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Top 5 Defining Illusion Cards

Intro

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.

Previous Installments

Top 5 Defining Illusion Cards

#5

Abundance

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.

#4

Gates Thrown Open

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.

#3

Angelic Rescue Angel's Embrace

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.

#2

Summon Shadow Spirit Shadow Spirit

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.

#1

Hidden Power

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.

Summary

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.


Comments

  • Its really strange that Refelections in the Water is not a good card.
    In this Game you play a lot of your units for the text. Some texts it does not delete but it negates a lot of strong effects. But then again it is a worse effect than just exhausting.
    Same goes for Strange Copy which would have been really good against Elephant Rider + Mark of the Goddess but wasn't.

    A lot of the Power Cards in Illusion come from Victorias Deck, with Hidden Power being the obvious exception.
    And ... lot of the worst cards in Ashes come from Victorias deck. 'Worst' as in not even good enough for casual play most of the time.
    Jungle Warrior you can reasonably play. Its not super great but Flash Archer , to Shadows, Body Inversion, Figures in the Fog.
    No other deck has had that many duds. I looked.
    The Phoenixborn is really the glue that held that deck together.

    There are only 2 Decks with illusion dice after Victoria in the timeline. Sembali and Rimea.
    Sembali gave us essentially Shadow Guard and Summon Spectral Assassin, which i would count as honorable mentions, because both play with Turn-tempo (meaningfully) which is very untypical in ashes. Most cards play with round-tempo.
    I always found that to be good design for illusion magic because it is a good fit for the theme of misleading the opponent and not too overpowered.
    The actual illusion keyword was not misleading at all - you know they are illusions and what happens if you attack them.

    Rimea gives only 2 cards for the purposes of this list : Summon Ancestor Spirit and Hollow.
    Hollow is probably an aggro card but replaced in a lot of deck with Beast Warrior or Raptor Herder.
    You can plan around Hollow as a defensive action in your discard pile but i never saw anyone do that to great success.
    I think people also just forget about that option a lot.
    Ancestor Spirit would be a very defining card if players didn't hate the front loaded costs so much. For a reason i might add.
    I also always disliked that you essentially never want 3 copies of that card in your deck because it kills the use case entirely. (Playing 2/3 copies does not give you greate value - its just expansive. Discarding the second copy makes it a blank card for most evaluations, but if it were a different card you could discard it still or ... play it if that is a better option)

    So is there anything mention worthy in the core game ?
    I think people forget about Mist Spirits because they are boring, but its not unimaginable that your opponents cant take that many actions every round to clear out the mist spirits.
    Its not a power card because they get hard countered by natures wrath and some other popular cards but it is not weak sauce either.
    Try killing them with mostly [[natural]] - its expansive. They are also more fun to use then you would think.

    Shadow Counter also you would expect to be good after some number of releases but it amazingly was not great against pretty much anything - maybe against turtle guard or Majestic Titan.
    In most cases it only really deals 3 damage to a Unit which is not terrible but - because of the triggering condition - also not great.

    Turns out a lot of the tempo based cards in Illusion are slightly overcosted which is why they archetype never really evolved.
    There is no deck that uses Rose Fire Dancer and Steady Gaze to create a Swing turn and there should be.
    Rose Fire Dancer would be a lot better with Flute Mages stats of 1/2.

    As it is, this is mostly a list of cards that cheat the cost metric one way or another.
    Its a very defining theme for the dice type. And a little bit sad.
    Abundance was clearly intended as a mill card. It deserves the fifth place because of the Victoria combo, but that was a quite abusive interaction. Not fun at all.

    And yeah, Hidden Power was the one overpowered card in the dice type. But does that not make it kind of undefining ? It essentially says nothing about the structure of your deck.

  • Agree with pretty much all in your list. Illusion cards have some strong use cases, but can be dead cards just as often.

    It's true that Hidden Power is kind of undefining in that sense since it was such an auto-include. But, it's the card you have to play around when your are playing against illusion more so than any other. These types of questions make me realize that I don't really have a great working definition for defining.

  • If a player uses Illusion they are very likely to have included at least one of the cards from this list. That kind of definition mostly works for your existing lists too.
    They are essentially 'the reason' to use the dice type in question.

  • I'm aiming for a few things:

    • Frequently used
    • High Impact or requires opponent to play around it

    - This criteria is why I left off Fire Archer. It doesn't really swing very many games despite being super useful.

    • Either enables or drives a deck's direction

    - This criteria is why I left off Emperor Lion versus Holy Knight and Sun Sister. I probably am over-crediting the latter two because they have unique deck types that you can build, versus Emperor Lion, which, as you mentioned in the other posts, is more just a "good stats" deck.

  • That is legitimate too.