo that wouldn’t actually be that impactful. Getting your Ganger Chieftain Drummernaut combo out after waiting 5 turns isn’t going to win you many games.
If you know that your combo is coming up soon or that you will soon be able to combo off, you have to be extremely aware of your opponents decklist and what they can do to stop you or punish you. If your opponent has 10 creatures in play before the first key and you want to combo off with Key Abduction, you’re probably going to lose unless you get a boardwipe quickly as your opponent can just reap for faster and more consistent aember. Looking for cards like Too Much to Protect and Interdimensional Graft in your opponent’s deck is vital to success for many combos. You never want to Hecatomb to sacrifice your own board only to have your 15 aember cut down to 5 from a Doorstep to Heaven.
If you have been trying to set up a specific combo, your opponent may catch on. If you are trying to set up a big Key Abduction turn, they may save a Restringuntus to lock you out of your Mars house when you have 5 Mars cards in hand. Even something as small as your opponent going for a play that develops their board more may be devastating if you are taking a turn or two off to set up a big Key Abduction turn.
Lastly, I want to say that there are some situations where you just have to play for the combo and hope your opponent doesn’t have the cards to counter you. A huge part of playing combo decks is knowing when you can do what, and sometimes you just have to roll the dice and hope to get there.
I hope you all enjoyed the article! I am quite close to finishing the website I’m building so I’m planning on migrating all my existing articles and any future articles onto that blog. I’ll be posting the new blog on Reddit, Twitter, possibly Facebook and various Discord servers, so stay tuned!