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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

spirit's essence dojoIf 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.

2.Unguarded Attack

unguardedI 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

ikikashi senseiONI! 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

natsuyoThis 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

questionableHonestly 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

steelDueling 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

trainingThis 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

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

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

betrayed 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

ritual 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.

State of Control 2015

So I went to GenCon and played L5R. How novel! Would you travel 3000 miles and pay thousands of dollars to go to an L5R tournament? No? How quaint. I would. I did!

This is not my tournament report. I’ll write that later, and I have a lot to say about the event(s) themselves. Right now though, I want to talk about the 80 that I played, the format, and where control fits into everything.

1 The Shadowed Estate of the Scorpion
1 Aroru Sensei
#Dynasty (40)#Fate (40)
#Events (2)
2 Coronation Festival

#Holdings (20)
3 Geisha House
3 Brilliant Cascade Inn
3 Merchant Atoll
3 Hasty Defenses
3 Suana Dojo
2 Family Library
1 Counting House
2 Forgotten Legacy

#Personalities (18)
3 Tairao
3 Goju Kumoru
3 Soshi Kitaiku
1 Yogo Chijin
3 Ninja Shapeshifter
1 Soshuro Sakura
1 Bayushi Nitoshi, the Poison Mask
3 Shosuro Longji
#Strategies (27)
3 Come One at a Time
3 Do Not Delay!
3 Sanctioned Duel
3 The Soul of Man
3 Knife in the Dark
3 Strategic Withdrawal
2 Discovering the Seeds of the Void
3 Banish all Shadows
1 Accepting the Choice
2 Lookout Post
1 Disappearing World Style

#Spells (9)
3 Mark of Heaven's Favor
3 Walking the Way
2 Vision of Darkness
1 Secrets on the Wind
#Items (3)
1 The Ancestral Armor of the Scorpion
2 Awakened Naginata

#Rings (1)
1 Ring of the Void

Some people are loyal to factions, others to victory conditions. I’m loyal to an idea: fun is zero sum. If my opponent is having fun, I cannot be having fun. It’s simple math: there is only so much to go around. I have to grab as much of it as possible, before you are able.

So I play control.

L5R has a strange relationship with control. Players of The Game That Shall Not Be Named have made peace with the fact that control is part of the field, but that game is much different. It’s defined by a long chain of 1 for 1 interactions that begin and end, but don’t really link together. L5R is more of a long continuous exchange. A snowball rushing down a hill. Two kids scrambling to build the best pillow fort. Every play is a pillow in the wall (all we are is just another pillow in the wall), or a foot of snowy mountain. Strategies that attack a player’s ability to accumulate resources over time attack his ability to participate in the game. One boxable personality can’t go the distance by himself the way a 1/1 can in that other game. Control has to be, well, controlled.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. For a while, it seemed design was balancing control by refusing to print engine cards. No Daigotsu Dojo, no Bayushi Sunetra xp2, no Yajinden. We get Planted Evidence, but that’s it. If you want to splash it you can, but all you get on the dynasty side is M’rika xp. Of course, we broke that anyway, but it seemed like a good idea at the time (shout out to Sorrowful Prayers).

20F was shaping up to be pretty boring on the control front. We lost Planted, Sorrowful, A Magistrate Falls… pretty much anything that made life worth living. I bought samurai and attached followers. Dark times. But there were pieces, and they stayed on my radar. Shosuro Longji. Good, but only 6 duels. Not enough to go all the way. Tairao had the potential to be a recursive engine, but getting the guys to assign was a hassle. Plus, sometimes the guys were really big. Quoi faire?


The pieces came slowly but surely, each new set a slow drip. Goju Kumoru was a huge breakthrough. Combine with Ninja Shapeshifter and Tairao and you could kill everything. But it had a 2 honor hit which meant you can’t do it forever. Paul started out of Dragon for Ring of Water move home and good defensive Come One at a Time via Togashi Ogure. Seems all great, until you remember that Nexus of Lies is legal and people play it all the time. Losing 2 from Kumoru was possible, losing 8 was not going to work.


The last big breakthrough was the printing of two sensei that interact with Kumoru: Aroru Sensei and Yajinden sensei. Both reduce the honor loss on Kumoru to zero, and allow you to use the combo to grind out your opponent.

We actually stated with Yajinden sensei, because the deck seems to make more sense out of Spider. The guys are cheaper, the box ability is great for sitting around and drudleing, and you can fetch your combo pieces with Visions of Darkness. The downside is you can’t run Ninja Shapeshifter (not shadowlands), you’re soft against honor, and you always have to play from behind.

duel package

A few expensive, explosive cards that punish opponents for loading up a single personality and getting in there early are critical for control decks. Dynasty side engines lock out the game, but if that’s all you have, you’ll always lose. You need something to break the tempo of your opponent early, and put him into a position where he’s vulnerable to being ground out of the game. Cards like A Magistrate Falls, Kolat Assassin and Test of Honor are exactly these. But 20F doesn’t have any of them.

What it does have is Shosuro Longji, Do Not Delay! and Sanctioned Duel. While they’re not as what we’ve had in the past, they allow us to clear out a couple big headache threats, and set the stage for locking out the opponent.


The single most important card in this environment is Honored Sensei, and nobody can take a deck unprepared for honor to a tournament right now. This deck is more than ready. Honor puts no pressure at all on our fate hand or provinces, so we get to sit there and prepare. And prepare. And prepare. You opponent will wonder what you are doing. Why aren’t you at table 53? Doesn’t your deck do anything? They will cross. And then finally, you’ll dishonor all their guys with Nitoshi + Shapeshifter, bang them for 9 points of honor loss from 3x Marked Brilliant Cascade Inn, and kill their guy with Kumoru + Tairao for a 4 points of loss via Yogo Chijin. No deck, even with the most explosive turns possible, can gain more honor than you can cause points of loss, and so they’ll start slowly slipping down and down, until the game is over.

ps uppers

Mark is a great role-player in the deck. Against honor it causes extra loss, and once in a while you cash it in as a One Koku to help at a critical moment. But mostly, it increases your province strength. Going all the way with province strength is critical for this deck. In a  way, increasing your PS is a kill effect. If the opponent needs 3 guys to generate 8 force to take a province and has 5, you have to kill 3. If he needs 4, you only have to kill 2. You “killed” one virtual personality by making all his personalities less effective. The goal of a control deck in the mid-game is, after all, to limit your opponent’s ability to interact with you. Kill all the guys comes later, once interaction is no longer mathematically possible. Raising province strength is a cheap and effective way of making all your kill effects even more punishing.

soft control

These two cards do the same thing at different points in the game. Soul of Man is an early speed-bump and Longji Setup, while Sakura lets you bow out their board with Shapeshifter and Longji later on, establishing the lock. I made a few mistakes with Sakura and Shapeshifter – there’s a temptation to always copy Tairao and kill guys, but when you’re on the cusp of establishing the lock, it’s more important to play Math than L5R. Figure out which ability reduces the opponent’s force more, and go that route.

battle actions

You’ll get attacked. The best you can do is make them bounce then punish their bowed guys with Longji. These help them to bounce. Actually I was extremely disappointed with this package of cards. Come One requires you to put Longji into harm’s way, which is never what you actually want to be doing, while Lookout Post was a Hail Mary  attempt to have a bit of game against Mantis. Both should be cut for something with more gusto. No idea what right now. Knife and Withdrawal play double duty as straighten effects for Kumoru, allowing him to be used on both turns. They might be cost of business cards, but I’m not convinced. These are the weakest 12 slots in the deck.

card draw

Control decks play a lot of situational fluff, and a lot of bullet cards. You need to get to the bullets. Winning against Honor, for example, tests your ability to draw the Scorpion Armor or Secrets on the Wind quickly. Against military, you need your Longji duels ASAP. Luckily, Brian Reese has blessed us with many ways to go get exactly what we want, when we want it.

The one thing the deck does lack is raw card draw, and that ended up being my downfall in the end. I’d love to be playing a card like Strength of the Fifth Ring, but it wasn’t to be this time around. There’s always Euros!

This deck is the real deal, and could easily have gone the distance in this environment. It has a great matchup against honor (which I fed on all day for my wins), and strong or even matches against most military decks. It punishes slow draws from military decks, and has gotcha yahtzee flips of it’s own. It only stands to get better and better as time goes on and we pick up more and more little pieces.

Enjoy the control deck of 20F! It’s a doozie.

Thunderous Acclaim Full Set Review

May Flowers.

April Showers bring May flowers.

Get it? Mayflower. I’m so droll.

Yea that isn’t a quote that is at all applicable here, but starting your post with a tangentially relevant shibboleth is a tried and true internet writing mechanism. Rust settles in and you need to stretch out the mind muscles.

Instead of wracking my brain for a more on point statement I’m just throwing up that seasonal cliche and doing my best Elongated Man impression as I stretch the premise beyond what is reasonable.

Note: Elongated Man, I should mention that if anybody brings up stupid Reed stupid fucking Richards and his stupid movie power about warping the space around him and appearing to stretch his body into impossible forms and impossible lengths, I am going to officially denounce all things l5r forever.


I can’t. I won’t. No words.

Dude, were have you been? What happened to all the article content? What’s up Buttercup? Burned out all ready?


No not at all. Quite the opposite. Also, yes. The problem with writing about l5r, is that it takes time away from all the other l5r fun stuff you do. There are cards to organize, builds to construct, decks to test (we don’t video everything, indeed, we don’t video most stuff, because seriously, people couldn’t handle just how much l5r Jesse and I play), and general hi jinks to be had. I’ve been so consumed with l5r the last few months that I simply haven’t had the time or desire to sit down and type out all the brilliant wisdom I want to impart. Of course, that only explains a little bit of it. Playing l5r and talking about l5r and playtesting l5r, that is not the great true cause of the radio silence. Indeed, testing for a kotei, even one in a weird limited format like what I won in Highland, lends itself incredibly well to all kinds of posts about tactics and strategy. What doesn’t lend itself so well to open discourse is what I was most involved in. My super secret guilty pleasure. The real pastime I’ve been indulging in. Designing l5r cards.


Phenomenal Cosmic Power!

It is all Woz’s fault. Sometime in the past, I’ve lost all true sense of time scale, he mentioned that on the big mothersite there was a call for an open position on the PDT. By rule, I am not a company man. I don’t see myself that way. I have at various points in the games history been asked to look at a few things here and there and test out a few concepts and give feedback, all informally, all lightly, all just friend to friend stuff. I have never been an official playtester, it is never been important to me to help develop the game as a property. I love the game, but I just want to play it. If it is terrible I will play it (though probably not as much) and make fun of it. If it is awesome, I will just keep on grinding my opponents into dust. With a big old smile on my face. Design though, that is an interesting idea, and I’m not the same young buck full of piss and vinegar that I was once. I wear big boy pants now, and work with people all grown up like, and Jesse and I have designed card sets for fun in the past. Kwame edition, named after Detroit’s mayor at the time, who represented a lot of promise. It was a great name at the time. Not so much considering how things worked out for him and the city.

Wait until they see me reboot!

So, I dialed up the modem, connected to Prodigy, hopped onto the information superhighway, logged into my hotmail, and sent over to Bryan Reese an email. It was short, for me, which is still long when compared to everyone who isn’t me, so probably 1000 words, written in my standard rat a tat machine gun like prose. Thoughts come, I write them down, editing is for chumps.

The email went something like this: You should pick me! I’d be awesome! Pick me! PICK ME! LOOK I AM WAVING MY HANDS WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME!

I didn’t actually think I would get picked, because, ya know, at least 3 or 4 dozen people are going to submit an application and a bunch of them will be playtesters who Bryan Reese will know a bit more clearly in terms of online future set management. I know Bryan some, in the way you know people who you’ve shared a hobby with for 15 years, so I figured I would at least make it to the second round of auditions whereupon I would dazzle the judges with all of my spec work for Onyx. The reintroduction of the Naga. The elimination of the Mantis. Lots of opportunity there. So after sending off the email I got busy working on all kinds of themes and mechanics and cards so that when I got my call back I would have words and words and documents and documents of stuff to demonstrate both my interest and ability.

It was a cunning plan. Did you spot the flaw?

I coulda been a contenda

Turns out AEG isn’t American Idol. There is no second round. There is just an email you send out into the ether. Time you spend working and honing and editing on your personal design ideas, and then!


I’m a gamer. Losing comes part and parcel with the hobby. I lose all the time. It tuns out, shockingly enough, that some women in fact are immune to my charms. Rejection is something I can handle. My self esteem is sturdy enough to endure a few hits, but man, there is no more frustrating response than the form letter rejection. The impersonal, “we are choosing to go another direction”. Ouch. Design is a creative process. It is work. Time spent there is time not spent on something else. I wasted a lot of time. I’m sorry. It stings that it was all pointless, all that energy devoted to a project no one is ever going to see or care about. Lessens the enthusiasm. I wasn’t a runner up. I was barely an also ran.

It is enough to make a guy disconnect from his favorite hobby for a few weeks (months?) and focus just on his local scene. The only place in the world running a regular 65/65 pseudo-highlander multiplayer format which turns out to be totally delightful.

Who needs Modern/Big Deck/Extended/Strict. If you want a fun, fulfilling, flexible format for l5r unlike any other. Multiplayer is the way to go.

One day, this will work…

Time marches on. That kotei in New Orleans that you bought the airplane ticket to. It isn’t still two months away now, is it? If you seriously plan on competing, time to get it together. Turns out the format hasn’t evolved at all in the last few months. This is bad thing for the game overall, but selfishly a good thing for you right now. Makes testing a lot easier. The problem is structured in the design of the Ivory, stop! Stop that right the hell now! No more thinking design thoughts. You aren’t worthy to wield that hammer. Focus on doing what you do. Winning tournaments with Crane and then being insulted by Crane players for not being a true Scotsman. No one likes you. Maybe if you updated your site a little more.

I’ll be fine. As long as New Orleans is exactly like the one depicted in the Simpson’s version of Streetcar.

10 days out. That is about all the time you’ve got left. Better make it count. There is no email Bryan Reese could send, no insult he could throw, no further humiliation he could levy that will take away the enjoyment of prepping for and participating in an l5r event.

Besides, he didn’t mean to cause harm. He takes real good care.

I’m not an addict. I can quit anytime I want.



Twenty Festivals Full Set Review

Chasing Uchi

I remember my first tournament win. Not all of it. Not the whole thing. Some parts I do remember, but not all that well. Time has a way of making the details fuzzy. The memories of other tournaments have a way of fading into each other. I reminisce less about single events and more about entire arcs. I’m pretty sure it was a Strike at Midnight event. I cannot recall what the prize was. There was some store credit. The attendance was just above 4 dozen people. Only a handful more than showed up for normal Tuesday night gaming. In the finals I beat Jordan Murari. A player of note long since lost to the annals of time. A name only remembered because his ridiculous behavior once caused the very rules of the game to be changed. It had to do with Regions. A card type that doesn’t exist now. He played FETA. The first great boogeyman of l5r. In the quarters I overcame his playtest partner, future Dynasty/Straw Dawg/PDT member, and good friend (for a year or two anyway) Vaughn Dredarian. He had been on Crane honor. Kisada’s Funeral won me that. Flipped at just the proper time.


It’s been a long time since I rock-and-rolled.

I know what I played. Toturi’s Army. Palace of Otosan Uchi. Saigorei first turn, big follower on turn two. Naga Guard, the stronghold let me ignore the honor requirement and reduce the cost. That was quite some technology years ago. I won after making a great play with my Toturi is Drugged. Jordan two had two shugenja in play. I bowed one, even though I wouldn’t be able to take his province if the other defended. I didn’t have the Charge! (3F with Matsu Suhada) or Coordinated Strike. By declaring the attack, he would be force to chump though. Sneak Deadly kills his shug, I buy more guys and he cannot get there off only his Taeruko. Needs to use Finding twice to end it. I suppose a top deck of Cultists at the end of turn would doom me, but he is only drawing one. Didn’t prioritize the Boundless Depths like he should have. I took the chance. I won. Hear me roar. He wrote a tournament report. Introducing me to l5r on the internet. Ikoma Andy and the Deathseeker site. The flames had been stoked.

Upgraded from Uncommon to Rare

Over the years l5r has evolved a lot as a game, but every arc I still inevitably find myself scouring the card pool attempting to recreate the magic of that deck. To capture its spirit. To bathe in the warm glow of a blazing fast victory. To blitz.

The available card pools have changed of course. Corrupt gold and other cheap resources are gone. Cost reduction is a mechanism no longer seriously employed. Deadly Ground wouldn’t be much of a card the way Terrains work today, but end the battle now effects are similarly verboten. Crushing Attack forever relegated to being employed rhetorically. Force bonuses, once a glorified aspect of the game are closely managed. In Twenty Festivals there is not an unopposed force bonus to be had. There are only the Ivory base set leftovers. Inspired Devotion doing its best Charge! impersonation. Yet, I try.


Hey! You! Get off of my cloud!

There is cause for hope. The number of absent effects that can blunt an early assault are greatly reduced. Gone too are Refugees, OuterWalls, and Heavily Engaged. There are no trumps like Caught Unawares or Hidden Defenses. Province strengths are as high as they have ever been, but that breeds a feeling of safety and contentment. The blitzkrieg is always at its most brutal and effective when no one sees it coming.

This dance. This tango of blitz options versus defensive countermeasures is an aspect of l5r that is as old as the game itself. An environment without either is a lesser environment. Blitz military isn’t something like enlightenment or open phase lockout control. Those are fringe strategies that can be removed with minimal fuss. Completely eliminating blitz is a different foxhunt all together. Fast military decks preform an important role in keeping other grind-house inevitable decks down. A natural counterweight to the haymaker giant units approach. Itself a strategy in decline. Just as l5r will always have players searching for and playing the best dueling deck. There is always going to be players who want to crush face as quickly as possible. Danny Swartz has to play *something* after all.

As I was cataloging the options open to me with 20 Festivals I was getting a little distressed. Sure every faction now has an honor deck, kind of, sort of, not really. Sure the number of duel decks has increased seven fold. But where is my blitz deck? Twenty Festivals should be a celebration of the deep diversity of deck options that l5r can present. Has a once proud tradition been so unceremoniously discarded onto the trash heap?

Then I saw her face. Now I’m believer. Uragirimono. Or as the cool kids call her.

Keep on rocking in the free world.

Sometimes all it takes is one card. One personality. To set you on your course. Down the rabbit hole I plunged. Voitagi alongside Mastu Tayuko in conjunction with Kitsu Suzaki. Filled it out with some just in case gold. Ikoma Shika on one with Toils of Zokujin can set up 6 force before assigning on turn 2 (Shika + Kaiu Ax, ancestor from Suzaki). That leaves me only one or two more fate cards away from taking a province! This is one of those dramatic all in decks. All force and pressure. With just a hint of control coming from the Imperial Summons.

1 The Grand Halls Of The Lion 
3 Voitagi
3 Matsu Tayuko
3 Ikoma Shika
3 Kitsu Suzaki
3 Tarui
3 Temple Of Destiny
3 Questionable Market
3 The Toil Of Zokujin
3 Lane Of Immorality
3 Frontline Encampment
3 Auspicious Arrival
3 Glimpse Of The Unicorn
3 A New Year
1 Wisdom Gained
3 Light Infantry
2 Reinforced Parangu
3 Tonfajutsu
3 Grasp The Swords
3 Destiny Has No Secrets
3 Zazen Meditation
3 Kaiu Axe
2 Oath Of Fealty
3 Imperial Summons
3 Contentious Terrain
3 Inspired Devotion
2 Wedge
2 Relentless
3 Gumbai-uchiwa
1 Ring Of Earth
1 Ring Of The Void

Once you have embraced the path you have chosen to walk, you see more options than originally perceived. Perhaps a blitz deck built around Summoning the Undead Champion, instead of purchasing the rotting corpse of Voitagi in the dynasty phase. Everything is more fun with Shugenja. Corrupt maho returns.

1 The Majestic Temple Of The Phoenix 
3 Yotsu Shinzai
3 Agasha Beiru
3 Isawa Genma
3 Isawa Kageharu
3 Isawa Kouka
3 Isawa Orinoko
3 Glimpse Of The Unicorn
3 A New Year
3 Temple Of Destiny
3 Shigekawa's Court
3 Questionable Market
3 Lane Of Immorality
3 The Samurai Caste Divides
1 Wisdom Gained
3 Summon Undead Champion
3 Banish All Shadows
3 Zazen Meditation
3 Self And No Self
1 Ring Of The Void
1 Ring Of Air
2 Traditionalist
3 Cautious Contemplation
3 Discovering The Shakuhachi Of Air
3 Ornery
3 The Call Of Battle
3 Burning Spirit
3 Inspired Devotion
3 Fire Kami's Greed
3 Overwhelming Power

Drafts as rough as can be constructed, but with some sanding could blitz be a smooth criminal? Testing and time will tell. If the idea fails completely? I’ll always have my memories.

Remember What You Have Seen.

The single most environmentally impactful card from Twenty Festivals was one of, if not the, first to be spoiled. It was months ago, at the world championships. It received little fanfare. In part because it is hard to get excited over a single card from a set that at the time was still half a year away. Mostly, though, it is because holdings remain the least exciting part of l5r. It is a game about personalities, and the narratives they drive. Holdings are boring. Even when they do interesting or powerful things, which is rare. Unheard of in most arcs. Some of the coolest holdings of the last decade were cards like Charter of the Legion of Two Thousand and Recruitment Officer. They made personalities!

Yet development and production and efficiency and value lie at the heart of l5r as we know it today. Holdings are important. Critically so. Today we look at the card that will define Ivory and Twenty Festivals and whatever it is we are playing after that.

This changes everything.

Legacy holdings came on the scene officially in Samurai Edition, but they have antecedents as far back as Gold Edition. It makes me feel old to say as far back, but Gold was 2001. That was a long time ago. Bryan Reese was just some guy who won an above average number of tournaments. Case Kiyonaga had yet to be declared his yojimbo and future best player in waiting. Gold Edition was a heady time to be an l5r player. Looking back the game seems barely recognizable. Koteis and kotei season started during Gold. The format featured old school all-stars like Kolat Master, Torrential Rain and Deadly Ground competing for space in decks with incredibly powerful actions like To Do What We Must and Iaijutsu Duel. Despite (or perhaps because of) all the fate side chicanery of the olden days the RallyCrys, CounterAttacks, and Iaijutsu Challenges, when you view the personalities through the prism of today, they are overwhelmingly horrible. Akodo Ijiasu sees fringe play in Ivory today. In Gold Edition he was a staple for the entirety of the arc. The best non-unique Crane personality was probably Doji Kurihito basic. While unique personalities had the ability to take over games the moment they entered play, they had to be incredibly powerful because the only way to incentivize the risk associated with their cost was to make them haymakers.


Of course, these were all staples.

Pre-Gold, in the bronze age of Legend of the Five Rings, the standard game involved purchasing a personality on turn one. Design knew they didn’t want l5r to be a game that only featured personalities with a gold cost 6 or less. There is only so much enjoyment to be had there, and so a conscious effort was made to limit each faction’s available boxables.  Jeff Alexander and Dave Williams and company (actually, there was no “and company” yet, just Dave/Jeff more or less) wanted to know if there was a version of l5r in which players reached for a card like Doji Kuwawan and it was good idea to do so.

So was this.

The answer turned out to be sort of and not really. In addition to that old efficiency chestnut there was a serious acknowledged issue that prevented players from embracing personalities with costs that exceed their starting stronghold’s gold production. A specter that haunts and ruins l5r games still today. Gold screw.


These all have something in common. Can you spot it?

There was no cycle, no search, no Border Keep, no anything. You started the game, flipped your first four provinces (3 if you played Rating, – Loophole Man) and hoped. With the omnipresent fear of no gold on turn one, the importance of cheap personalities was magnified an unquantifiable amount. People played the inferior The Iron Fortress of the Daidoji just to get access to the original Hachi at below starting honor. In most cases not having a turn one holding was a death sentence. The power you could generate from your fate hand was such that it could rarely allow you to overcome a zero gold start. If you didn’t have turn one gold, or a turn one personality. The game was over. So came Gifts and Favors. Not the holding we deserved, but the holding we needed.

Worst loss ever. Failing to find.

Of course its revelatory nature wasn’t appreciated. How could it have been? As a holding it was pretty terrible. 2 cost for 2 gold is acceptable, but it isn’t as good as 2 cost for 3 gold (every clan holding) or 0 cost for 2/3 gold (corrupt holdings). It was widely received as a ‘toss one in just in case’ card and move on with your life. Getting just a 2 production holding on turn one was so underwhelming. It was settling and in cases like ‘corn and Crane where an ideal turn one involved buying a Silk Works, it struck some top players as not even being worth the dynasty slot. Better to just run another Hiruma Dojo or Jade Works or whatever. Gifts didn’t feel quite as bad on turn as no gold but it didn’t feel good either.

The idea of a holding on turn one followed by two holdings on turn two? Not something on most players radar. The pace of the format was faster than that. Thanks to potential situations like: Horde player goes Take the Initiative, buy Voitagi on turn one with some free gold, and attack on turn two. Province Strengths were lower, Voitagi and Zombie Troops could get it done, with a Charge! any province was crushed. It wasn’t until the tyranny of corrupt gold ended, and personality design started to ramp up in Diamond that the two turns of gold became routine.

  So much play, can spell his name.

Which isn’t to say that Gifts didn’t have any impact when it first hit the scene. It did. It allowed people to reduce or eliminate holdings.  At first only a few canny players experimented with just G&F builds, but in time, it became a common occurrence to see events/regions on one, grab Gifts, and flush to set up for your ideal turn two, which was something like a boxable and your clan holding,  Kan’ok’ticheck and more rats (multiple Kn’ok’tichecks…) or something like Hida Tenshu and a free holding. The value of less holdings in a deck and the explosive starts created through the costless nature of events (themselves near the height of their power) wasn’t fully conceptualized and embraced by players and design for some time.

Diamond, and Lotus continued to work with Gifts and Favors. The changes in card pool and format design made it both more common and less impactful. The game was now fundamentally constructed around the idea of gold(Gifts) on one, gold on two, guys on three. Which was boring and restrictive in its own way.


So Samurai gave us Legacy holdings which was a little more fun because the holdings could do things, but still the first few turns of the game were dull. So we moved onto Border Keep, and the laws of unintended consequences reared its ugly head. So away they went.

I’ve now spent over a 1000 words talking about cards and formats from editions past. In a post that is suppose to be part of a review of 20Festivals. It is, but the history here is essential. The lessons of the past highlight the fact that Forgotten Legacy is an insanely important card. It is easily the most environmentally stimulating card in 20Festivals, and it is better than any legacy holding that has come before. Fully unlocking its potential is going to be the first big test for players preparing for the 20Festivals kotei season and beyond.

Forgotten Legacy makes 3 gold. No other legacy holding has ever done that (Kyuden Kyotei and Supply Smugglers – Loophole man strikes again!) and it makes all the difference in the world. Lion get to build around first turn Legacy, two 3 produces on turn two (including another Legacy if they must) and whatever the heck they want on turn three.

Not just for Celestial-era Unicorn.

High gold cost holdings are now a consistent viable option. Weapon Artist is no longer relegated to draft only status. School of Wizardry decks can always afford their Hogwarts when they see it in. Platinum Mine can be ran in tandem with Secluded Outpost. With the right number of one gold cost holdings, there may be even be room for a few 6 gold cost holdings that only make 5. Say for instance, Jesse’s beloved Merchant Atoll.


In 20Festivals, 1 cost holdings fetch you!

The Elephant in the room of course, is how Forgotten Legacy interacts with gold pooling. Now every Brilliant Cascade Inn/Questionable Market/Temple of Destiny also functions as a Jade Pearl Inn. The loss of a fate card matters, but nothing is as important as good gold. Good gold and the quest for excellent gold is what will cause players to experiment with 3x Building Contract and 3x Coastal Lane. Gold matters. Invest in gold. Like Glenn Beck tells you to. That used to mean bowing your stronghold and only getting 2 gold out of the deal, now with Deep Harbor/Lane of Immorality/Toil of Zokujin plus Forgotten Legacy you bow your box and get 5 gold. I wouldn’t be surprised if gold schemes featuring 14x 1 gold cost holdings and 2x Forgotten Legacy start becoming the industry standard.


Engage: Make guy. Battle: Move it home. Profit?

The holding minimum on Forgotten Legacy is there to help hedge against the unanticipated fallout witnessed from the gold fixers of days gone by. Loophole man made an interesting observation. It demands 16 holdings. Not 16 gold producing holdings. Not 16 holdings with a gold cost. The semantic difference doesn’t mean much right now unless you are just chomping at the bit for an excuse to play Tower of Vigilance alongside Tunnel Network. Still, we are just coming off a format filled with General’s Hatamoto, and I spent many a night trying to bust Hidden Weapons open, its a notable consideration.

A common question in l5r is: “is it worth it”? Is it worth playing this card to work with that card? Is it worth buying this attachment now and that personality later? Is it worth risking my army to a battle? Forgotten Legacy is going to cause me to sacrifice a lot of my free time working and rethinking how to best construct a deck. It will be worth it.

Renaissance Festival

The bomb was dropped. Always the last one to know. So it turns out Twenty Festivals is here, or at least previewed. Back we come with a vengeance. Shake off the rust and fire up the engine. Time to start pouring over the new set and breaking it down. Jesse and I will have our video card by card analysis up eventually, but before we can provide meaningful insight


Um, inner voice, I’m sort of writing an article here, could you maybe quite down. We are getting back into our normal full posting schedule. Lots of work to do, I don’t need the distraction.

Oh, sorry.

As I was saying, before we can provide meaningful insight on every individual card in the set, we first have to review the set and themes in totality. Cards are, after all, powerful or weak depending on the context


Dude, not cool. Twenty Festivals is a 350 card set with new strongholds and senseis and themes for every faction. There is a lot to focus on, like the evolution


*Sigh* Ok, want to do you want?

I want you to talk about the coolest most awesomest part of 20 Festivals the return of

The Naga?

Snark. You think that will calm me down?

Ok. Fine. So for my first Twenty Festival Article, before I discuss anything else at all in a brand new base set, I am going to


…. I was getting there.

Too slowly.

Fine. So how do you want me to start this article?


Ok. Fine. You win inner Timmy.



I just said


You cannot keep doing this all article, it is annoying, it breaks up


I did the shout thing.

Didn’t say it right. DRAGONS!!!!!!! Needed more volume.

No one has accused me of not being loud enough. Like ever.


Ok, lets do it like a banzai. Three times.







Nice. Please proceed.

Thanks inner voice, please enjoy this highly caloric sugary beverage and shut the hell up.


Guess whose back. Back again.


I love gigantic personalities. Generally speaking, this love manifests in the form of me playing gigantic oni personalities. Dragons work too. One of the comments I’ve made about set design so far in Ivory is that I don’t have a clear idea of what a “big” personality looks like. Pre-Ivory base we had the Flesh Eater, the experienced Dark Naga and assorted other Coils of Madness personalities, along with some scattered toys from Gates and Aftermath.

From there we haven’t seen much in the way of high gold cost, windmall slam, deal with this! impact personalities. Ivory brought mediocre clan champions, and not much else. Then there were two different 10 gold cost Shugenja that made personalities. That is a small litter.  So when I got around to the big Dragons after combing through 20Fest, well, you heard.

The numbers.

How do you read a new l5r personality card? Do you first start by reading the text box? Looking at the force, chi? Do you obsess over the keywords matching the art?

The spikiest place to start is where I begin: the gold cost. There is no more important stat on an l5r card. There just isn’t. A card’s value is directly related to its gold cost. Gold cost is the limiting reagent that determines whether or not a card gets to actually be played from provinces  It is the trump. The elemental dragons cost a whopping 15 gold. The same cost as Shadow Dragon Experienced 2, or Gozaru no Oni. More than a clan champion, the Dragons demand a Smaug level of wealth to enter play.

What do we get for 15 gold? Sadly, not a whole lot. 7 Force was massive a long time ago, in an environment far far away. Now? It is not taking the vast majority of provinces. To turn one of these beasts into a House Targaryan style fiefdom destroyer, you are going to need the additional investment of a fate card. Probably a spell, that costs additional gold. Bummer. There is some comfort to be had in that spells are pretty pushed coming into 20Fest, but 8 or 9 force would have been considerably more exciting and cost appropriate, too. Ikoma Akinari invested = 9 force for 15 gold.  5 Chi is hard to complain about in a format that plateaus at 4, but 20Fest features an awful lot of duelists, and for 15 gold it isn’t hard to get a sword slinger up to 6 or 7 chi. On the raw math the dragons come up a little short. So other than our slightly bigger, burlier numbers, what do the dragons bring us? The classic hodge podge of effects.


My scales use to be more powerful than a turtle’s shell. True story.

Air Dragon!

Probably the most straight fowardly powerful. Straighten every phase? Don’t mind if I do! Give it some permanent force from a Guidance in War or Stones of Purity and always a have a large threat for every attack and every defense. The battle ability protects your big force. Good complimentary design albeit pretty radical. An Air Dragon that my opponent can target with Ranged Attacks and Spell Effects? Why I’ve never. When Dragon decks win, they will feature the Air Dragon prominently.

As caring as a honey badger.

Earth Dragon!

Continuing in the vain of completely unexpected, here is an Earth Dragon that isn’t at all interested in whether or not it is attacking or defending. No fucks given. Which is its attitude concerning send home and bow effects. Fits in right alongside Air Dragon in the big units that don’t want to be messed with category, and helps give some clarity of direction to a dragon deck.

With Koiso Sensei, one Fire Dragon can make two ranged attacks!

Fire Dragon!

The Fire Dragon, from its orginal insane 14 gold cost for 2 ranged attacks in Imperial, to its story based perogative to join the Phoenix clan has always been its own unique special snowflake. Now it feels downright bland. A not as good Dark Naga Experienced, with a perfectly acceptable but not really all that exciting ranged 7 attack. If you want to get a sense of how l5r personality design has changed over the years, take some time to chart the course of the Fire Dragon. It is quite revealing. The Fire Dragon is a campfire hoping to turn into a wildfire.

Over/under on Jaws references: 2000. Good bet to take the over.

Water Dragon!

As it once was, so shall it be again. The traditionalist. Water Dragon Experienced 2 was an insane card, and experienced 3 is a comfortable return to form. The ability to copy a trait makes sure it can play with its broodmates. Maybe will be breakable in time, copying traits is unregulated territory. I anticipate the following sequence will happen a lot in my near future: Water Dragon copies Fire Dragon. Paul smiles. Paul realizes bowing Dragons for ranged 7 isn’t actually all that exciting. Paul loses. There may eventually be a super amazing cool something that gets insane benefit from being copied, but with Ninja Shapeshifter also in the set, I’m not holding my breath.

Peaked in high school Rob Lowe


Void Dragon!

As it once was, so shall it almost be again. Two cards isn’t the same as whole hand, and there are discipline cards now. The least powerful Dragon and impactful Dragon out the gates. Questionable value even after it successfully triggers. The only one in danger of actually being left out of Dragon decks altogether. The Void has been losing its mojo.

The number I didn’t talk about because it just bums me out.

Honor requirements. The cock block of many an exciting deck. Cleverly implanted honor requirements bring a lot of flavor and variation to personality design. They also can serve as an important restrictor plate, preventing powerful personalities from destablizing a game by entering play to soon.

Hoo boy, 15 is an awfully big number. From the beginning, Imperial Edition, the elemental dragons had an honor requirement of 10, and I confess, it never would have occurred to me so see that modified. A return to the “Must have Ring of XXX” to enter play? I could have swallowed that. Not like I need more reasons to run Long Term Fruition. 15 honor req, did not see that coming. The ability to reduce the hr is good flavor, but dropping to 13 isn’t a significant payoff for the work of finding and playing the proper ring at the correct time.

What does it mean? That these dragons aren’t going to see a lot of play outside the sensei. Hitting 15 honor isn’t hard. Every faction has at least some kind of honor theme. Hitting 15 honor in a military deck that requires a certain pace and aggressive tempo? While developing your gold to afford 15 gold cost personalities, while playing fate side spells to activate your dragons when they eventualy get onto the board? A much harder task.

Should have been Miyoshi sensei.


Kiyoteru Sensei

If the dragons had lower honor requirements, there would be an interesting discussion about how necessary and useful the sensei is. As it stands, I don’t see the dragons seeing play except in concert with Kiyoteru. If the dragons had 5 or greater personal honor the ability to proclaim them would open an interesting switch deck option. As it stands, the sensei is a neccessary evil. It does provide for some fun attempts to short cut the HR using force bonuses and modifiers. Items are non-bo with the dragons, and there aren’t  ton of options for limited phase force generation, but there might be a way to consistently play a Dragon on 4. Still to slow for the enivornment as I think it will actually exist, but a man with an urge has to start somewhere.
Here is the decklist I will be proxy-ing up to test.

The Majestic Temple of the Phoenix
Kiyoteru Sensei
2 Forgotten Legacy
3 Silver Mine
3 Famous Bazaar
3 Questionable Market
3 Temple of Destiny
3 Deep Harbor
2 Family Library
1 Counting House
3 Komori Taruko
3 Tonbo Jairyu
3 Isawa Amihiko
3 Shiba Michiki
3 Shiba Koshiba
1 Earth Dragon Experienced 2
1 Air Dragon Experienced 3
1 Water Dragon Experienced 3
1 Fire Dragon Experienced 3
1 Void Dragon Experienced 3
3 Burning Spirit
3 Stones of Purity
3 Overwhelming Power
2 Ward of Air
2 The Dragon's Breath
3 Zazen Meditation
3 Inspired Devotion
2 Oath of Fealty
3 Banish All Shadows
2 Final Sacrifice
2 Reprisal
2 Honed to a Razor's Edge
2 Undermining the Otomo
2 Discovering the Daisho of Water
1 Ring of the Void
1 Ring of Water
1 Ring of Earth
1 Ring of Air

Kotei Warmup: Arc Top Dog Showdown!

The Whining

L5R is a tough mistress. Interest waxes and wanes. In the past, I’d put it on the shelf for a couple months after worlds, when there’s no new cards and no real events. Tuesday card night becomes Tuesday Legendary night as my brother rolls in and sabotages everyone’s desire to run back stale matches in an environment we think we all have figured out. This is the time of year I convince myself there’s a playable 40/40 3-of legacy format, or I brew durdle-fest Big Deck decks. It’s the off season.

Then I made a terrible life mistake. I started an L5R website. Suddenly I had to be interested. Worse, I have to make you all interested! Woe unto me.

So then I had an idea. A tournament! My own tournament! Against myself!

The Logic

Kotei season is right around the corner. AEG, to their credit, is trying to make L5R an all-year game, and I couldn’t be happier about it. It’s time to focus. Sorry P’an ku, sorry Sorrowful Prayers. It’s time to focus.

One of the most important parts of testing is establishing a gauntlet. L5R is a game about matchups. Barring a crazy broken dark horse deck (paging Paneki’s Mask), you simply cannot beat everything. That means the players who are going to take down an event are going to be the players who most successfully read the field and get ready for it. At the highest levels, people out-and-out specifically meta other top contenders. But for our purposes, having a good idea of what the best decks are going to be and figuring out what will have the best shot against them is enough.

The Bracket

bracket-1What we see here are 5 extremely powerful and proven arc decks, and 3 newcomers that Paul and I think have potential to attack the format in new and interesting ways. It’s a mix of updated lists from last season, and the best of our brews. We seeded them based on their past performance and our subjective evaluation of how good they are. The 8 seed we decided to throw in a wildcard deck – Dragon Honor – to mix it up a bit. Just assume that Luke Gregory is at this tournament.

The Decks

Most of the decks on this list have an extensive pedigree. Let’s look at them!

Crane Scouts

Crane scouts is a deck that’s been dominate for the entire duration of Ivory Edition, and Crane is a faction that’s been dominate for the entire duration of L5R. In truth, we could have filled at least half the top 8 with totally different variations of Akagi Sensei decks in our top 8 and have resembled a real kotei top 8. Cheap swarm builds, super friends builds with various powerful uniques, and various fate packages: follower heavy with Family Dojo or action heavy with Serenity and various force reduction, or some blend. In the end we decided to just represent two.

Unicorn Shugenja

Unicorn, like crane have a ton of good decks. I think post-TNO, though, shugenja has emerged as the best one. Shugenja have the best action suite with Final Ruin, Guidance in War, and Ward of Air, and unicorn gets the most mileage out of this package with their cavalry units, box action, and economic advantage. By not playing shugenja out of corn, you don’t gain access to significantly better personalities, but your action suite takes a significant hit in power. One deck plays actions like Serenity and Allied Efforts, and one plays Battle: Kill someone. The difference is stark. Playing this deck feels great. You’re always calling the shots and setting the tempo, especially when you go first. You can go super-unit or go wide with lots of smaller units. It generates force quickly and efficiently with Stones of Purity, and takes full advantage of the various conquers it has access to (plus Guidance in War). It plays Okura is Released as a guaranteed ranged 4 (off Wattu + sensei) and occasional unit kill off Tested Blade. Much like Rae Sensei, it’s a deck that preys on other less powerful mid-game military decks, but with more resilience and fewer matchup landmines. 10/10 would play again.

Scorpion Dishonor

Ah, Dishonor. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride. This is an excellent deck that didn’t take down that many tournaments, despite being represented in pretty much every top 8. That’s because it mostly preys on unprepared players. Dishonor is a technically tricky matchup that requires the other player to know when to wait and when to attack. A botched attack can accelerate the dishonor deck by an entire turn between Saya, Ramifications and Oppression. The deck has only gotten better with the printing of Soshi Kitaiko and Yogo Chijin to allow access to some shugenja tricks – most important Walking the Way to set up your Mercantile Warfare bombs. This is a deck that will continue to perform well, and you need to be ready for it.

Lion Military

Go first, buy guys, attack has been a recipe for success since Imperial Edition. A variety of builds have been doing well all season, and I don’t see any reason for that to change in the early events. The addition of Serenity to beat Turtle’s Shell and Springing the Ambush as Unholy strikes 4-6 make the deck even better. Scouting Amidst the Snow gives it access to oodles of force via Continuous Terrain, since Lion swarms out better than anyone else, and gives some interesting toolbox choices. I particularly like Crystal Tears, Valiant Defense, and Open Ground as surprise 1-ofs to grab and swing a game in your favor.

Corrupt Mantis

This deck did extremely well early in the last kotei season, and has only gotten better with time. Lane of Immorality + JPI + 2 for 3 on turn 1 makes the deck’s gold even more consistently explosive, and there are all sorts of new, interesting directions to take the deck. The most obvious path is to update the old oni dueling build with Aranai Sensei + Death of the Winds to get Weakness Exponsed or Come One at a Time, but there’s also a build that can run Shika sensei, cheap naval scouts and big attachments like Sohei’s Ono and Demolisher for huge naval actions and big fate-side force. Turns out oceans of gold are good. Who knew.

Rae Sensei

Ah, my baby. This is the first of the bottom brew-bracket, the decks Paul and I think will perform well despite not being proven. This is a straight grip-and-grin predator deck. It preys on mid-game military decks that must attack into you, punishes them early, and locks them into a position where they can never profitably defend or attack. It can also run Priestly Feud off 5 chi personalities, forcing your opponents into terrible attacks or defenses. It generates lots of force off of Burning Spirit, and has access to recursive uses of the most powerful battle action in the format – final ruin. It struggles a bit against Honor and Dishonor, but there are ways of shoring up those matchups, using Alchemy Lab to increase Burning Spirit force generation, and Inspired Devotion for +4/+5 force in early attacks, as well as fast Blitz decks that can go under it before it sets up. In the end, it will either be a slightly worse or slightly better version of the Unicorn deck, depending on what the metagame looks like.

Philippines Crane

For those of you not in the know, “Philippines” is our shorthand for any deck that runs over 30 followers + family dojo/lonely dojo. The decks attack the format in a unique and difficult to handle way: by generating a million force and sitting there. Followers and force together offer a lot of resiliency, Lonely dojo generates a lot of gold, there are plenty of destined cards in the Crane card pool to keep the followers flowing, and crane has access to at least 5 conquerors, plus potentially General’s Steed to make defenses as powerful as attacks. Go first, generate force, attack. It’s a variant of Crane Scouts, but one unique enough to warrant it’s inclusion. It has weaknesses – dueling and Ninube Shiho – but the offering of followers is broad enough to provide some answers to these. There answers are probably good enough to give you 40-45% match ups. That means it’s good enough for the swiss, but if you expect to play these sorts of decks in a best of 3 environment, it might not make the cut.

Dragon Honor

This is our wildcard deck. We wanted some honor in the environment, and didn’t have any Dragon, so we glued them together. That being said, the deck is solid. Spells are extremely powerful, and the bow-everything spell-honor deck has always been tier 1.5ish. Dragon has the advantage of more force than Phoenix, the other good home for the deck, so it can win battles Phoenix would lose after using all the bow effects. The deck can also generate force well with Stones of Purity and attack if need be. This is a deck I’m interested to see if it can make the cut, so to speak.

The Conclusion

Check in all this and next week for best of 3 match videos and analysis of these brackets! We’ll be starting soon with Rae Sensei vs Scorpion Dishonor, then proceeding from there. Let us know what you think of the decks, our builds of them, and what your favorite horses for early koteis are!

Time Flies.

A new year has arrived. Many if not most people find themselves wondering where the time went. What year is it? How did it move so quickly?

I do not suffer this affliction. I know precisely where the time went. Where it slipped it away. The laboratory.

I love to make l5r decks. To experiment. To brew. Oftentimes a deck never quite comes together. I lose interest, I encounter a hurdle, the cards aren’t there, or the rules don’t work. There is a whole cornucopia of deck ideas buried in the back of my mind. Seeds that will never grow into the towering redwood I so hoped they could be. These projects aren’t all that time consuming. Theorycraft, construct the list, goldfish a few hands, realize the build is dead on arrival, discard the project, move on. Simple.

Trouble rears its head when those goldfish hands are encouraging. When I’m so sure I am onto something. If only I can unlock the puzzlebox. Turn the top side of the Rubik’s cube clockwise and twist just so and then! It will all come together.

Much of my 2014 was spent in this state. Not quite trapped in the rabbit hole (how can I be trapped in a place I am consciously visiting?), but struggling to break free from the gravitational orbit of a planet that isn’t quite dead, but cannot sustainably support life either.

In this article I am going to look back on some favorite decks of 2014 that occupied a disproportionate amount of my time. Invariably, these decks were good but not great. They are worthy of examination, both for what they offered strategically, and how they highlight just how much cool stuff Ivory (arc) had going for it as a format.


Need an engine to spin those wheels.

Oh P’an Ku. In our most recent podcast, Jesse and I talked about how Sorrowful Prayer was that card we spent more time on than any other. It is true, but with a caveat. At some point a fatwa was issued on P’an Ku. My deck building had descended into a parody of itself. It started out innocently enough. P’an Ku + Temple of Madness + Hoshoku-sha to eat the stolen personality. Fill the deck out with defensive actions to keep provinces and or attrition effects. Nothing worked. Instead of being honest and recognizing the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze I just kept squeezing. Trying to draw water from a rock. How about supplementing my incredibly slow token based dynasty engine with an equally slow fate based token engine? Poison the Cup get on the bus. What could go wrong? Oh, right. Military decks attack before turn 6 and buy 3 guys a turn. Fine then. What if I run P’an Ku with a Come One At a Time recursion shell. Building a deck around 4 personalities with 1 chi and lethal duels isn’t that absurd, right?

The breaking point came when I was putting together Crab dishonor and I had slotted in Crazy Eyes and his temple. What was I doing? Here I have a speed centric deck that requires aggressive flushing to get important honor loss causing holdings to hit critical mass. I’ve gone and added in 7 and 10 gold cost personalities with no relevant keywords that require a different holding to even get started doing anything. I was lost. Consumed by madness. It had taken me. Thankfully, Jesse intervened and through therapy and prayer I have been able to soldier on.


P’an Ku’s new bffs?

Do I still dream about P’an Ku? Yes. Have I thought about creating a letter writing campaign to demand that design change Poison the Cup’s token from Plague to Poison so it better fits into a Scorpion deck with Unsanctioned Strike and Shosuro Sadao? Who hasn’t. Hmm, in fact, with Shika Sensei + Ninube Shiho, along with Bayushi Jin-E + Knowledge and Power, Yogo Chijin + Poison the Cup (at least they got the Maho part); It may be time to revisit an old friend. That ban ended with the year, right?

I apologize for nothing.

“Tadaka got nothing on me!”

If P’an Ku was my heroin; Isawa Tsuke was my methadone. A unique personality with a built in recursive limited kill action that rewards me for dragging the game out for 20 turns. Sign me up. Sure Tsuke has a 12 gold cost and an ability that revolves around dueling with a starting chi of 2, but it wouldn’t be fun if there weren’t a few hurdles to clear. Start with a playset of Ashalan Blades to break through any chi walls. Add in a  playset of Yasuki Traders to create a bottomless fate deck. Flesh it out with search, draw, and defensive effects. Already priced into dueling, so why not jam Come One. Phoenix have cheap samurai, so may as well combo it up with the Open Emotions. I even get to play Final Sacrifice so as to not be totally ruined by Planted Evidence. The only issue now is getting to Tsuke on time. A fundamental flaw to be sure, but a manageable one.

It turned out there were multiple issues. Spending 12 to 17 to 27 gold to kill a single personality is rarely efficient. Running low focus value defensive cards in a deck that plans to issue a million duels means you are going to brick. Determined Challenge, Sudden Movement and Ambush exist. As do the Flesh Eater and 6 chi personalities who can get +2Chi weapons.

The Shadowed Estate of the Scorpion was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Subtly powerful indeed.

9 factions, 5 rings, Dragon Box. This’ll take awhile.

As a degenerate deckbuilder, I have a burning desire to explore All Clans Sensei out of, well, all the clans. On the surface, the calculus on Mahatsu is straightforward. A card made specifically for enlightenment will work best out of the stronghold that specifically plays a ring. I resolved to save that testing for last. Addicted as I am to card draw, I found myself trying every kind of build with Mahatsu just to power out early Ring of the Void. In the parlance of today’s youth. Epic fail. Not only was I intentionally stunting my own development by kneecapping my starting gold, I had also constructed a game plan built around intentionally finding myself with 2-4 cards in hand on turn 4 or 5. Pre-errata Crane handled this shockingly well. It was one of the trial decks that paved the way for my amore with the Philippines style heavy attachment build. Likewise Unicorn had starting gold to spare, and always having access to Air/Water/Earth had its merits. Still, these won in spite of Mahatsu Sensei, not because of it. Just another spotlight illuminating that Crane and Unicorn were the best factions. The Lion Mahatsu deck is not to be spoken of, save to acknowledge that it rather glaringly confirms my obsessive compulsive deck builder ways.

Back to unplayable.


That OCD eventually landed on Dragon and Mahatsu, and what a fun few months that was. First there were the obligatory military and honor decks that used the Senesi for value like I had done with every other faction, and then there was the enlightenment builds. The best of which ended up being the build that starts Water. Turns out having to play multiple terrains is a real bother and starting with Water gives you an actual tactic to employ. I’m hoping Ring of Fire gets a facelift in 20 Festivals. It is a little embarrassing how terrible the card is. Not even repeatable, ugh.

These aren’t all the decks and variations that consumed me last year, but they are the ones that I was never able to quite shake. Even now I hunt the white whale. The deck that is awesome, powerful, creative and solely mine. If only I had more time.


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