Ashlander Punisher is the Monthly Reward Card for December 2018. Bethesda kicks-off 2019 for their Elder Scrolls Legends franchise with an absolute blast of an Archer card.
Before we look at the uses and synergies, let’s take a moment to admire the card art. Isn’t it absolutely stunning? That grey-skinned, pointy-eared Dark Elf is covering his mouth and nose because smoke, death and destruction are paving his path. His leather armor leaves him enough agility to evade enemy blasts. With eyes totally focused, he is absolutely determined to slaughter the next enemies with two fabulous weapons in his hands. Fires are burning in the background from all the Ashlanders he has been slaying. Ashlander Punisher is an amazingly well-executed piece of card art.
Equipped with Breakthrough, the 4-cost 5/4 Dark Elf will certainly cause trouble for your opponent when played on-curve. The power of 5 is a good attack value for a 4-cost card. You get it on two other cards in Agility (Green), both are 5/3. Strength (Red) has seven cards with a cost of 4 or less that have a power of 5 or more. Here, we have:
- Stormcloak Battalion, a 5/5 being pseudo-tutored by Stormcloak Vanguard.
- Ulfric’s Zealot, a 5/2 that gives a Heavy Battleaxe on Last Gasp.
- Blighted Alit, a 5/3 dealing 2 damage to yourself every turn and works best in very Prophecy-heavy decks, only.
- False Incarnate as a 5/4 who stops your opponent from gaining life
- The 6/2 Whiterun Trooper who is inferior to:
- Lumbering Ogrim, a very powerful 7/4 that unfortunately cannot gain Cover.
- Bog Lurcher, the 9/1 devastator who is the key to the Bog Lurcher Rage deck.
You can trade Ashlander Punisher against Pit Lion, Bleakcost Troll, Siege Catapult, Sower of Revenge or The Black Dragon. The Breakthrough keyword will deal damage to your opponent whenever you hit something with 4 health or less. This makes him a great tool in Aggro or Midrange decks, IF you get to pick the trade. Additionally, with Breakthrough, you get to deal damage and to trigger Pilfer. Together with the Slay buff, you are likely retaining a 7-attack creature that your opponent still needs to deal with. You want the Punisher to be at least a 2:1 trade.
While not bad, his health of 4 is a bit tricky. Why? Because he is absolutely in Lightning Bolt range, and your opponent will not hesitate to use it, if they can. Additionally, there are several 2-drops or 3-drops who would trade into the Punisher as well. Green Pact Ambusher, Young Mammoth, Mournhold Traitor, Eastmarch Crusader, Cornerclub Gambler are only a few examples.
There is currently almost no creature with a cost of 4 or below that has 4 attack and 6 health. Thus, the Punisher will at least trade 1:1 if played on curve. When you dictate the trade, you will gain tempo and an even bigger swing. If you cannot dictate the trade you will likely lose tempo with him. This being said – which lane is best for a Punisher on-curve?
- Opponent has empty Field Lane: Play him to field lane to dictate the trade. Particularly, if you have a Guard or an even bigger threat to follow-up with.
- Opponent has a creature in Shadow Lane: Play him to Shadow Lane to oppose and trade in for that creature. Particularly, if the opponent’s creature has neither Lethal nor Ward and less than 4 power and 4 health. This will likely allow you to start gaining control over the Shadow Lane, unless your opponent can respond with a Guard having 5-health or more.
- Opponent has creature in Field Lane: See, if they can dictate the trade. Take into account any potential items or damage dealing actions your opponent might have in hand. If you think that yomight get him to survive one turn it might be worth it.
At Parity, when both players are relying on their top-deck draw, Ashlander Punisher can allow you to gain advantage if you manage to trade him 2 for 1. For this you need to be able to dictate the trades, so being in control of field lane is key in this scenario. Certainly, he is not a Sotha Sil or a Divath Fyr, who you would love to draw at late-game Parity, but during mid-game Parity the Punisher is certainly a fierce warrior, your opponent needs to deal with actively.
When you are winning, i.e. your opponent is on a 2 turn clock, the Ashlander’s Breakthrough ability can come in handy to push through your opponent’s guard with a bit of extra damage. Of course he is not a 10/10 by himself, but in the right deck, with Pilfer and/ or Slay synergies, he can certainly help support your attack, and if you get him to survive the first trade, his next swing will even be better.
When you are in need of a turnaround, Ashlander Punisher is not the best card in the world. He doesn’t immediately force your opponent to trade into him. His +1 buff ability will likely not help you a lot to deal with bigger threats, because you simply do not have the time for it to matter anymore.
Ashlander Punisher Getting Health Buffs
Goblin Skulk and Maple Shield turn Ashlander Punisher into a 5/7 powerhouse. Any other item that buffed his health by 1 would be equally suitable, maybe something that gives him Rally. In Hlaalu, you can use Divine Fervor to get him out of range for Lightning Bolts as well.
Ashlander Punisher Moving in Shadows
Ashlander Punisher will benefit tremendously from lane moves as they would allow you to more often dictate the trades you are getting. For example, if you play him to Shadow Lane and next turn move to attack in Field, or play him into an empty field, trade on your next turn and then hide him in the Shadows for some additional face damage on the following turn, you might get a lot of value from him. Additionally, Ashlander Punisher could get that +1 health buff he so desperately needs to be kept out of Lightning Bolt range from Dune Smuggler.
During mid-game, with 7- magicka, Ashlander Punisher and Shadowmaster form a potent duo to regain control over the Field Lane. Play Ashlander to field lane first and protect him with Shadowmaster from that Lightning Bolt or even Cast into Time/ Piercing Javelin. Next turn he will most likely get you a favorable trade and deal some more damage to your opponent’s face.
Remember, you want to be dictating the trades with Ashlander Punisher to gain buffs from him. How about turning the Field lane into a Shadow Lane using Hidden Trail? This would also allow you to potentially regain control over the field lane and provide all your creatures in Shadow Lane with another +1 power buff for some additional reach.
Umbra or Stendarr’s Hammer
Equip Ashlander Punisher with Umbra to turn him into a 8/9 slaying machine. His first pilfer will simply deal 8 damage. If the Punisher survives and your opponent has a creature on board, he will battle that creature at the start of your turn. As a result, you can swing for another 10/x. Do you have a Swift Strike in hand? Bam! Wasn’t there are an Item Tutor coming in Isle of Madness (see Cheesemancer, or until then Item Tutors in The Elder Scrolls Legends)?
Instead of switching to Hlaalu, why not stay in Archer and leverage Stendarr’s Hammer? Here, you will get a 10/8 Ashlander that will continue to attack enemy creatures, still deal Breakthrough damage and become a 12/x next turn. Maybe consider to add a movement package, to give him flexibility of attacking creatures in the other lane. Or, alternatively put Snake Tooth Necklace on top for an awesome life-gain swing.
Ashlander Punisher might be considered as a potential inclusion in Goblin Archer decks, as he comes with synergy to Murkwater Savage, who gains +1/+1 for every green Agility card being played. Goblin Archer also sometimes lacks those last 1-3 points of damage to win and can be easily shut down by a guard creature on turn 4 or 5, so being able to play something with Breakthrough, that might surpass a Hive Defender (after another small Goblin was traded into it) might potentially do a bit of a trick here. You might think Cliff Racer might be another option, too, but Cliff Racer stays at 4 power, and you really want to be able to trade with an even bigger guard or swing for just a little bit more damage on your next turn.
Tutoring Ashlander Punisher
You can use the 3-cost Silent Pilgrim to tutor Ashlander Punisher, assuming the Punisher is the only multi-attribute card in your deck.
Unstoppable Rage Combo
Another cool combo piece is Unstoppable Rage. If you get to 12 magicka with Ashlander Punisher and Unstoppable Rage in hand, you can play them both on the same turn into a lane full of your opponent’s creatures.
Assuming all 4 opposing creatures have less than 5 health, the Ashlander will grow into a 13/4 when Rage is played. Depending on the health of each of your opponent’s creatures, the Breakthrough damage can be anything between an additional 4 to 16, making this a possible finishing combo.
Slay Synergies: Brotherhood Sanctuary
Use Brotherhood Sanctuary to increase the gains from the Punisher’s Slay effects. In particular, Brotherhood Sanctuary with Unstoppable Rage can turn this into an OTK combo more easily, as Ashlander Punisher will become a 17/4 when Rage is played on him.
Once the Punisher is released, we will need to see how he interacts with Skooma Underboss. If the Pilfer ability of +1 becomes an additional Slay ability (i.e. a +2 Slay instead of a +1 Slay), then you can also get him to a 17/4 with just the Underboss in play.
Ashlander Pilfer Synergies using Thieves Den and Ping Effects
With the 4-cost support card Thieves’ Den, every Pilfer effect gets another +1/+1 buff. Hence, in a deck with more additional Pilfer creatures the Punisher can add another potent threat that can Snowball easily with a Swift Strike in hand. Using Quicksilver Crossbow, the Ashlander gets out of Lightning Bolt range and gets an additional Pilfer buff to become a 7/5, even without Thieves Den. Using Master of Thieves, you might be able to do some fun stuff in Hlaalu with Thieves’ Den and Ashlander Punisher in play at the same time.
So is this a must-have top Monthly Reward card you need to craft, even if you did not already play that season? I would personally say it’s a good option for aggressive Archer decks and can also help you do some fun stuff with Unstoppable Rage or Slay/ Pilfer synergies. More synergies from Isle of Madness or other future expansions might push it up further, but I would currently consider it to be a “Should have”, not among the top 5, but pretty close. For me personally, the card art certainly is among the best Elder Scrolls Legends has to offer.