It’s spoiler season! As part of the celebration, I’m going to be posting my own weekly personal thoughts and reviews of all the cards officially previewed throughout week. Where many people may give a grade system from A-F, or 1.0 – 5.0, I’m instead going to be summing up each review with a prediction of where I think the Ashes 500 costs will eventually land. This gives a meaningful metric for how good I think the card is now, as well as provides a personal retrospective grade down the line to see how close I was to how powerful the card truly was in the meta. You can read more about and see the current 500 prices here.
Please keep in mind that I am looking at things from a competitive meta perspective.
Summon Salamander Monk
Man these guys are cute. Hard to find a place for, but cute. This card is hard to evaluate. Up front, I’m going to say that they are better than Mist Spirits and in some ways comparable, but it’s not clear by how much. In general, they are going to give you “asterisked” 2/2 for 1 dice – which is a great deal. Being able to trade pieces of that for triggers or things like Spirit burn is also nice. However, the asterisk attached to getting full values out of these guys is what is going to give them trouble and why it will be hard to make good use out of them.
Here are some ways to get good value out of these guys:
- Make a Salamander Monk, attack. If they block and counter, you did 1 damage, exhausted a guy, and made a 1/1 monk spirit for 1 dice. That’s decent value already. If they don’t block…
- Use Small Sacrifice to convert the monk and deal another damage.
- Use Spirit Burn to convert the monk and deal 2 damage.
- Use Redirect to convert the monk and save yourself some life.
I think all of these (and more) represent an above average value for the 1 dice spent on the original monk.
Once you have the Monk Spirit out, it’s something like a Mist Spirit. It’s inability to block is a liability, but it’s inability to be targeted by attacks means that you when you attack with it you have no risk of it being targeted for consequence free attacks. A real drawback of attacking with 1/1s is that they can swing their own 1 attack dudes back into them with no risk. The drawback of not being able to block is definitely a bigger drawback than the gain you get from not being targetable, but it’s not a pure drawback.
There are three major drawbacks to these guys however that I think are going to make it difficult to find the right place for them. Firstly, it’s not always easy get good value out of them. Brennen is the best positioned, and if we see them working I expect it to be happen with her. Outside of her, I think there will often be awkward decisions or games where you can’t quite make them work.
Second, the conjuration counts can also put you into awkward situations. Having only 2 of the Monks and 3 of the Spirits means that sometimes your opponent can exploit these counts to force you into winless decisions. It’s not going to be a good feeling having 2 Monks out and knowing you can’t make a monk until you clear one out, and it’s going to be an even worse feeling when a monk dies and you don’t get the spirit because you haven’t managed to cycle your other 3 yet. It’s hard to imagine playing more than 1 book because of how awkward it is to make multiples.
Finally, these guys kind of want a large battlefield. That is, you either want to reliable clear (e.g. Brennen) or you want to have at least 6 battlefield. You want the opportunity to put out the full threat of the units and I don’t think a deck can easily thrive with these as the only unit – so you want extra room. This limits the places the Salamanders can be seen.
Ashes 500 Cost Prediction:
And here we have our fourth variant of Refresh. The first 3, all charm, are Refresh, Change Psyche, and Transfer. Each has little benefits of each other, each is probably fringe playable, none really see play. Flute Mage, I think, is a level above the rest and sure to see at least some play.
The best way to think of Flute Mage is as an unexhaust effect with a body that has to be answered. If you begin the next round with Flute Mage on the battlefield, unexhausting a unit for no dice cost can be extremely powerful. Swinging at an enemy with your Hammer Knight and immediately having it back at the ready is suddenly very value heavy if you can do it two rounds in a row (for 2 dice total). When the Flute Mage is out, it’s easy to craft situations where your opponent either has to answer the rest of your board, or they have to answer the Flute Mage.
It is fairly easy to answer the Flute Mage. For 2 dice, there are a few options that trade up against it, and plenty that will trade evenly (dice-wise) with the unit. That being said, unexhausting a unit *and* exhausting some of those options (e.g. dice and water blast) from your opponents side seems very worth the cost of two dice if you’ve got a good refresh target.
All in all, the biggest issue with the card will be finding places for it that have targets worth unexhausting. Not every deck has those and the room for Flute in deck and on board. Luckily though, it’s stats aren’t totally unreasonable and the payoff/punishment can be big.
Predicted Ashes 500 cost:
Strictly better is a magic concept that refers to a card that either does the exact same thing as another card for a cheaper price, or something that is purely beneficial over another card for the same price, or both. Moltener Gold, a Molten Gold for one nature power dice is strictly better than Molten Gold. Molten Lead, a card that deals 3 damage for one nature power dice, is not. While the card may be better, the damage vs wounds distinction is meaningful and prevents the card from being strictly better.
Magic Syphon is also not strictly better than Shifting Mists: the difference in magic type requirements is meaningful. The card is sweet, and once on the board, is unquestionably better than Shifting Mist. It can perform the exact same action as shifting, but also gives you the opportunity to instead meditate one of your opponents dice. But because it’s not strictly better, we will still see some people occasionally opting for Shifting over Super shifting.
The illusion dice has two major benefits over sympathy for effects like this. Firstly, and most importantly, it has the best dice power in the game. By playing sympathy-less illusion, you are giving yourself more opportunities to break apart your opponents game plan with the almighty wolf dice. Secondly, illusion has already shown itself to have multiple powerful conjurations that act as meditation sinks over the course of the game. Shadow Spirit and Shadow Hound both benefit strongly from free meditations, and are already in the same color as Shifting. By playing Shifting with these cards, you allow yourself to have a more consistent dice pool. The second point may change if we see powerful Sympathy conjurations previewed or released in the future, but the first will probably always remain true.
I wanted to get that out of the way so it’s clear why shifting still has a place in the game. Now on to Super Shifting. The card is clearly very powerful. Shifting was already a card shown to be a great tool of control type decks, giving them inevitability towards the end-game by not making them mill themselves. Super Shifting does exactly that, but also gives you opportunities to force your opponent to meditate by changing their critical dice. We will definitely be seeing Super Shifting on the spellboard. Also, with just a single class dice cost, Super Shifting is easy to splash. Victoria can fairly reliably play just one Sympathy dice, if she wanted, in order to support Magic Syphon instead of Shifting Mist.
Like Shifting Mist, Magic Syphon is going to be used predominantly in control decks or in decks trying to shore up control matchups. Preventing your own meditation or forcing your opponent to meditate do next to nothing in a game that doesn’t end up with a player milled out (see Papa Pratt’s must-read article on Aggressive Meditation). Super Shifting can force your opponent into awkward turns where they planned on using their dice power and now have to meditate, but those won’t be strong enough to include the card in aggressive decks.
A note on balance:. Sympathy is allowed to have better dice manipulation than illusion because that’s simply one of it’s strengths. Yes, dice manipulation is also a strength of illusion, but illusion has some strengths not available to Sympathy, like dice advantage (Hidden Power) or and an oppressive dice power. In a game with 6+ dice types, there is going to be some overlap in capabilities. Ceremonial can’t be the only type with strong allies, and Nature can’t be the only type with strong conjurations.
Predicted Ashes 500 cost:
50/12/12 – with same penalties as Shifting Mist