Re-Constructed Decks - James
De Morte, Vitae
Welcome back, Ashes players, to another installment of Re-Constructed. We’ve reached the end of our journey, so let’s go out in style.
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. We’ve mused around with sacrifice strategies before, but James is about to take it to such an extreme, we might just need to build a graveyard.
The Grave Digger (Re-James)
6 Ceremonial, 4 Divine// Required Sets: Children of Blackcloud, Spirits of Memoria
3x Summon Fallen
1x Summon Winged Lioness
1x Chant of Sacrifice
1x Law of Sight
2x Blood Shaman
1x Crimson Bomber
1x Fire Archer
1x Grave Knight
1x Immortal Commander
1x Iron Worker
2x Reaping Angel
3x Rising Horde
2x Shepherd of Lost Souls
1x Rally the Troops
2x Reclaim Soul
1x Revival Pact
2x Summon Sleeping Widows
Jessa and Brennen use sacrifices to burn opponents down, but for James it’s the opposite. He sacrifices to build himself up. The precon does a bit of this largely through Summon Fallen and Rising Horde, cards that belch zombies across the battlefield by borrowing the energy from our allied deaths. Rising Horde can do it on its own, while Summon Fallen takes a bit more time and setup. Along the way we’re surrounded by a slew of other powerful allies: Grave Knight can absolutely wreck house with Overkill and Threaten, Immortal Commander can make any small army extremely intimidating, and Reaping Angel provides a clever split of tech and/or health in the right circumstances. The rest of the deck is geared around empowering these allies, with cards like Revival Pact and Rally the Troops allowing for more repetition, while Reclaim Soul uses our overabundance of petty units as a resource to keep our health high while James communes with new souls. Vengeance in combination with an existing Fallen and Rising Horde can be a surprisingly potent buff to punch through the last bits of damage, though if I’m being honest I think it’s a little wasted in this precon since it has a hard time competing with Immortal Commander. The deck is all about being vicious, throwing your units against the wall to bring it down one brick at a time, knowing that you always have more where that came from. Allies and conjurations are treated more like ammo in this deck than anything precious, leaving James with one of the more utilitarian decks in the mix. Going into this re-con, I wanted to highlight more of the strengths of Commune with Souls, an ability with an absurd amount of potential value, by widely diversifying the breadth of ally choices, while also including a few cards to help Vengeance punch upward a bit stronger.
James is all about allies, and James with Summon Fallen doubly so. Commune with Souls is a terrifyingly powerful ability, costing no dice and just a little bit of health, and every ally we play gains potential additive value when combined with Summon Fallen. To take advantage of this, we’ve reduced many of the existing allies down to a single copy in order to make room for a bunch of new ones, effectively expanding the scope of what Commune with Souls can answer. Crimson Bomber gives us a very real way to pare down weaker units on our opponent’s board while also supplying the Summon Fallen book, Fire Archer gives us a means to hit the Phoenixborn directly towards the end of the game, and Iron Worker improves our card draw which is quite strong in a deck with overall low costs. Among the more powerful additions is Shepherd of Lost Souls, an ally that allows us to easily double up on our other allies without it costing us too much. While we usually prefer to fetch allies that only have one health using Commune with Souls, you should ultimately find whatever you most need in any given situation.
Now, let’s talk about some of our new tools. While I do like Fallen as a mainline strategy, I think it really helps to have something a bit more consistent while we’re building it. A single Winged Lioness book goes a long way to adding stability to what is normally a bit of an unhinged deck design. That being said, we’re also pushing a little more towards that untapped aggression by adding Summon Sleeping Widows. This card has an impressive amount of power with our many sacrifice tools, especially Vengeance since we can destroy multiple leftover units, get the spiders, and then apply the buffs from Vengeance on the new spiders. Speaking of sacrifices, we’ve added some more meaningful sacrifice tech into deck via...Meteor? Well, Fallen are very good at populating a board in the late game, but they’re maybe….too good at it. It’s very possible that an entire board of 1/1 units isn’t that appealing to you, which I totally get, hence the Meteor. This spell has a good history with Fallen since it can effectively reset your battlefield while also crippling much of your opponent’s, all before you start unleashing a second wave of Fallen to hopefully close the game out. In a deck like this, part of the value from Meteor and Vengeance are simply in their ability to declutter your own battlefield.
Finally, I want to impart with you the philosophy of this deck, summed in one sentence: “You always have more to give.” This deck is absolutely relentless, especially in the later rounds where you might have access to multiple copies of Summon Fallen and other tools. You make some units, swing wide, kill your own units just to make more, rinse and repeat. And for the most part you can extend yourself with this re-con harder than almost any other, using tools like Summon Fallen, Summon Sleeping Widows and Commune with Souls to just keep applying pressure almost continuously. Especially with Ashes Reborn’s new rules on blocking in which the blocker is forced to counter, and the limit of 1 Phoenixborn guard per round, it can be difficult for an opponent to keep up with you. That all being said, while overextension is going to be pretty common in this deck, doing so is still a risk and still finite. You’re encouraged to be aggressive here because this deck cannot keep going forever, and you could be in actual trouble if your opponent somehow manages to survive you. Aradel is going to be one of your toughest matchups as Mist Spirits, Mist Typhoon, and Water Blast might actually enable her to keep up with you while also not needing to constantly sacrifice cards and life to do so. To that end, it’s okay to not always overextend, Winged Lioness really helps fill in some of the gaps and keeps you grounded. Yes, you want to be aggressive, but rarely does it benefit you to be reckless. You always have more to give, but it’s okay to keep some for yourself.
Much like the traditional zombie horde, our opening is a little slow and shambly. I like to open with Law of Sight to draw some extra cards, then play either summon book depending on the draw. If I have an extra Summon Fallen, I’ll start with Winged Lioness to slow down and take my time a little, knowing that I want both books on the table before playing any allies. Otherwise, I might open with Fallen and use the following turn to Commune an ally (usually Rising Horde) and play them immediately. Iron Worker is best played closer to the end of the round when there’s less to threaten him (you want to keep him alive if possible), and Chant of Sacrifice can basically be played whenever you want (replacing Law of Sight), possibly even as a way to avoid taking an awkward pass. My general advice with Chant of Sacrifice is to only use it when you need it, or when it would benefit you, and that it’s okay not to use it every round. The rest of the first round is going to be give and take, as the card draw from Law of Sight can definitely change the way you’re planning to play things out.
Iron Worker occupies the flex slot, and as such can be easily changed to meet different matchups requirements. If you want to play more aggressively, you can opt for Summon Sleeping Widows. While the spell cannot be played with Law of Sight on the field, you can forcibly replace Law of Sight at any time by simply filling out the rest of your spellboard (we mostly just want it for the draw anyway). In this scenario, Commune with Souls will basically always fetch Rising Horde unless we manage to draw one off LoS, and we’ll likely be popping it with Chant. Using a side action to suddenly amass two Fallen and two Widows before attacking wide on a main action in the same turn is super deadly in the early game. Against early aggression, either Meteor or Crimson Bomber can help you stabilize; I prefer the Bomber as it fills Summon Fallen and Meteor tends to be more valuable later in the game. Thanks to Law of Sight, you don’t need to worry about your opponent’s Ice Trap or Sleeping Widows from cheating you out of these setup plays, letting your strategy unfold with more certainty.
I think it’s funny how the last couple re-cons really don’t need that much beyond Odette or Namine’s cards to come together. Even this time as we expand our ally pool with Brennen’s Fire Archer and Crimson Bomber, and Sembali’s Shepherd of Lost Souls, I think it’s okay not to run either if you want to save money. In their place, I definitely recommend Anchornaut both as a spot of removal and easy sacrifice fodder, as well as an extra Grave Knight and Immortal Commander, or an extra Revival Pact. Basically, you’ll want something to help address this new loss of removal and revival. There’s also a call to run a single Heal to help keep James healthy.
Taking it further:
There’s a pretty wide berth of cards that could potentially shape this deck into something nastier. I’m quite partial to 1-health allies in James since that value tends to go best with Commune with Souls, so I’m naturally drawn to Psychic Vampire and Anchornaut, both solid units against various matchups. Additionally, while I think we’re producing enough units and swinging widely enough to not really need burn, Final Cry is always a decent option that you’ll never find difficulty triggering. In the less represented divine magic slot you have cards like Heal and Shield Mage that could find some use, and as we’ve explored many times in the past Chained Creations is such a powerful tool for setting the pace of a match. I do think in a deck like this we shouldn’t have any trouble setting the pace already -- our gameplan is roughly “keep up with me or die” -- but a timely Chained Creation on something like a Mist Spirit can potentially go a long way.
Weirdly, I don’t find myself going outside of divine and ceremonial magic as often with James, but I acknowledge he’s quite good with sympathy magic. Cards like Raptor Herder and Summon Salamander Monk do really well in this sort of heavy sacrifice environment, and you might get surprisingly far with things like Shatter Pulse, Guilt Link, or even Strange Copy (usually on a Fallen or Salamander Monk Spirit). Time magic has also been on my radar for a hot minute due to cards like Standard Bearer and Summon Time Hopper looking good in this style of deck, possibly even with Accelerate or Flash Strike. Unlike Immortal Commander in which the side action competes with Vengeance, Standard Bearer provides buffs on the swing freely giving you freedom to use your side action to set up other buffs. Alternatively, you can use Accelerate to use Immortal Commander and Vengeance in the same turn. There’s maybe a call to also run Flash Strike with Invigorate since you’re often swinging wide with Fallen and their Infect ability makes the bonus from Flash Strike especially nasty, but I do wonder if that’s too much of an investment on units designed to die quickly.
So, what happens now?
Well, I don’t think there are quite enough official resources to make a compelling Jericho re-con, since the only cards we could add are all basic magic. To be fair, Expand Energy is an excellent card in Jericho first fives since you can use it at the end of the round to draw whatever you Prepared, and Anchornaut is a perfectly decent Blink target, but I don’t believe those little quirks warrant an extra article that will be me largely grasping at straws. The main problem with time magic is it’s simply a card pool that needs more of itself (time, or cards) to really shine.
But that’s also the beauty of it. Ashes has a lot to look forward to, with a plethora of exciting cards on the horizon. As the selection continues to expand for all the non-time magics, some of the re-cons we’ve presented over the last twenty-one weeks will become a bit outdated. When that happens I hope you’ll look at that not as an issue but rather an opportunity. The main goal of the re-constructed series has always been presenting how just a couple of small adjustments to ideas you’re familiar with can make them seem entirely new, and I don’t see why that idea has to end where I left it. A lot of the joy of deck building comes from that sensation, taking an idea and constructing it outward, and knowing that even a similar idea probably won’t look the same way in the hands of two different creators. “Taking it Further” was a section I felt essential in these articles as a way to say “Here’s how I did it, but don’t be afraid to try your own thing”.
What happens now is up to you. I hope you’ve enjoyed these deck ideas, and I can’t wait to see what you all come up with.
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.