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the hidden power - episode one - "Thunder Number"

On the 17/02/2020, the website will be/was taken down. Many thanks to brandon miller for hosting it up until now. However, there are a few articles that i believe are worth keeping a hold of, so i will be creating a series of posts that is literally a copy/paste of the original articles. I didn't write any of them, full credit to all those who put in their time and effort into writing these. In addition to that, I have edited it as little as possible, mostly just formatting.

Christopher Pratt April 28, 2016

Welcome to the first article in my series – Hidden Power – about Ashes Rise of the Phoenixborn, the brilliant ECG from Plaid Hat Games. If it goes well, maybe it will be a long series. If not, I’m hopeful that along the way we will have had some good discussions, I may have taught you something, you’ve taught me some things with your feedback, and we’ve played some great games.

These articles presume you know the game, and is geared towards those players that want to start/have begun constructed play. If you aren’t there quite yet, no worries. I will be updating this space with links that have a more introductory bent:

An Introduction to Ashes

I know there are more coming, and if you have suggestions, please send them along. As this space fills with foundational information, and you start your trip through the wonderful game that is Ashes, I’m hopeful that the things I write about make more sense to you in the long run.

Now, without further ado – What the heck is a Thunder Number (TN) and why is it important – First Five and beyond!?

[[ceremonial]] [[charm]] [[natural]] [[illusion]]

The Basics

Thunder Number:
noun, Ashes vernacular
The number of dice required to cast all cards in your hand, use all of your ready spells, and use Phoenixborn (PB) abilities – especially important for your First Five (FF).

Rai Kotaru’s favorite motorcycle:

origin: Callin Flores from The Main Action podcast.

This article isn’t about Rai Kotaru. Sorry to those Godzilla lovers. It is, however, particularly concerned with the math of the choices of your FF, and what goes into the deck. The cards you might choose, based on PB, meta, and dice shown, will be in a future installment.

When someone asks – “hey take a look at my deck?” – almost immediately, my question is: “what are your typical FF?” I say typical, because those choices may change depending, but in general there is a core that players want to adhere to in driving the strategy of their deck.

(Note: if you are going to post your deck and are looking for serious feedback on it, please let folks know what you think your FF should be. Erik’s Plaid Hat post about his Tulsa winning deck is a perfect example of this. It allows discussion about what should/could/may be better in different match-ups and gives you an idea of the thought process.)

From the FF information provided, I do some counting. How many dice are required to cast all of these spells, and leverage the PB ability if there is one? Further, how many dice types are required to make all of this happen. For instance, if someone is packing Dread Wraith (requiring [[ceremonial:class]][[ceremonial:class]][[ceremonial:class]]) , and Crimson Bomber ([[ceremonial:class]][[ceremonial:class]]), is playing Noah and wants to Shadow Target ([[ceremonial:class]]), they had better have access to at least six Ceremonial (Ce) dice to be able to do all that they would like to do round 1.

Rolling with the Thunder – The Good
Since it did win Tulsa, let’s take a look at what Erik’s deck is packing as a Thunder Number for a “Standard” opening:

(Note: For this exercise, anytime a Basic dice symbol is used ([[basic]]), it can be of any dice type.)

- Summon Frostback Bear: [[natural]]to cast, [[natural:class]] [[basic]] to summon the bear. Thunder Number (TN) +3
- Hammer Knight: [[ceremonial]][[natural:class]][[basic]] to cast. TN +3
- Crimson Bomber: [[ceremonial:class]][[ceremonial:class]]to cast. TN +2
- Enchanted Violinist: FREE to cast. TN +0 (Angus note: the deck and article were created pre errata. EV now costs 1 [[basic]])
- [[Rin’s Fury]]: [[basic]][[basic]][[basic]] to cast. TN -2!

Frostback Bear, Hammer Knight, Crimson Bomber, and EV all give you a TN of eight, but whoa, look at the effect [[Rin’s Fury]] has on the TN – it actually decreases the value, bringing his total TN to six! That leaves four dice left over to do whatever else he would like, potentially leveraging the power faces of those dice to tremendous effect! That’s maybe four more [[natural]] pings, a [[natural]] resurrection of an ally (with dice to use to cast it), or (far more likely) to [[illusion]] exhaust your dice!

This is the first clue to begin understand why this deck was so efficient and effective. Not only is the deck putting 10 Attack/11 life on the board (the 11th life is Rin’s Ice Buff), it’s doing it with six dice! Wow.


Now, imagine your deck has some really great cards. You’ve got a 4[[ceremonial]], 4 [[natural]], 2[[illusion]] dice spread. You are playing Noah.
In your FF you’ve got:

- Summon Frostback Bear: [[natural]] to cast, [[natural:class]][[basic]] to summon the bear. TN +3
- Hammer Knight: [[ceremonial]][[natural:class]][[basic]] to cast. TN +3
- Enchanted Violinist: FREE to cast. TN +0 (Angus note: the deck and article were created pre errata. EV now costs 1 [[basic]])
- Steady Gaze: [[illusion:class]][[illusion:class]] to cast. TN +2
- Blood Chains: [[ceremonial:class]] to cast. TN +1
- Shadow Target (Noah Redmoon’s PB ability): [[ceremonial:class]]to use. TN +1

You count the TN and come up with ten, and figure this isn’t a bad strategy. You think “I can shut down a summon they play with Shadow Target, Steady Gaze a unit, Blood Chains using the EV (getting it back later in the game with [[ceremonial]]), play my Bear and Knight and have a dominant board position.” It’s a strong plan, really.

Until Erik’s deck uses single [[illusion]] and wrecks it all.

Your Thunder Number at ten leaves you in a precarious situation and particularly vulnerable to [[illusion]] power usage (or Leech Warrior shenanigans). Further, the fact you need three nature dice ([[natural]][[natural:class]] for the bear, and [[natural:class]] for the Hammer Knight) and only have four available, means that if your opponent were to aggressively exhaust your nature dice, you may be left with a Hammer Knight in hand or a Bear unsummoned. That’s a brutal board/tempo hit.

Your TN for both count AND type need to be able to handle a die or two being exhausted!

Now, if your opponent isn’t playing [[illusion]] dice, you can relax a little bit, maybe chock your hand full and do, pretty much, everything you wanted. But if you see your opponent has [[illusion]] dice (or think a the Leech Warrior is in play), you need to back up, slow down, and rethink your FF immediately.

Here, we’ve changed the initial FF due to our opponent presenting [[illusion]] – a single card that suddenly makes all the difference:

- Summon Frostback Bear: [[natural]] to cast, [[natural:class]][[basic]]to summon - the bear. TN +3
- Hammer Knight: [[ceremonial]][[natural:class]][[basic]] to cast. TN +3
- Enchanted Violinist: FREE to cast. TN +0 (Angus note: the deck and article were created pre errata. EV now costs 1 [[basic]])
- Hidden Power: [[illusion:class]] to cast. TN -1!
- Blood Chains: [[ceremonial:class]] to cast. TN +1
Shadow Target (Noah’s PB ability): [[ceremonial:class]] to use. TN +1

The addition of the Hidden Power allows your first turn to likely be very smooth. Your TN is now seven – leaving you three dice left over to maybe pull your own [[natural]][[ceremonial]][[illusion]] dice usage, or to recover if some of your nature dice were exhausted for you. Once again a dice fixer, a negative TN card, can be quite effective to allowing your deck to shine.

(Angus note: i removed an image showing a gilder, three eyed owl and butterfly monk)

Thunderbirds are GO!

You don’t always need to include cards with a negative Thunder Number (Hidden Power, [[Rin’s Fury]], Expand Energy (though this is really for subsequent rounds)) to play the game effectively.

Austin Mills’ Brennen deck for Tulsa, in the face of illusion [[illusion]] dice, used ridiculously cheap/efficient units to ensure board presence, and allow him to react/deal with these kinds of challenges. With a 4 [[natural]], 3 [[ceremonial]], 3 [[charm]] dice spread, a typical FF for him might be:

- Summon Three Eyed Owl: [[charm:class]] to summon. TN +1
- Summon Gilder: [[charm:class]] to cast. [[natural:class]] to summon. TN +2
- Summon Butterfly Monk: [[natural]] to summon. TN +1
- Fire Archer: [[ceremonial:class]] to cast. TN +1
- Enchanted Violinist: FREE. TN +0 (Angus note: the deck and article were created pre errata. EV now costs 1 [[basic]])
- Spirit Burn (Brennen Blackclouds PB ability): [[basic]]to use. TN +1

That’s a stellar TN of six, putting five units on the board for a total of five attack, eight life, doing one damage direct, one unit damage direct, memory drain available, last blessing available, and plenty of Spirit Burn targets. Really, that’s efficiency in a nutshell.

You know Austin was able to leverage those dice he had leftover to cycle Fire Archers, pump up units, or ping things down. This is key! Those dice need to be doing work for you, or you are missing out on one of the greatest aspects of the game!

(Update! Note from Austin (via Slack) – if his opponent didn’t have illusion, he would usually swap out the Enchanted Violinist for a Hammer Knight bringing his TN to 9. This he says is “perfectly fine if he’s not losing dice.” He’s 100% correct.)

Echoes of Thunder

Now that we have our FF TN set, let’s talk about the round 2 TN and things you need to consider when filling your deck out.

We are now in round 2. Let’s say we have a Summon Frostback Bear, Summon Dread Wraith, Summon Ice Golem, and a Frost Bite in play (much like Elliot Kramer’s Rin deck here).
Elliot’s dice spread is a fairly meta-typical 4[[natural]], 4[[ceremonial]], 2[[illusion]].
To use every ready spell he has in play this round, he needs a total of nine dice. Obviously, he’s probably not summoning a Dread Wraith every round, nor maybe not even a Golem every round. What he drew, current board state, is he first player or not, etc. etc. go into the decisions he has at this time.

I wanted to point out that the second round has its own, new, Thunder Number: the cost to use all of the ready spells, plus all of the cards in hand is that new number.

Also note, Elliot’s deck has a pretty heavy nature reliant Spellboard: Bear needs [[natural:class]], Golem needs [[natural:class]][[natural:class]], and an un-focused Frost Bite needs [[natural:class]]. That’s all of the [[natural]] dice available. Sure, he could draw a fixer (Hidden Power or [[Rin’s Fury]]) but woe be unto him if he drew a Summon Frostback Bear, Hammer Knight, and a Molten Gold – darn good cards – without a fixer available. There’s a significant chance at tempo loss.

The average cost of the cards in Elliot’s deck (using negative numbers for Hidden Power and [[Rin’s Fury]]) is slightly less than 1 (if I did my math right, and that’s unlikely). This means, on average, when he draws up his hand, the TN, presuming he doesn’t want to cast a Dread Wraith, and wants to use Frostbite, is eleven.

In comparison, Erik’s deck had only a Summon Frostback Bear in his Spellboard, which meant the rest of his deck ran on the eight dice (presumes one Summon Frostback Bear is in play). The average cast for a card for his deck is 1.3 dice, which means he should have that 8 dice to do what he wants (I decided he would get 3×2 cost spells and 2×1 cost spells – or something that smooths dice etc.).

Austin’s Spellboard took 3 dice to run, Brennen takes another dice, and his average casting cost was 1.5. It’s likely he will be able to run his deck and get the spells off he needs to get off. It’s also likely that with Chant of Protection, he doesn’t need to cast a card in his hand, but use it as a resource, so even if there is a dice tight turn, he might be okay.

Note that if several fixers are drawn, Elliot’s deck, with the summons he has in play, is ripe to exploit them fully with the ready spells eagerly awaiting the excess dice. It’s likely if Erik were to have drawn a hand that was light on threats, but heavy in dice fixers, he would switch gears and start a heavy dice exhaust strategy ([[illusion]]) to shorten the round, and limit the opponent’s options.

Expanding Horizons

Expand Energy is an interesting card that basically plays for “free” round 1, but increases your available dice subsequent rounds, meaning you can support a higher TN. You are basically sacrificing early game tempo for later game efficiency. A really cool Aradel deck run by Grant McKinney from the Vader’s Finest podcast, actually banked on this, and ran Open Memories for a second copy of Expand Energy. He piloted this deck to a top four finish. I was able to see this strategy in effect, as he basically, game after game, filled Aradel’s Battlefield to max because of the significant die disparity he enjoyed. Grant had a fundamental understanding of the awesome resource advantage that comes from tipping the table of available dice in your favor.

Wrapping it up!

“Far away, through the gash that led the way into the mountains, he heard the thick mouth of the perpetual thunder.” -Stephen King, The Gunslinger”

In general, for my FF, I would like my TN to be around seven, and have two more dice of a type than I need to have to get everything cast. The second half of that sentence might not be as clear as I would like, so let me explain. Barring dice fixers, if I count up the number of [[Ceremonial]] dice I must have to cast all of my [[Ceremonial]] dice cards, I would like to run +2 [[Ceremonial]] dice than that number. So, if I have Dread Wraith, Crimson Bomber, and no other Ce type cards, I would want to run at least seven [[Ceremonial]] dice to ensure, for the most part, that I can cast both of those cards. Though, note, if your opponent rolls a lucky [[illusion]] even this could be challenged!

The Thunder Number – calculated each round – is kind of Ashes’s “mana curve” in a comparison to Magic. You want to be able to use the cards you have in play, cards you draw, your PB ability, and have really efficient turns. Signs you might be off of a properly tuned deck are dice left over after turns that weren’t being utilized efficiently/effectively, or cards left in hand that can’t be cast because of dice type or number.

There are zero hard and fast rules here. My best advice is to play, play, and then play again. Look for hidden gems in the card pool that may have a very large impact, or cheaper cards that can perform a function you need. This, a tip of the hat to Jarret Berman for running Fade Away in his FF. He realized that he was going to lose the dice war to some opponents, and he used this [[illusion:class]] cost card to remove more expensive threats. People were quite often stunned at the play.

I hope that this first entry in “Hidden Power” has given you some things to think about the next time you build your deck, sit down from an opponent, evaluate their dice pool, and choose your first five. Remember, if you see [[illusion]] , plan accordingly.

Please feel free to leave comments, point out something I’ve gotten wrong, or, if I did okay, let me know. If there’s a specific strategy aspect/card/PB you would like to see covered in an edition of Hidden Power, feel free to suggest away.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read. It is appreciated.

Best of luck to you.
-Papa Pratt

Angus’ note: the following questions and answers are not from the article, but they contain interesting discussions that i believe are also worth including.

Elliot Kramer says:
Great write-up!

Some perspective on my deck and your comments:
1. I treat Frost Bite as an upgraded dice ability. I don’t intend to use it each round (its not mandatory), and really its use is in later rounds as a way to use excess dice to greater effect ( by either being able to go face, or with multiple FB using Ceremonial [[ceremonial]] dice as nature [[natural]] dice). With this consideration, I treated my FF thunder number as 8 (3 + 3 + 3 -1). It’s a flexibility play, and I don’t personally I costed it at 0 for TN purposes.
Looking forward to future articles.

Giovanni Cornara (thesnipertroll) says:

Definitely expecting a very long series given this excellent first article.
Since I’m pretty new to the game, I’d like to pose a (maybe stupid) question: how do you factor “cancel” reaction spells like Choke, Ice Trap or Golden Veil into your TN? Do you count their cost for your “effective” TN or do you consider it to be part of the dice you keep in “reserve”?

To which papa pratt responds:

Thank you for the kind comment!
In your FF, I think you have to count all cards as part of your Thunder Number regardless of type. You put those cards in there for a reason, and if you run out of mana, through maybe leveraging dice effects, then those cards cannot perform the function for which you put them in.

But, being able to roll with the ebb and flow of the game to obtain advantage is the rule of the game – not some arbitrary article written by an old guy (I am nothing if not fallible. :)).

If you have reaction spells that require a trigger – Golden Veil for instance – and the round plays out that you are confident your opponent isn’t going to play something you can say “No” to, or saying “No” isn’t as important – then feel free to spend the dice allocated to Golden Veil without feeling too terribly bad. If your unit was crucial and was able to withstand a round without you casting the veil, hopefully you are ahead of the curve.

After that first round, reaction spells are an evaluation on return on investment in pressing action through spending your dice, versus holding those dice waiting on the proper trigger.

To answer the question directly – “Do I count the cost of reaction spells into my “effective” TN?” Yes. Early in the round. Through the turns, as I suspect I cannot force the trigger, my trigger may not come, is less important than other effects, or my opponent’s dice exhaustion strategy may remove my ability to react in a specific window, I may disregard playing specifically for that trigger, and spend the dice I had allocated in my “effective” TN moving those dice mentally to “reserve.”
This evaluation holds true for any card you’ve put in your deck after Round 1, by the way. Sometimes, it’s just better for you to not cast something now, discard it for meditation, or hold onto it for subsequent rounds. While I may have alluded to the idea/concept you must. cast. everything. every. round. It’s not what I meant, and not a hard and fast rule.

I was more identifying rounds where you wished you could have cast some cards, but had the wrong dice and or number of them, and it consistently created rounds with bad tempo.

Hope this helps and answered your question. Thank you for reaching out. It really is appreciated.

Lastly, I look forward to more of your work here:

And, everyone should check that out as well!
-Papa P.


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