Evaluating Cards in Keyforge With Quadrant Theory

First of all, thank you to everyone who read my first article “Keyforge Competitive Musings”. The number of views and responses I received truly inspired me to give writing about Keyforge another go. So here we go!

Lets set the scene. It’s Keyforge release day. Your local game store is holding its first Keyforge event. You are ready to go! Your fee is paid. Maybe you bought a pack of sleeves because you know your deck is going to be sweet, it needs protection. You pull out your playmat with a picture of a tipped over salt shaker on it, and roll it on to the table. You set your newly opened sleeves down to your right. The event organizer approaches your table and places a fresh, unopened pack of Keyforge: Call of the Archons in front of you. You crack open the package and set the cards down just to the left of your sleeves. The event organizer heads back to his desk before shouting across the room.

“You have twenty minutes to inspect and sleeve your deck! Good luck Archons!” he yells over the bustle of the crowd.

Now what?

Now its game time. In a twenty-minute time span you need to evaluate thirty-six cards and how they might work together. This can be a very daunting task, and intimidating to new players. Card evaluation can be very tricky. However, there is a method that I have used in my time playing Magic the Gathering that makes card evaluation much easier to digest. That method is called Quadrant Theory.

Quadrant Theory is a way to evaluate cards based on the idea that games tend to exist in four different states, or quadrants. These quadrants are:

  • building (early game)
  • parity (a game that is even)
  • winning
  • losing

If you take any given card and determine its value in each of these quadrants you should have an idea of how good that card is, and how best to use it.

This invaluable theory was developed and popularized by a MTG player named Brian Wong. Brian Wong was a co-host of the very popular limited based podcast called Limited Resources hosted by Marshall Sutcliffe. I highly recommend listening to it if you already haven’t done so.

So now that we know what Quadrant Theory is, lets look at some cards and see how we can apply it to card evaluation. The easiest way to see how a theory works is to put it to the test.

I want to start with a card that is highly touted in the community. My opinion on this card may seem controversial at first but please bear with me and trust the process. Quadrant Theory has led to great results in the MTG limited community and I strongly believe we will be able to apply it to Keyforge successfully.

The card I want to discuss first is Bait and Switch.


At first glance Bait and Switch looks very powerful. But is it really that good of a card? Lets apply Quadrant Theory to it and find out.

Is Bait and Switch a good play in the building quadrant? No, and here’s why. Whether you go first or second, Bait and Switch is a terrible play. If you play first and it is the one card you play on your first turn it does absolutely nothing. If you play second there are very few cards your opponent could have played on their first turn that could make playing Bait and Switch a worthwhile thing to do. Throughout the first couple turns of a normal game of keyforge you should be more concerned with building a board state or sculpting your hand then hoping your opponent has the appropriate amount of Æmber to make an early Bait and Switch worth taking up a card in your hand.

Is Bait and Switch a good play when you and your opponent are at parity? No. If you and your opponent both have an even board presence and equal amounts of Æmber in your pools, Bait and Switch does nothing.

Is Bait and Switch a good play when you are winning? No. If you have a larger Æmber pool then your opponent and a larger board presence Bait and Switch is a dead card in your hand yet again. You would rather have a card that helps you close out the game quickly before your opponent gets you back to parity.

Is Bait and Switch a good play when you are losing? Yes, absolutely. This is the quadrant where Bait and Switch can shine, and understanding this is important. When you are behind Bait and Switch can bring your Æmber pool back to parity with your opponent very quickly.

So now that we have placed Bait and Switch into the different quadrants how would you evaluate it?

I would have to give it a low value.

In order for a card to be considered good it needs to hold value in at least most of the quadrants. As we saw Bait and Switch is only really good when you are loosing. I don’t know about my fellow Archons but I don’t want to be losing the game I’m playing for my cards to be useful.

That is not to say that Bait and Switch is a bad card. There are times when Bait and Switch will save the day and win you the game.

This is where evaluating cards can be tricky. If we play a card for the first time and it steals the game for us, it feels good and bias can start to set in. The last time we played that card things turned out great!

This is where a system like Quadrant Theory can turn good limited players into great limited players. If you think a card is good or bad, you simply apply it to the four quadrants and see what comes out the other side.

Now lets apply Quadrant Theory to a card that I like very much that hasn’t been getting a lot of attention and see how it stacks up to Quadrant Theory.

The card I want to discuss now is Virtuous Works.

virtuous works

I love this card. Simple, no-nonsense. It just adds three Æmber to your Æmber pool. So how good is Virtuous Works according to Quadrant Theory?

Is Virtuous Works a good play in the early building quadrant? Yes. Of the cards I have seen so far, Virtuous Works might be the best card you can play if you play first. If Virtuous Works is the only Sanctum card in your opening hand that means that your hand is flooded with cards from your two other houses. Declaring Sanctum and playing Virtuous Works is a great first play. If you go second, gaining three Æmber off one card is very good. As an example, Bait and Switch requires your opponent to have six Æmber to match Virtuous Works Æmber generation.

Is Virtuous Works a good play when you and your opponent are at parity? Yes. Easy, no condition Æmber generation can let you get ahead on keys while your creatures are free to make critical attacks to control the board. Remember that you would need to reap with three creatures to generate the amount of Æmber Virtuous Works generates.

Is Virtuous Works a good play when you are winning? Yes. Gaining three quick Æmber while you are ahead is exactly what you want when you are ahead to slam the door shut on your opponent.

Is Virtuous Works a good play when you are losing? No. unfortunately some times we can’t have it all. When you are in a losing position you are more likely going to want a card that helps clear the board or a card like Bait and Switch that can steal Æmber and make sure that your opponent isn’t going to forge their last key on their next turn.

So now that we have placed Virtuous Works into the different quadrants how would you value it?

I would have to give it a fairly high value.

Virtuous Works is a card that you will almost always be happy to have in your hand. I think the game designers agreed with me and decided to make Virtuous Works an uncommon whereas Bait and Switch is a common.

So there you have it. Quadrant Theory applied to two similar cards. Both are cards that generate a generous amount of Æmber. But as we saw Virtuous Works just achieved this in more parts of the game then Bait and Switch was capable of.

Instead of using our feelings and bias to generate an opinion of card, why not try using Quadrant Theory? I promise you wont be disappointed in how it improves your game play.

So let’s go back to the beginning of the article.

You are sitting at your local game store. Its Keyforge: Call of the Archons release day. Your brand new unique deck of cards is sitting in front of you waiting to be opened. You don’t need to feel nervous are apprehensive about what cards are inside. You know that all you have to do is read your cards and apply them to Quadrant Theory. Maybe you lay them out in front of you in groups of cards that are good in each of the quadrants. Does your deck have mostly cards that are good in the building quadrant? If it does, maybe you have a aggressive deck that wants to come out swinging. Does your deck have a mix of cards that are good at parity and when you are behind? If it does, maybe your deck is the controlling type that can answer threats and land a few hay makers in the late game to close thing out.

Whatever deck you end up opening on release day, please promise me one thing. That you will have fun playing this great new game.

Untill next time fellow Archons, take care, and I hoped you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.


6 thoughts on “Evaluating Cards in Keyforge With Quadrant Theory

    1. Absolutley, my point still stands however that Bait and Switch is not a card you want when you are winning. It has to many conditions to be good when you are ahead and want the game to end.


  1. “If you go second, gaining three Æmber off one card is very good. As an example, Bait and Switch requires your opponent to have six Æmber to match Virtuous Works Æmber generation.” Technically correct, but Keyforge is zero sum. I’m sure you know this, but if your opponent has 6, you are gaining 3 and denying 3, so it’s a net gain worth 6.
    Your other points about virtuous works stand, and gaining 3 on your own without having to work for it is definitely appealing. Getting as much value out of bait and switch is harder.
    I really like the quadrants analysis, though I think you also have to consider the quality of a cards effect on a given quadrant, rather than just how many quadrants it is useful in. It makes a good frame for deck consistency, but might miss a decks situational power. Back to the example, if your opponent has a lot of steals lined up, Virtuous Works is pretty bad to use if you are winning, as getting those extra aember might be putting your value into your opponents stash.


  2. Ehh…I think it’s fair to say Bait and Switch is the same usefulness whether you’re ahead or behind, for that very reason – due to how key forging works, you don’t have to be ahead or behind in the game to be ahead or behind on current Aether. I think it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll have a moment to play it during ANY game, regardless of if you’re winning or losing, for example we’re both racing for a key, I check, you check, turn comes to me and I cash in my key – Bait and Switch i s now an EXCELLENT play, despite the fact that I am clearly ahead.

    It’s not as universally useful as Virtuous Works, but its average potential swing factor when it comes to Aether is almost surely marginally higher, since even a swing of 2 aether stolen makes it a better card.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s