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Improve your game, simple tips

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Here are five simple tips to help you improve your game:


1) Unless playing with a set that includes treasure, priortize banish above most cards.  If playing with a set that has treasure, purchase treasure granting options first.  Banish removes weaker cards so you draw stronger ones more readily.


2) Purchase constructs that have continual effects (i.e., gives you an additional power or rune).  That constant source could be the difference between getting the five-rune cards or killing that five-battle creature when you only have four runes or battle.


3) Purchase can-trips when you see them. Can-trips are cards that replace themselves when played.  For example, Arha Initiate or Wolf Shaman. This means you get free honor, or honor with an ability in your deck.


4) Observe your opponent's actions.  If she starts buying up mechana constructs, don't let him get all of them.  If she plays three apprentices and two militia on the first turn and there is nothing good buying for five, consider not purchasing something on the board to prevent good cards from landing.


5) If you know the set you are playing in has a card with a FATE that banishes cards (i.e., Emri Soulslayer, out of SOS). Avoid hitting the Play All, unless not purchasing from the center row, and play your cards one at a time, so you don't miss out on that banish opportunity

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I would like to re-emphasize the advice of not hitting "play all." There are many cards in many sets that let you banish things out of your hand. I personally drag the cards individually, just to avoid goofing by hitting "play all." If you want to buy something that costs 3 runes, drag the cards for 3 ruins, then buy it before playing more cards. The card that flops might let you do something like banish out of your hand. "Play all" should really be avoided IMO.


Another simple tip is to learn the value of cards by seeing which ones opponents buy up right away. There is a reason everybody buys Lifebound Muse; she's worth 3 points and if energized can let you acquire any hero in the game, even if they cost 9 runes. So look for cards that people buy a lot, and try to figure out why they are good cards.

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howdy --


okay, so, in games like MtG & SolForge, where drafting is common and widespread, you tend to see "priority ladders --" that is, lists of the cards in a given environment, ranked in descending order by their value...


is there a resource like that available for Ascension...?  if not, would one of you experienced & knowledgeable types be able to make one...?


in particular, one that addresses the environment consisting of:


Chronicle of the Godslayer

Rise of the Fallen

Promo Packs 1&2


this idea may not work at all, i realize...  i think this is one of the rare games where players cannot effectively "netdeck" their ways to success [at least to a degree of success where progressng any further becomes completely dependent upon skill]...  it seems like this game is all about the journey, rather than the destination...


peace --


-- khs

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Rich Hagon (the very excitable color commentator on professional MtG tournament coverage) wrote a series of articles doing a card by card analysis some time after Chronicles came out. I'm sure you can Google it. There are a few sites with some similar content, but there's very little. Ascension isn't a game with a strong tournament presence, which is what inspires that sort of commentary.

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Strategy Article: Tempo (Article by Alex Brown, strategies pertain to CotG card pool only)

Tempo is the rate at which a game is reaching its conclusion. In Ascension, tempo is measured by the rate at which the Honor pile is being depleted. This is the primary reason why the values of Ascension cards are not static. Accurately measuring the tempo of a game of Ascension will help you make better decisions about the worth of particular cards in a game state. 


Arbiter of the Precipice is widely considered the best card to purchase on the first turn. It’s text, allowing you to draw two cards and banish a card from your hand, combines two mechanisms to reduce variance in your draws, improving future access to more powerful cards. The drawback is that it only gives you a single honor point. At the same cost, Rocket Courier X-99 gives you four honor. If both cards are available to purchase, you have to decide whether the access granted by Arbiter is going to be worth the greater contribution to your final score the Rocket will make.

Vaguely competent players will tell you in a heartbeat that this is a no-brainer: in the early game, what the Arbiter gives you will generate more honor over the course of the game than what the Rocket can do. Just as quickly, they will tell you that in the late game, the Rocket is easily the pick. Maybe the commentators are right, and Ascension is really a simple game with automatic decisions for familiar players. What else could there be?


The superficial value of a card is its honor score. Arbiter is worth one, Rocket is worth four. We can compare these cards when assessing one obvious capacity and another more subtle capacity. The obvious capacity is the abilities printed on the card. Can those abilities be used to generate more honor? For example, Flytrap Witch might notionally be worth two honor for five runes, but the first time you play it you already have two more honor and an extra card to boot! Clearly, printed honor values aren’t everything.


The more subtle capacity is the potential for a card to obstruct your potential to buy cards or defeat monsters by clogging your draws. Mechana Constructs like the Rocket are worth a lot of points, but they rarely have useful text, so when you draw them they limit your ability to generate significant amounts of the currencies of Ascension, runes and power. Similarly, buying three cards for four runes might give you three honor, but that’s three other cards preventing you from accessing your cards with stronger abilities. 

The nuance comes when deciding the stage of the game. When is the early game? Is it when the honor pile is less than half empty? Is it when players have only bought two or three extra cards? What about the late game? Is it when players stop buying Mystics and Heavy Infantry? Is it when Avatar of the Fallen is defeated?

It is likely that it is none of these things. Instead, we can measure the stage of the game, and the relative worth of our options, by assessing how quickly the honor pile is being depleted. This involves looking at how much honor is being collected now and how much is likely to be collected in the future. If a player has just put Murasma into play, the pace has just gotten that much faster!


Strong players understand this concept. For those without experience winning at Ascension, a more accessible notion would be to think about deck cycles. The tempo of the game determines how many more times you will cycle through your deck. As you can always play every card you draw in Ascension, this then mandates how many more times you will be able to play a particular card. In turn, this then alters the value of the card. 

To return to our first example, if you are only going to draw the Arbiter one more time, it is unlikely to recover the three honor points lost when foregoing the Rocket. In short, the more times you can play a card, the more you should think about purchasing for its abilities. The inverse is that if you foresee being unable to play the card many times, you should value it more by its honor score. 

Understanding this leads to a more detailed understanding of how advantage is created from turn-to-turn. Each turn will leave one player with a surplus or deficit in honor. A player buying a single Rocket will have won the turn by plus-three from a player buying a single Arbiter. Plus-three is a large advantage gained when only considering purchased heroes and constructs. Still, it isn’t affecting the honor pool at all. What is?

The honor pool is mostly depleted through the defeat of monsters, with the ever ready Cultist taking the bulk of the pain. While heroes and constructs can provide powerful abilities leading to turns with large quantities of power and runes available, they also must take space in your deck, and not all can replace themselves or give you the same hand every turn. Similarly, monsters have an obvious capacity and a subtle capacity: they increase your overall honor while also hastening the end of the game. 

Honor tokens seem to have no drawback. They give you points that directly lead to winning. Still, they are a double-edged sword. Acquiring ever-growing amounts of honor tokens are great when you are winning the honor race, but can be troublesome when you are losing. This is because the faster the honor pool is being depleted, the less turns you have to overcome the disadvantage. 

What this means is that while you are managing the acquisition of cards with powerful abilities, you also must make sure understand the tempo of the game created by the rate of honor depletion. Monsters not only provide honor that doesn’t obstruct your deck, many have useful abilities that limit opposing constructs or provide banish effects. You must make sure you are acquiring enough power to compete for monsters as much, if not more in the base game, as you would acquire runes to purchase cards for building a deck. The Cultist mechanism is more dangerous than the supply of Mystics and Heavy Infantry, as players with too much power on a turn can gain honor without diluting their decks, while too many runes often leads to inefficient point-gathering.


Understanding tempo, and how to measure it using deck cycles, is the fundamental skill behind Ascension. Unenlightened commentary has suggested there are only certain cards worth buying: card-drawers, deck-thinners and Mechana constructs. The reality is that these are the easiest choices you make at particular points in the game, but those cards rarely make up more than a quarter of your overall purchases. Instead, winning in Ascension requires astute judgement of how tempo affects the value of abilities and honor on a card. Once you begin to understand how quickly cards can change in value, regardless of cost, you can improve other decisions you make in the game. 

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Strategy Article: Managing the Center Row.

"Managing the center row is about minimizing opportunities for your opponents"

A good illustration of these principles is Runic Lycanthrope. Haughty observers have been known to claim this card is strictly better than Mystic. Using the term ‘strictly better’ has always invited rebuttal! What the cognoscenti fail to realise is that Runic Lycanthrope is often worse than Mystic. This is all due to the invisible ability Runic Lycanthrope has that could read ‘when this card is acquired, give your opponent a new card to acquire/defeat’. 


Every card in the centre row has this text, and until the final play of the game this ability presents important repercussions. Could that next card be Avatar of the Fallen? Could it be a dangerous Mechana Construct? Could it leave honor points open ready to be claimed by a power-hungry opponent? Does it leave Arbiter on the table on the second turn? These are all game-winning opportunities for your opponents, and you need to weigh up whether your play is going to be worth those risks. 

Of course, you probably can’t win at Ascension without buying cards from the centre row. Often what you buy will be worth the probability of turning over a more dangerous card. Once you have a working valuation of the cards, this is the other critical skill you need to master to be a consistent winner at Ascension. For those who think the game lacks skill, every turn is a battleground for small advantages, and for every turn you can deny an opponent a net honour win, you are improving your chances of victory. 

Managing the centre row is also about maximising your own opportunities. 

A skill crucial to success at Ascension is precision. In my opinion this is where the competitive Magic influence shines brightest. Magic has its share of luck, but the best tournament players are able to precisely execute turns over and over even when complete accuracy seems unnecessary. Nine times out of ten it won’t matter that you bought Wolf Shaman before Arha Initiate, but that one time the Burrower Mark II you wanted in the endgame turns up could be all the difference. 


Good Ascension players execute turns to maximise their opportunities. When they have to buy cards from the centre row, they buy the cheaper cards first or they rationalise acquisitions they have to make. Good players don’t put their entire hand on the table before they have to. Good players understand that automatically buying Tormented Soul or Samael’s Trickster when you have three power is a bad move. Good players manage the multiple decision points in a turn and accumulate tiny advantages turn after turn.

Precision turn-play is what separates Ascension from many of the other deckbuilders. Ascension is a game of efficiency, whereas games like Dominion are about creativity. It’s much easier to have fun in a creative game, because you are trying to be innovative. When you make mistakes in Ascension, there’s nowhere to hide; when your opponent capitalises, their edge can balloon into a runaway freight train of a lead. Managing the centre row to maximise your own opportunities through precise play is such a subtle skill that many disparaging commentators haven’t seemed to notice it!

Managing the centre row is about assessing when the row will peak. 

Ascension has been derided as a game without strategy. Glass half-full detractors patronise Ascension as tactical. Personally I’m not sure whether a meaningful consensus on the practical differences in these terms exists anymore. What I do know is that while the game-state is always changing, at some point in the early to middle game you will need to make an assessment about how the row will peak

By peaking I want to introduce what I consider an advanced concept, even if some of the more self-regarding gamers think it obvious. Something many players don’t seem to understand is that you it is next-to-impossible to win without defeating the bigger monsters more often than your opponent. Yggdrasil Staff is the only card from the base game that allows you to simply hit Cultists and drain the honor pool. If you can’t influence the honor pool, you are going to fall too far behind, as players defeating monsters just score more points than those acquiring cards. I’m sure in later sets the balance will shift, but for now an important line is drawn. 


Peaking is when the game ceases to value cards for their abilities more than it does for their honour. In the early game that Snapdragon can be amazing, but it loses its lustre pretty quickly. Lots of players like to avoid Arha Templar and its clunkiness, but pretty soon it becomes great value for runes. In my first article I taught you how tempo alters card valuations, but the corollary is to understand whether this centre row requires you to take Runes, Power or a flexible combination of both. 

If you are hellbent on acquiring all of the big sixes and sevens, you aren’t trying to win at Ascension. What you should be doing is assessing how much time you have to go after a few big cards that will give you better prospects of defeating monsters than your opponents. This is why card-drawers and deck-thinners are not the be-all and end-all; they are great early on, but in the middle game the humble Avatar Golem or Voidthirster will be needed to take your greater deck access and convert it into honour. I will go out on a limb and say Ascension is generally such a quick game that you only ever need one Arbiter of the Precipice. Flames welcome!

In Ascension you spend the early game improving your access to your better cards or you increase the average power or runes per card. Both of these methods can win; the second-level AI is a good example of the second option being viable (I think people lose to it much more than they like to admit). When you look at the centre row in the early game you need to decide what is going to stick around. Have we seen several Seer of the Forked Path or Mistake of Creation? Best to stay flexible. Is the centre row clogged with Cetra, Hedron Cannon and Master Dhartha? Buy Mystics for four. Are you staring at four different Tyrants? Value power. 


Ascension is a game with many interesting decisions to make. Understanding the deck makeup will help. Playing your turn precisely will help. Evaluating the center row will help. Of course, sometimes you will get blown out by an opponent 3-5ing into Wolf Shaman, Flytrap Witch and get buried under optimal Apprentice draws, but for the most part there are umpteen decision points in a fifteen minute game of Ascension, you just haven’t noticed them yet!.

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hey --


wow, those were two great posts, thanks a million, OmenRaven...!!!


i just wanted to post a quick "thank you" to everyone who has offered up their experience an insights on Ascension strategy & tactics in the forums here...  as a result, my game has come quite a ways toward being better, although i'm still just not really very good at Ascension, despite putting a lot of work into it...  the fault there lies with me, given the treasure trove of information you have all been so forthcoming with...  just because i stink at it doesn't mean i don't enjoy it, though...  really, thanks, all...


peace --


-- khs

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