After my brief introduction to Ashes I’d like to take a look at the six preconstructed decks that come with the base set. These allow new players to promptly get into the game without worrying too much about deckbuilding.
My intent with this series is to give an overview of the base decks, their synergies, strengths and weaknesses, and to shed some light to some more obscure aspects of the rules, which might require some practice to get accustomed to, and may sometime throw new players off. I’d rather not talk much about strategy, at least not at this stage, first and foremost as I consider myself to be quite a new player myself, so the little nuances and subtleties of the game are still out of my grasp and I’d rather not venture in a field I don’t feel ready to cover yet. I hope you’ll forgive me.Anyway, without further ado, let’s start. The first deck I’m going to review is The Mist Guardian, featuring Aradel Summergaard. I chose to begin with this deck because of the six preconstructed decks it’s certainly one of the most straightforward to play, but also because it’s the deck I used in my first ever Ashes game, and it includes the card that gives its name to the site so, what better candidate to begin with?
Let’s take a look at Aradel herself first:
With her huge Battlefield value of 8, Aradel Summergaard, Phoenixborn of Evermist Valley is – currently at least – the Phoenixborn that can field the largest army in the game. It is no surprise that one of the main strategies of this deck is exactly that of flooding the board with cheap units and overwhelm the enemy defenses with numbers advantage. Her Spellboard value of 4 is pretty standard, allowing her to field whatever Ready Spells she needs, while a Life of 16 puts her on the frail side of the spectrum, meaning she has to be careful not to be hit too much.
Her special ability, Water Blast is simple but extremely cost-efficient, and has a tremendous utility value: once per round, as a Side Action, Aradel can deal 2 damage to a target unit by spending a Nature Class die. Who wouldn’t like a double-damage, easier to cast Nature Die Power once per round? There aren’t many damage-dealing effects that inflict more than 1 damage in the game, and most of them have either some play restriction or a higher cost-to-damage ratio (if not both). And besides the very affordable dice cost, being able to deal with a 2-life creature with just a Side Action is always an extremely valuable option.
The suggested dice pool for this deck is:
This combination of dice fits with the board control strategy Aradel is trying to achieve, supplementing her special ability and her many unit-removal cards with the extra damage coming from the Nature Power and using the Illusion Power to limit the enemy capability to catch up on her, helping her get and maintain board advantage.
Every Phoenixborn has a unique spell, which you can use only in a deck using that particular character. Aradel’s one is Summon Blue Jaguar. As many ready spells it only costs a Main action to play, and then a Main Action and two basic dice to activate. With 2 Attack, 2 Life, 0 Recover the Blue Jaguar is already a solid unit by itself given its rather low cost, but there’s more: its Gaze ability allows you to spend a basic die after an enemy unit has come into play, and immediately exhaust that unit. Note that this ability doesn’t exhaust the Jaguar itself, meaning it can be used multiple times per round. Of course it can be only triggered once per unit played by the opponent, but if you have several Blue Jaguars in play, each of them can trigger its own Gaze ability on the same unit, rendering it useless for multiple round.
As a side note about timing, effects that happen when a unit comes into play, will trigger before those that happen after a unit comes into play, so if your opponent plays a Stormwind Sniper, the latter can damage and destroy your Blue Jaguar before it has the chance to use its Gaze.
Aradel’s deck includes no allies, but relies on pretty cheap conjurations to fill the board with relative ease.
In addition to Summon Blue Jaguar, you get Summon Mist Spirit: a ready spell costing a Main Action to play and a Main Action plus an Illusion Class die to activate in order to place a 1/1/0 Mist Spirit on the battlefield. Don’t get too attached to them, as they will leave play too soon, but nonetheless they have their uses. First of all, they are expendable: as any conjuration, you can always bring them back into play over and over again, and they are so cheap you will only need to allocate a couple of spare dice to the task if you wish. That said, they offer an extremely good option for blocking enemy attackers aimed at your Phoenixborn.
Moreover, whenever you activate the Summon Mist Spirit spell, you have the chance to spend an extra basic die in order to place a second Mist Spirit into play so, even if they get destroyed quickly, they’ll return into play with ease, thus forcing the opponent to spend more and more dice to take them out again. Of course, having a life of 1 makes them extremely vulnerable to multi-target effects like Mist Typhoon, Coal Roarkwin’s One Hundred Blades or the Hammer Knight‘s Aftershock ability, so be aware.
The third and final Summon spell at Aradel’s disposal is one of my favorites: Summon Butterfly Monk. Yet again with no magic cost (just a Main Action) to play, it requires a Main Action and a Nature Power die to activate, and brings another “small” unit into play. Butterfly Monks have a lowly Attack value of 1, but a Life Value between 1 and 3, being it equal to the number of Summon Butterfly Monk spells in your spellboard, and also Unit Guard, making them very good defenders with some staying power if you need, further enhanced by their Recover 1: once you are set up, the opponent can no longer ping them one damage at a time: they must take them down or somehow bypass them, or the Monks will slowly heal any damage.
And sometimes even killing them is not the best idea, as their Last Blessing ability makes you heal 1 damage from a target unit or Phoenixborn whenever a Butterfly Monk is destroyed. In a game where healing effects are (at least at this stage) extremely rare, being able to shrug off even just 2-3 points of damage in the course of a game pretty much makes up for Aradel’s below-par Life value. What I like about them is that they are incredibly useful even with just a single Summon Butterfly Monk spell in play as their lower life makes them die quicker, thus offering you more options for healing. Also note Last Blessing is inexhaustible, so you are free to counter with your Butterfly Monks knowing that they will heal you nonetheless.
As a last tip, you can always trigger Last Blessing yourself by discarding your Summon Butterfly Monk spells through Meditation. This might come in handy if both you and your opponent are at low health in order stave off nasty effects like Sympathy Pain or Molten Gold for that one last turn you need to win the game.
Should you be worried about Summon’s Butterfly Monk‘s activation cost of a Nature Power die, relax, as Aradel has the ultimate solution for any dice-fixing problem: Shifting Mists. Entering you spellboard for just an Illusion Class die, this ready spell allows you to mitigate the randomness of the dice rolls by changing the facing of 2 of your active dice once per round with just a Side Action. Think of it as a free 2-dice Meditation once per round, doesn’t it sound good?.
And as with Meditation, being a Side Action offers you the option to change the dice to a face you need in the exact moment you need them, without the need to sacrifice cards from your deck, spellboard or hand. This allows you to keep your tempo, at least when the dice you are changing the facing of are used to fuel a spell or ability that requires a Main Action: activating dice powers, out-of-turn reactions or any spell or effect that requires a Side Action like Aradel’s Water Blast or Out of the Mist will force you to use Shifting Mists one turn in advance.
Aradel’s three Action Spells have a purpose in common: they all help her to deal with the enemy Battlefield by removing the threat posed by the opponent’s units in various ways.
Mist Typhoon is the card you need when facing hordes of small creatures like Mist Spirits or Noah Redmoon’s Masked Wolves and Sleeping Widows. It’s the first of Aradel’s multi-colored spells, costing an Illusion and a Nature class dice in addition to a Main Action, and it deals 1 damage to all opponents’ units, clearing the board from all the little creatures, but also priming Aradel’s Water Blast ability against medium-sized threats like the Hammer Knight if needed. Also, it doesn’t make you lose card advantage as you may draw 1 card after you play it, effectively replacing itself.
Note that its effects reads “all opponents’ units”, which means in a multiplayer game this card will indiscriminately hit everybody outside of your battlefield. The more players, the more powerful its effect, but be careful: you are definitely not making any new friends with that. And be aware of unit that like to be damaged, such as the Leech Warrior or the Living Doll as there won’t be ways to prevent them from being hit.
Whereas Mist Typhoon let you deal with swarms of little guys, its “sister” Out of the Mist helps you focus on big targets, dealing damage to a single unit equal to the number of units you have in play (and with Aradel’s large battlefield and cheap summons, chances are you are going to have some). Its cost is somewhat high, requiring both an Illusion and a Nature Power dice, but that’s nothing that can’t be overcome with a well-timed Meditation or the use of Shifting Mists, though, and by only requiring a Side Action, you can use it to create a gap in the enemy defenses and attack before your opponent can react.
Though it can have a high damage cap, due to the relative fragility of Aradel’s units this card will probably deal 3-4 damage on average, which anyway will be more than enough to deal with anything but the hardest units in the game. And besides that, if you compare it with the Nature Magic Power (1 Frog = 1 damage to a unit), it can have an equally cost-efficient effect with just 2 units in play: that will be 2 Power dice for 2 damage, with a net card expenditure of zero due to Out of The Mist allowing to draw 1 card. As an advantage over the Dice Power, you’ll just need a single Side Action to do the 2 damage, whereas by using the dice you will have to also spend two turns. And of course, having more than 2 units in play makes this card even more cost-effective.
Last but not least, Steady Gaze is Aradel’s tool to deal with big units without even bothering to find the resources to deal enough damage. For two Illusion dice and a Main Action, this Action Spell puts two exhaustion token onto a unit, effectively taking it out of the game for two rounds. This has an incredible synergy with the Blue Jaguars, as they can only deal with units the moment they come into play, but can’t do much afterwards.
By using the Jaguar’s Gaze ability on an enemy unit, and then playing Steady Gaze on it in the following round, you have 3 rounds of (almost) guaranteed freedom from that unit, with the added effect of hindering the enemy play by taking up its Battlefield space with something they can’t use.
As a general consideration, neutralizing units using non-violent methods is an effective way to deal with Ceremonial Magic in particular, as this kind of magic has several effects that trigger when a unit is damaged (Leech Warrior, Living Doll) or destroyed (Chant of Revenge, Final Cry, Summon Sleeping Widows), and prevents the recursion of allies through its Die Power.
The way to battlefield supremacy is further enhanced by Aradel’s Alteration Spells, that offer yet another trick to deal with enemy threats, but also some effective ways to power-up her small units.
The last card in Aradel’s arsenal of control effects, Reflections in the Water, helps to defuse those units whose special abilities may be a pain to deal with otherwise (such as Living Doll, Hammer Knight or Frostback Bear). That’s not much that can be said on this: it’s definitely a useful card albeit extremely situational; however it is definitely cheap costing just an Illusion Class symbol, and being able to reuse it with Respark is a possibility not to be underestimated. Sure at the present time, with just the base set and the first two expansions packs in store, the number of cards Reflections in the Water can affect in significant way is quite limited, but that number can only grow.
Something that can be easily missed at first is that some spells, like Hypnotize or Crystal Shield, have an effect that grants an ability to a unit. Such effects (unless they are inexhaustible, of course) do not work on a unit affected by Reflections in the Water, since its effect applies to all abilities the attached unit has, not just those printed on the card itself.
Root Armor is definitely a spell that embrace Nature’s philosophy of “simple but efficient”. It may not have one of the flashier effects in the game, nevertheless giving a unit 2 extra life for just 1 Nature Class symbol guarantees it has some staying power against low-damage effects and attacks. That might be quite good per se, but possibly a bit slow to build up, were it not for the fact that you can cast Root Armor as a Side Action. Yes, you read it right! This means you can summon a unit and cast Root Armor on it on the same turn. Having trouble dealing with a Blue Jaguar? How about a 4-life one?
When you’ll experiment with deckbuilding, you’ll find this card has incredible value, for almost any unit can benefit from its effect. Due to its relatively cheap costs, both to play and to recover via Respark, it’s not too absurd of an idea to include just a single copy of it in your deck to keep in your First Five, in order to boost whatever unit you plan to use in the turn you play them. All in all, for its simplicity, elegance and usefulness, this is one of my favorite cards in the whole lot and I have no qualms about admitting it.
Tired to sting your opponent with one or two Mist Spirits at a time? Need to swing for a big hit to close the game? Massive Growth offers a cheap way to increase your damage output. For a Main Action, a Nature Class symbol and a basic symbol, this Alteration Spell will grant a +4 boost to a unit’s Attack and Life values until the end of the round. And these bonuses will stick around, for Massive Growth has the Spell Guard ability, making it extremely hard to deal with, as your opponent has to take down, exhaust or otherwise lock your now powered-up creature (and in the case you were wondering, no, the unit altered by this spell doesn’t get the immunity from opponents’ spells, only Massive Growth itself does).
Sure, you can’t attach it to units with more than 2 Attack, but guess what? Aradel’s units have 2 Attack at most, making all of them valid targets for this spell. With all the tools at her disposal to deal with enemy threats, Aradel will probably have 1-2 unexhausted in play at the end of the round, so instead of pestering the enemy Phoenixborn with a few damage it can be definitely better to exploit this opening in your opponent’s defense for a big 5-6 damage hit.
And with that, our overview of Aradel’s preconstructed deck, The Mist Guardian is complete. Before wrapping up, I’d like to post a list of what I think are the key strengths and weaknesses of this deck:
- High Battlefield value, with cheap, expendable units that can be summoned quickly;
- Control of enemy units through exhaustion and damage;
- Relatively cheap effects that allow her to keep dice advantage and control the pace of the round;
- Low life means vulnerability to direct damage effects;
- Relatively weak units, require some time to setup for an attack and won’t deal much damage per round without Massive Growth.
- Lacks ways to directly damage the opponent Phoenixborn, and must rely on having unexhausted units at the end of the round to attack, which isn’t always an option.
If you have any questions, comments or criticism to what I wrote, or even just if you liked this article and want to see more, please feel free to leave a message below and I’ll answer as fast as I can. Next time, we’ll take a look at a radically different playstyle, with the powerful Snakes in Silver of Maeoni Viper.
Until then, thanks for reading!