An Introduction to Ashes for Magic: The Gathering Players

So maybe you have a friend who’s going on and on about this game “Ashes” that they play. You’re sitting here wondering, “What the heck is this game, and why should I care?” In the following article, I’d like to highlight some of the key differences between Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn and Magic: The Gathering and why you might like to give Ashes a try.

The first major difference is the distribution model Ashes uses. Instead of random packs, Ashes is distributed in expansions where all contents are the same. Additionally, every expansion comes with a full play set of each card, so there’s no need to purchase packs over again. Along with a slower release schedule than Magic, Ashes is much more affordable.

Ok, now let’s dive into the mechanics!

Mana: Instead of land cards, Ashes uses a dice based mana system. Each player chooses ten dice from six different magic types as part of deck construction. Each die has three types of faces on it; two basic, three class, and one power. The basic symbol is common through all magic types, while the class and power symbols are unique to each mana colour. These symbols form a sort of hierarchy, where each level can be used for costs of the levels below.

For example, a nature power die can be used as a nature power, nature class, or basic symbol. A charm class can be used for a charm class or basic symbol, but not as a charm power.

When a die is spent it is moved to the exhausted pool. It remains there until the beginning of the next round, when players re-roll all of their dice. They are then moved once again to the active pool, which serves as their mana pool for the coming round. Don’t worry though, poor rolling isn’t the end of the world. Meditation is a special action that players can perform to mitigate this chance; discarding cards from their hand, draw pile, or spellboard (that’s something we’ll get to later) to change a die to its power side. Some spells are also able to change die faces, ensuring you can play the cards you need without worrying about milling yourself.

Since you have access to all your resources at the start of each round, there is no mana ramp. Be careful though, your dice must last you the entire round. It does mean you can summon strong units from the beginning, however, which takes on additional significance due to our next mechanic.

First Five: In Ashes, you choose your starting hand of cards. Yes, you read that correctly, you pick what cards you start the game with. Any five different cards in your deck are allowed. This ensures you always start off on the right foot, no need to mulligan if you draw poorly. It also introduces a depth of tactics. What is you opponent choosing? Should you choose a counter to it? What if they don’t pick that card, then yours is clogging up your hand. Choose wisely, as you won’t draw any new cards until the next round…

Rounds: In Ashes, the game takes place over several rounds. Instead of drawing a card and un-tapping at the beginning of your turn, these are only done once both players have exhausted their options and passed. Once that happens, each player draws back up to 5, un-exhausts (untaps) all their cards, and re-rolls their dice.

Ready Spells: The backbone of any Ashes strategy is a good set of ready spells. These are similar to enchantment or artifact cards with a tap ability. They are played onto your spellboard, where they stay from round to round. Ready spells can do anything from summon conjurations (similar to tokens), draw cards, or perform battlefield control. Some provide additional effects once “focused”, which happens when you play multiple copies. They provide reliable effects to build strategies upon, especially when chosen for your first five!

Combat: Ashes adds an extra tactical layer to combat with the ability to attack an enemy unit directly, as well as swing for your opponent’s throat. Both options require the main action of your turn, however, resulting in a constant struggle to gain the upper hand on the battlefield. In addition, units on the defense do not automatically counter attack, instead, you have the choice to counter. Only then do you deal damage to the attacker, but at the cost of exhausting (tapping) your own unit. Since units don’t un-exhaust until the end of the round, each and every attack or counter needs to be carefully weighed.

Another element of combat is damage that stays around. Instead of healing at the end of every turn damage on units is tracked with wound tokens. This keeps all strengths of units relevant, no matter what round of the game.

Phoenixborn: Instead of nameless combatants, a game of Ashes represents the fight between two rival Phoenixborn. Part of deck construction is choosing which Phoenixborn to use. Each has a unique ability, card, and stat lines. These statistics include battlefield, how many units you can have at once, health, and spellboard how many different ready spells you can have at once.


Is there any reason I might not like Ashes? It’s only fair to provide the complete picture, so there are some reasons you may not wish to play Ashes.

Small Card Pool: The game is still fairly new, and there has not been a large amount of expansions. On the plus side, this means the barrier to entry is low, but unfortunately it also means the card pool is still on the small side. In addition, the slower release schedule, as noted earlier, may not attract all players.

Game Time: Ashes games usually take longer than Magic. The tournament game length is 50 minutes. Most games fit into this, but mill decks sometimes push that boundary.

Combos: Ashes is not a heavily combo based game. Now, that’s not to say there aren’t combos, far from it. Ashes deckbuilding is all about finding the synergy between cards. Rather, it means you will find no infinite combos here. You won’t be able to transform a 2/2 into a 30/30 with a handful of well timed cards.


That just about covers the basics. Of course, there is much more going on, but the above gives a general idea of the game. Hopefully this helps you figure out if Ashes is a game you might like to play. If you do, be sure to join the community on Facebook or Slack.

I hope to see you there!

Niall Burton

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