Ashes: Rise of the Pheonixborn is one of the hottest properties in the Patriot Games card-playing meta right now; Joe provided an excellent intro piece and we’ve spoken about the game on each of the podcast episodes, particularly on Episode 3. A lot of good material is starting to be built in the blogging and podcast communities, with much of it being shared on the Ashes Online Facebook group.
I’d especially direct new players to this article on “Thunder Number” which is about the number and spread of dice to support a strong First Five.
For our part, this post aims to help deck building by:
- laying out some of the deck archetypes available in the game at the moment
- what defines the archetypes, and
- the current key cards and Pheonixborn to support those play styles.
In my experience, deciding on a kind of deck I want to play helps keep my deck construction tight and focused, leading to more consistent execution when at the table.
I’m going to start by laying out, very briefly, what a deck archetype is before running through what I consider to be the four archetypes currently available. For each archetype we’ll talk about how it wants to win the game and call out some good cards and Pheonixborn that lend themselves to those archetypes.
This is a mid-weight article, aimed at the slightly more than casual player so it assumes some knowledge of the game but also isn’t trying to get into the minutiae of deck building.
So, what is a “deck archetype” and why should I care about it?
In simple terms, it’s the style of play that your deck is trying to achieve to gain the win condition. When your mate leans over and says, “What you playing then?” and you answer, “Oh, I’m wall-to-wall Iron Rhinos and I’m going to crush you with their thunderous hooves…” (Yeah, Scott does talk like that in real life!) then you’re describing the basic aim and therefore archetype of your deck (in this case a ‘Big Hitter’ deck).
You should care about it because it is a way to think about your deck that keeps it tight, and therefore maximise the synergies between the cards you have and improve the likelihood of winning. It’s perfectly acceptable to not really have an archetype in mind when building a deck and just put in the “good stuff I want to play”, but a deck like that will be inconsistent game to game and quite likely to mis-fire in play.
So, what are the deck types available in Ashes at present (Core and the two expansions):
- Mill decks, aim to run their opponent out of cards leading to an accumulation of damage when the opponent can’t draw cards.
- Direct Damage decks aim to inflict damage on their opponent’s Pheonixborn through spells or abilities rather than swinging with units
- Swarm / Weenie decks aim to flood the battlefield with lower-cost units and win by attacking en masse
- Big Hitting decks aim to build and protect a small number of units that hit for a shedload
What is it?
Mill decks aim to get cards out of the opponents draw deck as early as possible so that damage is inflicted at the Draw Cards step of the Prepare Phase (or elsewhere if a card specifically causes damage in that way).
Pros of this archetype
• There is little that your opponent can do to stop you attacking their draw pile
• You don’t need to interact with the opponent, allowing you to focus more strongly on your own game
• For a number of decks it is hard / impossible for them to attack your mill-engine
• You’re going to be disrupting the opponent’s game plan
Cons of this archetype
• You’re going to be flooding your opponent with their cards; you need a plan to stop them from using them all
• Games tend to go longer than normal, so you need to be prepared to defend for a few rounds. Be prepared to utilise your Pheonixborn’s health as a resource.
Saria Guideman leads the field with her Pheonixborn ability, and no other Pheonixborn really clearly indicates this playstyle. However, the ‘Mill Module’ can be added to any Pheonixborn that is going to be using Charm dice, so someone like Maeoni who wants that dice type for Silver Snakes could well push this archetype as well.
Purge, Three-Eyed Owl, Abundance, and Open Memories to go and get the additional copies, are at the heart of this archetype.
Something like Seal, Rose Fire Dancer, Golden Veil can help with the defensive aspect, whilst using the Illusion Dice power can eat away at the opponent’s ability to play those cards they’re getting. Putting in Enchanted Violinists further controls the opponents dice whilst Hidden Power, Expand Energy and Call upon the Realms maximise your ability to play those cards you’re drawing.
Finally the “when your pheonixborn receives damage” cards such as Redirect and Sympathy Pain can help keep your Pheonixborn alive or chew away at the opponent’s health to speed up the win.
What is it?
Rather than stacking wounds with unit attacks, a direct damage deck aims to ‘go over the top’ by applying wounds or damage directly to the Pheonixborn through spells, unit abilities or Pheonixborn abilities. These decks can often output a large amount of mostly unblockable damage very quickly.
Pros of this archetype
• Hard for your direct damage to be blocked (remember Golden Veil doesn’t work when the Pheonixborn is targeted)
• The direct damage can be used to keep your opponent’s battlefield trimmed down
• Less tempo hits as there is typically less requirement to play a book-card and then summon the conjuration
Cons of this archetype
• Little battlefield presence leaves the Pheonixborn open to being hit by units
• Exhaustion of key spells or abilities can cause damage to ramp quickly
• If playing an ally recursion-based deck using Ceremonial dice, anything that removes Ally’s from the game can hamper the rhythm of the deck
• Lots of direct damage abilities require the sacrifice of your own unit to fuel the damage effect
Jessa is the archetype of the Direct Damage Pheonixborn, with her ability to spend a basic to ping either a Pheonixborn or a unit for 1 damage. Jessa’s signature card (Fear) fits into the archetype well by keeping the battlefield clear of the most threatening units.
Brennen has a similar ability at the cost of destroying one of your own units as well as packing two health more than Jenna which can help him absorb more damage from ally recursion, if that is part of the strategy.
Recommended cards and dice types
Any card that has “…to do damage to opponent unit of Pheonixborn” as part of the text is a good direct damage card. Stand-out cards include Molten Gold, any ally with Ambush, Chant of Revenge, Final Cry and Frost Bite. Lots of other cards just do damage to units, so be careful to check the text to ensure it specifically allows targeting of Pheonixborn.
The other part of the strategy – that is staying alive – requires either sufficient bodies that are cheap enough to bring to the board or the ability to exhaust enemy units. Mist Spirits are good for this, as is Steady Gaze and Blood Chains for exhausting. Allies with Ambush, such as the Fire Archer, provide both a body to defend and direct damage so are key players in this strategy.
In this archetype Ceremonial and Nature dice are important: the Ceremonial dice ability to recycle allies can help by keeping the Ambush turning, whilst Nature dice can ping away at the opponent’s board.
Swarm / Weenies
What is it?
This kind of deck aims to summon hordes of cheap allies and conjuration that individually don’t hit hard, but swamp the opponent’s defences. This kind of deck is almost a race to build and maintain those hordes faster than your enemy can remove them. Typically by clearing your opponent’s board at the end of the turn before you become first player, you can then swing for a shed-load unopposed on your turn landing the killing blow.
• Hard for the opponent to keep up with the battlefield build and pinging each of the units reduces the resources available to them
• None of the individual units are obviously damaging, so the number of damage generated may surprise the opponent until too late
• Lots of conjurations can be used and also provides quite a bit of cannon fodder to block opponent’s big hitters
• Very open to a board-wipe through Shifting Mists and the like
• Can be pinged down and fuel opponent’s own direct damage (e.g. Jessa)
• Reliant upon ability to get the books out or remove exhaustion tokens from them to enable the spam
• Needs a high battlefield Pheonixborn to support the strategy
With a battlefield of 8, Aradel is a clear favourite for this kind of strategy, with Noah’s battlefield of 6 and side-action Summon Masked Wolves pointing at this archetype as well. Aradel’s ability allows clearing of your opponent’s chumps whilst the Blue Jaguar signature unit can keep your opponent’s enemies exhausted allowing you to swing with your swarm unhindered.
Noah’s ability can stop your opponent from triggering their own key ready spell which slows them down and allows you to push on with building your own forces more effectively.
(Whilst Lulu’s bolster ability and Pheonix Barrage card lend themselves to this archetype, the battlefield of 4 doesn’t really allow a Swarm archetype, so she’s discounted)
Books, lots and lots of books… Mist Spirits, Butterfly Monks, Blue Jaguars, Masked Wolves, Gilders, Frostback Bears etc. For this strategy it might be viable to fill your spellboard with all of the books all of the time, supported by Action Spells for tricksy stuff and Alterations to boost your units.
Action Spells such as Golden Veil and Choke can be very helpful to this archetype, acting as a counter to the opponent’s strategy to clear your board. If your opponent is using Nature dice, for instance, you might want to keep Golden Veil to counter that Mist Typhoon. Transfer allows you to stack exhaustion tokens on a sacrificial unit to try to re-use the summon spells. Seal and focused Small Sacrifice support the exhaust your enemy spells / units goal.
Alteration spells such as Root Armour, Frost Crown, Massive Growth and Spiked Armour can make those weenies not so weenie any more. As a general note, try to keep the Alteration’s that add +attack in hand until you’re about to launch the attack / your opponent has reduced resources so that their battlefield math is screwed up and they have little opportunity to counter.
What is it?
This archetype builds large units, keeps them alive and swings with them when possible. As it is expected to not get very many opportunities due to the investment cost in building those big units, making sure the hit lands is important. This requires a plan to both hit and keep alive the units being used.
• Counters designed to clear a board of weenies do minimal damage
• Resilient to being pinged for low amounts of damage
• Can do lethal in two hits which doesn’t require a large ‘attacking window’
• Large creatures can attract a lot of hate so may be difficult to keep alive
• Retaining the creatures for attacking means there may be none left for blocking, requiring an alternative strategy
• Clearing a route for the large attacks may be difficult
Maeoni is the stereotype of this Archetype, with a substantial 22 health and the ramping Silver Snakes. Her battlefield of 3 shows that she’s meant to pack big hitters. Lulu also lends herself to this archetype with the bolster ability further adding to the big hitter and the Phoenix Barrage signature card both clearing a path and bringing the opponent into lethal range.
The Maeoni pre-con introduced the world to the Silver Snake – Gilder combo and it remains strong. Iron Rhino is an obvious big hitter card, but is very expensive. Frostback Bears can be deceptive in their damage output.
Hypnotize creates that path to the Pheonixborn, and something like Empower add further attack if it looks like it is getting through. It’s not unusual to want to swing twice with the big hitters – once to clear a path and the second to hit the Pheonixborn; Transfer is again useful to unexhaust the unit to go again.
Protect can help keep the units alive, as can any unit with Unit Guard, so something like Crystal Shield or Bring Forth onto a False Demon would be useful. Undying Heart is a good alteration spell because of the addition of Recover as well as life, adding substantially more resilience to the unit.
Having gone through these four archetypes, I’m sure other cards and other playstyles will have occurred to you. In addition, you may be thinking about “splashing” in one archetype into your deck as was hinted at in the description of a ‘mill module’. Having a Plan B is always a good idea, but be careful not to dilute your main strategy by being distracted by the fallback plan.
Also bear in mind that there are only so many directions that a 30-card deck can support before it falls apart under its own grandeur!
Feedback on this article is welcomed; as ever please use the comments below or our facebook and twitter pages.
If this article has provoked thought about your own deck or prompted you to try something new then it will have done it’s job!