Hail and well met! We are the Figures in the Fog and today we’ll be reviewing the new cards for Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn, added in The Spirits of Memoria. This is the first entry in the series. Let’s get to the good stuff and check out the Phoenixborn of Memoria, Sembali Grimtongue.
Sembali has a pretty unassuming stat line with 5 Battlefield, 19 Life, and 3 Spellboard. There is really nothing special about her stats that lends itself to any particular archetype. Her stat line is nearly identical to Brennen, just with 1 fewer Life. Given the prevalence of Brennen in the competitive scene, Sembali better have some strong effects to justify having a weaker stat line than Brennen. Speaking of which…
Sembali’s Phoenixborn ability is called Ban Manifestation. When a Unit she controls leaves play, she can discard 1 card and place an exhaustion token on herself, to either remove a target opponent’s Conjuration from the game or remove all copies of that Conjuration from that opponent’s Conjuration pile from the game.
Ban Manifestation is definitely an interesting Phoenixborn ability with a lot of potential applications. It is a very nice soft counter to Fear and other destruction effects, since it triggers when a Unit leaves play. It can also put her opponent’s in a bit of bind, forcing them to choose to get use out of their Emperor Lion, Frostback Bear or Turtle Guard, or to be reduced to what is currently on the Battlefield. However, it definitely comes at a cost. The cost of discarding a card from her hand to activate it will force Sembali to run cards that she can easily recur like Anchornaut, Polarity Mage, or Hand Tricks in order to reliably activate it. Additionally, because the discard effect is part of the cost of activating the ability, if her opponent uses Choke, Sembali is going to be down 1 card and be exhausted for the round. The fact that it can only affect Conjurations and can’t remove the last Conjuration of a specific type (since her opponent can choose to remove all other copies of that Conjuration from their Conjuration pile) are also significant weaknesses to this ability.
X: I really like Sembali. I was very excited during the War Within event, that despite my local events netting even, Light ended up winning. I loved the idea of shaking up the meta and really giving players a reason to explore using Allies other than just Fire Archer and Hammer Knight. One year later I’m still happy Light won, because Dark’s mechanics weren’t nearly as interesting, but I wish we didn’t have Conjuration removal. Since the addition of Astrea, Echo, Jericho, Koji, Odette, and Namine, the quality and use of Allies has increased a lot. There was a Slam Jam (online tournament) in which nearly all decks were either running Elephant Riders or ways of dealing with Elephant Riders. The game has changed so much since the Sembali reveal, that I don’t think that Conjuration removal is really a needed addition to the game right now.
N: I think the biggest thing to think about here, is that conjuration removal is not a wincon. Sure, once you get to that point, your opponent is in trouble, but it’s going to take you a little while to get there and while you do, your opponent is happily running along with their win condition.
Sembali’s signature card is a Reaction spell called Veil of Reversal. Veil of Reversal can be played whenever an opponent targets Sembali, her player, her draw pile, or her discard pile with an ability, dice power, or spell. She can pay two basic dice to prevent all of the effects of that ability, dice power, or spell, and then return a target Ally she controls to her hand. If she returns an Ally, she can then remove a target Conjuration from the game.
At its lowest, Veil of Reversal is a more efficient Vanish, with the additional ability to return an Ally to her hand and to remove a Conjuration from the game. While the ability to completely counter an impactful ability or spell is certainly powerful, this card really shines when Sembali can utilize all three parts of the effect. This means that she will want to use Allies that can take advantage of being replayed, like Fire Archer or Stormwind Sniper or Sun Sister. This card also allows her to fully remove a Conjuration from the game, making her a nightmare for an enemy Leo and any other opponent using Dread Wraiths, Emperor Lions, Indiglow Creepers, and Shadow Hounds. However, while this ability is certainly powerful it has a couple of devastating drawbacks. Because she can only remove a Conjuration from the game if she returns an Ally and she can only play the Reaction when her opponent targets her (her player, her draw pile, or her discard pile), her opponent will have a lot of control as to when this effect can be triggered, and potentially what parts can be triggered at all. Additionally, much like Ban Manifestation, this card doesn’t interact with Allies. Meaning that she has no innate defense against an opponent utilizing powerful Allies, like Elephant Rider, Hammer Knight, Holy Knight, or Sonic Swordsman.
X: You guys know that scene from that old movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark (Thank you Tom Holland! XD)? Indiana Jones is challenged to a duel by an Arab Swordsman. Before the duel starts, the Swordsman shows off his formidable swordplay skills that he has spent countless hours to perfect, brandishing his sword, spinning it in one hand, before seamlessly passing it off the other. He smiles, confident that his dedication to his craft, years of training and practice will allow him to easily defeat this foolish archeologist. And it’s about that time that Indy pulls out his pistol and shoots him, ending the duel before his opponent can get close to him. That is what Veil of Reversal is. It’s a card that has a very powerful effect, but requires so much setup to get much more value out of it, than you would get by just playing Vanish. It’s more flexible than Vanish is, but it still costs 2 dice, and requires a lot of things to go right to get much more than that.
N: This just seems so easy to play around since it entirely relies on your opponent’s play. If they’ve got something they want to protect they can easily just not play the spell or kill your cheap allies. I do wonder how it will work with bigger allies. The possibility to recover a wounded HK and bring it back in fresh is interesting, though pretty expensive. I also feel bad for Lulu and Phoenix Barrage already
Overall, Sembali is definitely a powerful Phoenixborn that packs a serious punch for any opponent that dares to use Conjurations against her. Like Astrea, her Phoenixborn ability doesn’t require any dice to use, which is a boon, but the cost of a card from her hand can be pretty steep. Additionally, her signature card requires only basic symbols, giving her the freedom to freely choose what types of magic she wants to deploy. But her reliance on Allies to get the full usage of her signature card, probably pushes towards running at least Ceremonial or Divine magics. Despite this limitation, she remains a very flexible Phoenixborn that can easily fit into a tempo deck, utilizing her powerful disruptive effects to win on the Battlefield, or a late game control deck with a very unique win condition.
N: I don’t know what to think about Sembali. On the one hand conjuration removal is something new and different, great! On the other hand… I don’t really like it. Overall it just seems like an unfun and annoying mechanic.
This brings us up to date at least as far as Phoenixborn are concerned. We had 6 more cards revealed this week, so those will be crossing your feed soon. But while we have your attention, why don’t you go ahead and tell us what you think? Is Sembali your new main, your new enemy, or your new pocket pick? What do you think about Sembali’s emphasis on Conjuration removal? What do you think of her silhouette and appearance? Is she going to make a big splash or small ripple? Tell us in the comments below. We will hopefully catch up this weekend and try to stay on top of our reviews as cards continue to be revealed. It appears as though our time is up and we must Fade Away, but fear not, the Figures in the Fog will return!