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 3: A Return From Exile
In my previous article, I elaborated on the construction of my first tournament legal deck in Legend of the Five Rings in nearly three years. The night before my first tournament, I hammered together a quick and dirty deck composed almost entirely out of proxies and promos. Running the Exquisite Palaces of the Crane, my deck centered around Personalities who cost the 4 Gold the Stronghold produced; Followers and Items that matched the 2 or 4 Gold cost ran the deck’s engine. A few quick playtests led to some minor changes, and by midnight on tournament eve, I had my tournament deck ready.
Or so I thought.
Choosing My Weapons
What follows is the card list of the deck I brought to the Level 10 Stronghold tournament at Game Castle in Londonderry, New Hampshire:
Dynasty – (40)
Event – (2)
1x Wisdom Gained
Holdings – (17)
3x Famous Bazaar
2x Farmer’s Market
3x Frontline Encampment
3x Heavy Infantry Dojo
3x Traveling Market
Personality – (21)
3x Armed Rice Farmer
3x Daidoji Tanshi
3x Ikoma Shika
3x Kakita Ibara
Follower – (12)
3x Ashigaru Spearmen
3x Bounty Hunter
3x Merchant Guard
3x Rice Farmer
Item – (6)
3x Reinforced Parangu
3x Storm-forged Blade
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
A quick glance through this decklist makes its purpose obvious to the knowledgeable player or those with a good search engine. However, for those unfamiliar to Ivory Edition, allow me to explain.
Events are one-time happenings that change the game, with Wisdom Gained letting me fetch one of the deck’s two Rings and Alliance lowering the out-of-Clan cost for my Personalities. My Personalities are all either 2 Gold or 4 Gold, with a good Force to Gold ratio. My Holdings are nothing too special, with Traveling Market, Marketplace, and Heavy Infantry Dojo being the most staple Holdings for my economy.
On the Fate deck side, I am running with 18 Attachments across my Items and Followers, each of which give a better Gold for Force ratio than my Personalities to whom they are attached. The two Rings give me more movement or card draw if I fulfill their playing conditions, and my Strategies each give me Force without costing Gold. Oath of Fealty and Today We Die give my Personalities +1 Force, +1 Chi tokens – bonuses which remain for the entire game. Akagi Sensei starts in play, similar to my Stronghold, and it enhances both my survivability against other military decks and can give me a mobility edge in combat itself. In L5R, controlling when and where you fight your opponent is just as important as what you are fighting with.
Several test games proved that I would be able to buy a 3 Force Personality on the first turn, drop two Attachments on the second turn, and get to the 8 Force necessary to take most Provinces by the end of my second turn. This would limit my opponent to just three quarters of his Dynasty production early on, slowing them down and allowing me time to build further. The Crane’s high Starting Honor of 6 meant I would go first against most of the other Clans, with only the Lion decks guaranteed to go first with their Starting Honor of 7, and in Legend of the Five Rings, going first is a powerful advantage. (With a military blitz deck, it can be essential.) Although my deck theory was solid, I looked to the environment to decide my bad match ups, and to know what to expect.
I predicted that Lion decks would be a problem. Always going second would start me a step down from them in speed, and their only competitive deck this early in Ivory would be another blitz military. Against Lion, I decided to actually slow the deck down in play, taking the time to build my economic engine before rushing them. Crab decks would also be a challenge for my deck, as their Stronghold gives all their Personalities +1 Force each while battling an enemy, and their Provinces a difficult Province Strength of 9. I would need 10 Force to take the Province, and that would cost me most of my hand to accomplish on the second turn. I anticipated Spider decks as also being a challenge to face, with Fear being a common form of Force removal by bowing my Followers. To get the edge on any of these decks, I would need to put the pressure on them at the end of my second turn and never let up.
The Challenge Begins
I arrived at the tournament with time to spare, registering and walking around to take stock of the other decks present. Having been out of the tournament scene as long as I had, I was curious what people would be bringing to the table. I struck up a conversation with the only Spider player there about his own options and tried to get a feel if anyone else had brought a blitz deck as fast as mine. The conversations I had implied that the Lion were, unsurprisingly, expected to be a fast deck, but the only other Crane player there was being dodgy on his own deck type.
There were a good percentage of Clans present, with only the Phoenix and Mantis going unrepresented among the tournament’s 12 players. While not the largest turnout I’ve seen at a tournament, it was still respectable for a tournament with a little prize support and being orchestrated before the actual cards had been released en masse. The tournament would be four rounds of Swiss matches, cut to a top four for prizes. Soon, the first round pairings were announced, and we began to play.
My first round paired me against the Spider player whom I had spoken with earlier, with him playing the Sinister Citadel of the Spider with Tetsuo Sensei. Not quite sure what to expect, I started strong and took a province on the second turn and third turns to establish my tempo. He was able to counter that by bringing out the Dark Naga’s Experienced version (ironically a more advanced version of the Champion of my old deck from Celestial Edition), dropped weapons on him, and promptly began killing my Personalities with duels.
This was my first brush with the powerful, unrefusable duels that exist in Ivory, and my speed stalled out with him having one Province left standing. He was able to push the tide back and claim victory at a hard fought battle over one of my final two Provinces. Two play errors on my part allowed for his superior knowledge of the card base to prevail, and while I was not happy for the loss, what I gained in knowledge was invaluable.
My next pairing was against a Dragon Kensai deck that relied on dueling and Weapon support to apply targeted removal. Similar to my match up against the Spider, I rushed early and was able to take a second and third turn Province. My opponent was able to get his feet under him after that, however, and turned the tide with a single Come One At A Time on a Personality who gained Force with every won duel. I was able to save my early super unit with Akagi Sensei, but he was able to chew apart the rest of my army and take one of my Provinces with a Reprisal. Another Province of mine was destroyed the next turn, eliminating my development advantage, and we stalemated in a Force build until the match went to time.
I was not aware of it at the time, but in my absence the L5R tournament floor rules had changed. Games going to time were now a tie rather than a double loss, which I appreciated. Instead of taking the double loss, we rolled a die to determine the winner. He won, we shook hands, and it was a good round.
My third pairing was against a Lion deck. Already skittish after two stall outs on the third Province, and going against a deck I was weak to, I decided to play the game safe. Rather than push for the second turn Province, I spent my first turn buying Gold-producing Holdings. This allowed me to play three Personalities on my second turn, and take a Province with overwhelming Force on the third turn.
The Lion Clan player mirrored my tactics, placing us both down a Province on the end of my third turn. Army Like a Tide was able to keep my large unit straightened for defense, and careful reading of the cards this time turned the game in my favor. Akagi Sensei’s boost to my Province Strength, along with Well-Defended Farm’s stipulation on being opposed left the Lion player unable to generate the Force necessary to take my Province unless I had a unit there. By refusing to fight, I saved my Province and when I played Reprisal to take one of his Provinces, he conceded. In addition to being my first win of the day, it felt even better to have faced one of my weaker matchups and come out ahead.
My fourth and final match pitted me against the other Crane deck in the tournament. However, he possessed a very different deck from mine, relying on dishonoring my Personalities and hitting me with enough Honor losses to drive me to -20. In the many years I had previously played Legend of the Five Rings, Dishonor had been a victory condition present in the game but was never terribly reliable. During that time period, there was an entire faction incapable of losing Honor, it so the Dishonor route was unreliable in the tournament environment.
In Ivory, however, that immunity is gone, and many of the mitigation rules against it have been removed. Dishonor has finally been given its moment to shine as a viable win condition in Ivory…and I felt its sting hard. Losing the roll to go first, he was able to stall me out at the second Province. While an early play mistake of his left me in a strong enough position to eventually take his second Province, I was faced with the prospect of taking two Provinces in a single turn on the turn that I began with under -20 Honor. He was able to save one Province by sacrificing the battle and his army in the process. Due to my dishonored Personalities, however, it was not enough to bring me high enough to survive.
My first tournament was over, and while my first foray back into competitive play was not spectacular, it was far from the one-sided losses that had driven me out of the game at the end of Lotus Edition. Every match could have gone either way, and my deck composition surprised each of my opponents. The sheer speed of the deck was something few players were ready to deal with, and the steady pressure left them on the defensive. The losses also helped me see the deck’s two largest flaws. First, there were several cards in the environment which would have aided my deck far more than what I had originally went with. Second, the second turn Province tactic was not enough to truly stall my opponents’ development.
I learned one more general lesson, however, and it was the most important: I had fun playing Ivory Edition L5R, and I could win at it. As a competitive player, my instincts were rusty – but far from gone. I was able to cobble together a deck the night before in an unfamiliar environment and still managed to pull off a win against a deck that I knew I would be weak against. I felt good going into the Kotei season, and even if I did not win, playing Legend of the Five Rings again was like coming home.
In my next article, I will talk about my first foray into the Kotei environment in Ivory Edition, and the ill-fated shipping delays hitting Alderac Entertainment Group hard. Until then, keep your blades sharp and your wits sharper.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings images by Alderac Entertainment Group