From 6 to 40: A tale of inspiration from failure and going back to basics
To start off, this post is for those who thanked me with these words:
“That’s the best deck I’ve ever went up against.”
“That’s the best game I’ve ever had, I’m still shaking even now.”
“Thanks for bringing that deck, it’s an inspiration.”
I’m normally not one to boast or beat my chest and proclaim to the world about my achievements, but this time it’s different. I feel like I owe it to those people what I’ve been through to produce that wonky deck. This year’s Kotei is easily the best one I’ve had. I went in with a deck that didn’t have any proper test other than fishbowl and against a slightly modified starter Crab berserker deck in slightly more than a week. Honestly, I didn’t even expect to make it through the first round. With experienced players filling every spot, I’m pretty sure my meager deck will get creamed hard.
Except that it didn’t. I made the top 16 cut with 4 straight wins (and 2 straight losses right after that, but I was having fun at the time) which was never my goal at all. But this is not a post about success. This is a post about failure(s).
When I started out with Kotei in mind, I had a dueling deck. I’m a big dueling buff and I still am. I’ve been absent for 2 Koteis now and a lot of months and frankly, I’m out of shape. I had a limited card pool but was greatly boosted by buying Forgotten Legacy, which is an awesome set. I saw all these shiny dueling cards and the first thing that came to mind was: “Oh cool, now I can play competitively again!”
I was correct. But it wasn’t due to dueling. The thing about the dueling deck was that I had per-conceptions on what MUST BE INSIDE, NO MATTER WHAT and THIS CARD SUCKS, GTFO. I went in with a set of rules that I told myself, I had to follow to make the best deck possible. Like a recipe if you will. So I went ahead and built that cool awesome deck. Mind you Inzen and I have been slinging ideas and combos throughout the years and that really helped a lot.
One day, a weekly tournament came up. It was 3 weeks before Kotei. “Great, time for me to test this awesomeness out!” It was a 3 round affair and I lost every single one. My honour running dueling deck didn’t get past 17. WTH happened? I had no idea but it was bad. It got me thinking that maybe these so-called “rules” might actually be WRONG. So the logical thing for me to do is to discard that rule, that principle, altogether. With that gone, I only had the conversations with Inzen and my negative play experiences to go on.
Then I looked into the most unlikely of places to get started on my new deck: the Crane EE starter deck. The deck is rudimentary and simple. But it works. I rebuilt the deck, fishbowled for a couple of nights before I could dissect what’s wrong with it. Then, I thought of drafting. The principles of L5R drafting is to really be efficient with your resources to reach your winning condition as fast as possible. So I chucked my whole box of cards on the floor (after setting aside my starter deck) and started off with an idea:
I needed honour. Lots of it.
Easy enough, the rares were immediately picked up first. The commons and uncommons are easy to miss. So in those rares go and I fishbowled again.
Wow. Impressive. But I still find myself short in terms of gold and the body count to preserve the number of activations needed for me to gain as much honour as possible. So with a heavy heart, rares that I thought could be useful like Doji Hakuseki xp, Ebisu’s Honesty and Wyrmborne Katana (wait, whut?), were sacked. I looked at my deck again. I realised gold was a big issue. I needed people fast and needed them to be useful. So in went the 6g for 5g holdings and I was trying to get those on my first flip. Border Keep xp was the boss then.
It still didn’t work. Colonial Harbor and KOx should be fabulous, until I realised I didn’t need to actively get as much favour tokens as I can every limited and open. Also the number of bowed courtiers are shockingly huge, often with no one left to make use of during battle, with the exception of Inexplicable Challenge. I hit another wall. It was a big one. I can’t bring my peeps out consistently enough. But big walls have cracks that small things can go through. It was the word SMALL that made me perk up again and hit my messy pile of cards.
I needed speed.
I gathered every boxable Crane and unalinged (even those from other clans) I can find and tried to fit in 3x Doji Shunya in the mix. That is, of course, one of my main sources of honour. I can’t ditch him. But I did ditch Kakita Nara, Doji Shigeyuki, all the cool cavalry and duelist dudes, et al. I was left with a mess of peeps that were luckily mostly courtier. Note that at this time the basic Crane deck is a monster of rares that are being stripped down bare.
Another thing that was stopping me was, ironically, honour gaining cards. The rare ones. They’re good, but they unexpectedly put me in a place where it’s very hard to defend later. The cost of bowing that comes from Favors is a killer. Dismissing the Cur is not so bad. But my lack of methods in dishonouring someone makes it a subpar card to bow my courtier to. So again, I stripped the deck back to its core and went back to basics.
After numerous iterations, the final bit was to include the tiny little pieces that would personify ME into the deck. My main mechanics were done but the little quirks was the soul of the deck. It wasn’t specific cards, but it was tiny little features that the local players would know and say “Yep, that’s his deck alright”.
I fishbowled with the deck in whatever spare time I could find. Luckily there’s a colleague of mine that just played the game but he obliged me with lunch time games with his starter deck (Crab starter is still one of the most solid decks I’ve seen right out of the box). The tweaks to the cards weren’t so much. But the tweaks to the play style was a lot.
And I take that basic deck to Kotei with the intention to have fun. I wrote articles prior to the event to empty my head and calm my nerves, as well as keep myself focused. The day before Kotei I fishbowled for a bit at work *right* before lunchtime (sorry boss) and the night before I only counted my cards to be the correct amount before sealing it off and have a good time watching a local comedy game show. I slept directly after the show.
Come Kotei morning, I was relaxed as a Kakita is in his stance. I wasn’t expecting anything so I came in with costume (which wasn’t the best, but it felt epic to play in it) and talked and joked with everyone before the event started. And then it began. I fell into my fishbowl routine and just played my game, cutting down as many mistakes as I can and maximised my limited and open actions. I didn’t control the game, I ran fast and engaged people in battle. Gaining honour in battle and being careful with my headcount. Every game I had to take a leap of faith and gambled discarding my Doji’s Guidance xp for further card draw (or something else to that effect). I found after every of my games that my opponents had to do the same.
The deck provided a rush for me and my opponents. We were both racing towards the finish line and every time it was a close call. And every victory for me was a shock and excitement for my opponent as well. There are disappointed faces with defeat, but I could see them shaking in that final moments that easily go either way, their victory or mine. I was shaking as well. Every time. It was epic.
In the end I went 4-2 for the prelims and lost in the top 16. It was a fun run. But even dropping out, I didn’t feel I had lost at all because that same sense of excitement still happened in the final game. People were asking me about the deck and I showed them. The mechanics were simple, yet the punch it packed was enormous. The agility of the deck surprised even me. The spirit of the Crane rose again with every player that thought Crane had no hope this arc.
The starting block for that deck, is already posted before this one. Granted I put in FL cards to stay up to snuff but the gist is there. Some minor modifications should be made to tailor your play style and pace. Even including 3x Favors (why not if you can handle it, right?)
To top it off, I wouldn’t have made such a deck without my friends (especially the ones who pummeled my dueling deck to $#!7). Those who smile when I returned and those who gave ideas and advice with small talk and chats. Even the one who play tested with me with a clearly basic deck, but had the purest intention of helping me out with my Kotei training. I would also like to thank the ones who liked what they saw. My opponents who had a blast with me in playing the game and the ones who are inspired to give Crane another shot.
And my wife, yes, she’s the biggest inspiration of all. She was (and still is) always there when I hit a roadblock and she always know how to cheer me on and keep on moving. A lot of the deck came from randomly seeing her play with my daughter and in counting the number of coins in her wallet (yes I peeked). Those coins and Inzen’s random advice a month ago finally clicked.
Thank you all. Bless you.
p/s: I learned later (I had to leave because of an emergency) that I got top of the clan with that Top 16 loss. Funny how things worked out 😉