Hi, all. I am going through a series that will go through all the different dice types in an attempt to rank the top 5 most defining cards of that dice type. These are cards that, I think, are the most important to be aware of when playing against someone who has that dice type in their deck. This is not necessarily the most commonly played cards, but rather, the cards that really drive the direction a deck could go.
Note: I am counting only cards with a cost that can be paid with that dice type. Cards with basic costs are excluded; cards that have multiple dice type costs are excluded; phoenixborn and uniques are excluded; cards with parallel costs are included in BOTH dice types sections. All cards are being thought of with respect to their 1.0 state.
Top 5 Defining Illusion Cards
I went back and forth on this card, as it really has only found a home in Victoria Glassfire decks. However, this card played a huge role in enabling these heavy illusion decks to take over the meta. The main role it played was letting you draw into Illusionary Cycle over and over again. Vicky decks tended to rely on stripping opponents dice. To do that, you need dice recursion, card draw, and the illusion dice power. Abundance provided the key ingredient of card draw. It also gave Victoria Glassfire a way to close games if she was unable to break through opponents' boards. It didn't find much use in other decks as most PB's couldn't use extra cards or they couldn't guarantee getting their opponent to run out of cards, but it was key in some of the most dominant decks in the game.
Gates Thrown Open was yet another illusion dice recursion card. I was initially pretty surprised that it was printed. Getting a net of 2 extra dice per round seemed crazy. However, it did have significant drawbacks. It required you to use a spellboard slot. But, perhaps more importantly, it was just awkward to use. You had to have use enough dice to recur. You would have also needed to have cards that could use the extra dice. It was great for big ally decks or for expensive action spells. Being able to slot it into your First Five also meant that you could calculate ahead of time exactly what you want to spend the dice on. If you were able to use the extra dice effectively, you could set yourself up for some very strong starts.
This card could technically be thought of as a dual cost, but I'm going to slot it in here because the primary effect as a reaction is really the important effect. This card was the counter to the many destruction spells that target your big unit. The main effect this had on the game was creating a counter to Fear. This let you run big units that were not Elephant Riders or Holy Knights without worrying about instant destruction. It was crippling to Earthquake, Phoenix Barrage and Sword of Virtue. Usually, decks running big allies and conjurations would tend to be [[nature:power]], [[ceremonial:power]], and [[divine:power]]. This gave a solid reason to switch over to illusion.
The top 2 should really not be a surprise for anyone. This card would rate as my #1 conjuration. Every deck that would run more than a couple illusion dice would run this. For much (if not all) of the game, this was the only illusion unit worth playing. This card worked well both offensively and defensively. It worked well other illusion cards that gave you extra [[illusion:power]]. It worked well as a unit to wall up with if you drew at least a second book. It gave you flexibility to meditate away if you needed the extra battlefield slots. It was the cheapest way to fill your board with units with 2 attack value. They traded well with just about any unit and forced Phoenixborns to guard and take a lot more hits than they may want to.
This has been pretty consistently regarded as the strongest card in the game. Just using it for nothing but dice powers would have made it a top tier card. You could use it as 2 [[nature:power]] pings, or you could use it for the [[illusion:power]] to strip away an opponent's resource. You could use it to grab two [[divine:power]] for Meteor or to summon another powerful ally or conjuration. Having Hidden Power in your deck meant that you could threaten to play just about any card in the game as long as you were showing a single [[illusion:class]]. It is the only card that I can say was truly an auto-include in any illusion deck, regardless of the number of dice and regardless of the goal of the deck. There was never a reason to not include it. It really could be said that this is the most defining card of the entirety of Ashes 1.0.
Usually, I have a lot of thoughts for honorable mentions. However, for illusion, I was actually struggling to come up with 5. Shadow Spirits and Hidden Power are just head and shoulders above all other illusion cards. Every other illusion card seems very situational. Fade Away, Steady Gaze, and Reflections in the Water all have specific purposes, but their importance in the meta has always been shifting. Shifting Mist is a popular card, but I've never thought it really was worth the spellboard slot (unless going up against a mill deck).
Illusion has universally been thought of as the strongest dice pool just for the combination of Hidden Power and the [[illusion:power]] power action. It's hard to disagree with that stance given that almost every top deck in the history of the game has run illusion. However, the card pool also has the widest variance in the strength of cards. Illusion units tended to be way overcosted. Other illusion cards are very situational, but then it also includes arguably the top two cards in the game. It is the dice pool that is going to have the biggest change with dice recursion being removed and the dice power being changed significantly. We will see if the [[illusion:power]] dominance can overcome all of these changes.