Here we are again, continuing with our review of the preconstructed decks of the Ashes: Rise of the Phoeinxborn base set. As I already wrote, the purpose of this series is to help new players get some basic insight on the various cards of the game, without stepping too much into strategy matters.
After treading through the mists with Aradel, today we’ll take a look at a totally different deck: The Snakes in Silver, featuring Maeoni Viper, Phoenixborn of Silverwood.
In some aspects, Maeoni is the opposite of Aradel: she has a very high Life value of 22, but comes with the smallest Battlefield capability in the game, with only 3 units available at a time. She can’t definitely afford to pursue a swarm strategy and must rely on her toughness to stay alive as she won’t have many units around to block enemy attackers for her (quite the opposite, her few units are so precious to her gameplay she’ll have to step in and guard them in person from time to time). Her Spellboard of 4 is pretty respectable, and should allow her to play whatever she needs to support her plans.
Her special ability is Strike, which is a reaction that triggers after a player has declared attackers (but before the defending player decides whether to block or guard the attack). For 1 basic die you can increase the attack value of a creature by 2 for the remainder of the turn, which basically means for the resolution of the current attack. Note that you don’t need to be the attacking player in order to trigger this ability: you can also use it on a unit you intend to defend and counter with, if that can help you destroy the enemy attacker. In a multiplayer game you can also use Strike when two opponents are fighting each other, to help another player dealing with a particularly nasty enemy unit.
The suggested dice pool for this deck is:
To me, this combination screams “board presence” aloud. Both types of magic want you to get units on the field, make them stay as long as possible, and get the most value out of them, which is something you are somewhat forced to do with Maeoni, given her small battlefield. The destructive side of Nature magic and the trickier aspect of Charm Magic will also come into play, albeit more as a side note, providing ways to deal with the opposition.
Maeoni’s unique card is Summon Silver Snake, a ready spell costing a Main Action to play that allows Maeoni to field a really strong unit with the expenditure of a Main Action, a Charm Power die and a Nature Power die. For each focused copy of the spell you have, you get to put a status token on the Silver Snake you just summoned, saving you some of the time you need to make them grow. As an added bonus, being Silver Snakes pivotal to Maeoni’s strategy, Summon Silver Snake has the Spell Guard ability, which prevents enemy spells like Seal or Transfer from affecting it (but can’t block unit or Phoenixborn abilities like Noah Redmoon‘s Shadow Target or the Blackcloud Ninja‘s Seal Strike.)
The Snakes themselves are one of the toughest units in the base set, with a Life value of 4 and a Recover of 3, they will regenerate to full health at the end of every round, so your opponent can’t just take them down slowly one damage at a time: either they destroy them in one round, or they’ll have to restart the process over again. As for attack goes, they have a value of X, which is equal to the number of status token on them. We have seen before that by focusing the Summon Silver Snake spells, new Silver Snakes will come into play with 1 or 2 status token already, but there’s another, satisfying way, to making them grow, as their Consume ability let them eat enemy units!
How does this all work? Basically, whenever an effect you control causes an enemy unit to be destroyed, each of your Silver Snakes will gain a Status Token, therefore increasing its attack value by 1. Being an inexhaustible ability, it is always active, even if the Silver Snake is exhausted. As for “control”, the FAQ specify:
Control: A card is controlled by a player if it is on a player’s battlefield or spellboard or is that player’s Phoenixborn. A player also controls any card that is attached to a card she controls.
This means your Silver Snakes will not be able to use Consume when another player triggers the destruction of an opponent’s units (or such an effect spontaneously triggers), even if you originally played the card that caused the opponent to destroy that unit. For example e playing alteration spells like Poison or Fade Away on an enemy unit, or your opponent destroying a Blood Puppet you played in his or her spellboard through its Self Inflict ability, won’t trigger your Snakes’ Consume (but you can put Blood Puppets in the enemy battlefield and destroy them through other means, that would work as long as you control the destroying effect). The same goes for engaging the False Demon in battle: it will be destroyed by its own Illusion ability before you can destroy it with damage, and won’t trigger Consume as well.
Icing on the cake, whenever the Consume ability triggers due to the destruction of an ally, that allies doesn’t go to its owner’s discard pile, but it’s removed from the game for good. This hurts Ceremonial players a lot, as it will prevent those allies from being resurrected through the Ceremonial dice power.
With a battlefield as large as 3, Maeoni must get the best out of her pet snakes, which means feeding and protecting them from harm until they are ready to wreak havoc on the enemy battlefield. Enter Summon Gilder, Maeoni’s second ready spell, costing a Main Action and a Charm class dice, and a Main Action and a Nature Class dice to activate.
Its activated effect is unique among the Summon spells as it not only allows you to place a conjuration onto the battlefield, but as an added bonus makes you deal 1 damage to a target unit. Compare that with the standard Nature Die power and you’ll agree it’s an incredibly cost-efficient card, especially in support of the Silver Snakes’ Consume ability. When discussing this card, a couple of fine points regarding timing and the resolution of effects from the FAQ must be taken into account:
- When you use a spell, ability, or dice power, you first pay the costs, then declare the target, and then resolve the effects of the spell/ability/power you played. This means you must choose the target for the damage (even if you don’t want to deal the damage) before placing the Gilder conjuration into play. This allows the opponent to react to the use of the ability (for example with Golden Veil) and, if the ability is cancelled, its effect don’t take place as a whole, so not only the damage is cancelled, but also the Gilder isn’t summoned.
- You should be aware that you can activate the effect of a spell or ability even if you can’t fully resolve that effect. In that case, you resolve as many effects as you can and ignore the rest. For example if your battlefield is full, you can still activate Summon Gilder and deal 1 damage to a target unit, even though you don’t have the room to effectively summon the Gilder.
The little mice themselves are an incredible unit for their cost, even taking into account the extra magic symbol you had to pay to put their summoning spell into play. 2 life is good for a small unit, preventing it from being destroyed by a single Nature Power die, Enchanted Violinist or Anchornaut. Its Unit Guard ability is just amazing, as it protects other powerful allies like the Snakes from being attacked and relieves some stress from Maeoni, who would be otherwise forced to answer a bit too many attacks by herself. Also they have the Inheritance 1 ability, which allows you to place 1 status token on another unit you control when they are destroyed, making their sacrifice even more worth with the further growth of one of your Snakes.
All those work in making your Silver Snakes as big as trucks is most likely going to be wasted if your opponents barricade themselves behind a wall of units and avoid being attacked directly. To help you land decisive hits, Maeoni brings another powerful ready spell to the board, Hypnotize. It costs nothing but a Main Action to play, and then a Side Action and 2 Charm class dice to activate in order to grant a unit you control the Bypass ability until the end of the turn. Bypass reads “this unit cannot be blocked or guarded”, which ensues it will hit its designated target, though some effects can foil your plans: one you must be aware of is Redirect, that will divert the damage of the attack on another target, Reflections in the Water will prevent Bypass from being used, and also Choke will cancel the effect of the ability the moment it is going to trigger (the rationale behind the last two being Hypnotize gives the Bypass ability to a unit, and then is the unit that triggers the ability the moment it attacks).
2 Charm dice in order to land a direct attack is not cheap, but it’s worthy if you manage to deal at least 3-4 damage with that attack. Using multiple instances of Hypnotize in the same round, though feasible with this deck is extremely taxing to your resources and should only be attempted if you can land a decisive blow. That said, drawing multiple copies of Hypnotize doesn’t necessarily mean they are dead cards in your hand, as you can place a backup copy for free in order to safeguard your plans from Noah’s Shadow Target ability, and you can always discard them to meditate in a later round if you need.
The last ready spell in Maeoni’s arsenal is Empower, which is definitely not a cheap card, costing 2 Nature class dice to play, and then a basic die to trigger, once per round. Its first effect is essentially a weaker version of Maeoni’s Strike ability, granting a +1 bonus to the attack value of a unit after attackers have been declared. 1 dice for 1 damage looks good, though the initial tax of 2 Nature dice would make this ability worth playing only on the long run, were it not for its other effects.
As an added bonus, whenever you trigger Empower, you may draw a card, discarding a card from your hand if you did. This effect lets you cycle through your deck faster, and helps you fix your hand by swapping cards you don’t quite need at the moment for (hopefully) more useful ones. But there’s more. Empower focus effects allows you to re-roll one of your exhausted dice and add it to your active pool, essentially letting you activate its ability for free (yes, you can re-roll the dice you paid to activate Empower, as you exhaust dice to pay the cost of a card or ability before resolving its effects).
Focusing this card, even though it has a steep initial cost, makes it extremely cost-efficient in the long run, balancing the 1-die for 1-damage equation after 4 uses, i.e. a couple of rounds. Moreover, the immediate benefit of fixing your hand by drawing and discarding a card is supplemented by another, more subtle advantage: a focused Empower lets you adjust your dice distribution by making you swap the dice in your active pool with those in your exhausted pool, allowing Maeoni increase her chance to get the magic types she needs at any given moment.
The majority of Maeoni’s Action Spells focus around increasing the efficiency and flexibility of her deck and gaining the most out of her Silver Snakes, with a somewhat notable exception.
Open Memories is an all-round utility card, letting Maeoni search her deck for any 1 card (without the need to show it to your opponent) and put it into her hand for a Main Action, a Charm class die and a basic die. Whether you dig for that Molten Gold or Refresh you need to deal the final blow to your opponent, or to get another copy of Summon Silver Snake or Empower in order to gain their Focus effect, you can always find a useful way to take advantage of it.
Placed in your First Five, Open Memories basically acts as a “wild card”, allowing you to read the board and adapt to whatever the enemy is doing, trading some resources and tempo for flexibility and reliability, and allowing you to “circumvent” the rule that imposes the First Five to be all different cards.
Another resource-fixing card, this time affecting your dice instead of your deck, is Call Upon the Realms. This Action Spell allows you to change 3 of your active dice to a face of your choice, effectively giving you a 3-dice meditation by spending a single card and a Main Action. Like Open Memories, this is another “resource trade” card, as it makes you save cards you would otherwise have discarded by meditating three times, but at the expense of tempo: as it costs a Main Action, you most likely would have to wait for the following turn to use the dice you changed, whereas by meditating you could spend those dice with a Main Action in the same turn.
However, this card does not always comes with a tempo loss: you can’t normally meditate and use a Dice Power in the same turn since both effects cost a Side Action to play. By making you meditate as a Main Action, Call Upon the Realms leaves your Side Action open for a surprise damage from your Nature dice or a temporary boost from your Charm dice.
The worst part of having a Battlefield limit of 3 is seeing the Silver Snakes you fed with much love unable to do anything because your opponent locks them with nasty stuff like Steady Gaze or Blood Chains. Fortunately for you, Refresh is a perfect counter for those cards, as it gets rid of all exhaustion tokens from one of your units for a Charm and a basic dice. Offensively, it can be used to allow a Snake to attack twice per round (without giving the enemy a chance to block if you have multiple copies of Hypnotize) and, in the right situation it can help dealing the killing blow to an enemy Phoenixborn. Just take care, as similarly to other Maeoni cards, it makes you spend a turn, giving the opponent a chance to react.
Similar to Refresh in some regards, Transfer has the same cost (1 Charm and 1 Basic dice), the same timing issues and certainly can be used in a similar way, moving an exhaustion token from a unit to another card and potentially readying it for another attack. But that’s only one of the various possibilities this incredibly flexible card offers: you can transfer any one token from any card to any other card, as long as both belong to the same player and neither card is a Phoenixborn. Want to move a status token from an exhausted Silver Snake to an unexhausted one? Move a damage token from a Silver Snake to a Summon Silver Snake card? Move exhaustion tokens from an enemy unit to another to prevent the most dangerous one to attack? Accumulate damage on an enemy unit in order to destroy it, clearing the path for your Silver Snakes and making them grow more? The possibilities are too many to be listed here, but I think you got the message: Transfer increases your deck efficiency by granting you tactical flexibility.
Of the various cards in Maeoni’s deck, Molten Gold is the one that, at first sight, may look a bit odd with regards of her theme of efficiency and support to her Silver Snakes. It doesn’t make your deck run smoother and it doesn’t directly help your Snakes, but hey, 3 wounds to an enemy target for 2 Nature Power Dice looks like a pretty solid investment of resource to me. Let’s compare it with the Nature Dice power: 1 damage to a target unit for a Nature Power dice. Here we have 3 wounds for 2 dice on a target unit or Phoenixborn. You have to invest a card and spend a main action, but save 2 turns, gain a 50% more damage return for your dice investment, can wound the enemy Phoenixborn directly and have the not-so-trivial advantage of directly placing wounds on the target, thus bypassing all the effects that trigger on dealing or receiving damage, like the Living Doll‘s Pain Link ability or cards like Sympathy Pain or Redirect. If that’s not efficiency…
Moreover, if used to target and destroy enemy units, Molten Gold indirectly helps your Silver Snakes in two ways: it helps opening up the enemy battlefield, removing a potential threat, and at the same time makes your Snakes grow more and deal more damage. If you are aiming for a long game, maybe targeting the enemy units may be the best course of action, while if you feel you can quickly finish the enemy Phoenixborn, Molten Gold to the face is the way to go.
Maeoni has a single Reaction spell, Golden Veil, whose main purpose is… you guessed it, support her Silver Snakes.
Golden Veil is, at the present time at least, one of the few cancellation effects in the game, helping you preserve your Silver Snakes from harm by negating the effect of spells, abilities or dice powers that would target one of your units for the cost of a Nature and a Charm dice. There’s nothing much to be said here, except maybe reminding some fine notes that come in the rules and FAQ, for example:
- Golden Veil only cancels the effects of the spell/ability/dice power, but doesn’t negate its cost, which must be paid by that effect’s controller (so for example if you cancel a Nature Dice Power affecting one of your Silver Snakes, the dice is still exhausted but the damage is not inflicted).
- Effects that don’t have a target or don’t specifically target one of your unit, such as Mist Typhoon or One Hundred Blades (whose text reads “target Phoenixborn” but has no such limitation on units) can’t be prevented by Golden Veil. The same goes with Alteration Spell, that affect the unit they are attached to, but don’t target it.
- If a spell/ability/dice power has multiple effects, some of which target one of your units and some don’t, by playing Golden Veil you cancel all those effects, and not just those that target your unit. For instance, against an enemy Summon Gilder, Golden Veil both negates the damage and prevents the opponent from placing a Gilder onto his or her battlefield. The same goes with Small Sacrifice (whether focused or not): Golden Veil cancels the damage/exhaustion on your unit as well as the damage/exhaustion on the opponent’s unit, as both are part of the spell’s effect.
And that’s the last card from the Snakes in Silver deck. As I did before, let me summarize what I think are the main points, strong and weak of this deck:
- Maeoni is the Phoenixborn with the highest life value in the game: it will take some time to defeat her, and she has little problems guarding her units against attacks.
- Many cards are extremely efficient or provide tactical flexibility.
- Can deal a huge amount of damage in just a few turns once properly set up.
- Extremely low Battlefield value, which makes it difficult to defend from multiple attackers and to find attack routes and makes Maeoni vulnerable to hard unit-control effects.
- Many options in the deck have either high resource cost (Empower, Hypnotize, Golden Veil) or action cost (Refresh, Call Upon the Realms, Open Memories).
- Needs time to make her Silver Snakes grow and to get all her stronger spells in place before landing a decisive blow.
That’s all for now. As always, if you have any question, criticism or just want to say “Hi”, feel free to comment down below or leave a message in the “contacts” page and I’ll gladly answer as soon as I can. Next time, we’ll deal with Argaia’s resident mistress of Voodoo and Queen of the Bloodwoods, Jessa Na Ni.
Thanks for reading!