Ranking Every Keyforge Set from COTA to DT
It was recently announced that the game was going on a hiatus, but there is still lots of Keyforge content that I want to put out. It might be a long time before we see Winds of Change, set number six, so in the mean-time let’s rank every set and find out what the best set in Keyforge history is.
#5 Age of Ascension
We start naturally with the worst Keyforge set of all time and for me that is clearly Age of Ascension. Many praise the balanced sealed environment, but there is something more important than balance and that is fun. Perhaps the biggest flaw Age of Ascension has is that it’s just too similar to it’s predecessor. Yes, it’s more balanced, but it doesn’t add that many new things. There are three new mechanics but I don’t think any of them are particularly good.
First up, Alpha and omega force you to play cards as the first or last card in your turn. This takes away choices and options. Sometimes it isn’t important which order you do things, but other times you have multiple alpha cards and are unable to play both in one turn. When alpha and omega matter, it’s often annoying and frustrating. I think it works well on a handful of powerful cards to tone them down, but the design space isn’t there to make lots of fun cards. For example you don’t see mechanics like this in Magic very often because mechanics that are purely a drawback are traditionally unpopular.
The other new mechanic deploy plays into a larger theme of making the way you position your creatures matter more. Creatures with deploy can be played in the middle of your battleline and have additional abilities that interact with its neighbours. Despite the increased focus in this set, battleline positioning isn’t critical in games of Keyforge, so deploy doesn’t always matter. Unlike alpha and omega however, trying to maximise deploy is a lot more fun than trying to avoid the drawback of alpha and omega.
Of course with 204 new cards there are some great new cards. Martian Generosity is one of the most powerful and iconic combo cards and there are a number of fun things like the key imps, the shards and plague rats. Unfortunately there aren’t as many of these highlights compared to other sets. There are also a few cards that are miserable to play against. If you don’t have artifact removal, Heart of the Forest can completely shut down your deck and be miserable to play against. I must also mention the ambassador cycle. I don’t like these particular cards, but they adapt to match the rest of your deck in a way that hadn’t been done before. This would become more common with the mutants in Mass Mutation being a very notable example but in my opinion this idea really started here in Age of Ascension, so I must give the set credit for this.
#4 Dark Tidings
Much delayed because of the pandemic, Dark Tidings kept us waiting and frankly it didn’t live up to my expectations. The big innovation in Dark Tidings is the 38th card which comes with every deck. In this set it’s a token that represents the state of the tide. I never got excited by the tide mechanic, but the idea of a 38th card is really intriguing. It sounds like each set going forward will use the 38th card in a different way. I have no idea how it could be used but I imagine it will make each set unique and original. I expect great things in the future especially if the 38th card is different between decks and is procedurally generated to match the rest of the deck.
The tide mechanic itself is polarising. Some decks have lots of ways to raise the tide and others can only do so by taking chains. Whether or not you have fun with the tide can depend so much on your deck and the match up with your opponent. Further, a lot of the tide cards are just classic cards from other sets, but designed so they only function when the tide is high. This means they are just worse versions of cards we already love which makes them rather unappealing. I really like cards like Tide Warp and Tidal Wave that lean into the theme and flavour of the tide, but the tide mechanic feels tacked on to other cards randomly.
Another innovation for this set were the choice cards. These weren’t completely new as we previously had Begone! and Knowledge is Power, but this time we get a plethora of cards that give you a choice from a list of options. These play so well, and can lead to lots of interesting decisions. I like that niche and situational effects that aren’t useful enough to be a single card can be still be included in decks as a mode on these cards. I hope we continue to see more choice cards, as they are clean, simple and powerful designs.
The chase decks in the set were the evil twin decks. About 1 in 13 decks are evil twin versions of other decks with a handful of cards transformed into an evil twin alternate form. If you buy a lot of decks you will eventually get an evil twin deck or two, but they often only have a few evil twin cards per deck so the theme isn’t that pronounced. There are 47 evil twin cards in total and some of them are really cool. Unfortunately the rares in particular are extremely hard to find. I would love to add all the evil twin cards to my keyforge cube, but it looks impossible at this stage. Keyforge has had hard to find chase cards before, but this time there are 47 evil twins, which makes the issue of availability much more problematic.
Finally we have a new house in Unfathomable. They are a house themed around aquatic creatures and the deep sea. Most of their cards involve either the tide mechanic or exhausting creatures. They can be frustrating to play against as they try to stop you from doing anything. I’m always excited to see a new house make its debut in keyforge, but I’m lukewarm on the Unfathomable. The deep sea theme feels a bit disconnected to me from the rest of keyforge. I’m curious how they will fit into future sets going forward.
I think that your opinion of Dark Tidings will be closely related to your opinion on the Tide mechanic. There are some cool special rares like the Groundbreaking Discovery and Dark Depths combo packages, or Omnipus and Fifalde that I love, but in general this set doesn’t thrill me. Unfathomable are interesting, but their arrival wasn’t as exciting as the new houses in World’s Collide. I was also disappointed to see that enhancements were scaled back and gigantic creatures didn’t feature at all. I loved both of these additions from Mass Mutations and I really want to see what gigantic creatures look like in other houses. In a vacuum Dark Tidings is a fine set, but it doesn’t live up to many of the sets that came before it.
#3 Call of the Archons
The hardest set for me to rank is Call of the Archons. It’s the original set and represents that time when Keyforge was brand new and excitement levels have never been higher than when the game first launched. A great many of the most iconic cards in Keyforge come from Call of the Archons. The designs are cleaner and simpler than in later sets, and new players aren’t bombarded by a huge number of mechanics to learn and remember.
There is however one big flaw with Call of the Archons. Some of the houses are blatantly much stronger than others. Untamed can create huge amounts of amber really quickly and Shadows can steal all your amber with ease. Stealing amber is really flavourful for Shadows, but it’s also really powerful and in this set it’s so easy to do. This is in stark contrast to a house like Mars which was much weaker. Mars could be powerful but you had to draw lots of Mars cards at the same time to synergise together, whilst Shadows had no comparable limitations on its power level. Another source of imbalance were some cards like Library Access or Bait and Switch which were so powerful they had to be given errata. I definitely find when I open COTA that some decks are far more powerful than others, which does make it less fun.
If it wasn’t for such big mismatches in power level, COTA might have been my number one set. Quite simply there are a ton of iconic cards. At Rare you get Kelifi Dragon, Faygin, Help From Future Self and the four horsemen. Even at common you get some of my favourite cards of all time such as Wild Wormhole, Dust Pixie and Gateway to Dis. In other words, this set is stacked with hits.
#2 Worlds Collide
Worlds Collide is probably the second-most important set after COTA simply because it set the precedent that houses can be replaced with entirely new factions. To date Worlds Collide is the only set to introduce two brand new houses and they were bangers. The Star-Trek theme of the Star Alliance isn’t my cup of tea, but I know it’s very popular and I love the Roman aesthetic of the Saurian Republic. Both of these are a blast to play. Star Alliance let you get the most out of your deck with house cheating that lets you play and use cards from other houses whilst the appeal of the Saurians is pretty obvious. If you like big dinosaurs you’ll love the Saurians that have some of the biggest creatures ever printed.
No set is perfect however. Worlds Collide is home to a wretched selection of Brobnar cards. I love the flavour of Brobnar but opening them in Worlds Collide was painful. As a house centered on fighting the arrival of gigantic dinosaurs left them looking pretty feeble. To make things worse, their creatures were either getting smaller or coming with big drawbacks like the comically bad Narp. They were always a one dimensional faction, and now they couldn’t even do a good job at fighting. The other six factions were all good and fun, although it was obvious how strong the two new houses were. The Saurians could abuse exalted and Star Alliance were incredible at house-cheating. These two factions weren’t just fresh and unexciting, they were also format warping.
If the balance is so wonky, how come Worlds Collide so high on my list? Worlds Collide had a secret weapon known as anomalies. These ultra rare cards were themed as being from the future, covered in lightning and offering a glimpse of radical new mechanics and brand new houses. We first saw the tide on Valoocanth and fans were left in the dark. We had no idea what the tide was until it showed up in Dark Tidings. Cards like Timequake, Lateral Shift and Nizak, the Forgotten are some of the most epic cardboard rectangles Keyforge has to offer and they created so much hype. Worlds Collide may be unbalanced, but for me no other set matches the excitement of having two new houses enter the game along with the chance of opening these super special anomalies.
#1 Mass Mutation
Mass Mutation introduced my favourite mechanic of all time, Enhancements. The biggest strength of Keyforge is that your deck is completely unique. Trying to master a deck no-one else has ever played is a rewarding experience and their are no shortcuts you can take like net-decking to get the best out of your deck. Enhancements take this uniqueness to the next level. Each card with the enhance mechanic adds bonus icons to cards in your deck. This can change how cards play and turn a weak card into a powerhouse. Even if you opened hundreds of Mass Mutation decks, you would always find something unique and special in almost every deck. It also tied beautifully into the theme of mutation.
Mass Mutation also introduced my second favourite mechanic of all time, gigantic creatures. These are so huge they take up two cards. Needing to find both halves of a gigantic creature makes them harder to play than regular creatures but the effort is definitely worth it. The extra-large art is fantastic and they all come with a long list of awesome abilities. The only drawback is that there are only three of them, so I hope we see more in future sets because they are some of my favourite creatures in the game.
The big theme of the set was mutants and mutations caused by dark amber. Lots of things were mutants or rewarded your for playing mutants. My favourite is Dark Amber Vault which is really powerful and can appear in any house which is pretty cool. The most common mutants in the set were procedurally generated creatures that combined abilities from two houses in your deck. None of them were spectacularly exciting, but in combination with enhancements it meant your deck felt more unique than ever before. Combining procedurally generated cards with procedurally generated decks really opens the door to a world of infinite possibilities.
Mass Mutation was a great set because there was a lot of cool things going on. I haven’t mentioned yet that Sanctum returned to replace Brobnar. This was great because it showed that houses can return if they are rotated out and because Brobnar were awful in the last set World’s Collide. This set was also home to the seven sins, some of the hottest chase cards in keyforge history. There were also mutant versions of classic cards like Rad Penny and Bull-wark. We even got Picaroon, our first card with power X which I love.
When I first made this list, I put Worlds Collide at the top. But looking at how many cool things there are in this set, I think I have to put it at number one. I do love the anomalies and new houses in Worlds Collide, but that set is let down by being unbalanced and I don’t think Mass Mutation has any such glaring problems. That means Mass Mutation is my favourite Keyforge set of all time.