Colorful Cubes: A Guide To Magic Types and Deckbuilding in Ashes Reborn
Ashes has been reborn, and it’s going to be fun to watch and participate in it’s renaissance whether you were around the first time or not. Not just any old game gets a second chance, particularly in tabletop where we don’t really have games like Diablo 3 or FFXIV serving as our exemplars for how to revitalize a title.
Since this is all such new territory, new players and old players alike are faced with unique challenges. I wanted to do my part to help overcome a hurdle many Ashes players will come up against- namely, beginning to dip their toes into constructing their own decks. It’s a fundamental part of enjoying Ashes Reborn, and speaking from personal experience, it can be mildly terrifying.
There’s a couple main reasons deckbuilding in this game can be intimidating and overwhelming.
- There’s a lot of cards. Ashes 1.0 kept releasing cards well past it’s heyday, and as Ashes Reborn begins there’s already a sizable backlog. Digging through them is made really easy by the fantastic tools over at Ashes.live, but just because you can sort through all the cards doesn’t necessarily mean you know where to start.
- Deckbuilding in Ashes is astonishingly open, giving players very few restrictions on how to construct their own decks. You can build almost anything, which can be a big yikes for players who are used to more direction out of the gate.
This article is meant to provide those things- starting points and direction. After all, building your own decks is supposed to be fun, and the barriers to that fun can be broken down with just a little homework! The way I think it makes sense to get going is simply to break the cardpool down by magic type, highlighting the major mechanical themes of each and listing a few of the crucial cards to look at first.
This article also isn’t only for new players. After all, it’s easy for those of us who play a lot to get stuck and need to brainstorm ideas, and hopefully this breakdown can help shake some of those cobwebs loose.
Decks can be built around specific card combinations or ideas for win conditions, but if you’re not sure where to start, this is the basic formula I’ll be using.
- Who is my Phoenixborn?
- What magic types will I use?
- Which cards make sense?
- How do I improve it?
Let’s get to it!
1. WHO IS MY PHOENIXBORN?
A great place to start is by picking a Phoenixborn while looking at their signature card. With only one exception, Phoenixborn are only ever tied to a single magic type, and often none at all, so you can feel good about choosing one as your first step. It rarely locks you in to a specific build. A Phoenixborn’s exclusive signature cards are almost always used in their decks, except in very specific advanced builds, and so understanding those cards and thinking of them as your foundation is often sensible.
2. WHAT MAGIC TYPES WILL I USE?
Once you know who you’re bringing to the fight, decide what types of magic you want to form your gameplan around. Your magic types will be the primary thing that informs how your deck plays and what your strategies are, so understanding what makes each type special and knowing what cards anchor it is crucial.
Magic type analysis is the meat of this article, so we’ll go into detail about them here.
N A T U R E
Connected Phoenixborn: Aradel
Dice Power: Do a damage to a unit.
- Molten Gold
- Ice Trap
- Nature’s Wrath
- Summon Frostback Bear
- Raptor Herder
Straightforward, relentless, and brutal, Nature’s cardpool is as intense as the wilds themselves. The units are usually aggressively priced, with Frostback Bear and Raptor Herder leading the pack in terms of dice efficiency. Nature’s Wrath and Molten Gold are two of the best AOE and Burn spells, respectively, in the entire game. And utility spells like Ice Trap round things out and support the more straightforward tools on offer. The overall vibe is very approachable and flexible, providing a solid, generically good foundation for other magic types to amplify.
I L L U S I O N
Connected Phoenixborn: Victoria, Noah
Dice Power: Downgrade 2 of your opponent’s dice.
- Summon Fox Spirit
- Figures in the Fog
- Realm Walker
- Gates Thrown Open
- Shadow Guard
Illusion is a more subtle magic type, and most players think that it’s become harder to make good use of in 1.5. It specializes in strong reaction spells like Figures in the Fog that keep the enemy at bay, and while it doesn’t offer a lot in terms of anchor units, it does feature strong utility options like Fox Spirit and Shadow Guard that help it find combos and execute it’s gameplan. It also is home to Realm Walker, one of the strongest Knights in the game, and Gates Thrown Open. Gates in particular really defines Illusion, enabling swarm decks of all colors and offering a win condition that other magic types simply don’t have. Illusion is a great place to look for players who want to build their Phoenixborn in less direct fashions with more utility.
C H A R M
Connected Phoenixborn: Saria, Maeoni
Dice Power: Reduce the attack of an enemy unit.
- Golden Veil
- Summon Three-Eyed Owl
- Beast Tamer
- Summon Ruby Cobra
- Summon Orchid Dove
Charm demands a lot of the player, and running it does ask you to commit to more specific strategies than many other types of magic. There’s definitely generically good stuff- Three-Eyed Owl and Ruby Cobra offer premium deck pressure for cheap- but cards like Beast Tamer and Orchid Dove are more specific tools that enable whole strategies. Golden Veil, meanwhile, is the game’s most defining reaction and the premier option for protecting a large unit. Charm’s cards tend to be powerful and focused, and they can often be a gameplan unto themselves. Look here for cards with the potential to break open a deck concept or to ask your opponent questions they’ll need answers for.
C E R E M O N Y
Connected Phoenixborn: Brennen
Dice Power: Get an ally out of your discard.
- Final Cry
- Summon Sleeping Widows
- Master Vampire
- Fire Archer
While Nature is also a pretty aggressive magic type, Ceremony can get downright mean. It’s dice power gives flexibility and stability, but it’s cards are almost always about finding creative ways to inflict pain. Final Cry and Fire Archer are staples of direct damage burn, and Summon Sleeping Widows represents just one of this color’s options that can rapidly fill up the board for a devastating attack. Ceremony also plays a role in summoning several split magic type units that can change the tone of a game, the most prominent of which is probably the game-warping Master Vampire. And of course, there’s the game’s most reliable removal spell, Fester. Liking spooky stuff is a good enough reason by itself to go Ceremony, but players who come for the skeletons will probably stay for the solid direct damage and ways to secure the board.
D I V I N E
Connected Phoenixborn: Echo, Xander
Dice Power: Increase the attack of a friendly unit.
- Summon Light Bringer
- Shepherd of Lost Souls
- Immortal Commander
Divine cards boast massive presence. They demand attention, screaming “Look at me!” and usually have the flashy board effects to match. Meteor and Heal are cost effective ways to throw massive wrenches into an opponent’s gameplan, and staple allies like Shepherd of Lost Souls and Immortal Commander give juice to Divine’s emphasis on keeping up immense board pressure. This type’s suite of Law cards force the table to play a certain way, but the premier Ashes card for forcing an opponent’s hand is surely Light Bringer, a conjuration that can lock down games by itself with enough support. It’s just one of many ways that this type can reinforce it’s motifs of unit strength and forcing opponents to play by Divine’s rules.
S Y M P A T H Y
Connected Phoenixborn: Namine, Echo
Dice Power: Draw a card.
- River Skald
- Summon Salamander Monk
- Raptor Herder
- Sympathy Pain
Sympathy prizes flexibility and tactics above all else, a theme that’s evident in it’s dice power. Drawing cards is often only strong in that it provides more options for the player, but powerful removal options tools like Crescendo and River Skald get you get value out of those draws with amplifying effects. Salamander Monk lets Sympathy players keep steady board presence on the unit side, Sympathy Pain can win games by itself, and Raptor Herder’s value is strong enough to be considered a staple for both magic types that can play it. Sympathy offers the player above-average potency and adaptability, if only they can find the best ways to utilize it.
T I M E
Connected Phoenixborn: Jericho
Dice Power: Manipulate status tokens.
- Summon Cloudburst Gryphon
- Summon Time Hopper
- Crystal Armor
- To Shadows
Now that we’re further into the Time cycle, the predominant themes of Time magic are starting to become clear. Accelerate and Crystal Armor show how this magic type can thematically bend the normal action flow of Ashes to dominate in combat, and To Shadows is a staple removal spell that aims to efficiently maintain the board round-over-round. The units are great too, with Time Hopper growing in strength as a strong tech piece, and Cloudburst Gryphon, which instantly became a staple summon book upon release. Time’s themes will continue to expand, but for now it looks to have a strong emphasis on enabling the other magic types and letting the player bend the board to create more favorable positions.
3. WHICH CARDS MAKE SENSE?
When you decided on your types in step 2 you gave yourself a crucial ability: you can now dig around for cards that call out to you within the established lane that you find yourself in, your pairing of a Phoenixborn and magic types.
Using the above card lists can help you know the kinds of things available and maybe even pick your first cards for the deck, but it’s by no means all inclusive- we haven’t even talked about the staple cards that cross magic types!
Multi-typed cards are harder to run because they'll ask more of the player, but cards like Hammer Knight and Kneel are obviously strong enough to justify a specified dice arrangement. Multi-typed cards can even often be good enough to build around on their own. Summon Cerasaurus Mount (Nature/Divine) and Summon Indiglow Creeper (Nature/Sympathy) are just a couple examples of cards that can define entire gameplans, providing a direction to go in for your deck.
There’s so many potential hooks available for an Ashes deckbuilder. Does ally recursion appeal to you, making you love the idea of playing a Ceremony/Divine Xander? Thinking about throwing in some Charm too? That kind of idea is really all you need to move forward. Now that you’ve seen some good cards and know more about what each magic type facilitates, you can feel empowered to analyze Ashes cards and make decisions about what to include.
Give it a go and see how far you can get above 30 with cards you’re excited about trying! It’s always ideal to have lots of options for your deck idea and then trim them down to the very best ones.
4. HOW DO I IMPROVE THIS?
Refining your new deck starts before it ever gets to the table.
Your 30 card list probably isn’t perfect as is, and now is the time to ask yourself the hard questions to make sure that, even if you lose, your first games are giving you solid feedback on how to improve. That kind of feedback is almost impossible to glean if your fundamentals aren’t intact to begin with.
One of the first and most important things you’ll need to consider is picking your default First Five, the Ashes mechanic that allows us to choose our opening hand.
Many advanced players actually start here, basing their deck decisions and even their Phoenixborn choice around a group of five cards they want to start the game with. First Fives are incredibly important, capable of deciding a game of Ashes right there within the first round, so know which cards are intended to kick off your games and set the tone for how your deck plays.
Once you know your First Five, you can probably also figure out how to split up your 10 dice among your magic types. There’s no wrong answers here- a traditional 5/5 can work great, as can 4/3/3 and 4/4/2. Somewhere out there is a deck that’s running all 7 magic types, and more power to them! Make sure your dice split can afford to play out your usual First Five and that it makes sense for the rest of your deck based on what you included.
You should also be wary of basic numbers stuff- do you have enough allies and conjurations to keep a battlefield intact? Do you have the right amount of ready spells for your Phoenixborn’s Spellboard Limit? Is your First Five completely dominated by units with no spell flexibility? Make sure you think about that stuff so that your first plays are giving you solid information about what to change.
PLAY, PLAY, PLAY
So your deck is built, and you’ve given it a few looks over to make sure you feel good about starting here. The only thing left to do is actually play it- and luckily, that’s kind of the crux of why we’re here, isn’t it?
Not only is playing Ashes fun, there’s also never a substitute for playing a deck and seeing how it works for yourself. It’s good to have ambition about our games, to want to be better at them, but all the theorycrafting and Discord talk in the world doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t playing games and having fun. Many a card championship has been won by someone who just tested the mess out of a deck, avoided the popular opinions about what could or should work, and forged their own destiny.
If you’re new, it may take you some time to get competitive, but the act of striving for more- more knowledge, more fun- is part of why we play tabletop games. I sincerely hope the analysis and tips here assist in giving you a direction, or even to help you make your very first deck.
Happy building, Ashes fans.