Hello everyone, Nick Conley here. I’m here to talk about my experience in The Main Action’s TTS SUMMER SLAM JAM! The Slam Jam was a 16-player double elimination tournament hosted by Christopher “Papa” Pratt of TMA over TableTop Simulator. This was a fantastic turnout for an online tournament, featuring players from all over!
One of the most exciting parts of playing in an online tournament has to be the blending of players from different areas, thus bringing their unique approaches to the game. This created a very robust, competitive, and diverse metagame with some truly fantastic players from all over, vying for the top spot. The Main Action’s complex analytics showed that the Phoenixborn spread was as follows:
4 Aradel and Jessa
2 Victoria and Brennen
1 Leo, Noah, Orrick, and Lulu
After witnessing the results of GenCon 2016 from afar, I spent a number of evenings preparing myself for the arrival of Leo and Victoria by Finch hunting on TTS. I was certain that I’d need to prepare my deck and my tactics for the inevitable Finch storm I was expecting. As is the seemingly growing trend of nobody playing the top placing deck from a recent major tournament, I was both surprised, yet not, at the significant lack of Leo decks I was running into in the bracket. In my 5 matches, I had the pleasure of going up against 3 different Aradels, and the same Victoria twice. I did not expect or prepare for the gauntlet of Illusion dice that I was about to enter… but more on the matches later. Without further ado, here is my winning decklist; Fear the Bear:
Fear the Bear v3
Jessa Na Ni
6x Natural, 4x Ceremonial
3x Summon Frostback Bear
3x Summon Butterfly Monk
3x Chant of Revenge
1x Cut the Strings
3x Hammer Knight
2x Fire Archer
3x Molten Gold
3x Final Cry
3x Ice Trap
I have been playing Jessa in constructed Ashes since before the release of the base set, and feel like I have developed a pretty consistent and effective playstyle with her, so I wanted to start my explanation of the deck with an overview of how I play Jessa:
I adore the fact that Jessa has a built-in win condition in Screams of the Departed, as well as an exclusive card that is basically cheating. Jessa rewards you for prioritizing board control, which is something you should probably be doing in some form or another in every game of Ashes. Fear and Ice Trap do a ton of work when it comes to controlling the board. Your opponent is never safe when it comes to summoning units: if they have low life, they are easy to ping and Scream, and if they are large units, Fear gains tremendous value! I am also a big supporter of using your damage spells like Chant of Revenge, Final Cry, and even Molten Gold to control the board. Doing this lets you advance your win condition by both applying direct damage from Screams and attack damage from big threats like Frostback Bear and Hammer Knight! Once you have chipped away at your opponent with Screams and gotten in a few big hits with your units, you can then point your damage spells at the opponent’s Phoenixborn and close out the game.
With my gushing over Jessa done, let’s move into the card selections. A vast majority of the deck is bread-and-butter Natural/Ceremonial cards that compliment exactly what Jessa does best: control the board, attack, and deal damage. Instead of discussing what makes Frostback Bear a good card, let’s take a look at some of the cards that don’t directly advance your win condition, but provide essential support functions.
Butterfly Monk is an essential conjuration when going up against other decks that aggressively fight for board control. I believe that Unit Guard is the single most important unit ability in Ashes, since it gives you a huge array of options in combat, while boiling down your opponent’s options to a single target. Not only do Butterfly Monks keep your beaters safe from uncomfortable mirror matches on the battlefield, they give you plenty of opportunities to trigger Chant of Revenge and Final Cry, which you are using to destroy your opponent’s units. Oh, and who doesn’t want a bonus heal every once in a while too?
Cut the Strings was the outcome of my attempts to navigate my way through games against Blood Puppets and Regress; two cards that give this deck significant trouble. I chose Cut the Strings over Dispel since I’d prefer to discard the Regress instead of shuffling it back into their deck, and clearing away a Blood Puppet in the process is just icing on the cake. Following the removal of the first Regress, having Cut the Strings on the table is a huge deterrent for more of them. Truly a spicy tech card, but it unfortunately did not have a chance to shine in the tournament. Thanks to Austin Vansen and Austin Mills for helping me choose and test this card, and shout-out to Elliot Kramer for arriving to the same conclusion as I did. My favorite moment in the tournament was when we both saw each other meditate away our copies of Cut the Strings!
The single Anchornaut has proven to be one of my most decorated war veterans in the deck. It was initially added in as a tech against Three-Eyed Owl, but he proved to be worth much more in this tournament. The Anchornaut is a superb First Five inclusion against Illusion decks since they can’t lock you out of color, and it can be used to ping down their 1 life Shadow Spirit that they probably have. A true hero in the noble fight against Illusion magic!
Ice Trap is a card that has a bit if a bad reputation, often being deemed as a card that the Three-Eyed Owl you played it on wanted to discard anyways. This is just simply not true in Jessa. Being able use Ice Trap to clear a unit and activate Screams is a way that Ice Trap can directly advance your win condition; something not all decks can claim. It also can be a devastating tempo play when saved for the right moment. If you can put your opponent into a position to where they can only summon a 1 or 2-life unit to block your Bear, Ice Trap is a card well spent. 3 copies of Ice Trap feels correct when most decks are running at least one or more of Butterfly Monks, Shadow Spirits, Glow Finch, or Three-Eyed Owl.
Choke is one of the few cards in the deck that does not directly advance your win condition. It is solely a support card for some problematic unit and Phoenixborn abilities. It’s applications were very sparse in this tournament since I didn’t run into any Leos. Against the many Illusion players I faced, it was quite difficult to Choke Aradel and Victoria’s abilities, and when it was an available option, the dice were typically needed elsewhere. I think a 1x is necessary in the event that you face a Noah, but in no other matchup would I say Choke is a First Five inclusion.
So that’s the general flow of how I pilot my deck, and some of the uses and reasonings behind my card choices. It is pretty plain-looking on the outside, but every card has its place, and the real excitement of the deck comes from playing the list, not looking at it. Let’s dive into my matches on the day…
ROUND 1 vs Jacob Shilling (Aradel, 7 Natural, 3 Illusion, 18 Conjurations)
-Chant of Revenge
Ah, nothing like the first game jitters of a big tournament. I was quite nervous about facing Jacob’s deck, as I had done very little preparation against Aradel and Illusion magic in general. My lack of preparation against Illusion shone through when I chose a Hammer Knight in my First Five, making my Thunder Number much higher than it should have been. At TN=8, I was facing the possibility of getting exhausted out by Hidden Power, becoming unable to summon a Butterfly Monk. I noticed my error pretty early on and decided that I would not be Screaming this round. While this did let me develop a strong board state with both a Bear and a Hammer Knight, I made a mental note to drop my TN down against Illusion in the future so I could advance my win condition by Screaming in the first round. I knew I’d have to meditate much more than normal against Illusion, so dealing Screams damage early and often would be important to not end up taking fatigue damage. Jacob immediately punished my First Five error by surprising me with a Steady Gaze onto my Hammer Knight as soon as I played it! Although I was slowed down quite a bit by the Steady Gaze, I drew into enough answers for Blue Jaguars that I was able to gain tremendous value with Fear and Ice Trap. Jessa typically does well against Blue Jaguars and Shadow Spirits, so I was thankful for the lack of Butterfly Monks early in the game.
After removing lots of conjurations, Screaming along they way, I was able to apply enough attack damage with Frostback Bears to close out the game. Thanks for the great game Jacob, and for teaching me a very valuable lesson for the rest of the tournament!
Game Results: Win with 11 life remaining
ROUND 2 vs Nikuya Nu (Aradel, 5 Natural, 4 Illusion, 1 Charm, 18 Conjurations)
-Chant of Revenge
As I got matched into a very similar-looking deck as Jacob’s, I mentally reviewed the important moments from last game. Dreading another Steady Gaze and dice exhaustion, I opted for Ice Trap over Hammer Knight. This would give me the option to Fear his Bear and Ice Trap the Jaguar, giving me a strong response to the conjurations I predicted Nikuya to have. The single Charm die was a big sign that Gilders were coming, which synergize incredible well with Water Blast. I decided to not bring Choke for fear of being locked out of Ceremonial, so I cut my losses and let my Bear get one-two punched by Summon Gilder and Water Blast. The summoning of Gilders continued to provide a difficult obstacle to overcome since it defeated my Bear each round, but I managed to maintain a strong enough board state and chip away at Aradel’s low life with direct damage.
Thanks for the game, Nikuya! It is always a pleasure getting to play and meet new players at tournaments. I am grateful for the opportunity and look forward to some more games!
Game Results: Win with 13 life remaining
ROUND 3 vs Qreqorek (Aradel, 4 Natural, 4 Illusion, 2 Charm, 18 Conjurations)
-Chant of Revenge
I am now 100% convinced that I missed the memo on Aradel. As far as I know, I am the only person not playing Aradel in the Slam Jam. Despite my good fortune against Aradel thus far, I have played and lost against Q before, and know he is a great player. I was eager to see his approach to playing the most popular Phoenixborn of the tournament.
Expecting much of the same for this match’s first round as my last game, I grabbed the same First Five, briefly contemplated bring Choke, and began our match. Right off the bat, I saw some major differences from my opponent. Shifting Mists, Open Memories and Sleight of hand developed a very formidable spellboard, including 2-life Shadow Spirits! At 2 attack, and 2 life, these guys were a significant threat to my battlefield, and Gilder+Water Blast was just as good as ever. Fortunately, I learned a trick to help combat this combo; the turn I summon a Bear, I also meditate for a Frog die. If my opponent decides to spend their whole turn removing my Bear, I can respond with Chant of Revenge and the Frog die I meditated for to clear away the newly summoned Gilder, or another unit on the battlefield. Just be sure to put down Chant of Revenge before summoning your Bear! These small tactics that I have learned by playing through a gauntlet of Aradels really helped me feel on top of my game throughout the tournament. I felt very fortunate to have been able to use my games as learning moments that provided me with information that was highly relevant to the rest of my matches on the day.
Thank you for another great game, Qreqorek! I look forward to playing you again on TTS soon.
Game Results: Win with 16 life remaining
ROUND 4 vs Elliot Kramer (Victoria, 5 Illusion, 3 Natural, 2 Ceremonial)
-Chant of Revenge
Elliot was the player I was most worried about having to face in the tournament. Given Elliot’s high placement at Gen Con 2016, as well as him knocking me out of a previous TTS Tournament, I knew this would be a difficult match.
I made another blunder in choosing my First Five in this match. With virtually no experience in a very long time against Victoria, I forgot just how many Illusion dice she gets, and how difficult it is to execute a Reaction Spell against her. Ice Trap sat dead in my hand for 2 rounds before I gave up and threw it away. Final Cry met the same fate as Ice Trap throughout this game. Elliot was clearly aware of my intentions to play my reaction spells, and punished my dice accordingly. I felt very foolish for my pointless overmeditating.
There was so much destruction on the battlefield in this match. Elliot was able to pump out a superior number of units than me, but I had stronger removal. Aggressively Screaming put Elliot at a low life value early in the game, but often left me with turns and turns of passing since I had no dice left. As we came close to what would be the final round, I drew into the Molten Gold I would need to win, but was paranoid that Elliot had a Vanish in hand. Looking at all of my available resources, I knew Elliot would be able to gain board control and deal plenty of damage to me by attacking if I didn’t finish the game this round. However, if my Molten Gold got Vanished away, I’d certainly have no way to close the game. I racked my brain for a solution to a potential Vanish. When I noticed that Screams of the Departed does not target a Phoenixborn, I knew I’d have to remove units with Frostback Bears and my Molten Gold so I could Scream with certainty.
I expected nothing less than a superb game against Elliot, and I was not disappointed. We congratulated each other on our performance thus far, and Elliot went on to fight his way through the lower bracket to arrive at our rematch.
Game Results: Win with ??? life remaining
ROUND 5: Elliot Kramer Rematch
-Chant of Revenge
Gearing up for what might be the last match of the tournament, I knew I had to come up with a better First Five than last game. Ice Trap was dead weight against a smart Illusion player, so I needed a solution that would be easy to play and advance my win condition. I have never been more pleased to have an Anchornaut in my deck. It’s single basic die cost makes it very easy to play against Illusion dice, and the Throw ability was just what I needed to remove Elliot’s round 1 Shadow Spirit since Frog pinging and Ice Trap would not be permitted. Elliot had the misfortune of meditating away his two remaining Hammer Knights and Frostback Bear spells, which gave me valuable information for what wouldn’t be coming in the rounds to come. I drew some incredible hands that let me develop all three of my ready spells, and also plenty of Fears and Molten Golds to ensure I would have premium board control.
Without gaining enough knowledge about Elliot’s deck composition from our previous game, I was again faced with the threat of Vanish against my Molten Gold. As tempting as it was to use Molten Gold when the end was so close in sight, I took a deep breath and patiently chipped away at Victoria’s last 3 life with Screams of the Departed.
Game Results: Win with 12? life remaining
Record: 1st place, 5-0
Before I go, I’d like to summarize the most valuable bits of information I learned about facing Illusion dice for all the brave and noble souls out there in their quest to challenge the Wolf die:
-Think very carefully about bringing a Hammer Knight in your FF. You probably won’t have the dice.
-Final Cry is almost impossible to play during your opponent’s turn. Try and activate it on your turn! The best ways are probably to meditate for a Goat, then attack in with a wounded Bear, threatening Spite damage, or they block and counter, letting you trigger Final Cry. Other options include using a Fire Archer or Anchornaut to destroy themselves, but that is considerably less efficient.
-Anchornaut is a great FF choice! It keeps you low on the Thunder Number, and it isn’t tied to a class of magic, so Illusion can’t lock you out. You’ll probably use Throw to ping their 1-life Shadow Spirit, which an Illusion player is almost certain to play in the first round.
-Think very carefully about Screaming. Overextending with Screams can leave you behind on board if they use Wolf dice aggressively. However, Screaming early and often can set you up for the final push of damage before you enter fatigue damage. It is a delicate balance.
-It is very difficult to pre-meditate for Frog dice to ping with. If it is essential that you need a power die next turn for certain, you can meditate for 2 of that die so they can’t Wolf both of them. Alternatively, you can mediate for them when you are certain that your opponent will need to use their side action for something other than a Wolf exhaust, such as Water Blast.
-Being wary of Vanish is very stressful. Often times it is correct to save your Molten Golds for removing units, so you can trigger Screams. Screams does not target, so it cannot be Vanished.
I want to congratulate and thank all of my opponents and the players of the first ever TMA TTS Tournament; Thank you to The Main Action, especially Papa Pratt, for running the event; the professionalism, courtesy, and organization skills that you brought on the day were appreciated by all. Thank you to Austin Vansen, Austin Mills, and the many TTS players I have played against; your dojoing skills and theorycrafting truly helped me in refining my deck list and tactics over the past few months. Thank you to Erik Rodriguez, Shi Ma, and John Dony for assisting in streaming and commentating the matches, adding to the rapidly growing library of excellent Ashes matches. Thank you to everyone at Plaid Hat Games for publishing exactly the game I have been looking for and for being so dedicated to making this game the best it can be. I hope to see many more of you all in the future, participating in the game in all of these diverse ways. There is no better gaming community around than the Ashes community, and I couldn’t be more happy to be a part of it.