Tournament Report – Emerging from the King’s Shadow

Hi, I’m Daniel Della Penna and this is going to be a write-up of my experience of going 4-0 and winning the latest major Toronto Ashes Tournament. It was held on May 20, 2017 at 401 Games on Yonge St, had a total of 12 participants, and was part of the War Within series of tournaments, featuring Maeoni & Saria. The event was a strong showing of the Toronto Ashes scene, and I had a great time. Before I forget, thanks to everyone for attending.

I figure I’ll start with a little bit on my Ashes background. I’ve played for a little over a year, mostly playing with my immediate group of friends. Most people play casually with their friends, but I happen to be good friends with Tony Stellato (a.k.a. King Tony, or El Niño as he likes to be called), who, as many know, does a fair job of dominating the local scene. I pretty much started in the deep end of Ashes, taking plenty of losses while learning from his analytical play style. Last year I attended GenCon and participated in the Ashes events there, taking a Top 8 slot in one of the standard format tournaments and 2nd place in one of the draft tournaments. I’ve done some spurious playtesting of new cards in my free time. Overall, playing Ashes has been a wonderful experience, coming from TCGs like Magic the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh, much of which comes from the supportive community.

My Deck – Fear Jessa PB: Jessa Na Ni

Dice: 4x Nature, 4x Ceremonial, 2x Illusion

3x Summon Frostback Bear

3x Summon Butterfly Monk

3x Summon Sleeping Widows

2x Hammer Knight

———

3x Fear

3x Chant of Revenge

3x Hidden Power

3x Molten Gold

2x Choke

2x Mist Typhoon

1x Ice Trap

1x Expand Energy

1x Particle Shield

I’ll be going match by match and discussing which decisions helped me win, and my general thought process behind tackling the matchups.

Match 1 – PB: Victoria Glassfire (Tony)

My first five in this matchup, I believe, defined the entire day for me. I was going into this, having faced the exact deck, Phoenixborn, and player many times, knowing it would be difficult. I chose to abandon my usual mindset of Jessa requiring a very rigid first five in order to build a solid board state Round 1.

My default first five looks like this:

  • Summon Frostback Bear
  • Summon Butterfly Monk
  • Expand Energy
  • Chant of Revenge
  • Fear

Instead I chose the following:

  • Summon Frostback Bear
  • Hammer Knight
  • Expand Energy
  • Hidden Power
  • Fear

Foregoing Butterfly Monk was a difficult choice, especially knowing the opposing deck’s strategy is to build up an overwhelming board state over time. I did this to shake things up against a familiar matchup Tony, knowing that doing something unexpected was really my only chance to win. Jessa, while strong, can’t contend in a raw numbers game with Victoria, due to her inherent lack of resource-building tools. Instead of sitting and waiting to lose all my dice, I started Expand Energy into Hammer Knight and continued from there. At the end of the first round, having Fear’d Tony’s eventual Frostback Bear, I had the superior board state and pushed my advantage. Drawing a 2nd Fear in Round 2 was extremely impactful as well, as it typically is.  I ended up winning on account of not letting Victoria ever build up a firm board state of her own, as I would never be able to match it. Yes, it feels great to beat Tony.

Match 2 – PB: Orrick Gilstream (Katie)

This was something different. I hadn’t faced Orrick since GenCon when he first showed up, and quite wary of Gobi Sunshield and the potential stalling they bring.

I believe my first five was as follows:

  • Summon Frostback Bear
  • Summon Butterfly Monk
  • Expand Energy
  • Choke
  • Fear

Against Phoenixborn with impactful abilities, I always try to include a first five Choke. In particular against Orrick, as his ability can be his greatest strength and his fatal flaw. I was expecting to get into a long haul of freezing Gobi Sunshields with Frostback Bears, but instead I met a wall of Butterfly Monks, bolstered by an early Open Memories for a second book. This was done to protect Enchanted Violinist, and secure damage slowly over time.

I meditated a lot in this game, in spite of the EV’s presence, as that is my typical play style. Unfortunately, I lost several Molten Golds, which meant I would have to keep Orrick’s board state under control. My opponent also knew they wouldn’t have to worry about them, which goes to show the value of information in a game like Ashes. I won through the use of a second Frostback Bear book, my Illusion dice ability and Chant of Revenge; constantly trying to outnumber their Butterfly Monks to get in a good swing. I was able to trigger my two Chants by meditating away my Summon Butterfly Monk books, as I needed space for more Frostback Bears anyways.

Match 3 – PB: Jessa Na Ni (Fernando)

Fernando had won the Jessa promo at the prior tournament, so I knew this would be a tense mirror match. Despite her popularity I haven’t faced many Jessa matchups before, so I was nervous.

I started like this, same as the first game:

  • Summon Frostback Bear
  • Hammer Knight
  • Expand Energy
  • Hidden Power
  • Fear

I felt the differentiating factor here would be who could start their damage engine first, so I decided to play as aggressively as possible. I went second, and played Hammer Knight immediately. It was Fear’d, but I played it again, knowing I could replenish my dice pool with Hidden Power and eventually bring out a Frostback Bear. Fernando also had a Hammer Knight in his opening hand, but having mine out first allowed me to Fear his Frostback Bear and eventually trade Hammer Knights, leaving him open to a bear swing.

Illusion dice were also helpful, as I was able to keep him from playing a Gilder in Round 1. There was a point in this game where Fernando had an Anchornaut, a Fire Archer, and a Frostback Bear out on his side. This is where my choice to include Mist Typhoon in my deck really shone through, as I was able to wipe his smaller allies and kill his Frostback Bear without losing my own. I particularly enjoy the thought of using Jessa’s ability with big board wipes, even if it’s very resource intensive to scream so many units. This match came down to careful play, elimination of my opponent’s dice, and some solid rolls on my side.

Match 4 – PB: Aradel Summergaard (Matthew)

I recently got Matthew into Ashes myself, helping him build his first decks. He’s been doing exceptionally well and I was genuinely concerned about some of the changes he’d made to his deck as of late.

I started like this:

  • Summon Frostback Bear
  • Summon Butterfly Monk
  • Expand Energy
  • Choke
  • Fear

Choke against Aradel is a bit of a touchy topic that I bounce back and forth on. This game made a strong case for continuing to include it in my opening hand. I began with an early Frostback Bear, not knowing whether or not Matthew had included Blue Jaguars in his deck. I was looking to bring out a bear before a jaguar showed up, then Fear his eventual bear I knew would be coming. He attempted to use Fire Archer and Aradel’s ability to kill my bear quickly, but Choke threw a large wrench in his plan. Still, he made good use of his Sleeping Widows and kept me from being able to swing freely. If I hadn’t done the same, I doubt I would have been able to keep up with his battlefield.

There was a pivotal moment when he attempted to kill my damaged, exhausted Frostback Bear, and I responded with my own Summon Sleeping Widows. From a pure value perspective, Summon Sleeping Widows is excellent, netting a potential 4 damage for 2 Ceremonial class dice which I would otherwise make little use of in my deck. However, I believe their true strength is the element of surprise they bring, making it possible to swing a game in a single turn. I hope that more cards like this are released in the future, as they make the game much more interesting. This game was another case of a second Fear slowing my opponent’s progress, leading to a couple of swings and a Molten Gold for the closeout.

On The Topic of Jessa:

I’ve been playing Jessa Na Ni as my Phoenixborn since I began, primarily because she seemed like a solid all-rounder to get my footing with. I gradually changed my perspective on Jessa as I built up experience, and now I feel I have a very stable deck that can adapt to most situations. I’m of the belief that Jessa will continue to be a strong Phoenixborn well into the foreseeable future, due to her general flexibility and the overwhelming strength of her unique card, Fear. I am likely going to begin experimenting with new Phoenixborns in preparation for the upcoming packs, but I will alway adore playing Jessa. The fine-tuned math and foresight required to do so makes her very interesting to me, requiring both strategy and experience to execute effectively. I may have won the promo Maeoni, but I will always be open for trades for the promo Jessa (seriously, get in contact with me, I want it really bad).

Final Thoughts:

The cards I felt stood out the most today were Fear, Choke, and Summon Sleeping Widows. My recent choice to include a second Choke in my deck has proved relevant in multiple games of late. Summon Sleeping Widows brings some amazing math, and hidden information, which I continue to find invaluable. Fear is just broken, seriously. It has limitless potential because of how it disrupts board state in interesting ways. Not being able to trigger Chant of Revenge on a Fear’d unit is just one of many tricky things it can do, due to some fine print most players forget about (Fear doesn’t destroy units, but returns conjurations to the conjuration pile, or returns allies to the opponent’s hand).

Today was a great experience for me, being the first card game tournament I’ve ever won. Even with that aside, I had lots of tense, interesting matches today that I won’t be forgetting any time soon. I’m very happy to see the Toronto Ashes scene more active than ever; I know it will only get bigger, I’ll be doing my part to contribute. More events are slated to take place in the not-too-distant future, in particular at the newest 401 Games location near Keele & Hwy. 7. I’ll be attending as many as I can, probably trying to expand my horizons with some different decks and Phoenixborns. Thanks in advance to all the organizers of said events, you guys help the scene thrive. Thanks to all the participants, for all the great games we played.


Oh, I chose the dark Fire Archer promo in case anyone’s wondering.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *