L5R Deck Building Guide, Emperor Edition
I do not take credit for this article. But it was a well thought off and written thread that I can’t help but post it as a general guideline.
It’s a long post, but I think you guys will find this… enlightening.
-Written by Blackraine in AEG forum, under the thread, L5R Deck Type Guide
The purpose of this document is to help new players build coherent, playable, and semi-competitive decks. After reading this document and applying its lessons to your decks, you may not have Kotei ready decks, but you’ll understand the basic concepts of how to make a tournament ready deck. Additional documents on deck building will focus on more advanced concept which will help a player fine tune their initial deck concepts into something that is Kotei ready.
There are three basic concepts which drive deck building… keywords, win conditions, and gold scheme. These three considerations are at the core of every initial deck. With some decks, things just fall together in such a way that these considerations are the only ones which need to be made… but for most decks these three are just the starting point… a place where you can get the deck together, play test it, and then tweak it to make it better.
When choosing keywords, it’s important to not choose too many. Your deck should specialize in one, perhaps two, keywords. Only decks which have a lot of personalities that share keywords can get away with having more than two… for instance, a Dragon Dueling Magistrate deck can get away with running cards for three keywords, as nearly all Dragon Magistrates (in Emperor Edition) are also duelists and courtiers. This, however, is extremely rare.
Keywords have a certain rarity to them based on how many clans share their usage. The most common keywords are Samurai, Shugenja, and Courtier. These are the three samurai classes, and every clan has at least two of these three primary keywords. The second tier keywords are those of well-entrenched deck types: Scout, Magistrate, Commander, Cavalry, Monk, Duelist, Tactician, Ninja, Naval, the Elemental keywords, Shadowlands, and Paragon. These are keywords which are shared in great number among multiple clans. The third tier keywords are more or less theme specific, or are rare enough that it is difficult to make an entire deck of them without having multiple clans: Kensai, Conqueror, Henshin, Tattooed, Alchemist, Thunder, Forest, Spirit, etc.
When building your fate deck, it is important to understand this rarity. Are you going to have enough personalities with the required keyword that the card will actually be useful? It will be more likely the case if the card requires only first or second tier keywords. If you are running any third tier cards, it should only be because most (or all) of your personalities possess that keyword… which then means that you should only run one of the third tier keywords unless most of your personalities possess multiple of those keywords (and, of course, the same ones).
For this, I employ what I call the “rule of 9”. Before including any cards in my fate deck that require a certain keyword, I ensure that at least 9 of my personalities have that keyword. This should be in proportion to the number of those cards used, however. If I’m running 20 “Henshin” fate cards in a 40 card deck, at least half (if not more than half) of my personalities should be Henshin. If I’m only running 3-6 Henshin cards, then having only 9 Henshin personalities is fine… it gives me a good likelihood that I will have at least one personality in play at any given time who is capable of using the card.
Once you have decided what keywords you wish to build for, the second thing to look at is win condition. To do this, you’ll have to look at the personalities you chose to support your fate deck. If they’re mostly low force, and your fate deck has very few force raising cards, then military is not likely an option. Similarly, if they’re low personal honor, and your fate deck has very few honor gaining cards, honor is not likely an option.
Good “military” force for an L5R personality is 4. If you’re going to run a military deck, all of your non-boxable personalities (meaning they have a gold cost equal to your Stronghold’s Gold Production + 2) should have a force of 4 or more. This means that two of your personalities can take most players’ provinces, and with some buffs (attachments or force bumps), take the 8 or 9 province strength provinces of some of the major military clans. It is possible to run a military deck that does not follow this rule… but it’s much more difficult and much more fate deck dependant. You want to be able to threaten provinces even if your fate hand is empty… and that requires raw, printed force. How you win militarily, beyond pure force, is dependant on the capabilities of your personalities, and the cards in your fate deck… but that will be addressed in a different document specific to military decks.
For honor decks, a good average personal honor is 3. 4 is better, and you should strive to have as many 4 personal honor personalities as possible… but for most clans, 3 is more realistic. Very few personalities aside from the Lion, Crane, and Phoenix Clan Champions have a 5 personal honor. It is incredibly difficult to run an efficient honor deck with too many 2 (or lower) personal honor personalities, or with too many out-of-clan personalities (for whom you cannot gain honor for bringing them into play). Honor decks, much more so than any other deck type, almost require you to run purely in-clan, with very few exceptions. A good honor deck will also require you to run both personalities with printed honor gain abilities and fate cards that gain you honor… but that will also be addressed in a different document, specific to honor decks.
Dishonor decks have no generic personality requirements, but do largely require you to be running Courtiers, Magistrates, or both. This is because nearly all fate cards which cause an opponent an honor loss require you to have Courtiers or Magistrates. Thus… if you’re not running a courtier or magistrate deck, you should probably not bother with cards which threaten to dishonor their people or give them an honor loss… most opponents will simply accept the dishonor and side step whatever horrible fate you attempted to inflict on them, knowing that you lack the means to punish them for their dishonor.
Lastly, there are Enlightenment decks. Enlightenment decks have some very specific requirements. First, you must have monks or Shugenja, as they are the only ones who can perform the spells and kihos required to put the Ring of Air in play. They don’t have to make up your entire deck, but there needs to be enough of them (roughly half the deck) to ensure that you can put the Ring of Air in reliably. Second, you need the five rings. Fairly self-explanatory as to why. Third, you need a balance between kihos and spells, and non-kiho strategy cards. Lastly, you need as few fate cards that do not fall in the previous categories as possible… that means no weapons, no followers, and no items unless they’re something that absolutely pushes your deck over the edge of awesomeness (and that rarely happens… the Heavenly Daisho of the Dragon and Togashi Satsu from Celestial was a good example). I’ll give more specific deck building tips in the Enlightenment Deck document.
Once you have your theme and win condition, the last thing to look at is your gold scheme. It’s tempting to run a lot of holdings that do cool things… but since most of those holdings produce 2 or less gold, or produce 5 gold and cost 6, you risk making your dynasty deck highly inefficient. A no-brainer is to include three of your clan holding… this is the holding that costs 2 and produces 3 for your clan. Many themes also have a second holding which does something similar for Personalities with a specific Keyword, such as Temple of Harmony (which produces 3 for monks) or Magistrate’s Stipend (which produces 3 for Magistrates). If you’re fortunate enough to have these holdings for your theme, by all means, use them. The last consideration when building a good gold scheme is to determine the average cost of your personalities. Early in the story arc, the average cost for your personalities will be your Stronghold production + 3… so 6 for Lion, 8 for Unicorn, and 7 for everyone else. You use this average gold cost to ensure as many of your holdings as possible can combine to buy a personality without any wasted gold and using as few holdings as possible (so you want nearly all of your holdings to be 1, 2, or 3 production for Lion, 3, 4, or 5 production for Unicorn, or 2, 3, or 5 production for everyone else).
As few as possible of your holdings’ costs should exceed your Stronghold’s gold production. This is important for Lion, especially, since their stronghold only produces 3 gold, and many of the good holdings are 4 gold cost for 3 production.
Good gold schemes are different for each deck, based on the personalities and what the deck requires… but here’s an example of a good gold scheme and why it’s good:
Lion rush deck: 3 Copper Mines, 3 Remote Villages, 3 Small Farms, 3 Large Farms, 2 Akodo’s Graves, Travelling Peddler, Imperial Treasury
First, only one of the holdings costs more than the stronghold’s gold production of 3 (Imperial Treasury, which costs 4). I could replace some of the cards, such as the Small Farms, with a 4 for 3 holding (like Heavy Infantry Dojo), but I run the risk of getting inefficient gold that I can’t buy the first turn. I can buy a 4 gold holding the first turn, using all my gold… but it’s inefficient to do so since I also have 2 cost and 3 cost holdings that produce 3 gold. I don’t have any 6 cost holdings for much the same reason… I can’t buy them the first turn, even with all of my gold. Lion clan personalities have a lower average cost than other personalities, so the lower gold production per holding is not as harmful in the long run. In fact, in ideal circumstances, I can have 9 holdings in play (counting the Border Keep that I start with) on turn 2, ensuring I have all the gold I need for the rest of the game (in this case, a total of 25 gold production per turn, counting the Border Keep and the Stronghold). That gives me enough gold to clear my provinces every turn for the rest of the game, which is generally what you want to be doing by at least turn 3 or 4. My “do cool things” holdings are limited to Travelling Peddler and Akodo’s graves. Travelling Peddler gives me better card draw (which is important in every deck) while Akodo’s Grave gives me some terrain meta. Depending on what deck I’m running, I might wish to switch that out for Chugo Seido (for redirection) or Ageless Shrine (to counter open-phase bowing), but I don’t want to really expand my utility gold much beyond what I have already… Lion start out gold-strapped, and it’s best to get them out of that situation as quickly as possible.
Part 2: Military Decks…
I mentioned earlier that I’d be making additional posts about building decks for each of the four win conditions, and at long last, I’ve found time to do so. Because every deck *can* do military if it has to, this post is going to be pretty long, as it covers a fairly wide range of general topics which, for the most part, govern how battles are fought. Specifically, this post will focus on general tips for building a good military deck, the various military themes, how they aim to win, and their pros and cons. We’ll start out with a general definition of terms and ideas.
Jank is our first term. You can also use “combo” or “trickiness” or “no way is that going to work in more than one out of every 20 games”. Usually, the last one is applicable. Military decks tend to shy away from using combos, because above all, a military deck has to be reliable. Honor, Dishonor, and Enlightenment can operate well in spurts, because they’re just trying to get a number (number of honor, number of rings, whatever) to a certain point. It doesn’t matter how much honor they’re gaining each turn, or how many rings they’re putting into play each turn… it just matters that they gain all the honor they need or put all the rings into play that they need before the other player wins. So if you’re gaining 0 honor a turn for 3 turns and then manage to gain 36 honor in one turn from a battle, you’re still honoring out in 4 turns. This is sort of the same with military, but the enemy has a much higher degree of influence over how that works out for you. Because you commit to a battlefield before you know what the outcome of that battle is, military decks need consistency… the player needs to “know” how a battle is going to turn out before he assigns his troops in order to maximize their province destroying potential.
Effective loss is our next term. Military decks generally concentrate on generating effective losses for their enemy. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re destroying the enemy’s cards… it can mean bowing them or sending them home as well. But, when running a military deck, you generally want as many cards as possible that generate effective losses for your enemy. This is very different from other deck types, as other deck types will focus primarily on cards that work toward their primary win condition… honor gain, honor loss, searching for rings, etc. Granted, most of these cards also generate effective losses for the opponent, but many of them also generate effective losses for their side (like bowing a courtier to bow someone else and gain 2 honor). For most decks, effective losses limit the opponent’s ability to fight back. If you can play more cards which cause effective losses than the opponent has personalities, then you can be fairly certain of victory at the battle, as they will lose the ability to take actions before you do. That brings us to our next term…
Preservation of actions… this term refers to two different things: the preservation of your ability to take actions, and the preservation of the action cards in your hand. The first is done by keeping your people at the battlefield and able to take actions. Conversely, it can also be done by building your fate deck with actions that can be taken off of bowed personalities, or which are not performed by any personalities. The second part is done by using the actions printed on your personalities first, then using the cards in your hand. Obviously, there can be exceptions to that, such as if you’ve got a hand full of kill actions and your personalities just send people home… the kill actions are generally preferable, and we’ll discuss why later. To preserve your actions, you generally want to take actions printed on personalities first, actions that require unbowed personalities second, and actions that either do not require unbowed personalities or actions that do not require personalities third. This maximizes the number of actions you get to take at a given battle, and preserves the number of actions you have available for future battles.
Effective negation is a card which effectively negates a previous action. A good example would be a card which straightens your personality… by playing the card, you are effectively negating another player’s previous battle action. Effective Negation cards are helpful, but can be dangerous if you use too many of them. The reason for this is momentum (a term so important that it will get its own “chapter” later on). By spending an action to negate another player’s action, you have really just rewound the battle a little bit… for the most part, you haven’t really changed the game state. However, if you can do so as a reaction, or as a battle action which does something else (such as Steadfast Defense, which straightens your monk AND bows an opposing personality, or Show of Restraint which negates all force penalties AND negates the next movement or bow) then you can effectively negate an action without momentum loss. Preservation of momentum is one of the most important concepts of L5R, followed closely by preservation of actions.
L5R is different from most card games in that both players receive an approximately equal opportunity to play actions on each player’s turn, which means there is a certain level of mathematics involved in determining how well a battle will go for you. For example: if I have two personalities and Jeb has two personalities, we each know that it is futile to attack the other person, since the defender gets the first action and we can assume that each action taken (at least for the first 5 or 6 actions) will be an effective loss for the other person. So if Jeb attacks me, and I get the first action, I take one of his people out, then he takes one of my people out, then I take his second person out and he can no longer take actions… he just sacrificed two of his people to take out (perhaps not even permanently) one of mine. That, in essence, is momentum… it’s the predictable way in which actions play out. That said, momentum, like everything else in the game, can be changed.
Seizing Momentum is what Jeb’s mantis decks largely do. Naval allows him to go first, which means he starts with momentum on his side. Thus, in the above scenario, it doesn’t matter whether I attack him or he attacks me, he starts with the momentum and thus he wins the battle, all other things being equal. Thus, to beat a Mantis deck, I need ways to Seize the Momentum back. Seizing momentum is done three different ways: negation without momentum loss (reactions which negate an action or actions which effectively negate an action and have a second effect), altering the action order (cards or traits which allow you to go first in a battle or additional battle actions), and unperformed actions (actions which can be taken without a performing personality, allowing them to be taken after your army is bowed out or, in some circumstances, after they’ve been killed off or moved home, or without you having ever assigned). Using the example above, let’s see the impact of these momentum changes…
Jeb attacks me and declares a naval attack. Thus, while I would normally get the first chance to go, he does now, and thus he has the momentum. He kills one of my guys giving me one left. I then kill one of his guys, use Pillars of Virtue for an additional battle action (seizing momentum back), and Nerve Strike his second guy. Now, because I bowed my guy to do nerve strike, I’ve effectively given him an action, giving momentum BACK to him. However, because he has no personalities which can perform actions (as we each had 2 at the start of his scenario) he needs an action he can use without a performing personality, or else he’ll have to pass and give momentum BACK to me. Even if he does have an action, because his nerve struck person can’t perform it, he may pass anyway just to see if there’s anything I can do… otherwise we both die in the resulting draw. Because both sides have, at this point, been entirely taken out of the battle by Effective Loss, we each need an Effective Negation (suited to our particular predicament) or we need to find a way to add people to our side of the battlefield… otherwise, the game state will continue to be a draw until we both pass.
As you can see, Momentum more or less defines (or a better term would be predicts) the winner and loser of a battle. The person that can seize the momentum and keep the momentum wins. However, momentum can be applied to the game as a whole, not just battles. In fact, there are several different types of momentum.
Dynasty Momentum is your ability to keep producing personalities at an equal rate to your opponent. In general, one can expect a player to buy one personality on the second turn, two on the third turn, and three every turn after that. Some turns, they will get less, some they will get more, depending of course on how many non-personality cards show up, and how good their gold scheme is. Turns in which a player buys no personalities can be a major momentum swing for the game, as they give the opponent a distinct numbers advantage. Some military decks rely on cheap personalities that they can buy many of every turn in order to gain an early momentum advantage as well (buying one or two personalities on the first turn, for instance). The player with the highest family honor generally starts with the Dynasty Momentum on their side, as they take the first turn, and thus theoretically buy the first personality. This is why Lion rush decks are consistently a top-tier military deck… they start with the momentum due to their high family honor, and increase their momentum buy buying cheap personalities early on and continuing to do so until their opponent is horribly outnumbered and unable to defend.
Fate Momentum is your ability to continue having an equal number of cards in your hand as your opponent. Thus, fate momentum is conserved by not playing cards from your hand unless you absolutely have to, and is increased by drawing cards beyond the standard 1 card at the end of each of your turns. Because fate momentum plays directly into battlefield momentum (by giving you more actions to take before you have to pass), it is one of the most direct ways to win a game. As a result, card draw is important for every deck. I personally try to have at least two holdings which draw cards in each deck I build, and I put Ring of Void in almost every deck, just for this reason.
Battlefield Momentum is what I spent so much time expounding upon at the start of this section, but it does require a bit of additional explanation. Battlefield momentum is more than just the back and forth flow of actions. Specifically, because the battle is decided by who has the most force, battlefield momentum is the rate at which force is lost by each side. Force pump cards are, thus, a form of Effective Negation… they are effectively negating the loss of force on your side (through effective losses of personalities) by increasing the force of another personality. However, there are few types of Effective Loss (specifically ranged attacks and a few specific cards) which care about force. So force pumps are, in general, the weakest type of momentum preservation you can use, because it’s so easily taken away. This makes a nice transition to the next topic…
Ease of Access
There aren’t many cards which affect multiple targets or allow a player to change who goes first… thus, most momentum changes during a battle occur through Effective Negation. Different action types have a different level of finality to them, based primarily on how easy it is to effectively negate them. This leads to a certain hierarchy of actions and how good or bad they are. However, how easy they are to negate is not the only concern… each type of action has its own inherent pros and cons as well.
The weakest type of action is province strength buffing. While it is difficult to directly negate (only a handful of cards reduce province strength, and most of them are only found in the types of decks which also buff province strength), it can be passively negated through force gains or through causing Effective Losses against the opposing army such that your army’s entire force is going only against the province. Moreover, it has the least upside of any of the actions… if successful, it forces your enemy to go home without taking the province… but they still win the battle (or else province strength didn’t matter), they still destroy your army (because they won the battle) and they still keep their personalities to try again later. As such, province buffing is only good for three things: preventing the opponent from taking a province where you’re guaranteed to lose if you defend, preventing the opponent from taking a province where you can’t defend (because you were bowed out or outmaneuvered by Cavalry or other trickery), and preventing an opponent from taking your last province when you’ve already met your victory condition. In the first case, you’re preserving your personalities by not fighting back, as well as by saving the province so you can buy more personalities in the future. In the second case, you just want to prevent their tricks from costing you a province (and hopefully burn a few cards from their hand. In the third case, it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose the battle, so long as you save the province and thus win the game.
The second weakest action type is force pumps. This is because the increase in your personality’s force can be negated by *any* Effective Loss action, as long as the force gain doesn’t make them an illegal target. However, as mentioned before, force pumps are a type of effective negation, and they’re one of the few types of effective negation which can counter actions which haven’t even happened yet. As an example, if I increase my personality’s force from 4 to 10, it significantly reduces the number of Ranged Attack actions which can be successful against that personality, and can also save them from other actions, like Kanpeki’s twig-like snapping of people with lower force. Against a deck which relies on force-based Effective Loss actions, force pumps can actually be one of the strongest ways to beat them… if you simply have too much force, the number of actions they can take is severely limited.
The third weakest type of action is send home. With send home, you’re penalizing future battles in an effort to win the current battle, because the personality you sent home will not be destroyed at battle resolution. Send home is, however, difficult to Effectively Negate. There are cards which move personalities back into the battle, of course, but not as many as there are to straighten a personality. Even then, most cards which move a personality back to the battlefield require an opposing personality to be there, which makes it difficult when the send home action moves your personality home as well, or when it is a presenceless defense card such as Settling the Homeless. However, relying too much on send home is dangerous, as you’re merely delaying the problem of dealing with the personality until later, which increases the number of personalities you must send home in future battles.
Bowing is slightly better. Bowing causes an effective loss because the bowed personality cannot perform actions printed on their card, does not contribute force, and cannot perform most of the actions around which a given deck is built (there are relatively few actions which do not require an unbowed personality). However, bowing is easy to overcome because there are many actions which straighten a personality or negate their bowing, and while relatively few in number, there are still actions which do not require an unbowed personality to perform… not to mention the personality can still perform the actions on any attachments they already have. Bowing is a bit of a gamble… when you bow a personality, you’re placing a bet that you will win the battle… if you win the battle, the bow action was effectively a delayed kill action. If you lose the battle, however, the battle action was effectively a delayed move home action. Still, bowing is the most prevalent kind of effective loss, and even a deck running a lot of negation cannot keep up with a deck dedicated to bow actions.
Killing is the second best type of Effective Loss. There are very few ways to prevent a personality from being destroyed, and very few ways to get that personality back once they’ve been destroyed. If possible, it’s best to save kill actions for high value targets (clan champions, personalities with particularly powerful actions, etc) unless you have an abundance of kill actions. This dramatically reduces the likelihood of that personality returning to plague you in the future. The problem with kill actions is that, generally speaking, they’re also the most limited type of Effective Loss. Kill actions tend to have several targeting restrictions, like “only cards without attachments” or “only dishonorable personalities” or “only personalities with a force equal to or less than X”. Thus, a deck that runs a lot of kill actions generally needs to spend much of the rest of their deck running cards that enable the conditions required for their kill actions to work. A ranged attack deck, for instance, needs to also run a lot of force drop (to deal with high force targets that would not otherwise be vulnerable to ranged attacks) and a lot of attachment destruction (to deal with followers, as well as large force attachments like weapons).
The last, and best, type of Effective Loss is Remove from Game effects. There is no negation for remove from game (well… there kind of is depending on how the action was taken, but it’s very situational, very rare, and not specific to Remove from Game effects). Once they’re removed, you know they aren’t coming back. Unfortunately, it’s also the rarest type of game effect. Similar to Remove from Game are the “Unmaking” type effects, which put a card (or cards) on the bottom of their owner’s appropriate deck(s). These effects effectively remove the card from the game, as it’s rare for either player to go through their entire deck in a game, and, at least on the Dynasty side, there aren’t many ways to search for cards and put them in play.
Knowing this hierarchy of action effectiveness helps when you’re building a deck. It might be easy, for instance, to make a force pump deck or a send home deck, but the hierarchy shows that a dedicated bow or kill action deck will almost always beat a force pump or move home deck… the move home deck will eventually run into too many people to move home, and the bow deck will then bow out and destroy their entire army. Same thing with a force pump deck… eventually, force won’t matter as all the personalities will be bowed or destroyed. Thus, the core of a good military deck is generally to have enough bowing and destruction to win at least a couple of battles.
Wrapping up the Concepts
That’s all it really comes down to… winning a couple of battles. As mentioned, the various momentums tie together. Dynasty momentum is keeping your personality production equal to your opponents, so if your opponent wins a battle that puts you 3 turns behind him on personalities, he’s rather decisively gained the advantage in personality momentum, and probably the game as well. Same thing with fate momentum… if you’re both burning your whole hand every battle, but he’s refilling his hand every turn or two, he’ll eventually win just because he has a hand full of actions while you have 2 things you can do before you have to pass, which swings the Battlefield momentum hugely in his favor. When it comes down to it, a Military deck wins by seizing and keeping the momentum in as many areas of the game as possible, and acting on that momentum as quickly as he can in order to gain even more momentum down the road (because your opponent now has less provinces and starts losing Dynasty momentum). It’s really about speed and effectiveness of actions.
Now… on to the themes…
Cavalry decks are a great way for new players to learn the mechanics of the game from a somewhat uneven playing field. It’s very flexible in how you go about affecting game momentum… if the defender is defending in one place, you can go after his momentum by taking out multiple provinces unopposed. If the defender is spreading out, you can instead go after his momentum by concentrating on and eliminating a single group of personalities (and the province they’re protecting). Cavalry are not a theme in and of themselves, but they do change the dynamics of how the game is played enough that I felt they needed their own little section.
Scout builds are largely about ranged attacks, mobility, and applying a large amount of force to a specific battlefield, often without opposition. For the most part, Scouts lack the unopposed province option that Cavalry has… scouts instead concentrate on the second option of cavalry, which is to threaten multiple provinces to spread out the enemy and then mass force against a single province to take out a large portion of the enemy’s personalities with as little risk as possible. Crane are probably the epitome of this playstyle, because their “super cavalry” recon telegraphs which provinces they’ll be attacking (encouraging defenders there) but allows them to mass their entire army against roughly half of the enemy’s army to ensure its destruction. Obviously, different scout decks are good at different things… the mantis deck is less about mobility and more about killing everything that moves. The lion deck is about limiting the effectiveness of the opposition and controlling the flow of battle, etc.
Like Scout decks, Ninja decks are about post-assignment movement. However, unlike Scout decks, Ninja decks are largely about moving around to remain unopposed… the first option of cavalry, and to kill everything that moves once they’re forced to be opposed. They also have tricks which allow them to indirectly harm Dynasty Momentum regardless of the outcome of a battle, by discarding cards from provinces, killing people outside of the battle, and gaining knowledge of a player’s facedown provinces to go after personalities and leave them with nothing but gold and no one to spend it on. In a straight-up fight, ninjas can do pretty well, with a good amount of kill or bow actions, but will generally fold to negation decks or decks which are built for head to head combat (like Paragons, for instance) simply because they have to invest so many of their cards into non-effective-loss cards to get the most out of their theme.
Commanders are very similar to Scout decks in that they generally have a pretty decent amount of movement. However, while movement figures heavily into Commander decks, it’s mostly for the purposes of Effective Negation… moving back into the battle after being sent home. This can be used to maximize your force against a smaller portion of your opponent’s army, however, by attacking multiple places and then re-mobilizing people to a single battlefield against roughly half of the opponent’s army (or, indeed, against no opposing army if they only defend one spot). But, while this is something Commander decks are generally good at, their primary goal is to have more force than the opponent, and to keep the opponent from affecting their force, by straightening bowed units, re-attaching destroyed followers, etc. They do have some commander specific Effective Loss cards, but for the most part, their Effective Losses are caused by actions on their followers rather than strategy cards in their hands. This is actually preferable, as they can be used repeatedly… however, it can also be dangerous as your opponent knows most of what’s about to happen to them before committing to a battle, and can thus plan around it.
As much as the Crab would probably punch me in the face for saying it, the Berzerkers and the Oni have a lot of similarities in playstyle. Both rely on high base force, both rely on having more force than the opponent for a large number of their actions, both make prodigious use of force pumps, and both have a large amount of negation. The major difference is that Berzerkers mostly delay actions instead of straight up negating them, which gets around a lot of caveats in the game (a lot of things can’t be negated, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be delayed until the end of the turn). Oni, on the other hand, have a lot of after-the-fact negation… you kill them and they raise from the dead and come back into play, or you kill them and they mitigate the death by having a shugenja raise a bunch of zombies. They don’t have much in the way of true negation (though there is an Oni-specific card for that), but the dozen or so raise from dead/create zombies/create copies of myself types of cards for Oni decks ensure that their losses at the battlefield are only temporary at best.
Kensai are probably one of the truest negation decks running right now. Like commanders, a large amount of their Effective Loss actions are from attachments, in this case weapons. However, because they’re samurai, and because all of their force is on the personality (largely donated by the weapon, of course, but the point is that their point of failure is the personality), they can focus their negation around cards that protect their personality from actions. And since many of the kensai specific cards that do exactly that are dual use (meaning they do a second thing either in addition to negation or as a separate action), Kensai are rarely caught with nothing to do about a given situation. However, while the all on the personality thing is great for planning your deck, it’s also bad because they just have to keep hammering away at that one personality until he dies or stays bowed or whatever… they don’t have to worry about bowing 20 force worth of personalities AND 50 force worth of weapons as they do with the followers of a Commander deck.
Yojimbo decks aren’t true negation. However, their redirection abilities allow them to dictate the flow of the battle, ensuring the enemy kills the most expendable personalities first and leaves the most powerful ones alone until, ideally, they’ve had their chance to impact the battle and permanently fix the momentum in their favor. Because of this, Yojimbo tend to win large engagements, simply because they can redirect the opponent’s actions to personalities that have already used their abilities, while continuing to take out the opponent’s personalities that have not. This is one of the hardest decks to build and run correctly, however, as Yojimbo don’t do a lot on their own… they have to have someone (Courtiers or Shugenja) to protect to be truly effective. In the case of a Shugenja deck, this is fine, as there are a great number of Effective Loss cards (generally spells with kill actions) for the Shugenja to use to militarily supplement the Yojimbo. The Scorpion “Parajimbo” deck goes the other way, with the majority of the Effective Loss actions being performed by the Yojimbo (in the form of Paragon cards) and the Courtiers existing primarily to support the Yojimbo with force pumps and control elements.
There are really two types of Paragons… the type that punishes you for having lower personal honor, and the type that punishes you for having lower force. The first group, mostly Lion and Unicorn, focus primarily on bow actions… because while they’re a military deck, they’re really a military/honor switch deck (and, in most cases, more honor than military). Their goal isn’t to kill you or send you home… it’s to keep you at the battle to be destroyed at resolution so they can honorably farm your corpses and gain 20 honor in a battle. This gives you plenty of time to react and switch the momentum back to you. However… it’s also what they’re geared for to a high degree… meaning they almost always have more bow actions than you have straighten actions, and more than you have people. And more than they have people. Dark Paragons are different. They basically kill you. And kill you some more. And when you think they’re done killing you, they gain 20 force from a single card and then go back to killing you. They do have some bow actions and move home actions, but most of their bow actions are setting you up for things like Strength of the Spider, where they get to kill you for being bowed. Both decks (and, in fact, most of the decks in this category) are more or less devoid of trickery (aside from The Perfect Moment)… they’re designed to show up and win the battle regardless of the odds against them. Those scout decks that show up against half your army and kick its butt? That doesn’t happen against good Paragon decks. The scouts show up and get their butts kicked. They’ll probably still win the battle, but in the end, the scouts lose more than half of their army to take out half of the Paragons.
Same deal as the Paragons, really. Shugenja have spells and spells kill people. And because spells are attachments, they kill people next turn too. Shugenja (and monks) are really too malleable to be thrown in any one category, but that’s part of why they’re in this category… you can build them for whatever and expect them to take on whatever the enemy wants to throw at you in the process. For the most part, it is more difficult to run an offensive Shugenja deck… they just don’t have the force to show up and take provinces on their own. But, again, with the right spells they can take what they want, when they want, HOW they want, and there’s not much the enemy can do about it.
Monks do a little bit of everything, and that’s why they’re in this category. They have just enough mobility to cause problems to mobility decks, they have just enough negation to play like a negation deck, but the vast majority of their kihos are Effective Loss actions (sometimes causing multiple Effective Losses with a single action). While actual “additional battle actions” are somewhat rare for the monks these days (I dropped from 15 cards to 3 in my deck that could create additional battle actions, so now it’s just those 3 and my stronghold), Monks still have one of the highest potentials for creating massive momentum changes simply because many of their kihos do multiple things and they have just enough negation to extend that momentum gain by keeping the other player from responding. Currently, monks are suffering for this Jack of All Trades syndrome, in that there isn’t enough of any one type of action to ensure any sort of reliability in performance. One game, you might get all your cool mobility stuff but no negation. The next game, you might get all your negation but no killy stuff. This is compounded by the number of “if you have Element Y, do X” and the relative lack of personalities with some of those Elements. In a set or two, however, I think they’ll be alright.
Obviously, I made it seem like I favored the last category… and it probably seems that way because I do favor it. Of all the deck types, the Straight-up Fighter type decks are the most consistent military decks. Mobility decks rely on having the right tricks at the right time to impact the momentum. Negation decks rely on having the right type of negation at the right time to preserve their momentum. With Straight-Up Fighter decks nearly every card in your fate deck and nearly every one of your personalities has an Effective Loss action on it. You don’t have to worry about right place right time when every card you pitch takes someone out of the battle… you simply have to worry about having enough cards at that point. And I said it before when talking about janky combos… consistency wins games for Military decks. The more consistent you are, the better able you are to predict the outcome of a battle. And the better able you are to predict the outcome of a battle, the better able you are to choose your battles wisely for maximum impact to the opponent’s momentum. And that, in essence, is what a military deck is all about.
I think I may have set the bar a bit too high with the Military Deck “dissertation” (as someone referred to it). I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to say about Honor decks, and while I’ve been playing Honor decks since Samurai Edition, they’ve almost all been Military/Honor switch decks. My few attempts at other types of honor decks have been largely failures, to the point that I don’t know if I’m really all that qualified to talk about them. However, I’ll share what I’ve learned playing against the good ones and playing the not-so-good ones, and what seems to make the difference.
If you’ve read my Military Deck article, then you’ll have a better understanding of what I’m talking about when I mention “Momentum”. Simply put, Momentum is how well you’re doing against the average of what is expected. It’s called momentum because it tends to build up as time goes on… as you get more personalities in play, you’re better able to take provinces (Dynasty Momentum). As you take out your opponent’s personalities in a battle, your opponent has less options for counter attacks (Battle Momentum). As you spend cards from your hand, you have less actions for future battles… whereas drawing more cards can give you more actions for future battles (Fate Momentum). Honor decks have their own momentum that is more-or-less bound to Dynasty and Fate Momentum, but is mostly independent of Battle Momentum. Honor Momentum is built by adding repeatable honor gains (Dynasty-side Honor) and drawing honor gaining cards, and is expended by using those honor gaining cards or by having your repeatable honor gain personalities destroyed. Another good way to think of it is Potential vs. Kinetic energy… as you expend cards from your hand, you’re transferring your potential energy (the number of actions you could take) into kinetic energy (your actual Honor total, which is what’s required to win the game). As that gets transferred though, you need to build momentum from other sources to avoid running out of that potential energy… generally through Fate Momentum and/or Dynasty Momentum. I know this all sounds a little pretentious, but hang with me here for a sec.
In an honor vs. honor matchup, it’s basically a sprint to the finish line. Most honor decks, when playing against other honor decks, have very little actual interaction with one another… each does its own thing, both gain honor, and the first one to start their turn at 40 wins. Occasionally, someone builds a special type of honor deck, like a military/honor switch deck that can fall back on Military in an honor matchup, or an honor/dishonor switch deck that can slow down their opponent just enough to squeak in ahead of them. But for the most part, you win with an honor deck by being first, being fast, and being consistent.
To do this, you need to look at three types of honor gains: static gains, one-time gains, and situational gains. Static gains are gains which you can more-or-less count on every turn. You can basically count on 3 honor per turn from personalities (on average), as well as 2 honor per turn from your stronghold. Some decks have an easier time pulling off that 2 honor per turn from the stronghold than others… for instance, many of them give the opponent an option: give me honor, or bad things happen to you. Others are even worse for the honor gainer, such as the Dragon “Defenders of the Mountain” stronghold, which essentially tells Military decks “Do what your deck is built to do, or else!” They’re going to attack anyway, so punishing them for not attacking seems rather pointless (there is a point to it, it basically subsidizes their honor gain vs. other honor decks. However, since those other honor decks also generally have a way to gain honor on their stronghold, it’s kind of a moot point). Others are easier to depend upon, like the Mantis deck that simply requires you to bow any of your 5 or 6 forest cards to gain 2 honor, or the Inquisitor one that needs just one shadowlands, ninja, kolat, or dishonored personality, any one of which the deck has several ways of guaranteeing. For now, though, we’ll assume that you’ve built your deck to more-or-less guarantee that whatever your stronghold requires for the honor gain will be available to it.
Given this, your static honor gain should be somewhere around 5 per turn without really trying. At this point, you’re just using your stronghold and buying a personality a turn. Unfortunately, at this point, it will take you 7-8 turns to honor out. A Military opponent can be expected to take one province on the third turn, two provinces on the fourth turn, and any remaining provinces on the fifth turn. A Top-tier Kotei military deck can be expected to reduce each of those by 1 (so a second turn province, two third turn provinces, and a fourth turn province). As such, 7-8 turns isn’t going to cut it for honoring out. You’ll need to speed it up somehow.
All of the current honor decks, if you play them out of the holdings intended for them, have a starting family honor of 4 or greater. That means you need to gain about 36 honor to win the game (as low as 33 for Lion). If you go first, you have 4 turns to accomplish this, which means 9 a turn. However, if you’re one of those honor decks that has a 4 or 5 honor, you can expect to be going second a good portion of the time, in which case you only have 3 turns to accomplish this… 12 honor per turn. So how do you gain the 4-7 honor per turn needed to get your 5 static up to where it needs to be? Well, that’s where the other static gains, one-time gains, and situational gains come in.
Static gains aren’t just your stronghold and whoever you buy in for full each turn. It’s also anything you can put in play that stays in play and gains you honor each turn. Doji Shunya is the perfect example of static honor gain… Limited: discard the favor, gain 2 honor. No option for your opponent, no situational bullcrap… you just need the favor. And since you’re ostensibly running it out of the Crane stronghold that lets you build up favor tokens by bowing courtiers (which he is), you “have” the favor all the time, even if you don’t have the highest family honor. So once you get a Doji Shunya in play, you can count on him to give you 2 honor on each of your turns until the end of the game (or until someone finds the No Hiding Place or Ambush in their fate deck). Other Static honor gain sources are Well-Tended Farms and Temples to Hotei. Their optional honor gain is *your* option, not your opponent’s, which means you can count on them for that one honor per turn per holding once you get them in play, so long as you can continue paying the cost.
However, no deck has much in the way of static honor gains… at least, not this early in the arc. Situational honor gains generally make up the bulk of their other Dynasty deck honor. These are “always include” cards like Governor’s Court or the multitude of Battle actions which do something to the opponent and gain honor for it. They’re not one-time gains, because you can theoretically use them on subsequent turns. But they’re far more “at risk” than your static gains, since they offer your opponent an opportunity to stop them (by killing your personality, or by refusing the honor gain and taking the “punishment”, etc). It is essential, when building your deck, to keep in mind ways to make these “optional” gains less optional. For example, the Dragon dueling stronghold (Watchful Eye Dojo) has an optional component to it… either duel me and bow, or dishonor yourself and give me an honor. Well, the bow by itself isn’t that big a deal. So what… you bow out one person. But when you combine that with Kitsuki Horume, who gains an honor when he wins a duel, you make the honor gain non-optional… now it’s dishonor or bow, and oh by the way, I gain an honor. Throw in some Governor’s Courts (which have a “Bow a dude or give me 2 honor” effect) and you end up compounding the problem. Now they’re looking at giving you honor or potentially bowing 4 of their guys… a much riskier proposition, even against a bunch of 3 force magistrates. Take a look at your personality pool and see if you can maximize on one type of situational honor gain. Running a deck with optional “Honor or Control” elements won’t work unless the control is so overwhelming as to change the game considerably.
The last type of honor gain, and what will be occupying the majority of your fate deck (and what will likely be a large part of your overall honor gain) is the one-time honor gain. These are cards (generally Fate cards, but also some Dynasty cards) which give you honor once per game, and then they’re done. As much as we’d like to build our deck off of the previous two types, because it increases the consistency of the deck, there just simply isn’t enough of it this early in the arc. That doesn’t mean your deck has to be inconsistent in how much honor you gain, however. For most honor deck types, roughly half of their fate deck can be honor gaining cards. In 2-3 sets, this will be expanded to roughly all of your deck, and the rest of the arc will be the constant struggle of refining your deck by taking out cards that already work and replacing them with cards that work slightly better.
Effective Loss Hierarchy
As I mentioned in my article on Military Decks, an Effective Loss card is a card which reduces the opponent’s Force and/or ability to take actions at the battlefield. Different types of Effective Loss have different levels of finality (for example, it is easier to straighten a card than it is to move one back into the battle due to card availability, and it is much more difficult to come back from being destroyed or removed from the game). In military decks, that level of finality is the primary concern… you want the actions you take to stick and you want to win the battle as quickly as possible to conserve as many resources as possible.
In Honor decks, this is partially true as well. However, there are some overriding concerns. The first is that winning a battle is generally a fantastic way to gain honor. At battle resolution, the winner gains 2 honor for each enemy card destroyed by battle resolution. This can often amount to an entire turn’s worth of honor gain. However, you get nothing for personalities that were sent home or destroyed… you enjoy the advantage of them not being there, and thus you being able to win the battle, but you gain no honor for them.
This, generally, tends to favor bowing as the primary Effective Loss action for Honor Decks. However, as stated before, bowing is one of the easier types of actions to overcome, and that’s where the second consideration comes in. Honor decks have a special type of action which, generally, only they would consider running, and that’s the double-send-home. These actions require the Honor Player to send one of his personalities home and, in turn, send an enemy personality home. The major advantage of this type of action is that most negation for send home (i.e. most “move to the battlefield” cards) require there to be enemy personalities at the battlefield. If you’re defending with one personality and you send them and an opponent home so that you have no one there, you severely limit their options for getting back to the battlefield (only two cards that I can think of, Wyrmbone Katana and A Brave New World, allow unopposed movement).
Send home, in general, is also pretty strong. Since you’re playing in a fairly compressed time frame and just trying to stall out the opponent for a turn or two early on, you can generally run enough send home to accomplish that goal. Not only that, but a majority of the honor-gain cards that also create an effective loss for the opponent are send home cards as well. The key with Send Home is knowing when to stop. You don’t necessarily want to send home the entire army every time… you want to trap at least a few people at the battlefield to kill in resolution… not just because you’ll gain honor for it, but because the battle needs to cost the opponent something if it’s going to take cards out of your hand. Otherwise, you’re just delaying the inevitable.
Which one you run depends on a few things. First… what do your personalities do? If you have personalities that can move people home (such as Kitsuki Daisuki, who can duel someone and send the loser home) then send home is probably preferable… you’re supplementing a type of action you already have and making it more likely that a deck with that particular type of negation will run out long before you run out of actions to take. If you have personalities that bow, then you probably want to favor that. If you don’t have personalities that do either one, I’d generally stick to bow. The reason is that destroying cards in resolution makes the expenditure of cards worth it. With send home, you’re really just hoping your card draw stays consistent enough that you can keep stalling the opponent until you hit 40. With bowing, you’re actually taking the momentum by destroying their personalities when you win the battle. That makes it less necessary to continue defending as time goes on, as it generally takes at least a turn to recover from a loss and be able to take provinces again.
Destruction is something you definitely want to have a little of regardless of build. Even though you’d rather destroy the enemy in battle resolution, it’s generally better to have destruction options so you can clear the board of major threats, then bow out the remaining personalities once the guys that would otherwise wreck your day are gone.
Keeping it in the family
While it’s tempting to borrow personalities from other clans which may augment a particular honor deck by adding more static honor gain or adding some control component that is really important, the bottom line is you need that 3 or 4 honor a turn from buying personalities. Turns of nothing but out-of-clan personalities are even worse than turns of nothing but gold… not only are you not gaining any honor for bringing personalities into play, but you’re also paying extra gold for those personalities because you can’t buy them cheap.
I generally run no more than five or six out-of-clan personalities, and try to keep it as close to zero as possible. However, sometimes, personalities from other clans provide just too much utility to turn your back on entirely, such as running Kakita Maratai in my Dragon Dueling deck to make pretty little statues of all my duelists (and get 2 honor and the favor when I win a duel). In this case, you just have to balance the pros and cons of their static honor gain vs. going a turn without gaining honor because of them. I would, in the case I listed above, say that Kakita Maratai is worth it, since she only needs to be out for two duels to make up the difference, and I can do that with just my stronghold: once on my opponent’s next turn, and then again on my next turn. Comparatively, Doji Shigeyuki would be a less-wise choice, since his duel does not automatically give me honor, and there is less opportunity for him to use it (since it’s a battle duel). Same thing with Kazan… his honor gain is good, but because it works off of a battle action, I’m not guaranteed to make up the potential loss from buying him instead of buying a personality and immediately gaining their honor.
That said, be on the lookout for personalities within your clan who can help out your deck even though they may be for a different theme. Tamori Kazushige and Tamori Ruya are meant for the Defenders of the Mountain deck, but are also good in the Watchful Eye Dojo deck. Kazushige can target stay at home opponents (like vulnerable courtiers) and force them to either come to battle or give you honor, while Ruya can help you bow out the remainder of their units with the stronghold, to ensure that if the target does assign, it will be without the support of the rest of their clan. Other similar in-clan, but out-of-theme combinations can be found in just about every other honor deck.
Beware the Battle Honor Decks
When you look at certain decks, specifically Paragons, and you see all the honor they can gain, the first thing a lot of people ask is, “How in the world are they not winning EVERYTHING?!” With as much honor as they can toss out during a battle, it sure seems like they should be winning. The problem is, those actions require them to be opposed, and eventually (especially in a Kotei) they’ll run into a defensive honor deck that doesn’t particularly like to oppose people. Battle Honor decks need some way to ensure that they are opposed, and that’s part of what’s lacking in the current environment. So while they look great on paper (and generally do well against other military decks), they’re consistently second tier just because of the bad matchup vs. defensive honor.
That’s really all I have for now on Honor
Enlightenment is probably one of the hardest win conditions in the game, primarily because it has fairly stringent deck building requirements which are only loosely related to what the chosen cards actually do. Enlightenment also changes slightly every edition, as one or more of the rings change (Lotus Edition Ring of Fire required you to kill 3 people during a battle, while Samurai required you to win a duel in which you focused Ring of Fire and gave it -2 focus, and Celestial modified that further by requiring the duel be during a battle… just as examples.) So, the first and most important thing is to review the rings and understand what deck building requirements you can extract from them.
Ring of Water
The Ring of Water has the lowest deck building requirement of any of the rings. It requires only that you take 4 battle actions from cards with different titles during the same battle. The best way to ensure this is to include as many battle actions as possible which do not require you to be opposed. Ranged attacks are good for this, as they do not have to have a target. Support cards like Sincerity of the Dragon are also good, as they do not specify an opposing target. But, perhaps most importantly, it means you want to stay away from Limited and Open actions as much as possible, or supplement your lack of fate-side battle actions with battle actions on personalities and holdings. You don’t want to get into a situation where you have a hand full of reactions and limited actions and only 3 battle actions, because you’ll likely have to use those 3 battle actions when you go to battle, and it may take a while to get back up to the 4 you need to put Ring of Water in play.
Another thing to remember here is that you need to be careful about the order in which you play your actions. Play the ones which require opposition first. That way, if your opponent does something sneaky and goes home, or if you annihilate his army in 3 actions, you aren’t stuck one action short of putting your ring into play with no way to play an action. After all, all four actions have to be at the same battlefield… you can’t just go on to a second battle and take an action there and call it good.
Lastly, you want as many actions as you can get which do not require a performer, or at least not an unbowed performer. You want to be able to continue taking actions even if your opponent bows out your army or nerve strikes them or something similar. Cards like Deception Revealed are great for this… no performer required, and they even have a reaction, making it easier to put Ring of Void into play (more on this in a minute). And, of course, cards like Settling the Homeless are even better, as you don’t even need a personality at the battlefield. Indomitable Home and Stone-Hewed Shrine are also good for much the same reason, plus they don’t take up a slot in your fate deck.
Ring of Air
The Ring of Air requires that you use the abilities on 3 kihos and/or spells with different titles during the same turn. This is one of the two rings that will shape the majority of your deck (the other being the Ring of Void. You need not just a bunch of spells and kihos, but ones of different titles. Often, the easiest way to do this is to run two each of several useful spells and kihos, rather than three each, to maximize the number of titles available to you.
It’s also important to note that the spell or kiho needs to have an actual action on it to contribute to enlightenment. Spells like Warded Paths or Earthen Blade, while useful, don’t actually do anything for Enlightenment because they exist only for their traits. They can certainly help with victory though, and we’ll get into that toward the end.
Because only spells and kihos can put Ring of Air into play, you obviously need monks and/or Shugenja to perform them. Traditionally, monks have been better at Enlightenment. However, this is usually because there were better kihos than spells for enlightenment support. At the start of Emperor Edition, there are both spells and kihos which support Enlightenment (primarily through card draw), and these are: Walking the Way (spell), Contemplate the Void (spell), Oyo’s Second Lesson (kiho, henshin specific), and Martial Instruction (kiho, monk specific).
Now, Spells and Kihos each have their pros and cons. The spells I listed (as well as many other spells which are good for Enlightenment) have a gold cost, which can slow your deck down a bit. However, most spells (not the two I listed, but most others) stick around from turn to turn, making it easier to build up those 3 spells required to put Ring of Air into play. Kihos, of course, don’t stick around from turn to turn, so you have to be somewhat miserly, saving up your kihos from one turn to the next until you get three with different titles. But the advantage of kihos is, of course, that they don’t have gold costs (usually… there are a few from older editions which do). In the end, I would say that Shugenja are at a marginal disadvantage for enlightenment simply because there are more monks with card draw… but it’s such a thin margin that it really comes down to which one you want to run. You can, of course, always run both, as all three monk clans have a fair amount of shugenja as well.
Ring of Void
The Ring of Void requires that you resolve actions from four non-kiho strategy cards during the same phase. The non-kiho part is important, as this means the Ring of Void cards have to be in addition to your Air card pool. In fact, if you have a 40 card deck, 5 of which are your Elemental Rings, you’re left with 35 cards. The ideal ratio of Air cards to Void cards can be found by adding their requirements (3 cards for Air and 4 cards for Void) together, then dividing the 35 cards remaining in your deck by that number (35/7=5), then multiplying each type of card’s requirement by that number (3 cards for Air * 5 = 15, 4 cards for Void * 5 = 20). Thus, you should have 15 Kihos/Spells and 20 non-kiho strategies in your deck for a good, balanced Enlightenment deck. Running too many of one or the other means you are more likely to run into times when you have a Ring of Void and 7 Kihos in your hand, when you need 7 non-kiho cards (or vice-versa)… so running these ratios minimizes that possibility.
Ring of Void is neat because many reactions chain off of one another, which makes it tempting to build large reactionary chains into your deck. It’s even more tempting when you realize how it compresses the actions required to put a particular ring (or rings) into play during a battle. For example, you could play Engulfing Flames (a kiho which performs a ranged attack) then use two Snipings (non-kiho strategy reaction), and a No Hiding Place (non-kiho strategy reaction) to kill someone at home… then if Engulfing Flames was your third kiho with a different title that turn, drop Ring of Air as a reaction and play Introspection as a reaction to dropping Ring of Air to search for Ring of Void, then immediately put it into play as Introspection was your fourth non-kiho strategy. Sounds cool, right? Dropping two rings in the space of 1 action is pretty awesome (well, 3 actions technically since you had to have used 2 kihos or spells prior to Engulfing Flames, but those could’ve been Open or Limited actions). The problem is: what happens if you DON’T have Ring of Air for Introspection to react off of? Or don’t have a ranged attack for Sniping and No Hiding Place to react off of? Then you’re stuck with a bunch of cards in your hand that you can’t use, which is the trap… using reactions for Ring of Void isn’t bad, but it definitely has its downsides.
It’s also important to think about what phase you’re doing things in. Let’s say, for instance, that you decide to run Peace so you can search your deck for Travelling Peddler and get your Dynasty Side card draw going sooner. Since Peace is a limited action, you need at least 3 other Limited (or open) actions in your deck… otherwise Peace doesn’t contribute to Void (or Air, for that matter) and is thus a wasted card, more or less. But, what you really need at that point is more than just 3 more cards, because you need some likelihood that Peace can contribute, or it’s equally wasted. Of course, if you have too many Limited and Open actions then you may not have enough Battle actions and you’ll be in the same boat from that end. For that reason, Battle/Open actions and Battle/Limited actions are really the way to go. That way, whether you have a hand full of Battle actions or that one Limited action sitting in your hand, the Battle/Open actions can bridge that gap and help you put Ring of Void into play.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that the cards do not have to be different names. This leads to some great combos… play a non-kiho battle strategy (like Deception Revealed) as your 4th battle action in a single battle to put Ring of Water into play and then use Introspection to search your deck for a second Introspection, which you then use to search for a third, which you then use to search for Ring of Void, which you then put into play because Deception -> Introspection -> Introspection -> Introspection = 4 non-kiho strategy cards. It’s worth mentioning at this point that Introspection (much like Changing Paths last Edition) is the Cornerstone of a good Enlightenment deck, and you should probably run 3 in your deck.
Ring of Fire
Unlike last Edition, Ring of Fire no longer requires dueling, which removes the focus value requirement from the Enlightenment deck. Instead, it requires you to destroy a province or one or more enemy personalities in battle resolution. Note that you don’t have to WIN the battle when you destroy one or more enemy personalities in battle resolution… a tie works just as well (a loss, of course, does not). Also, because you can destroy a province, being opposed is not a requirement. Ring of Fire does require your deck to be at least passable as a military deck… you either need enough force to pop provinces, or you need a deck that can win (or at least tie) a battle. However, as you’ll see with Ring of Earth, winning makes the battle much easier.
As always, the easiest way to put the Ring of Fire into play is to rig the game in your favor. Ambush works well for Ring of Fire, though some players (including myself) don’t like to run it because it’s dishonorable (and, well, because there’s a 5 honor loss attached to it). However, for a non-combat deck focused entirely on Enlightenment, Ambush (or something like it) is basically a requirement.
Ring of Earth
This Edition, Ring of Earth is the hardest ring to put into play by far. Ring of Earth requires 3 things: first, that you win a battle; second, that you were opposed at some point during that battle; and third, that none of your personalities were destroyed during that battle. What makes this so difficult for most decks is that there isn’t a lot of negation to keep your dudes alive, plus there’s the Thunder Shugenja stronghold for the Mantis (as well as the Mantis clan champion) that have the ability to prevent the negation of their kill actions. Consequently, these things are also why the Thunder Shugenja are one of the better Enlightenment builds this arc… going first and preventing their action from being negated means they can ambush someone and kill them and put Ring of Earth into play right away.
So how do you put Ring of Earth into play? Again, you rig the game in your favor. Attack in multiple locations to force the Thunder Shugenja to use their reaction at one battlefield and leave you a battlefield (or two) at which you can negate their hateful nukes and win the battle, or try to arrange a one-on-one situation in which you get the first action (with a sneak attack or some other card that gives you the first action). None of these are fool-proof methods, but they’re sufficient for dealing with what should be a minority of the decks you face.
For everyone else, there’s negation. You don’t have to negate much, you just have to be able to keep your people alive until the enemy stops killing them. Multiple Smaller-scale engagements are in your best interests… you can let the enemy beat down one of your attacking armies if it means he doesn’t have any destruction actions at the battle next to it (or, at least, if it means you can negate the few destruction actions he has). If the battles only have two or three personalities on each side, because you spread out your forces, then that’s less that you have to negate at any one battle.
Remember: you don’t have to win every battle… you just need to win ONE battle, and put Ring of Earth in at THAT battle (and, if you have it, Ring of Fire). When you think about throwing everything in your deck behind winning one battle, it’s actually much easier and much less stressful than going to every battle and saying “Ok, I can’t lose anyone here or… aww darn, there goes one… all hope is lost”.
Beyond the Rings
Now that I’ve talked about the five rings, I get to move on to the really good stuff… L5R advanced concepts! I’ve been playing Enlightenment decks since Lotus Edition, and one of the reasons I’ve been doing that is because it teaches me a lot about the game. Enlightenment forces you to consider things, such as specific timing and such, which you might never consider otherwise. One of those things, which I started thinking about back in Celestial Edition, was the concept of Effective Deck Size.
In L5R, the minimum limit to a deck size is 40 cards. That would seem to be it… you can’t go lower than that. However, that’s where Effective Deck Size comes in. Each card in your fate deck that draws a card is effectively not even there… because when you use it, you immediately replace it with a new card. It’s just the same as if you’d had that new card in your hand all along and just used a rulebook action. Thus, effectively, your deck is smaller than 40 cards.
At one point in Celestial, I had an Effective Deck Size of about 20 cards, 4 of which were rings (Ring of Void draws a card, so it’s effectively not even there!) Now, with an Effective Deck Size of only 20 cards, you can expect to go through your entire deck in only 14 turns, just going off of what’s in your Fate deck (your Dynasty deck can speed that up, but it doesn’t change your effective deck size since it’s not part of the same draw pool).
In Emperor Edition, with the right mix of personalities to support your fate deck, you can get your Effective Deck Size down to less than zero… which means you can theoretically go through your entire deck on the first turn (though, I wouldn’t suggest it). The cards for this are: Contemplate the Void x 3 (-4 EDS Ea., Air), Walking the Way x 3 (-1 EDS Ea., Air), Martial Instruction x 3 (-1 EDS Ea., Air), Oyo’s Second Instruction x 3 (-1 EDS Ea., Air), Introspection x 3 (-1 EDS Ea., Void), Meeting the Keepers x 3 (-2 EDS Ea., Void), Honesty of the Phoenix x 3 (-1 EDS Ea., Void), A Game of Dice (-2 EDS, Void), Bonds of Coin x 3 (-2 EDS Ea., Void), Ring of Void (-1 EDS), for a total of -2 Effective Deck Size.
Now, obviously, it would take a monumentally awesome setup to actually burn through ALL of these in one turn (and you couldn’t actually do it before your second turn as some of the cards require the Imperial Favor), but it does lead to some interesting questions about how fast, exactly, could a dedicated enlightenment deck actually pull off enlightenment? This is only 26 cards of your fate deck… the other 14 (at least 6 of which you get to search for specifically) could be all kinds of things to help you win that one battle required to get Ring of Earth and Ring of Fire into play. Hrmmm…
The second thing I wanted to point out was card draw, and how it is tied even more to Enlightenment than any other deck type, because you need to get specific cards out of your Fate deck and into play. I mentioned earlier that while Dynasty side card draw doesn’t lower your Effective Deck size, it does lower the number of turns it takes to exhaust your effective deck size. There are quite a few Dynasty side sources of card draw. For instance, 15 holdings is about right for a given deck, but those 15 holdings don’t have to be just gold. The Seekers Temple, Travelling Peddler, Temple of Gisei Toshi, and 3 Second City Dojos makes 40% of those holdings card draw as well. Public Library is also handy in making sure you draw the right card at the right time. You can also add personalities that draw cards and/or cards which allow you to fill your face-down provinces face-up (like Agasha Ryo, Hida Yamadera, etc.) which will allow you to reach your Dynasty card draw cards more quickly.
Finally, while Enlightenment is a victory condition, it’s important to have something to fall back on. Nearly all of my Enlightenment Decks are Military Decks with good deck building for Enlightenment support. The reason for this is, quite simply, it makes putting Ring of Fire and Ring of Earth into play much easier if beating armies and taking provinces is the primary goal of your deck. I tried, once, to make a pure Enlightenment deck. The result was that it Enlightened, once, in about 3 turns (which was amazing, btw) and then got utterly stomped into the ground every other time I played it. Building a Military deck that *can* Enlighten is really just like building an Enlightenment deck, except the Void and Air cards you choose are primarily battle actions which help you win battles (for more on that, see Deck Building 102: Military Decks). You want to throw a few cards in like Introspection and such, of course, but you don’t want to go overboard to the point that that’s all your deck does.
Hopefully, I’ve Enlightened a few people, and the Enlightenment decks they build will not only be able to put rings into play, but more importantly, will be able to win more consistently.
As an addendum to this, I wanted to add some stuff I’ve been thinking about recently:
The goal of an Enlightenment deck, any Enlightenment deck, is to get to the 12 cards required for you to Enlighten as fast as humanly possible. Card draw is important, but the main reason it’s important is that it helps you get those 12 cards faster. Thus, deck cycling (with cards like Banish All Doubt and Control Your Destiny, which allow you to look at cards and put some on the bottom of your deck) are equally important, as they let you blow through the cards you don’t particularly need to get to the ones you do need.
These concepts can also assist with non-enlightenment decks. Take, for example, a defensive honor or dishonor deck. If you’ve played one of those decks, you’ve probably found yourself dreaming of the perfect defensive hand… that hand where you have a Scandalous Rumors and 3 Powers of a Word in your hand, or that setup where you have Tamori Ruya and 3 Duels of Haiku running out of Watchful Eye Dojo. The enlightenment cards that let you search for the specific cards you need to Enlighten, or let you cycle through your deck to get to them quickly, can also be used to get you those “perfect defense” hands. Imagine being able to practically guarantee that you’ll have that perfect hand once you cross 40 honor or dishonor your opponent. Or that you’ll have 2 Brave New Worlds and 2 Retributions waiting when your opponent comes to take a province from your military deck! For the most part, it doesn’t water down the deck too much to turn just about any deck into an Enlightenment switch deck. Just toss in some shugenja, some Introspections, some Walking the Way, and the 5 rings, and even if you don’t enlighten, you may be able to abuse the most broken combo(s) your deck is capable of with higher regularity.