Ascension: Deckbuilding Game Strategy Guide – How To Play Like A Boss

Ascension is a Deckbuilding, Collectible Card Game where the objective is to collect more Honor Points than your opponent through various methods. It builds upon the popular deckbuilding mechanic where you build a deck during the course of a game instead of beforehand, and this mechanic has been so successful that it has been reproduced in many other deckbuilders, both in paper and digital form.

As far as deckbuilders go, I am a huge fan of Ascension in particular, and I have both the actual card game and the digital app version installed on my iPad. I always find myself turning it on for a quick game every now and again since it’s such a relatively short, but highly addictive game. I am obsessed with Ascension, so I’ve decided to write a strategy guide for beginners, as well as provide further hints and tips for those a little more adept at the game, in the hopes that my experience will help at least one person to be a better player of this wickedly awesome game! I don’t profess to be one of the world’s best at the game, but I do have enough play time to share my knowledge and limited expertise with those who have been seeking such a thing as this guide.

Please note that this guide is written more from the perspective of the digital app version available in the iOS App StoreGoogle Play (Android) and Steam (PC) stores. We will also only be covering the initial base game in this guide in order to keep things light and simple. Later expansions will be covered in future guides.

So let’s dig straight in and get started with a couple of basics… Strap in, it’s going to fun!

Runes-equals-Buying-Power

When going down the path of Runes, make sure to pick a few higher-value Rune cards over having lots of low-value Rune cards. Here, I would choose either the Landtalker or The All-Seeing Eye for extra card draw which is always invaluable.

Introduction to Ascension

I want to first talk a little about the basic game mechanics in Ascension. The first thing to cover is how we begin, which is with the same starting deck that each player has, 10 cards which are relatively useless and expendable later on, but necessary at the start. These come in the form of 8 Apprentice and 2 Militia cards. Each will give you access to your basic resources: Apprentices give you 1 Rune and Militia give you 1 Power, respectively. You will use these to purchase new cards during the course of the game and defeat Monsters in the Center Row.

As your deck grows, dumping these starting cards as early as possible with the banishing mechanic (which removes the card from your hand or deck and places it into the Void) will be important, as you’ll want to keep your deck as slim as possible in order to draw better quality hands each turn and combo faster with more powerful cards.

The playing field really only consists of a few zones, and you’ll want to be familiar with these when playing, as they can sometimes be an important part of game play as the interact with certain mechanics, such as cards that work with the Void or Discard Pile(s).

Firstly, the Deck Zone is where your deck goes: nothing complicated here! You also have a Discard Pile, which is where spent cards and acquired cards go, until they need to be shuffled back into the deck when you need to draw but your deck doesn’t have enough cards to do so. The Void is next to the main draw deck (called the Center Deck), and a lot of cards end up there. While technically a “removed from play” kind of zone, cards will sometimes come back out of it due to individual card effects.

Further, the area directly in front of you is for Construct and Trophy cards. These are cards that will remain in play between turns as they have various permanent or triggered effects, or can otherwise be spent to trigger an ability. In front of that is a temporary zone where you play the cards from your hand before clearing them away at the of the turn. Always clean up after yourself when you’re done here. Didn’t your mother teach you the value of cleaning up after yourself?

Finally, the most important zone is the Center Row, as this is where the main bulk of the game’s action takes place. Here you will buy cards by spending the given resources as stated on your cards, and other purchased cards. In addition to these zones, there are three permanently available stacks of cards to purchase or defeat: Mystics, Heavy Infantry, and the Cultist (a later expansion adds another, but don’t worry about that for now).

During your turn, you can play cards in whichever order you’d like to as long as you’re able to legally do so. The goal is to deplete the game’s stock of Honor Points and when this happens, if you were the first player of the game, the game ends, otherwise the second player gets one final round before scoring occurs. Seems unfair, but remember that first player always gets the all-important first pick, which can make or break the whole direction of a deck and some cards are just objectively better than others so being able to purchase first from the opening selection can be a huge advantage.

Opening-Hand-at-the-Start-of-the-Game

Militia cards can be frustrating at the start of the game, as they will often stop you from having a perfect 5-Rune hand. Luckily, in this example, there are enough lower-cost cards that it doesn’t matter, but it’s still worth banishing your Militias as soon as you can as they are the weakest card in the game.

Choices, Choices…

Now we’ve gone through the basics of Ascension, let’s move onto a little strategy, unless you’ve already fallen asleep… In which case, WAKE UP!! There we go. Ahem. Let’s proceed.

Though they can be an important part in gaining an early advantage, sometimes it can be tempting in the earlier stages of the game to load up too heavily on Mystic and Heavy Infantry cards. Limit these purchases if you can, as they will later be dead weight if they don’t have any extra effects. Furthermore, unless you’re going for a more combat-focused game, you can sometimes completely ignore the Heavy Infantry cards altogether (much to their dismay!). You have to remember that you’ll want to keep your deck as light as possible in order to get to the more powerful cards, much faster. Heavy Infantry don’t help you achieve this.

Your first initial purchases should be Mystics, unless you can afford something better in the Center Row, such as Arha Initiate, Void Initiate, Temple Librarian, Arbiter of the Precipice, Twofold Askara, or Ascetic of the Lidless Eye, which is a stretch at 5 Runes, but amazing in the early stages of the game. The common theme among these cards is that they’ll either grant you extra card draws, or offer a deck-thinning banish effect: these are the two most important things to focus on when you get going. It will hurt you immensely if you fail in the early stages of the game to acquire less of these than your opponent.

Do not be afraid to dump an Apprentice or Militia into the Void using Void Initiate, Arbiter of the Precipice, or a similar effect card, even if you don’t have the ability to purchase a card on the turn you do this. You’ll reap the rewards later by being able to make many combo plays happen in your subsequent turns. Did I mention already how important it is to keep your deck thin? Yes? Well, I meant it!

You won’t always have an opportunity to buy amazing cards at the start, so you’ll want to know which cards can be a decent purchase now, but reap larger rewards later on. I recommend at this point you opt for Power and Rune modifiers, and then Constructs. The first two will give you bigger boosts than those available from the Mystic and Heavy Infantry, thus allowing you to toss them into the void once you’ve run out of your starting cards.

Constructs will give you permanent bonuses that stack later in the game, but have the added benefit of having large Honor Point values, I’ll talk about a few of these a little later on. For other beneficial Hero cards, look at; Seer of the Forked Path will help remove cards from the Center Row that you want gone for a variety of reasons, with the main strategy here being to disrupt your opponent’s plans by removing cards you know will work well in their deck. Shade of the Black Witch will grant the same Power amount as a Militia, but will help by deck-thinning, too. Arha Templar is another decent purchase early on, allowing you to defeat a Monster in the Center Row that has 4 Power or less — a feat you wouldn’t be able to do without more than one Militia.

On a side note, if you do find yourself with 2 or more Power at the end of the turn, don’t forget to defeat the Cultist as many times as you can if there is nothing better in the Center Row to defeat. This will give you 1 Honor per time, and can make a significant difference at the end of the game. Be sure to keep the silly scream sound on in the game menu, as it is so very satisfying to hear them die over and over!

The-Cultist-Screams-when-he-is-sent-to-the-Void

Sometimes. forgetting the Cultist could mean the difference between winning or losing. Even though it’s a tiny amount of Honor Points, it all adds up. Luckily, the digital version of the game will remind you if you still have unspent Power, but will your friends playing the card game at the table with you be so kind? Probably not…!

Streamlining the Deck

So you’ve dumped a lot of your early deck into the Void, and quite possibly some of your purchased cards, too. Now is the time to hone in on your overall strategy. You will at this point probably take one of two routes: collecting more Honor Points from buying Constructs, or by defeating Monsters in the Center Row using Power to gain Honor Points.

I myself prefer to go for Constructs, as I will likely have more Runes than Power per turn at this stage in the game due to my play style, but that’s not to say that high Power is a bad route to go, as it all depends on what cards will fill the Center Row. (Always remember to adapt your strategy to what is happening in the Center Row, unless it’s later in the game when your deck already has a shape of its own.)

Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to grab a couple of Constructs along the way when opting for the Monster route as those extra Honor Points do all stack up, especially when you grab the late-game Constructs such as Hedron Cannon, Hedron Link Device, and The Grand Design. All of these Mechana Constructs are worth 8, 7, and 6 Honor Points respectively. That’s a huge boost when you consider most Hero cards will net you 2-4 Honor Points at the end of the game.

However, with Constructs you need to be careful as they will have to be drawn first before going into play, wasting a draw. This is particularly bad when they’re vulnerable to being destroyed, as they can put back into the discard pile and cycle back into the deck to be drawn again many times over, if your opponent is feeling particularly evil and they have the means to do so. This isn’t such a bad thing with Burrower MK II, as this will give you an extra card draw when itself or another Mechana Construct is put into play under your control. It will also grant you 3 Honor Points at the end of the game too, so I would suggest picking up a couple of these if you can, as they only cost 3 Runes.

At this point you’ve probably noticed a theme with the card factions in the base set: Mechana focus on Honor Points, Void focus on banishing cards to the Void and gaining Power, Lifebound will help obtain Runes and Honor Points, and Enlightened focus on card draw and card advantage.

Lifebound tend to not lend themselves to any overall strategy and act as filler for the deck. There are some good Lifebound cards however, and therefore the faction should not be overlooked. Cetra, Weaver of Stars allows you to acquire any Hero in the Center Row and place it on top of your deck, a great play late-game when coupled with a card in hand that grants card draw after you do this. Druids of the Stone Circle does the same thing as Cetra, but to a lesser extent where the Hero should cost 3 or less. This will also allow you to, if desired, put a Mystic on top of your deck, but it’s not advised unless you’re desperate or it’s the end of the game and you want the Honor Points. Although not super amazing, Wolf Shaman is a decent 3 Rune purchase or Druids target that’ll grant you one Rune when played, along with an additional card draw.

Twofold-Askara-is-One-of-the-Most-Powerful-Cards-in-the-Game

One of the most versatile, and powerful, cards you can acquire from the base game is Twofold Askara: able to copy the effect of any other Hero you’ve played this turn, it works fantastically in any stage of the game, early, mid or late. The excitement from copying the effect of a 7-cost card never gets old!

The Final Stretch – ‘Honor Thy Self’

Once the Honor Points pool starts to get low, you know it’ll soon be time to focus on gaining as much of it as possible, either from the pool itself, or from other sources. Remember that in the final turn, it is possible to still gain Honor Points from the pool, even if it is empty.

If you’ve taken the Power route, you’ll be defeating many big Monsters per turn, such as Avatar of the Fallen, Xeron, Duke of Lies, and Earth Tyrant. All of these Monsters will reward you with Honor Points, but will also be coupled with beneficial effects, even at this late stage.

If you opted for the Runes, or Card Draw route, you’ll be acquiring enough Runes to get the larger cost Constructs or Heroes that’ll not only give you access to great effects, they’ll also give you a ton of Honor Points for the final game scoring.

I personally love the late part of the game, as it is at this point that I will draw many cards from my deck every turn. Sometimes, your combos can help you draw up to 6+ cards that turn, which is a whole lot of fun to do. The thing that makes it exciting at this point is that you’ll be playing turns a lot faster and with more gusto than in the early-game. You’ll still want to keep an eye on what cards your opponent is acquiring, as you’ll need to know how many extra Honor Points are in their deck.

Once the final turn has been taken, it’s time to tally it all up… How well did you fare?

The-Score-Sheet-at-the-end-of-the-Game

Sometimes, being the final player to take a turn in the match can make a huge difference; enough to determine whether you win or lose. Remember this when depleting the game’s stock of Honor Points, and always try to work out if it would be better to end the game sooner, or one turn later.

Beyond the Core Game – The Expansions

Once you have mastered the core game, you will want to purchase some of the expansions for Ascension. There are plenty to choose from and they will not only introduce new and exciting cards, they’ll also bring with them new mechanics to master. I especially love the Soul Gems that can take on the form of any card in the game and Energy Shards, that act as a card draw and Energy that will Energize cards for more powerful effects. The more Energy you can stack together in a turn, the better.

So far there are 6 expansions to the core game, each one brings something new, or expands on a mechanic. My favorites include Rise of Vigil, Darkness Unleashed, and Storm of Souls for the wide and varied new effects and mechanics they introduce into the game. Be sure to check as many of them out as possible!

What do you think of this guide? Got any hints, tips and tricks of your own? Share in the comments below! Thanks for reading!

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Chris Lucas
Author: Chris Lucas View all posts by
Chris is an experienced card game player, specializing in Yu-Gi-Oh!. He is an official Konami Event Organizer and Judge. He also runs an online store selling Yu-Gi-Oh! and other card game products. Chris enjoys studying the meta-game and coming up with efficient deck strategies.
  • wingsforme

    Thank you Chris, great guide. Just got the digital game and it has grabbed me!
    Are you also planning to write about the expansions? Looking very much to read your thoughts on that.

  • Frank Roitzsch

    Love reading strategy guides about a game I really like. At the beginning I didn’t like Ascension very much, I was used to Dominion with its more strategy based gameplay. Ascension has more tactic elements because the game progress isn’t that predetermined.
    Some points I see different from your advises.
    I doubt an Arha Initiate is a good (one of the first) buy except you have no use for 1 leftover rune. I mean it is nothing more than one honor+. Buying him (and not banish him till the end of the game) it’s like to kill a cultist one time without effecting the honor pool. That isn’t a card drawer! A card drawer lets you draw 2 or more cards. In Dominion it’s called a Cantrip. It only replaces itself like it’s not in your deck. In the Basegame the Arha Initiate has no impact on building your deck. The Wolf Shaman also is a Cantrip. It gives you one rune+ and replaces itself (lets you draw a card which you had drawn without the Wolf Shaman in your deck) It’s like to have a Snapdragon for one turn (without the honor getting bonus). So, it’s a good card but don’t think the +1 card lets you drawing your deck. Similar to this is a Village Idiot in Dominion who buys lots of villages with no use for the +Actions. If there would be a lot of Arha Initiates buying them wouldn’t boost your game in any way.

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