E: Welcome to the first ever installment in The Collection of Ashes! This will be a BGG-exclusive new article series about all things Ashes, from strategy to fluff, from decks to theorycrafting!
H: Wait, why are we doing this?
E: Well, I wanted to do a podcast, but man o man is it difficult to get the computer stuff figured out, so we're doing this instead. Just pretend it's 1998.
E: Well, do you have a better idea?
H: I was thinking more along the lines of 1989.
THE COLLECTION OF ASHES
E: Before we get started, I just need to go through the mandatory ritual discovered by the Main Action podcast. This is not about cricket. Okay, got it? If you made it this far, onto Boardgamegeek, on the Ashes page, and still think that this is about cricket then seriously go home to Liverpool and don't return. Thank you for your understanding.
H: Pathetic really.
E: And cricket is so boring. Why don't they play Ashes instead of watching cricket? Or at least watch baseball.
H: So, what were we doing again?
E: I believe it was something about the ashes of crickets.
H: Anyway, so for the first part of the article, we will talk about decks that we have been using lately.
H: So the first deck I want to bring up is the Damage Drop deck.
E: Oh no not this ag-
H: I feel like this deck is extremely difficult to beat, and should be banned...
E: Here we go with th-
H: And can only get stronger as more direct damage is released.
E: Can I talk now?
H: Do you have to?
E: The thing is that this deck is so high-variance. A damage drop deck dies to illusion dice power so bad, that that is what keeps them in check.
H: But there are so many direct damage cards..
E: It's balanced. End of story.
E: Right now we are seeing two main variations on the damage drop deck.
E: The first one, unofficially named "balls deep Noah" uses Noah to control the opponents spell board, helping to mitigate bad draw in later rounds. This is the safest of the two archetypes, as the extra control power gives Noah an advantage in that he will take less damage, as less conjurations appear on the board.
H: The second is the Brennan Rush deck, which uses Brennan's ability combined with Fire Archer to keep a steady pressure on the opponent.
E: This one, though it isn't as defensive as Noah, is a lot better able to handle wolf dice, as Brennan can keep a steady pressure on the PB.
E: So what sort of first fives do these decks have?
H: The Noah deck focuses on trying to output as much damage in the first round, making it difficult for the opponent to do much of anything, as it is only a matter of time before Noah draws the rest of his damage cards.
E: Ahem, first fives?
H: I usually run Molten Gold, Sympathy Pain, Stormwind Sniper, Final Cry, Frost Bite. Frost Bite is the oddball there somewhat, but I feel that it provides a little bit of consistency, something that the deck lacks.
E: What sorts of dice spreads?
H: Usually four natural and two of the other three magic classes.
E: Which is why wolves are so strong against this. A wolf takes out Sympathy Pain for good. Maybe cut a natural for a Charm?
H: Yeah, but until more charm direct damage gets released, there isn't much uses for that final charm dice, whereas there is much use for natural. But yeah, maybe that would work better.
E: Because of you only have Frost Bite and Molten Gold that need natural, once you focus the Frost you don't need natural anymore other than for Gold.
H: Hmm. You're right!
E: I'm always right.
H: Hmmph. Presumptuous much?
E: Go toot your flute somewhere else.
H: Can we move on?
H: Can we move on?
H: The Brennan direct damage deck is a lot more consistent, as Brennan's PB ability allows him to hit you for two every turn.
H: It usually consists of Molten Gold, Final Cry, Fire Archer, Sympathy Pain, and Frost Bite in the first five.
E: That's what, 12 damage first round, on 3 natural, 2 ceremonial, 2 charm, and 1 basic? So more damage output and more consistent, and only uses three spheres instead of four. Why does the Noah one still exist?
H: So now you talk?
E: It is better to say nothing at all than to say too little or too much.
E: Anyway, why does the Noah one still exist?
H: Don't know. Hey, that would be a good discussion! What are the benefits of the Noah version over Brennan?
E: This can be the topic of discussion in the comments section! When do you use Noah?
H: Here's our take.
E: Well dice advantage is out, as illusion dice become a lot more potent when four spheres are involved.
H: Still can't wait for the Divine and Sympathy decks for making six-sphere decks.
E: I think really the only benefit is control. Noah offers you some degree of protection from your opponents efforts. He stops one summon per round, which is often 3+ damage prevented. So he has that as a benefit. A good damage drop deck has no blockers, and so damage piles up fast. He is the safest. He may not have a steady stream of damage like Brennan, but he has less chance if losing early to the all-powerful Frostback Bears.
H: Why did those things get printed...
E: Yeah, that and the Violinist seem way too good.
H: But at the same time, I'd rather have less expensive cards.
E: The difference between the two is the Stormwind and the Fire Archer. Maybe you should swap Fire Archer for Stormwind in Noah? Then you have only three spheres.
H: But 10 damage, really? Thats one less than normal Noah, and two less than Brennan. That's not enough. 12 is so much better, plus with ceremonial Brennan can maintain 3 per round, perhaps more!
E: But so can Noah though. Sure he can't Spirit Burn, but he can still use Ceremonial.
H: I don't know, seems to me that Brennan was designed for this kind of deck.
E: Yeah, I see him as more of a rush strategy. If you always use him on units, play Aradel! The idea is that he can have more versatility. But any PB that decreases their board state while having the ability to pile damage on the opponent seems like a rush deck to me. Perhaps you don't have to go Damage Drop crazy, but you still have to play rush to have a successful Brennan deck.
H: I here things about how he should be played as a control deck.
E: Yeah, but Aradel will always be the better control deck. She has Jaguars to control their units, and Water Blast to chip away at the opponent. Brennan doesn't actually increase board state with his ability, so he is a pretty poor control Phoenixborn.
H: I see your point.
E: But if we saw more units, preferably ceremonial ones, that had effects that trigger upon leaving play, then I would buy in more. But I'd still play it as a Rush-Control though. You really can't escape the rush. Aradel is so designed for control that pure control decks really can't be run out of any other PB.
H: Yeah, I guess so.
E: But this raises the question. If Aradel is the control PB, then what is Noah? Outside of direct damage decks, I've never seen him used. So what is he?
H: He could be like the combo Phoenixborn, you know? So like the Weyland Consortium decks in Netrunner, he's got some sort of combo, and his ability prevents you from messing?
E: Now that's an idea...
E: I don't know though, I'd say he's weaker than even Coal and Orrick, because Masked wolves are just so bad. Unless you've cleared the board, the side action really doesn't help. The only thing they are good for is Sleeping Widow combos. But unlike sleeping widows, they are telegraphed, meaning that your opponent knows when they are coming. So it becomes near impossible to do anything with them.
H: Why do you consider Orrick weak?
E: It's not that he's simply weaker than the other PBs, as Coal and Noah are, it's just that he encourages a deck type that doesn't perform well in the meta. Though those Gobis though...
H: I know, right? Crystal Shield on Gobi Sunshield...
E: And only six dice!
H: Funny how we got here from direct damage decks.
E: I'm just letting this run however it runs.
E: So let's wrap up direct damage decks. We have basically decided that Brennan is the go to option for this deck, because he has the most consistent damage, though Noah still has potential.
H: And we have also decided that they are OP and can only get strong--
E: --That they are easily countered and thus balanced.
E: Moving on, the next section will talk about newly spoiled cards. We'll save Leo, Phoenixborn of Bollywood for later, because I want to talk about Victoria!
H: Oh yes...
E: So correct me if I am wrong, but Illusion was likely the weakest sphere going in to these packs.
H: Yeah, Charms at least had some options.
E: Beyond Shifting Mist, there was no real power cards, and the only two non-unique conjurations were both very specific. Mist Spirits only really work in 6+ battlefields, and False Demons only fit certain dice spreads.
H: I love those Mist Spirits though...
E: I want like 10 Mist Spirit plushies. Plaid Hat Games please get to work on that.
H: But anyway, continuing...
H: The dice power was also the weakest of them, as it statistically does nothing and therefore is less widely applicable than the other three, as it is situational.
E: Of course, you could go heavy exhaust, which makes the DP good, but there was only Hidden Power and Shifting Mist to produce the dice symbols.
H: Victoria fixes all that.
E: She has an amazing ability that at first looks like she is meant for four-sphere decks...
H: And she is meant for that,
E: ...but she also has great potential as a Heavy Exhaust deck. Why? Let's do some math.
H: You know wha-
E: So, in a normal deck, you each have ten dice, I exhaust, now we each have nine. What do you truly earn?
H: Don't math this ple-
E: Now add Victoria in.
H: Math ruins everyt--
E: I start with 11, you ten. I have 10% more than you.
H: Don't do this to me--
E: Now I use a wolf power. I have 10, you have 9. I have 11.1% more than you.
E: Then I have nine, you eight. I have 12.5% more than you. Then 14%, then 16.7%, then 20%, and so on. Once I get that one dice up on you, I now can increase the dice difference between us by a few percent each side action. And that percent is all important. Once there is scarcity, in this case of dice, the value of the product increases. So each dice has a higher relative worth, once we have less dice.
E: To put it in perspective, which would you rather have: you have 2 frostbacks and me one, or you have 3 frostbacks and me 2? You should have picked the first one. It's just like how PB health becomes more important once you have less health. The "commodity" of PB health is spent freely at the beginning to protect your units so that you don't end up in a severe disadvantage, but late game, you'd rather lose the unit than the health. Okay, that last one is a bad example, but you get my point by now, right? Victoria allows for dice advantage. Once you have more dice, each wolf increases the dice difference in your favor. Victoria is a very simple way to get 11 dice in the first round, while producing wolves.
H: you'd better be done.
E: I am
H: falls on knees Thank Jackson Howard...
E: So it is likely that heavy exhaust will be played with her, but also four-sphere seems promising.
H: Her ability could be used as a kind of failsafe. She could get whatever symbols she needs, when she needs them.
E: But why I feel like Orrick should be for four sphere and not Victoria is her signature card. Illusionary Cycle can come out of nowhere, and using a side action strike down an opposing dice.
H: Wait, but you don't have to use the dice power, right?
E: No, if you need the die to buy something then go ahead, but it is so strong as a surprise wolf. It completely untelegraphed, which for a sphere that relies on surprise, is absolutely key.
H: I like using it for triggering Shadow Spring.
E: Yeah, but it is still telegraphed somewhat. In that preview article, Bob said that you could surprise your opponent with the Shadow Spring-Cycle trick, but it doesn't really work. If you have no dice, but haven't used Shadow Spring yet, a good player knows Cycle is coming.
H: Of course, you could bluff having the cycle to scare your opponent.
E: This isn't Netrunner! Bluffs are not very strong in this game.
H: I still like it for shadow spring.
E: And you should. That is obviously the intention here. But just know that you can't really pull off any tricks with it.
H: Overall, Vicky is really exciting, and I can't wait to see what is in her deck, as this has been a really good start to bringing illusion back in line.
H: Why not?
E: It's just a little weird.
H: Speaking of a little weird, one last thing before we go. Let's talk about that art.
E: Let's not.
H: That is some of the strangest art I've ever seen. It took awhile to get used to it, (at first I hated it), but it actually fits somewhat.
E: Don't like clowns.
H: She's not really a clown.
E: Fine, she's more of just... a 1930s horror movie villain.
H: I like it. And illusionary cycle is nice and colorful too. I love how colorful Fernanda makes her art. It offsets the white of the card.
E: Just to warn you, H is the art and fluff guy. He will tear apart your art.
H: And I will when we cover Leo in a week or two. You've been warned.
E: Questions? Comments? Criticisms? Leave it in the comments section below. If you enjoyed this, give us a thumb. Thanks!
H: Have any suggestions for what we should cover? Please let us know!
E: Also, this name seems pretty obvious, so if anyone has an existing blog, podcast, or series called The Collection of Ashes then please let us know.
H: We are still figuring things out, so some suggestions would be nice.
E: See you next time!
Is that a good thing?
That was a good read. Exhausting, but good.