Dave of the Five Rings is an ongoing series chronicling David Gordon’s return to the Legend of the Five Rings CCG after several years. He will be tracking his progress from the launch of the game’s new core set, Ivory Edition, through to the season’s culmination at GenCon 2014.
Chapter 4: The Beginning of Tournament Season
When we last left off, we discussed the deck I had brought to a local tournament in Londonderry, New Hampshire and how it played out. My performance was a little less than spectacular, but far from discouraging. I had been bit by the competitive play bug again, and I was eager for my next challenge. However, going into any major tournament required an analysis of the environment and an understanding of what decks were out there.
I have the fortune of living in New England, which holds the honor in 2014 of hosting one of the first and one of the last Kotei tournaments of the season. The Kotei Tournament series are a set of regional tournaments held throughout the world, typically from February through June. Winning a Kotei gives the player a seed for the World Championship Finals at GenCon, along with several storyline and product prizes. The Feeding Hills Kotei is traditionally held on the first weekend of Kotei season, and this year it was on March 15. However, this season’s Kotei players faced several unique challenges.
The first, and most prominent, were shipping delays that pushed the start of Kotei season into March. Ivory Edition – the latest base set and the edition legal for the tournament – would not be released until March 24, 2014, with limited distribution before then. After the Emperor arc saw declining numbers across the player base, Alderac Entertainment Group was faced with a hard choice. Delaying the first Koteis into April was unfeasible due to the dates already being announced and many of the venues already paid for. They also could have made the first Koteis be Emperor arc legal, but that would not fit with the storyline of the game and would run counter to the entire idea of Ivory Edition.
Ultimately, AEG took a bold stance and made the Koteis in March proxy legal, so long as those proxies were for cards printed in Ivory Edition. It was an interesting solution, and one likely challenging for the judges on the ground to enforce, but it worked out. The Feeding Hills Kotei was going ahead as planned, and I would be able to attend without needing to hunt down too many cards.
The second challenge facing the community was the existence of the Ashigaru Blitz deck. Through a combination of cards in the last two expansion sets, a deck had emerged which dominated the environment. By combining in battle production of Ashigaru followers with holdings such as Well-Defended Farms (which gave blanket Force boosts to Ashigaru), the Ashigaru Blitz deck was able to reach truly ridiculous Force totals in armies that the game was not balanced to handle. Going into the Kotei season, the Ashigaru Deck saw play off of every Stronghold, with the Clans competing to who could run the deck best.
Luckily, AEG decided to be proactive in response to this problem too and banned two of the three key cards to this deck from tournament play.
Refining the Weapons
With the first Kotei right around the corner, it simply wasn’t possible to predict the environment. Deck lists would be either cobbled together last minute or closely guarded secrets. With my continued lack of cards forcing me to remain a primarily proxy and promo driven deck, I was able to secure a few particular cards from websites and friends, refining my earlier deck into the one below.
Exquisite Palace of the Crane
Dynasty – (40)
Event – (2)
Holdings – (17)
3x Famous Bazaar
2x Farmer’s Market
3x Family Dojo
3x Heavy Infantry Dojo
3x Traveling Market
Personality – (21)
3x Armed Rice Farmer
3x Daidoji Tanshi
3x Ikoma Shika
3x Kakita Ibara
Fate – (40)
Follower – (12)
3x Ashigaru Spearmen
3x Bounty Hunter
3x Merchant Guard
3x Rice Farmer
Item – (6)
3x Reinforced Parangu
3x Imperial Sword
Ring – (2)
1x Ring of the Void
1x Ring of Water
Strategy – (20)
2x Army Like a Tide
3x Contentious Terrain
3x Destiny Has No Secrets
3x Inspired Devotion
3x Oath of Fealty
3x Today We Die
The key difference between my first outing and this one would be not the deck itself, but play style. I did, however, swap in three Family Dojo – the only card of the Ashigaru Blitz deck to survive the bans – as they were too powerful for my deck to leave out. Instead, this was a shift in priorities. I would be moving away from the second turn province and towards a more sustainable heavy blitz strategy. My first turn would be spent securing a second holding that produced at least 3 Gold. With the Crane Stronghold’s Limited ability, I would increase that to 4 Gold, and buy two Personalities. Next turn, I would drop enough Followers and Items to take an enemy Province, and I would ride that pressure to victory. It was a much more sustainable strategy than my attempt previously had been, and promised a greater Force output over four turns.
Charity, Honor, and Registration
I drove two and a half hours down to the Polish American Club in Feeding Hills, barely north of the Connecticut / Massachusetts border. I arrived early, carting with me the ten cans of beans I purchased the night before.
The Feeding Hills Kotei was a charity event and required a donation of four cans of food to the local food bank in addition to the standard signup fee. In addition to the storyline and mega-game points earned through winning the tournament, each Kotei also has an Honor prize for a Clan, set by the organizers. Keeping in the spirit of the focus on community that L5R players are known for, the Feeding Hills Kotei’s Honor prize goes towards the Clan which brings the most in canned goods for charity. These were going towards the Spider clan.
The tournament formally started at 10 AM, though over forty people had arrived by 9:30. Walking around the club was a bit like stepping into my own past. I recognized faces I hadn’t seen in years, smiling and reintroducing myself when necessary. The Spider player I faced at Londonderry was the head of the Spider contingent and gladly accepted my donation to their cause, even though I was playing Crane.
As the starting time grew close, the hall was a buzz of activity as last minute trades, deck changes, and alterations were being made amidst many welcome reunions. Along one side of the hall the prize support for the tournament was on display, along with the artwork of the artist, Prof, who had shown up to sell and sign the work he’d contributed over the years to L5R. Alison Dann was also present, selling absolutely delicious miniature cupcakes. I also watched as the cans steadily mounted higher, a truly impressive bulk of charity. It felt good to be among the community again, feeling the energy and the anticipation. Even after the years apart, I was accepted back into the fold and made welcome.
10 AM came quickly. All in all, fifty-nine players were registered, with half that number again present for support and to spend the day among friends. The Crane were the largest contingent (to no one’s surprise), numbering 14 registered players. The Crab and Lion Clans came in next, with 9 players each, followed by the Unicorn at 7, the Dragon at 6, the Scorpion at 5, and both the Mantis and Spider clocked in at 4 players. The Phoenix had the distinction of having only a single player representing them, widely regarded as a result of a lack of quality cards and subpar Stronghold and Sensei choices. Fifty-nine players meant there would be six rounds of Swiss pairings before cutting to a Top 8 for Finals. To qualify you needed at least four wins and no more than two losses. While I was not optimistic about my chances to get into the finals, I was ready to do my very best. Pairings went up on time, and I was off to my first match.
Round 1 – Jason Wray: Crab Clan, no Sensei (0-0-0)
This was a very back and forth match, and a tremendously satisfying military vs. military game. My choice in delaying to the third turn province paid off as I was able to take three provinces before he was able to get his footing solidly under him. He turned the tide, however, winning an opposed battle to stall out my offense. The Oracle of Void Experienced kept him in the game, and while I was able to finally build up enough of a military to threaten his last province, he had enough Force present at the battle to save it. His counter attack took my last two provinces, and while I won the battle, I lost the war.
Round 2 – Dan Swartz: Lion Clan, Satoru Sensei (0-0-1)
As with my first match, this was a very satisfying back and forth military match up. Lion had the edge on speed, going first against my military blitz. I dodged the bullet of an early Frost Dragon Festival through my own Alliance and Oath of Fealty getting the two Lion in my own deck out early for cheap and in blue kimonos with Force tokens. As with most military match ups, we danced around each other until I was down to a single province. With both of our full armies present, we traded Force bonuses and battle actions back and forth. With both of our hands empty, and every single bonus added, he won the battle and thus the game.
Round 3 – Larry Wojcik: Unicorn Clan, Akikazu Sensei (0-0-2)
At two losses, things were already looking grim. The last tournament taught me that my deck’s three worst match ups would be Crab, Lion, and Unicorn. Having already faced a Crab and a Lion and lost, I could not help but laugh when I sat down across from a Unicorn. With both of us staring down elimination, we were both determined to play our very best.
I lost an early province to his cavalry, and he destroyed my big unit with a Limited action. I was able to rally however, splitting my army on the final turn to take two provinces with opposition. The win cheered me up, but it did leave me in a challenging position. Any loss at this point would put me out of the competition, and every victory would be doing the same to a fellow player. Still, with one victory under my belt, I went on to my next match.
Round 4 – Angela DiTillio: Lion Clan, no Sensei (1-0-2)
If only to prove the old axiom of organized play in L5R, I now had to face someone from my own play group. In this case, it was our local tournament organizer, Angie, whom some of you might remember from her being a guest on an L5R-themed episode of our podcast. Angela was in the same boat as I was, one loss away from no hope at making the finals.
She had the advantage in going first, and I had the advantage in economics. I managed to come out ahead through two opposed battles, with my Stronghold’s B side keeping the Imperial Favor just out of her reach. I was able to use both my Sensei’s movement and a Ring of Water to keep my big unit in a pivotal fight, and rode the momentum of that fight to victory. It was a hard match, and playing against a veteran like Angela always teaches me something more about the game.
Round 5 – Michael Valliere: Unicorn Clan, no Sensei (2-0-2)
This match introduced me to a single Event card I hadn’t heard of before, which swung the entire game. In L5R, momentum is paramount for military match-ups. The advantage of my deck was that it went first against Unicorn, and it was able to take the first province from my opponent. This gave me a momentum edge which, if it held, would carry me to victory. Most military fights come down to trading provinces. The card in question, Journey’s End Siege, not only disrupts that momentum, but it turns it back around. At three provinces, Michael revealed that Event and took one of my provinces. It brought him back to four, with the momentum now in his favor. He forced me into a split fight across his last two provinces, saving one of them and taking my last province with his counterattack.
Round 6 – John Franklin: Crab Clan, no Sensei (2-0-3)
Officially eliminated from the finals, I finished out my day with a match against a straight Crab military deck. Out of all my matches, this one was the most one sided. John saw a poor Holding flip on his first two turns, and only two Personalities on his third and fourth turns. While I did not draw any of my Force token producing actions, the momentum I had by the time he was able to mount a defense was simply too much. He simply never got his deck up off the ground, and there was sadly nothing he could do to stop me from taking his last province and the win.
Afterwards, a quick round of matches were played between players of tied rank to determine the seeds for the Top 8, which consisted of four Crane, two Lion, one Dragon, and one Scorpion. Anthony Lawrence went on to win the Kotei for the Lion. For the storyline prizes, located at the Kotei season website, Anthony chose Duty for the Bushido Virtue and Akodo Hachigoro for the personality to be honored.
I finished the tournament with a solid record of three wins and three loses. Amusingly, I faced off against two players from each of my poorest clan pairings, winning and losing to each once. Still, the prize support given out every round was worth more than the price of admission, and the Banzai shout at the top of every round sent shivers down my spine. It had been years since my last Kotei, and coming back to the community had proved to be an amazing experience.
Before leaving, I helped the organizers move the massive amount of canned goods and took a moment to look it over. Hundreds of dollars in charity were raised by this event alone, and the community of L5R players did it gladly. Beyond the thrill of competition, the power of shared experience, and the stack of prizes even I was walking away with, the Feeding Hills Kotei and its players strived to make a positive impact on the world around it. Once more, I was a part of that impact, and damn proud of it.
David Gordon is a regular contributor to the site. A storyteller by trade and avowed tabletop veteran, he also has a long and complicated past with L5R. These are his stories. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings images by Alderac Entertainment Group; Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark by Paramount Pictures; Crab People by South Park Studios; can donations by monkeymel1003.