Ascension Buyer's Guide


Posted by Grace on Nov 3, 2016

With many games today representing not just a single purchase but an entire product line, minds have been boggled and wallets have reeled at the prospect of sorting out what the essential add-ons to that base or core game are and what is better left for later. The Review Corner wants to help, and our buyer’s guides – each prepared by an “expert” in the subject – should point you in the right direction whether you are looking to add something new to a favorite game or you are seeking to go all-in from get-go.

Ascension is a fantastic deckbuilding game. For more than six years, Stone Blade Entertainment has pumped out 10 different standalone sets and expansions, dozens of promo cards, collector’s editions, and theme packs. If you’re new to Ascension, it may be difficult to know where to start. Are the early iterations of the game still any good? Are the later releases okay to use as a starting point? Well, I’m here to hold your hand through the world of Vigil where you use abilities from four different factions to… oh forget the lore. You’re going to use runes (money) and power (attack) to collect heroes and constructs, fight monsters, and build the most awesome deck. Whoever earns the most honor (victory points) wins. That’s it. Let’s do this.

The Know-You-Love-It-But-Don’t-Own It:

Year One Collector’s Edition | Year Two Collector’s Edition
If you’ve already played ascension and know you enjoy it, just jump immediately to the Year One and/or Year Two Collector’s Editions. You get fancy foil-finished cards plus promos. If you’re only going to pick one for now, go ahead and start at the beginning with Year One. Get your friends hooked and then you can impress them with Year Two.

The I-Want-To-Try-But-Not-Commit:
Apprentice Edition
So, you’ve heard about Ascension, but aren’t so sure? Well, for $10, the Apprentice Edition is worth it even if you only play once. You get a fantastic sample of what the game has to offer with cards from the first two sets. This kind of like that miniature spoon with a morsel of ice cream to figure out whether you’re going to commit to that flavor or not. So, go on. Try it.

The Must Haves

Ascension: Deckbuilding Game + Return of the Fallen

I know it sounds lame, but I have to recommend starting out with the base set. Originally called Chronicle of the Godslayer, this set has stood the test of time. Discovering the cool combos in the core set will whet your appetite for more variety. And hey, if you’re going to start here, you might as well throw in the first expansion too.

Return of the Fallen, a small box addition to the base set, not only gives you more cards (and more is always good in Ascension), it also introduces the Fate effect. When some cards enter the center row, an effect is triggered. Sometimes you get to banish some garbage from your hand/discard pile and sometimes you get a free Mystic, just for being you. With this set, just mix it together with the base cards and go.

Storm of Souls
One thing I love is when expansions give you more of the stuff you first fell in love with in the game. Storm of Souls does just that. Of course, you get more cards, but there are also events and trophy monsters that add just a sprinkling more of complexity to the game while also giving you a good chunk more to do and think about. The perennial cultist punching bag has a new companion, the fanatic (strength: 3), which you keep in front of you when you defeat. Then, when events are revealed from the deck (and stay until replaced), you can turn in your fanatic for an extra little something. For example, some give you an additional money while others may give you a point or one-time banish. Trophy monsters act similarly to fanatics: when you defeat them, they stay in front of you until you want to cash them in for whatever bonus they provide. Like any big box set, you can play this as is, but I like it best when mixed with the first two.

Realms Unraveled
Hands down, this is my favorite expansion to date. Honestly, you could probably start with this set, but it just doesn’t feel right to jump straight into Episode VII without having seen the prequels (or at least the necessary ones). Realm Unraveled introduces multi-faction heroes with multi-unite effects. This means some heroes belong to two factions, which gives you the best of both worlds. A Lifebound/Void hero that’s going to let me banish and give me points? Hell yes! The multi-unite abilities are great too. For some cards, the heroes get really excited when they see their faction bros and their special high five gives you a bonus. For example, some Mechana heroes give you additional money when they are paired. And if you get two heroes, both with multi-unite abilities? That’s right, you get the bonus twice. It’s absolutely awesome.

The Nice-to-Haves

Immortal Heroes
This was the second small box expansion that nicely complemented Storm of Souls (the second big box release). Per usual, you get more heroes, monsters, and constructs to learn, love, hate, and combo, but you also get soul gems. These are a separate deck of cards that are copies of heroes from previous expansions. In typical Ascension style, you never know what you’re going to get, so playing a card that gives you a soul gem is like pulling the arm on a slot machine and hoping everything lines up and, sometimes, the gamble is totally worth it.

Dawn of Champions
I almost included this set in the Must Haves because I never play Realms Unraveled without it, especially since it adds more of those sweet multi-faction heroes. However, it’s kind of a wonky expansion to get used to at first. You’re given a champion from one of the four factions. Every time you acquire a card from that faction, you put counters on your champion. Once they hit a certain amount, their card goes into your deck. At first, it seems like you’d only ever want to buy one type of faction, but as with most Ascension sets, once you start learning the cards and nuances of each set, you see deeper strategies emerge.

The mix of money and attack in Ascension works so well, it seems silly to try to throw in a third currency. However, that’s just what Dreamscape does with Insight, which comes in adorable orange-shaped egg tokens. Some cards provide you this currency, which you can then use on your turn to purchase cards from your dreamscape: a separate hand of cards that only you can purchase from. No more racing to acquire/defeat for that big powerful guy in the center! You’ve got your own secret weapon in store, but just remember that your opponent does too.

X: War of Shadows
After nine sets, it must be hard to keep coming up with more innovations for a game. However, for their tenth set, Stone Blade managed to pull it off. X: War of Shadows give you not one, but two new twists. First, dual cost cards. For those of you who liked to stack your deck with Mystics or Heavy Infantry, no more! You need to balance both money and attack to purchase cards. Second, there are either day or night cards, which have effects that only trigger if it’s day or night on the board (shown by having majority in day or night cards in the center row). For veteran fans, this is a solid set and getting a handle on that day/night mechanic will keep you coming back for a while.

For Completionists
For those of you who just have to have it all, these sets are probably the ones you can get last.

Rise of Vigil
While always trying to do something new and fresh with each release, this third big box set introduced energy shards. These cards are deck neutral (since they have a draw action on them) and are used to power up other cards. For example, a card may give you 2 attack, but if you have 3 energy, you can get an additional 2 on top of that. The energy mechanic can be a really fun, but it can also create some very swingy games- arguably too swingy, even for Ascension. However, if you like crazy combos and feeling super powerful, this is the set for you.

Darkness Unleashed
This small box expansion to Rise of Vigil helps provide you a little more deck control as the dark energy shards will banish that junk in your hand/discard. You’ll still get some wild and crazy combos, but if you’re going to go big, then go all the way. Like the other small box expansions, just throw this in with its big box brother and go to town.

Rat King | Rat Queen | Leprechaun | Samael Claus
All these theme packs are fun, adding their own flavor to the game when they come up, but I admit, they are completely unnecessary. When you get these, you are declaring yourself a True Fan. But hey, these are a great way when you need just a few more bucks to top off that order to qualify for free shipping. And while you’re at it, better start coming up with some storage solutions to organize all of this awesomeness.