Welcome to Hidden Power – Episode II – “Aggressive Meditation”
Last episode, we talked about “Thunder Numbers” and how to pick a solid first five/dice spread for efficient casting. In this episode, we’ll allay some common concerns and talk about the best ways to leverage dice, deck, discard, spellboard and hand manipulation through meditating… aggressively.
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“I meditate. Meditation helps me.”
I could probably drop the mic right now after finding that nugget of wisdom on the interwebs, but in case you won’t just take the word of the man that warned you not to talk to strangers, who pined for Jesse’s girl, or you (and far more likely) are too young to even know what the heck this old coot is talking about, I will go ahead and move forward.
verb, Ashes Vernacular
- Discarding cards from your hand, deck, or spellboard to change a die in your active pool to the side of your choice for each card discarded.
- Something Rick Springfield does. It helps him.
Forms: Med, Medded, Meditate
Noun, Ashes vernacular
- The practice of meditating without concern for the cards you may discard from your deck, hand, or spellboard if doing so betters your overall position and game state.
- A tactic used by winners. Like Rick Springfield.
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Roll them Bones!
You’ve just rolled your dice and the cosmos was unkind. All basics. Dang.
Surely you are going to lose this game now, right? Your days of getting mana flooded or mana hosed in Magic the Gathering come storming back. “Great, more random ways to lose the game, Bah!” But then, you remember! You have some control in Ashes, and decide you are going to go ahead and meditate to turn some of those dice so you can actually cast something this round. You begin off the top of your deck. Flip. Flip. Flip. As you’re flipping that third card, you see it. THE perfect card for this match-up/situation. You curse under your breath and despair.
Well, you really shouldn’t. Just…
This episode is about why, especially in the current meta, you need to be meditating, doing so aggressively – and wisely – in order to set up the round, ensure you have all of your options open, and all of the information you need in order to be able to deal with what may come. Further, we’ll break down some strategies that may become more viable, and some higher level plays you can use in order to use meditation to your advantage.
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Unleash the Power
I have to say that I know this isn’t an easy topic to discuss because some of it flies in the face of that feeling you get when you see one of your best cards get turned over into the discard. I’ll admit it. When I see a Molten Gold or Hidden Power get turned over while fixing my dice, I swear a little swear, and hear my opponent’s friendly jab at me.
“Oh,” I say.
“That’s too bad,” they say with a chuckle.
But know that the better players do this almost more as a communal rite rather than a real lament. It’s kind of a grim inside joke shared among the people that “get it.” Sure, that card there in the discard pile may be an unfortunate happenstance, but if meditation was necessary to win, it’s of less importance than following the path to victory set out by the deck. Which specific card it was is irrelevant to the extent that meditating reduced the chances at drawing that card.
Ugh. That was a mouthful and likely confusing, so let’s get into some examples and hopefully I can clear this up.
You are playing Saria. You have Heart’s Pull ready to roll with a and showing. You also have Summon Frostback Bear in hand but no to cast it.
You’ve decided, based on early board pressure from your opponent – “If I don’t cast this Summon Frostback Bear this Round, I lose the game.”
You have 25 cards in your deck, but for this example, let’s just focus on the top 2 cards, nothing else. You take your well shuffled deck, set the top two cards in front of you face down, and the rest of the deck aside.
Now, let’s imagine that one of these top two was THE CARD you wanted – if you could pick a First Six, it would be in it. The other is a Bring Forth you splashed as a lark, because you boasted you could whoop your friend with it in your deck. And since you don’t have any False Demons, you really would prefer not to draw it. You know you need to meditate this round at some point to shift that to so you can cast that Bear. In my ever-growing elaborate hypothetical, you’ve decided that meditating out of hand is a non-starter because your FF is carefully selected for your friend’s deck.
Two cards. One brilliant. The other drek. And you with a choice – Heart’s Pull first or meditate first?
What do you do? What could happen here?
The truth is – in regards to which card is ultimately going to end up in your hand this round – it just doesn’t matter. You could: meditate yourself closer to THE CARD, meditate off THE CARD, Heart’s Pull the Bring Forth or Heart’s Pull THE CARD. Half the time happy with the card drawn. The other, not so happy.
But what cannot be lost here is – regardless of what was meditated off, and/or what was drawn – you had to meditate or you lose the game! Meditating, regardless of where THE CARD ends up, has to be seen as a “good” thing because it moves you closer to your win condition. If THE CARD ends up over there rather than in your hand, but you win because you meditated? Give it no second thought.
This is why when I’m on the other end of that Heart’s Pull, and I have to discard a card from the top of my deck, I don’t really worry about it all that much, unless I feel as though running me out of cards is a focus, rather than a side effect, of the action. While the card being rolled off may have “taken a card I wanted away from me,” it just as easily could have “moved me closer” to a card that might be better, or provided me a target. If THE CARD didn’t end up in my discard when you Heart’s Pulled me, maybe I’m going to draw it now!
Mentally redo this exercise. This time, since you’ve chosen your deck carefully, all the cards are good cards. Begone Bring Forth fluff! You meditate so you can win the game, and roll off one good card into your discard. But! The other is good too! So, you’ve gained a power die, and are now closer to the other good card, ready for Heart’s Pull or your next turn draw. If you meditate good cards away – simply draw the other good cards in your deck, and win.
Also note – the circumstance painted – meditate or lose – may seem dire, but I guarantee you will likely lose if you sit on a card in hand in your FF because you are concerned about meditating something “of value” into your discard.
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Undrawn = Meditated = Undrawn
Think about, on average, how many rounds your games last. Right now for me, it seems to be at about 3.5. So, let’s round up – 4 rounds.
This means with no card draw (from you or forced by your opponent (Abundance)), or deck manipulation (Open Memories), going four rounds, you will draw* a total of 20 cards per game on average. This means you will not draw 10 cards. I hope to, with the following, illustrate how refusing to leverage these not drawn cards as a resource is folly.
(*for this exercise, your FF counts as “drawn” cards)
First let’s take a look a game with no meditation from the deck:
Begin by taking your well-shuffled 25 card deck (you’ve got your FF for round 1), and setting aside your opening hand. Next, take the top five cards and place them face-down in a pile representing your second round hand. Repeat this for rounds 3 and 4. At the end of this 4 round game, since you didn’t meditate so you could “protect your cards” you have 10 random undrawn and unused cards in your deck.
Now the same game with meditation:
Take your well-shuffled 25 card deck (again your FF is set aside), and imagine you decided to meditate three cards that round. You meditate three cards off of the top of your deck and set them face-down in the discard pile (don’t peek!). Next, you take the top 5 cards and set them aside face-down as your round 2 hand. Again, imagine a three dice meditation and put the top three cards face-down into your discard pile. Repeat this for round 3, and for round 4, put the last card left in the discard pile.
No Meditation With Meditation
At the end of this, the two scenarios look very similar: 20 cards drawn for each game, and 10 random cards not drawn. Though, in the second example, those 10 cards in the discard pile bought you 10 power dice. This is a non-trivial amount of dice-fixing and likely allowed you to perform the actions you needed to in order to effect your strategy throughout the game.
Again, in both instances, 10 RANDOM cards were not drawn. It’s this that is the key. Whether those random cards are the 10 at the bottom of your draw pile, or the three, three, three, one meditated during the rounds is irrelevant. You didn’t/won’t/don’t have access to 10 random cards.
For these examples, should it concern you that you don’t/do know what’s in the draw/discard pile? Not insofar as you didn’t use/used, potentially very efficiently, the resources available to you to make you more competitive during the game.
By “playing carefully” and “protecting your key cards” you aren’t really doing yourself a service. If your deck sits with any number of cards greater than zero and meditation from your deck could have helped you in the game, then it was a mistake to not meditate – regardless of what may have flipped over into your discard when you did it.
These are the golden rules of deck meditating:
Presuming you aren’t out of cards when the game ends, the cards in the discard pile that were meditated from the deck represent cards you wouldn’t have drawn anyway.
Utilizing your deck as a resource is a key to winning at Ashes.
Quick Aside: I wrote that the average games are lasting 3.5 rounds. This means that many a game are only lasting 3 rounds total. Doing the math here shows that on average, only 15 cards are going to be drawn, leaving another 15 for meditating. Since the length of these games belie just how aggressive these decks are, it isn’t unusual to see pilots meditating 4-5 cards per round to get the dice they need to bring the pain.
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A Glimpse of the Future
Now that we have the mindset that what I’ve meditated from my deck represent cards I wouldn’t have drawn anyway, and we are at peace with that BEST card flipping off into the discard pile, we can talk about some of the things that can be gleaned from the information you get by knowing cards are no longer available.
What seeing the cards in the discard allows you to do is figure out what the chances of drawing a specific card may or may not be based on the information presented. Certainly, your opponent may be able to suss out some information – especially when that information is absolute (all three of a card is in the discard pile). But, as the creator and pilot of the deck you are running, and knowing intimately all of the cards available to you based on the meticulous deck construction you performed, you should be able to gain advantage from that knowledge.
Can you race? Should I guard for this creature? How much more damage do I have coming up in the subsequent rounds? With the discard filling up, you are better able to answer those questions for later rounds of the game.
Your opponent may play differently based on what cards are shown in your discard as well. A singleton Choke, or Hypnotize may make them think they should be “playing around that card.” The point is, it isn’t always a bad thing that they see the cards from your deck in your discard pile. Have I had the “surprise” spoiled before? Yes I have, but again, not meditating wasn’t an option if I wanted to win the game.
Further, knowing that it is likely imperfect information, you should be paying very close attention to what your opponent is rolling off into their discard pile. For not only the intel about what may be coming from an Action/Ready spell standpoint, but from one of the better sides to Ashes – Allies.
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“We were always coming back.”
Since one of the strengths of the Ceremonial die is its power ability, meditating from your deck allows you to “fill the well” so to speak, in order to provide you targets for that power die. This may happen organically (you need to meditate and just happen to run across some allies that can be brought back), or (and way cooler) it can happen purposefully.
Since you are allowed to meditate more dice than you have available (or even if you have no dice available), you may effectively meditate off the top of your deck until you see an Ally you want to target with your .
To illustrate this – a story from Tulsa.
In the fourth round of the tournament Jarret “JtheSecretBoss” Berman needed 2 points of damage to finish the game. He knew he had Stormwind Snipers in his deck as he hadn’t seen one, and knowing this, proceeded to meditate. Even though he only had four dice, he meditated seven cards in order to ensure the Sniper was in the discard and available next turn for the win**.
Now, here’s the tricky bit that Jarret pulled, one of the reasons he made it to the Top 8, and illustrates the point this article has been trying to get across – the Stormwind Sniper was actually the fourth card Jarrett meditated over – yet he continued meditating three more cards to hide the sniper so as to not draw attention to it!
This is a brilliant play on several levels and demonstrates a full understanding of the game! He knew the cards he was meditating were a resource – not only to prepare him for the win on the next turn but as camouflage to hide his intent!
(**Note: the rule about meditating dice/spellboard/hand is that you can meditate any number of cards of your choosing, even if the number of cards meditated is higher than the total of your dice – even if your dice total is zero! This is because of the order of operations for meditating. First, you are meant to meditate any number of cards, set that number, and then change your dice.)
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If you ever get a chance to watch some really great Ashes being played, where the game comes down to those last cards, one of the things you will likely see is people meditating from their Spellboard. I can’t express how wonderful a mechanic this is and how sharp players are able to make the most out of all of the resources available to them. It’s always interesting to me to see a player build this base of books and other ready spells, only to tear it all down as the game progresses, in order to fuel the game forward.
Some things to consider when it comes to Spellboard meditation:
It isn’t always a last resort! Need a spot for a different Ready spell? Meditate a Book!
Know what’s left in the 5 cards left in your draw pile (based on what you’ve meditated off) and you want to ensure you draw it next turn? Meditate a Book!
Want to kill your Butterfly Monks and gain some life? Meditate a Book… or in this case – all of your Butterfly Monk books – even if you don’t have any dice to change!
The point is, don’t forget your Spellboard late in the game when you potentially have very difficult decisions to make!
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Remember that Bring Forth you had in your deck because you were confident you would win? Well, even if you did draw it – it wouldn’t be completely useless. Meditating from your hand, and leveraging your hand as a resource, is another important aspect to the game. Since you get to replenish, fully, your hand at the beginning of each round, there’s no – game reason – stopping you from using your hand resources as efficiently as possible.
When you are tallying up what you can do for the turn, there will likely be some cards you may not necessarily be able to cast due to lack of number of dice types. Remember to think about your hand as a resource to maximize your efficiency for the round!
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My Sides are Killing Me!
You’ve got the idea that meditation isn’t something just for Mr. Springfield, and you are willing to use the various methods to power up your rounds, but are there guides for how many dice you should set up and when?
As with most things, I’m going to talk in generalities. In general, it’s wise to go ahead and meditate all of the dice you think you will need for the round as soon as you can, because you never know when you need to cast that Out of the Mist, or respond to an effect your opponent plays. Since those might require a side action, you can’t both fix your dice and deal with the challenges.
I’m not saying you should always do this, but I am saying that getting in the habit will allow you to open windows of choice later on in the round. I’ve seen plenty of situations where not meditating earlier in the round actually has lost people games; the action they needed to take was a reaction, or required both a side and a main that “do work” but the dice weren’t there. This after several turns of passing without taking a meditate action.
I understand that by consistently fixing your dice up front through meditation, you might feel as though you are telegraphing your rounds. Even this can be gamed a bit. For instance, if you know you are going to finish the game with Molten, and don’t want to let your opponent know you have it for the win (so they don’t use their Blood Transfer), it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to wait until your turn before meditating to create the .
One last point on this. The dice you have showing portend your options whether you want them to or not. Only or no ? Your opponent knows you can’t cast Redirect, Sympathy Pain, or Final Cry. By presenting Power dice, it unlocks your options, and may make your opponent have to at least consider the circumstance that you may have those cards.
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Killing Me Softly
Of course, as soon as I suggest you might want to meditate early to fix the dice you need for the round, I’m going to give you a reason not to do so.
The best card (currently) in the game, Enchanted Violinist, allows you to meditate very, very aggressively.
Her ability turns every off die into a effect and since you are likely going to be meditating (as is your opponent) she can do amazing work for you. By meditating a single dice each turn, you can leverage her ability each turn.
Her synergy with your Thunder Number, and with your need to meditate, is amazing. When you find yourself at a low Thunder Number for the round, and you want to leverage those dice, look to this wonderful lady. Simply meditate one card a turn and sing them a Song of Sorrow. Anyone running will likely be playing her to eventually Side Action get her back, lose a life, and then cast her. I’ve seen this card hold off Hammer Knights for turns, and the surprise factor of casting it late in the round after your opponent believes there’s nothing you can do since you passed, passed, passed for three turns is awesome.
If you don’t know the power of the Enchanted Violinist, I strongly suggest you put one in your FF. Her value, flexibility, and synergy with your Thunder Number, and with your need to meditate, is truly incredible.
(Yes Callin, she should be Saria’s unique ;))
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“More than one mage was driven insane by the sound of the Millstone relentlessly grinding away.”
In Magic the Gathering, the Millstone was one of my favorite cards. When I took 19th in Nationals a long, long, long time ago, my deck had no way to actually deal damage. I relied heavily on the Millstone. This card coined the term “Mill” – a now ubiquitous term – for a deck or strategy designed to run your opponent out of cards.
With all of the aggressive meditation, resource-utilization, and efficient kill decks abounding, are there mill strategies available in Ashes, and what do they look like?
Right now, you have two straightforward “mill” cards designed to push people through to the end of their deck – Abundance and Purge:
Abundance is always tricky to use. Sure, it’s great in Coal, but for any other Phoenixborn, it’s has a sharp double-edge. While you are pushing them through their deck, you are also feeding them, potentially, the good stuff they need to burn you out. With the prevalence of the good person from Blackcloud, this can be a dangerous game indeed.
Purge is just a dice beast for absolutely no tempo gain at all. Further, if you don’t push them to the end of their deck, you are simply helping them in ways already noted about meditation: you are filling the well for usage and providing them intel about how the rest of the game is going to line up
While I am not saying it is impossible to leverage these cards in a consistent winning strategy in the current meta, I am going to say I think they may need help. In light of the topic of this article, there may be a much more nuanced methodology to attack someone’s deck and to push them to the end of the game…
Again, my favorite dice rear their wolf-shaped heads. Here, they are a potential means to run the game longer through the exhaustion of the power dice that your opponents have meditated to. If you can increase the number of times your opponent has to meditate – by a mere 2 per round – and you are built to be able to make the game go long – you can potentially limit your opponent’s effectiveness later in the game and/or force them to take damage from drawing from their now empty deck.
You don’t necessarily need to be “Heavy Exhaust” but running 2-3 dice and a Shifting Mist can prevent you from having to meditate those wolves, and provide you a leg up on the deck race. If the Shifting Mists don’t hurt your tempo too much, they may be a good sideways “mill” option.
There are potential flex strategies against decks that like to swing with big creatures, rather than burn you out. You just may be able to clog up the field and , Purge, and/or Abundance them out the rest of the way.
We’ll see if the future holds more cards that can help this strategy, but what we are seeing is – people are effectively aggressively mill-meditating themselves, so a surprise strategy that helps them along the way is right around the corner.
Maybe you will make it the next tier one mill deck!
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Wrapping it Up!
Hopefully in this entry into the “Hidden Power” archive, you found something of interest or something that may help you play this awesome game just a bit better. I understand that many of the top tier players knew, pretty much, everything I’ve written, but I hope as the game grows, more players may be able to leverage this information as a base and provide discussion points for those new players just beginning to grasp second-level strategy in Ashes.
If nothing, hopefully the “Golden Rules” of meditating can be helpful for those new players who may be concerned about rolling off their good cards.
Whatever happens. Keep Calm. Meditate On.
As always, if you feel there’s something I missed, something I got wrong, something I could have done better, please don’t hesitate to reach out. If there’s a topic/deck/card/strategy you would like to see discussed, please feel free. If I did okay, don’t hesitate to provide that feedback as well. It’s always welcome.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read. It is appreciated.
Best of luck to you.