Re-Constructed Decks - Fiona
Dazed and Confused
Welcome back, Ashes players, to another installment of Re-Constructed. I’ve been doing this for twenty weeks now and I don’t know what’s real anymore.
By this point, you should already know the deck building restrictions we’re working with, and with these divine and sympathy magic decks you’ll also need “The Law of Lions” or “The Song of Soaksend” accordingly. I think we’ve done pretty well so far with a slew of pretty rational and reasonable decks, but this time we’re dipping into something decidedly more...bizarre. I bet your opponent won’t even know what you’re doing until it’s too late.
The Pagemaster of Argaia (Re-Fiona)
Re-Constructed by Andrew DiLullo
5 Sympathy, 5 Charm // Required Decks: The Masters of Gravity
1x Summon Majestic Titan
2x Summon Mind Fog Owl
1x Summon Squall Stallion
1x Summon Three-Eyed Owl
1x Changing Winds
3x Confusion Spores
2x New Ideas
1x Return to Soil
2x Seeds of Aggression
2x Essence Druid
3x Polarity Mage
3x Mind Maze
2x Sympathy Pain
Sorry, Fiona’s precon is a little weird so I need to double check my notes. Says here the goal is to just summon as much stuff as possible, use multiple Confusion Spores to crack open the opponent’s defenses, and play Exhortation on your least blockable units (usually Owls) to sneak in lots of damage. That sounds pretty good on paper, but now I’m reading the cards and it seems like there’s some kind of exhaustion theme too with cards like Return to Soil and Mind Maze wearing the opponent’s hand and board down. But, it’s also like reverse exhaustion because Nightsong Crickets keep giving everybody cards back from their discard piles so if you actually want the exhaustion to work you need to keep removing the cards in their discard pile from the game? Hmm, let’s start over.
Fiona’s precon reads as a midrange deck with a combo finisher that uses a wide array of summon books to apply pressure with a continuous stream of units before spewing a sea of Confusion Spores for a blowout win. However, this isn’t a natural or divine magic deck, so the units you’re producing are far less straightforward. Majestic Titan is a solid but expensive unit whose strength really comes from Renew, Mind Fog Owl is a sneaky unit that wants to piggyback on other units’ attacks, and Nightsong Cricket is a slightly overcosted unit with a whole bunch of oddball death triggers. All the other cards in Fiona’s deck are designed to support one of these units: Majestic Titan is aided through Seeds of Aggression and Essence Druid’s Spell Recall, Mind Fog Owl is aided through a combination of Confusion Spores, Mind Maze and Exhortation, and Nightsong Cricket is aided through Return to Soil’s removal and New Ideas’ filtration. On paper, this reads as a deck full of synergies, but at its core there’s a significant amount of cognitive dissonance at play (hehe). Every card has synergies with other cards, but may also contain points of divorce with others (Mind Maze plus Nightsong Cricket being the most extreme example). Still, I think this deck is not too far from being fairly monstrous, so for the re-con I’ve removed most of the non-synergies and focused on amplifying Fiona’s more novel strengths as...an exhaustion-themed midrange deck? (Sorry, I think I’m still reading this wrong, isn’t exhaustion more of a late game control thing?)
First, we want to stick with the super wide summon arrangement. Fiona can support this line of play pretty well with her supremely powerful if strange statline of 6 Battlefield and 5 Spellboard slots. We’ve kept Majestic Titan and Mind Fog Owl both for being solid units but also because they have overall greater synergy with the rest of the deck than Nightsong Cricket. Replacing the cricket is Squall Stallion, a fairly constant favorite among sympathy magic decks and one that does very well with Fiona’s Ingenuity since it constantly draws you cards. And now it starts getting weird again because we’re running...Three-Eyed Owl? Yeah, the 0-attack unit that forces the opponent to discard cards. In our midrange deck. I know you maybe have concerns here and that’s totally valid, but rest assured Three-Eyed Owl is actually going to put in serious work this time around. Shockingly, they’ll do so not just by applying nasty hand pressure but also, get this, by attacking for 0. Did I mention this deck is weird?
Because of our generally exorbitant summoning costs, most of the non-spellboard cards are going to be much cheaper. We’re still keeping most of the cards from the original deck (including Return to Soil), but most of our new cards only cost one die. Redirect is one of the better cards in Charm/Sympathy for mitigating damage, which does matter with a 15-health Phoenixborn, while Sympathy Pain and Crescendo at the right time can be crucial for creating openings in the opponent’s defense. We’ve also added three copies of Polarity Mage, which has been a recent favorite lately with Fade Away and will perform a pretty similar job this time with Mind Maze. Repeated Mind Mazes and Memory Drains might not be forcing an exhaustion gameplan, but it will apply a lot of pressure on our opponent’s hand and may choke them out of necessary options. Again, we’re not playing natural or divine magic, so our pressure needs to be a bit less brutish and more manipulative. The only relatively expensive inclusion is Changing Winds, but it’ll definitely be putting in work with all the extra card draw it’s going to provide.
So let’s talk about how to actually pilot the deck. The deck has two phases: proliferation, and infiltration. For the first couple rounds we focus on proliferation, looking to summon a ridiculous amount of conjurations every round while arranging a dangerously wide spellboard. Having a spellboard this thick with books means that we can easily amass a strong board presence at any round of the game, and combined with Ingenuity we can force additional summons in the later rounds or respond to counter options like Seal or Noah’s Shadow Target. At this stage, we’re looking to lightly pepper our opponent by aggressively attacking their units, forcing some guards and also sneaking in a Mind Fog Owl or two, while using a single Three-Eyed Owl to wear down our opponent’s options. On average, people will need to be cautious about hand management with Fiona since the threat of Mind Maze is always there as long as you have any cards in hand and at least 1 die. By placing the majority of your power in summoning books, your hand will often be pretty full and your opponent won’t be able to gauge when you have answers and when you’re just bluffing. Granted, this also means you won’t be drawing as many cards from your deck, but you always have the option to use Ingenuity to filter options in and out, and both Squall Stallions and Changing Winds will be automatically drawing cards over time regardless (Squall Stallion can also send cards to the bottom to increase filtration.)
All that card draw is going to be in service of getting us to the second phase, infiltration, where we transition from a simple summoning act to a one-shot combo play. In order to reach this point, we need to have access to at least two copies of Confusion Spores either in play or hand, as well as a single Exhortation (you can replace your Three-Eyed Owl book or Changing Winds at this point). Having a Crescendo or Sympathy Pain is also extremely helpful. The idea is to mobilize a full battlefield, meditate as needed, and then blow out your opponent with a sick combo play: Spores plus Spores (plus Spores if you have a third copy) plus Exhortation targeting your Mind Fog Owls, then attack with everything (including Three-Eyed Owl). If you have a Crescendo, you can use it here to remove another blocker on the attack. Exhortation will guarantee damage goes through because the opponent simply can’t block everything, and they MUST block everything else before choosing to block the Mind Fog Owls (including that other 0-attack owl). Additionally, this is one of the places where Mind Maze can really shine since you can attach a Mind Maze to a unit for your main action, then use your side action to meditate all the dice you’ll need to pull off your combo. If the opponent wants to remove the Mind Maze, it still takes their entire turn and you’ll be able to combo off, and if they don’t remove the Mind Maze then you’ve effectively Spored an extra unit while doing all the necessary prep work. There’s a flurry of other tools you can use to set up this play over the course of a round: Seeds of Aggression can be used to clear blockers ahead of time, Majestic Titan can feel out the opponent with an early attack before being Renewed, and playing a timely Polarity Mage can give you both an extra attacker and another Mind Maze. Sometimes, your opponent will create the opening for you by attacking ahead of time, letting you use cards like Redirect to clear a less useful attacker and resummon (Three-Eyed Owl comes to mind), or Sympathy Pain to either squeeze the last couple points of damage on the opponent or even remove another blocker. Ultimately, this is the kind of deck that’s going to take a lot of practice to get right, but is incredibly rewarding when you do.
There’s also kind of a phase three in which, being unable to get yourself a good combo opportunity, you can just focus on exhausting your opponent out with Three-Eyed Owls while applying charm dice with Mind Fog Owl’s focus 1.
Unsurprisingly given how tome-heavy our deck and strategy are, our first five is just full of books. We’re looking to play just about every single book on the first round as well as Changing Winds, but we won’t be summoning everything cause that’d cost too much. I usually aim to summon Mind Fog Owl and Squall Stallion, and play Changing Winds before making any further decisions (total cost so far: 7 dice). Playing the Titan book and summoning a Three-Eyed Owl puts us at 9 dice, so out of the upcoming four draws (five if you use Ingenuity), I’m usually hoping to hit a Mind Maze or Seeds of Aggression. As an alternative, you can either skip playing the Majestic Titan book or summoning a Three-Eyed Owl (one or the other) and use Ingenuity to summon a second stallion.
There are, however, a lot of ways to approach the first five, and several of those might include not running all spellboard cards in your hand actually. There are cases where you don’t actually want Three-Eyed Owls (usually against aggressive decks), and would rather run a Seeds, Mind Maze, or even Return to Soil in your opener to better answer the opponent; Mind Maze in the opener almost cannot be answered since the opponent probably doesn’t want to discard from their first five, and Return to Soil can be excellent against early aggressive allies like Raptor Herder and Fire Archer since it removes the ally from their discard pile afterwards. You can also opt out of running Changing Winds and instead have more dice to get a Majestic Titan on the field. It may not seem like it, but that one draw from Summon Squall Stallion really opens up a lot of flexibility since Ingenuity can go in a lot of different directions, and as mentioned earlier this deck will just take a lot of practice to work through all the kinks. It’s decidedly not straightforward.
Alone in the Universe:
Wow, we actually managed to get a re-con down to just one extra expansion? Well, I guess you also need to get the Protector of Argaia and Song of Soaksend, but comparatively this is the most budget friendly re-con we’ve had in a while. Even better, you don’t technically even need the Masters of Gravity. Don’t get me wrong, Polarity Mage makes Mind Maze an absolutely brutal card and Changing Winds provides a lot of the things we want in the early rounds, but you can totally ignore them, opting for more Sympathy Pains, New Ideas, and can even go for Magic Syphon just fine. Changing Winds doesn’t technically need a replacement since you’ll be down to five spellboard slots instead of the overloaded six. What’s strange is that despite how unusual this deck is, it’s also surprisingly flexible. Because of the cost of Ingenuity, Fiona’s deck building is allowed to function in a way similar to Coal, in which you can experiment more and run a greater variety of weird singles knowing that no card is wasted. Don’t need a Return to Soil? Well, now it’s another owl.
Taking it further:
The earliest version of this deck was actually pretty different, straying a little further from the midrange into something more combo/control oriented. Nightsong Cricket played a bigger role in the deck and it became this bizarre discard-recursion engine that used the focus 1 on both Nightsong Cricket and Weeping Spirit to constantly “fix” the discard piles so only certain things got recurred. It also did pretty well with the Confusion Spores strategy since Weeping Spirits can’t block and do apply hand pressure over time, while Nightsong Crickets need to be countered when they’re blocked guaranteeing their death triggers often. For this type of playstyle, I also tend to prefer Magic Syphon over Changing Winds because being able to manipulate the opponent’s dice also forces a lot of extra meditations on their part, ultimately improving many of your choices and acting as a surprisingly effective supplement for an exhaustion strategy. Ultimately, I decided that Nightsong Cricket was warping the deck a little too much and opted for a more straightforward package, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a more savvy deck-builder out there can make it work. As far as this version is concerned, Magic Syphon is a completely fair replacement for Changing Winds if you want to lower your opening round costs and you feel the Stallion provides more than enough draw and filtration. Finally, if you’re looking to pack a bit more power behind Majestic Titan, Call to Action is a cost-effective option that works a little better in the early rounds while setting up and doubles up as a combo opener, albeit a little less effectively than Sympathy Pain or Crescendo.
In terms of other dice types, I like natural magic the best with Fiona. Ingenuity tends to be at its best when it’s used to refresh powerful spellboard cards with upfront costs, namely the kind that gets stronger the longer the game goes. Summon Squall Stallion is probably the best one in sympathy magic (Augury is also great, but requires a more specific build), but Summon Frostback Bear is pretty comparable from natural magic, with Summon Gilder being a fairly close second. While it’s also a little more awkward due to side actions, Summon Turtle Guard is extremely efficient while also having amazing synergy with Seeds of Aggression (thanks to Withdraw). If you’re looking for something a bit more clever, Abundance is absolutely gangbusters with Ingenuity and could form the basis of a mightily explosive exhaustion deck.
That’s all we’ve got for this article. We’re so close to the end, and who better to see us at the end of all things than James Endersight. I hope you folks like zombies and spiders.
Andrew DiLullo is an animator, a game designer, and luckily also a writer. Having first discovered Ashes at the tail end of the first round of expansions in 2016, he’s been playing ever since and currently heads the Bay Area Ashes group in California. He was especially active in several community projects after Ashes was canceled the first time, and now puts his attention to Reborn as the game starts anew. He’s currently designing a board game in his spare time, and occasionally writes on his online journal: The Lighthouse Library.