10 Best Cards in Evil Portents
Evil Portents is total gas. I keep saying this, and I’m going to keep saying it. There’s a ton of negativity in the community, and there has been for a long time, but the fact is that this is one of the best formats we’ve seen in ages, and there’s every reason to keep playing L5R until we see what the new game looks like. Compared to the Spirit Wars break, this format rocks. Despite Mantis being so so good, the Thunderous Acclaim format was excellent. Design has done a great job of making every clan competitive, and that competitiveness has been reflected in the top 8’s of all the Koteis last season. It’s nothing like the Crane Akagi Sensei dominance we saw last year. Evil Portents only adds to that awesomeness, powering up some of the weaker factions like Spider, Dragon and Scorpion, while giving new tools to honor and frankly just printing some awesome cards. Here I want to run down what I think will be the 10 most impactful cards in the new environment. Here we go!
1. Spirit Essence Dojo
If you watched the Holdings + Events review, you saw that I hate this card. It’s way too pushed, and it has the potential to really homogenize gold structures. Luckily, it came out in the same set as Senshi’s Last Hope Experienced and Dojo of the Dauntless, so there are plenty of powerful things you can do with your gold scheme at the moment. There are a few caveats to the gushing rant that is about to happen. First, despite SED + Famous Bazaar being nutso, not every deck will want it. Some decks will want the off-turn gold that a Dauntless + Ivory Courtroom + Heavenly Crab scheme offers. Others will want to be running a corrupt scheme with 2 for 3’s. But I think the default wide military decks will want the flip ups. Flipping Dynasty cards is extremely powerful. It’s difficult to really overstate how powerful. Shika Sensei is nuts. It allows mantis to rocket though it’s deck, blasting guys all over the table and running opponents over. Oracle of the Void Exp on turn 3 in Ivory was neigh unbeatable in Military vs Military. You took their provinces and it just never mattered. Obviously, Bazaar and SED are not the same as those cards, because you have less control over when they happen. Turn 1 bazaar or SED is basically the same as a blank 2 for 2 or 3 for 3. There’s a bit of upside because you can set up better flushes and turn 2’s, but where they really shine is in the mid-game. If you’ve lost a province and you flip these, it’s a free reflip. Most importantly, though, they let you accumulate gold throughout the game for free. This is a point that’s easy to miss. When to buy gold and buy guys is one of those small invisible choices that can make or break your matches, but when you win or lose in the final battle it’s hard to evaluate exactly how your turn 3, 4 and 5 purchases exactly played into it. L5R is about snowballs rolling down mountains. You have to accumulate enough mass and speed to smash though everything. These cards let you do just that. You can buy gold, reflip and buy a guy too. Then on later turns you can keep clearing provinces plus having gold up for actions and attachments. It’s a huge advantage, and one that will be difficult to pass up.
I don’t super feel like I need to explain this one. It’s the best battle action in the set, and fits nicely into every military deck because we’re already playing Unwanted Tutelage and Unholy Strike. It’s attachment destruction that’s more flexible than Sundered Blade and cheaper than Your True Nature. Decks that were already reaching for Not the End will be reaching for this instead, because of the upside this card has. It’s a bit upsetting to me, because I really thought Cleaving the Wave was going to get there and see some play, and it might still in the right deck, but this card is just better. It’s gas, and most decks will end up playing at least 2.
3. Ikikashi Sensei
ONI! Actually, I think the oni are pretty meh. They might see some play in this deck, or they might not. What this card is good for is gold. “But Jesse,” I hear you saying, “it makes your box 3 gold! How can that possibly be good?” Well, the answer is in what you get in exchange. Of course you get Suana Dojo, but you also don’t lose honor from any of your holdings. So the real pay off is Lane of Immorality, The Feeding Hills, House of Disgrace, and Slave Pits. Plus your clan holding (let’s be honest, probably Kobune Port), that’s 18 holdings which all produce more than they cost. Feeding Hills will be free for most of the game, because you also get at least Voitagi, Goblin Chuckers, The Unquiet Moto, and Skeletal Troops. It enables a deck that gets a ton of cheap, impactful gold. From there, you can pretty much do whatever you want, as long as everyone’s a stick honor requirement. Really, the only downside is that you can run both this and Shika Sensei at the same time, but nothing’s perfect, right?
4. Doji Natsuyo
This one is a bit speculative, depending on how her ability exactly works and what the honor deck ends up exactly looking like, but I’m reasonably confident it’s nuts. As I point out in the video, it’s trivial for Crane to hit 30 honor on turn 3, and potentially cross on turn 4 using events that draw cards or take the favor (and allow you to draw cards) like Glimpse of the Unicorn, Auspicious Arrival, and A New Year in addition to cheap destined cards. Cycling a card is almost as good as drawing one thanks to Natsuyo – each card we cycle is essentially 1 point of honor, while each card we draw is 2. The deck, in it’s most rockety form, will be pure tissue paper, it’s true. But if it can cross fast enough, it doesn’t matter. There are also honor cards with solid effects, such as Avenge Your Slights, Ending the Chase, Indifference, My Steel Is Stronger, Unforgivable Shame and Word from the Imperial Court, so it’s not like the deck is completely without playable battle actions to save a single province at the end. There’s also a question of exactly how many Honor cards is the right number – it’s possible it will be better to still run some combination of gain 2’s – Pure Intent, Usurpation, A Good Death, Battlefield Challenge, Show Me Your Stance and Inexplicable Challenge. With some of these you can cycle your honor cards aggressively, then when your opponents attacks into your for the first time on turn 3/4, play one and use Natsuyo’s home interrupt to empty the bin and gain 10ish. That’s what I call big game. Step one is figure out whether we can consistently cross on turn 4/5, and step 2 is figure out what the minimum number of Honor cards required to do it is. What’s certain, though is that Doji Natsuyo is a key piece of the puzzle.
5. Questionable Vassal
Honestly this card could be as high as number 2. No bow ranged 3 really is that good of an ability. Exactly as I mentioned with Unguarded Strike, ranged attacks play into the battle action suite of 3x Unholy Strike 1-3x Unwanted Tutelage. All those lose 2’s are pretty brutal, especially in Crane or Lion with Nexus of Lies floating around, but for them this guy might still be worth it. Ok, probably not, but he’s nuts. He compares favorably to every single good follower that sees play now: Razorfang, Goblin Chuckers, and Sons of Gusai. He’s cheap. He has force. He makes a ranged 3! Most 2 gold followers make ranged 2 or a poopy fear. Sure you have to pay 2 gold, but people play Yoritomo Minoro, don’t they? And even if they don’t they would if he said make a ranged 2! And anyway, there’s no way this guy shoots and kills 2 gold worth of resources. If you pay 2 and shoot their 6 gold guy, you’re coming out way ahead. That’s what he does for you. If you’re a low honor faction, you play this guy 100%. If you’re high honor, you think about ways you could possibly justify slotting him him in.
6. My Steel is Stronger
Dueling got tons of help in Evil Portents, and there are lots of cards from to choose from if I want to represent one on a top 10 list, most notably Shadowless Strike Dojo or Avenge Your Slights. But those cards, while obviously good, are narrowly dueling cards and not all that interesting. My Steel is Stronger, on the other hand, is a really cool card. It’s a kind of backwards duel – you target your lower chi guy and bow their higher chi guy. If you’re a duelist, you get to go through attachments. First, a card like this shows just how bad fear is. This guys shoots though followers and items and just flat out bows. There’s no shenanigans with Courage, no incoming blowouts from A Stout Heart (hahahaha yea ok I’m reaching), but really your opponent can’t interact with this. Just boom, bow your biggest guy. The reason I like this card the most, though, is because every faction has a smattering of duelists now. It’s not restricted to Crane and Dragon like it has been for much of L5R history, so Lion, Spider, and Scorpion all have guys they can reach for. Only Crab, Mantis and Phoenix can’t really play this card, and they’re already doing awesome stuff anyway so who cares. The best upside, though? Those splash duelist all have 2-3 chi, so this card is the total nuts. A guy like Akodo Toshigure, who saw some fringe play in Wide Lion to facilitate Sundered Blade, is the total nuts with a card like this. For someone like Akodo Raikitsu it pulls double duty, because it’s also a 4 focus to toss to the Tactician trait. This is a very well designed card that encourages these dueling sub-theme factions to look for a couple duelists to splash in for a powerful effect, and it helps dueling decks by clearing away that one big idiot with 2 weapons you can’t duel down. All in all excellent.
7. Ninja Training Exercise
This is another speculative card pick, but it’s powerful enough to talk about. Ninja Training Exercise is, at it’s absolute worst, 4 gold for 4 force split over 2 units. Army-in-a-can abilities are always powerful, and while this isn’t Fury of Hida or Fruitless Search by any stretch, it is still powerful in it’s own right. First, splitting the force over two units matters. It means in a pitched battle, this card can 2 for 1 your opponent, by forcing him to take two actions to answer your one action. You’ll almost certainly hold this card for last, after both players are more or less taxed on actions, then drop this and see how much gas your opponent has left in the tank. For that reason alone it’s good. Splitting also gives you extra synergy with cards like Contentious Terrain, and cards that want you to use your personalities like Knife in the Darkness, Show No Mercy and Strategic Withdrawal. Getting 2 2F guys is almost always better than getting 1 4F guy. The gold reduction clause really pushes the card, though. In Scorpion and Spider, having just two ninjas to turn this into a 2 gold card makes it great. Obviously if it’s free it’s the total nuts, but just making it gold efficient is more than enough. The only thing missing from the current card pool to make this a total slam dunk home run is some powerful blow up your own guy effects. I guess you could run Goju Kumoru, play this during the ambush, then after the battle blow up the tokens to Ritual of Naming? Hmm…..
8. Goji Iaitsu
Yay more Ninja. I swear I’m not a super ninja player, but they got some great help this set. There’s even one more ninja card to talk about, but don’t scroll down yet! Read about this one first. Spider have been so close for so long. They were pretty much terrible for all of Ivory, despite having a pretty solid personality base. I mean, they have Ninube Shiho, so how bad can it really be? The problem is their guys don’t do anything. They were “blessed” with the Fear keyword and their main thing, and fear is terrible. Meanwhile, Mantis’ main keywords are Sneak Attack and Ranged Attack. And drawing cards. I wonder why they’re the best? Back to Spider, the problem is that despite having lots of guys with pretty solid numbers like Daigotsu Konishi, Goju Kenteiru, Guyushi Kageto and Marimako, their guys don’t DO anything. At 5 or less you have bad force, fear affects and Ninube Shiho. So Goji Iaitsu is basically an answer to their prayers. 4 gold. 3 force. Ranged 3. Sold. You don’t even have to include the no-bow clause on this guy for him to be total gas, but they did so hey, that’s great! He’s a ninja to reduce our Ninja Training Exercises and wombo-combos with Knife in the Darkness to shoot-run-home. He’s cheap and impacting – exactly what a tournament powerhouse deck looks for. This guy is going to power up spider military and allow them to crack into tier 1, if they weren’t there already.
9. Goju Sensei
Most sensei are terrible for a lot of reasons. They have opportunity costs, trade offs, and minus-gold modifiers. Good sensei open big opulent doors while closing grimy back entrances that only the hired help use anyway. Excellent sensei are basically free. I’m going to argue this sensei is essentially free. There are two costs to playing Goju Sensei. The first, and honestly the harshest, is the province strength reduction. HA! You thought I want going to say the gold increase, didn’t you? We’ll get to that in a minute. -1 province strength is actually huge. You might remember that at the stat of Ivory, most spider players threw Tetsuo Sensei into their deck, thinking he was “free”. Well, they were way wrong. The -1PS lets military decks take a turn 3 province distressingly consistently. As the go second deck, it’s really really important that you’re able to defend against the first attack. Tetsuo Sensei both didn’t do that (since you can’t attack before they do, you can’t actually use the sensei until your opponent has had an opportunity to attack), but it also made you softer! Blow out city! While the -1PS on Goju Sensei is just as meaningful on the turn 3/4 attack, the open action means you’re in a much better position to win that battle. Blanking a follower on a Naval personality or a powerful printed battle action is the difference between winning and losing. In essence, you are able to turn off your box fear and gain a powered-down Scorpion Stronghold. That’s awesome for early defense. The destruction trait also allows you to chump defend and blow up a guy for free in many situations. Even if you go on to lose the province after that, you’ve set yourself up nicely for the following turns. The +1 gold clause, I think is a wash. As we saw with Tsujiken Sensei, if the upshot of the sensei is powerful enough – the best economy imaginable in the case of Tsujiken, the best printed on-board abilities in the format in the case of Goju – this little clause doesn’t matter. You also know about the increase during deck construction, and can plan accordingly. Guys are either worth it at +1 gold or they aren’t. Finally, this card opens up infinite recursion of Goju Kumoru for control decks. Only I care about that, but it’s my article so I get to point it out. Hey! Speaking of things only I like…
10. Betrayal from Within
You see the spoilers and see a card like this and your eyes start to roll. You have visions of you opponents playing these on your awesome clan champion. Visions of tilting out and flipping tables flash in your mind. What a terrible card for the game! Didn’t they learn from their mistakes? Except nobody played Planted Evidence. Hell, I remember having to twist people’s arms to splash Test of Honor in military decks during lotus. That’s how averse people are to these actions in non-committed control. The best limited control strategy (I said that instead of card so Paul can’t loophole me with some pushed spell) is Kolat Master. The next best limited control card is Hired Killer. Why? Because it’s economical. You buy a guy for 6, I pay 8 and kill him. I still lose 2 gold, but in terms of exchange, it’s not much. I’m only down by a pittance, and presumably I advanced by board relative to yours in a meaningful way (by killing some guy that was crucial to your gameplan). The flat 10 gold cost actions, on the other hand, lose your way more. If I Betrayal a 6 gold guy I paid 4 gold more than you did, which is an entire Stronghold worth of production. If I Betrayal a 4 gold guy, I basically sacrificed a province of production relative to the opponent PLUS the 10 gold. It’s pretty tantamount to time walking yourself, and it’s really hard to justify playing. So why is this card on the list? Because despite all that, it will see play in the right spots. It won’t be a 3 off, and it won’t be in every deck, but slower military decks will use this to punish players for attaching too many followers to a single unit. They’ll use it to clear the way for a big counter-attack after a player over-commits to attacking, thinking that buying a single guy will let them chump defend one and prevent losing 2 provinces on the crack-back. It has excellent synergy with gold that unbows each turn like Temple of the Heavenly Crab, Contemplative Shrine and The Abbot. There are real applications for this card. It will see play, and when it does it will be powerful. Moreover, control effects are good for L5R. Go second military decks really benefit from actions like this. They need ways to get big swings and come back into the game. Cards like this might be tilting for the person on the receiving end, but they feel great to play, and not just when you’re recycling them over and over with Sorrowful Prayers. A well timed Kolat Assassin at the right guy to win the game oozes with flavor, and it’s no different than a well-timed Unholy Strike in the final battle. The only difference is in the heads of players who are too used to being coddled due to a lack of disruptive effects throughout L5R history. Granted, they are tough to balance, but 10 gold kill 3 or less chi has proven to be a good sweet spot time and time again. Cheap chi death is usually the culprit for broken control effects, and this ain’t it.
11. Ritual of Naming
Repeatable. Discard or Deck. No gold increase. Can it get any better? I guess it could not bow the Shugenja, but then we’re getting into stupidsville. This is, obviously, a call-ball to and fixed version of I Give You My Name. I Give is a card like Gempukku and Oath of Fealty that you really don’t want in an environment, because they exist only to facilitate broken combo decks or be totally worthless. I Give You My Name is degenerate because of a single line of text. Can you guess which one? “Ignoring costs” Just never print this on any of your cards, and your game will probably be safe. Ritual of Naming does not ignore costs, but it also doesn’t increase costs. It’s actually a totally different card, more like an additional oni-only province than anything else. It lets your get your guys back from the dead endlessly, provided you can find a way to endless generate meat to throw into the grinder. Hey, I cracked it! There are two painful truths to this card. The first is that the oni are terrible. If we were tutoring up, say, Tsudo no Oni or Gozaru no Oni or Sentai no Oni, that would be one thing. But we’re not. We’re tutoring for Minikui no Oni, Patraiaku no Oni and The Crimson Mountain Oni. Now granted, the overall quality of personalities generally has decreased, so infinitely rebuying The Crimson Mountain isn’t terrible, but it’s also gold intensive (luckily this deck has a lot of gold – see #2 in this very post!) and not guaranteed to even get you there. Super units hasn’t been good all season for a number of reasons, and when you’re facing from 10 3F lion idiots, it’s easy to see why your Melee 6 on a single 7 force guy is terrible. We don’t have protection effects like Undetectable Enemy. But none of that matters, because this is a card that gets my juices flowing. It’s not great, but it inspires me. It’s like a good version of Unbound Essence. Sometimes you just have to spin to win. Sometimes you just have to print awesome combo cards to make people stay in love with your game.