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 2: Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men
In my initial article I explained my complicated history of playing the Legend of the Five Rings CCG. There, I guided everyone through my early days of exploration, to my movement into the competitive scene, to my years in that shark tank, and then reasons I had to finally get out of the water. Now, we approach the topic from the present. In this article, I will explain my impressions of Ivory Edition, and my line of thinking in creating a deck for the upcoming Kotei season.
“…They Pull Me Back In”
Having left the game behind during the Celestial Edition arc, I missed out entirely on the Emperor Edition arc of Legend of the Five Rings. While I had passing awareness of its rise and fall, I kept my distance. My attention focused primarily on the roleplaying game in the setting, and I did what I could to keep reasonably abreast of the storyline developments.
The dominant deck styles, as well as the environment itself, passed me by without ever seeing the darkened waters. I paid some attention to the Kotei and storyline victories, noticing no single dominant faction in the way that Moto Chagatai had given the Unicorn one summer of my play. As time went on, I paid less and less attention to even the results. That is, until the announcements for Ivory Edition came across my plate.
Curious as to the state of a game I had played nearly three years ago, I began watching the Ivory Edition Designer Diaries as they became available through the Legend of the Five Rings website. What I saw intrigued me. Any game that is regularly expanded will suffer from a combination of rules bloat and power creep, and L5R was no exception. The cardbase reset created by the Edition Arc setup that had been central to the game since Jade Edition gave AEG a regular opportunity to combat these inevitabilities, but it had been a losing battle over the years. Going into Ivory Edition, L5R was a formidably complicated game, filled with pay to win power rares, strange exploits of rule interpretation, and a list of banned cards and errata. One of the first and most important goals of Ivory Edition was to undo the rules complexity and power creep, and create a new starting point for the game.
The Appeal of Ivory
By and large, AEG has succeeded. Even for players who do not have my history with Legend of the Five Rings, Ivory Edition presents a game that is on par to with chief competitor in the market, Magic: the Gathering. The factions of L5R in Ivory Edition are iconic, approachable versions of the Great Clans I have known for years.
The release of a single Stronghold for each faction for the current arc is a wonderful preventative measure against rules bloat, and the approach of using Senseis for deck themes is a welcome return to form. The game has reworked many classic mechanics to better their balance in the environment and increase interactivity in play. Several new keywords with accompanying rules texts add a level of fresh complexity to the game, but reminder text on the cards are beneficial. In many ways, Ivory Edition feels like a greatest hits album of Legend of the Five Rings CCG, rocking the classic groove of its early years with the technical skill and elegance learned through the years of hard work.
My first step in rejoining the competitive play environment was choosing which faction to play. In Ivory Edition, the factions are the nine Great Clans of modern Rokugan. Gone are the Naga of my early years, and even the non-human horde I played at GenCon in 2011. Luckily, gone also were the strange chase factions I had heard about in my years away, with Imperials, Fallen, and Fudo decks having been left behind in Emperor. The nine Great Clans were, by and large, familiar to me, holding true to their history.
The Crab Clan remained a staunchly military based faction, focused on large, hard to kill armies and relying on high Province strength to protect against counterattacks. The Crane Clan offered several political options for a defensive honor runner, eschewing interaction in favor of defensive success. The Dragon Clan nested somewhere in the middle of military and honor, being able to run either while having the only natural advantage for L5R’s third, and most unreliable victory condition, enlightenment. The Lion Clan was virtually unchanged from when I left the game, possessing a terrible resource scheme but a fast and effective military swarm. The Mantis Clan offered reliable personality destruction with a steady card advantage for interesting, if not directly powerful play. The Phoenix Clan is focused on card selection, still possessing their edge in shugenja. The Scorpion Clan is a powerhouse of dishonor and control, opening up the fourth victory condition as a play style. I had not yet played in an environment with the Spider Clan, but I was familiar with its legacy from the days of the Shadowlands Horde. Finally, the new rule changes to Cavalry had changed the way the Unicorn play, and I was not quite ready to dive in there head first.
An Eight-Legged Approach
Ultimately, I settled on trying out the Spider Clan for several reasons. First, they were the newest Great Clan to the game and this usually meant that player involvement was high. As Legend of the Five Rings is first and foremost a game of community, I believed that playing Spider would give me an interesting “in” on that community. Second, I instinctively find myself drawn towards the outsider factions in many games, and the Spider Clan easily fit that description. Finally, there is a certain appeal to playing the villainous faction in a game about heroes.
As a faction, the Spider Clan has two strong, fleshed out themes. First, they have access to the powerful Conqueror keyword, allowing their attacking units to remain unbowed during resolution, freeing them up for defense. Second, their Kensai theme is supported by Tetsuo Sensei, and allow for cheap personalities to be loaded up with powerful Weapons. While both of these options are effective, though, neither one particularly appealed to me. I began looking at the other deck types to run with the Spider Clan.
Mechanically, their Starting Family Honor of 0 guarantees that they will always be going second, except to other Spider Clan decks. In terms of honor running as a tactic, a Spider Clan deck would start effectively two turns behind nearly any other deck in the environment – a setback that would be crippling in competitive play. As I examined the Spider Clan’s options, however, I discovered a deck build that allowed the Spider to play a switch hit of honor or dishonor, effectively playing both sides of the coin towards victory.
The Susumu Honor Hijinks deck detailed on the Shinden Fu Leng forums gave Spider players an effective deck that could play the honor running game, or also play the dishonor game just as effectively. Reliant on inexpensive shugenja and high Personal Honor courtiers, the Susumu Honor Hijinks deck was particularly rare heavy and reliant upon the previous two expansions for most of its cards.
The deck combined several of the existing card combos in the environment along an unexpected vector of the Spider Clan to set up an effective honor or dishonor engine by the third turn, and victory by the sixth. It also took advantage of the event Political Standoff, which allowed the deck to push towards both victory conditions simultaneously without losing an edge in speed. The Susumu Honor Hijinks deck had precisely the right about of technique to engage me as a Tactician, and the Spider Clan had the right sort of flavor to engage me as an Immersionist. I was ready and eager to build my first Spider Deck of Ivory Edition.
Sadly, it was not meant to be. I had been out of the game so long that I had forgotten the challenge of a deck built almost entirely out of rares and uncommons. Compounding this was a delay in the shipping of Ivory Edition itself, making many of the cards out of my reach. Investigation on the singles market pushed the deck’s price well past $200. I checked with my connections to other players, seeing what good will was left to me in the area for trades and sales. Sadly, I was quick to discover that many of my fellow L5R players had also left the game when I did, and the ones who had not were not in the position to sell the cards I needed. Relegated back to the drawing board, the date of the first Ivory Edition tournament rapidly approached, and I was no closer to being Kotei -ready than when I first decided to get back in to the game.
The Initial Barrage
As luck would have it, a quick conversation with the tournament organizer by email confirmed that the tournament would be Proxy-Legal for Ivory Edition cards due to unfortunately-timed card supply issues. My purchase of the Forgotten Legacy boxed set three years ago had awarded me an Imperial Assembly membership that had endured, and it provided me with a handful of proxies which were all Ivory legal. I quickly went back to the base game and did the math on the easiest to play deck made entirely out of Ivory edition proxies and my four playsets of promos.
My investigation turned up some interesting results. Running a boxable blitz deck was not only possible; it was genuinely viable if your Clan ran a 4 Gold stronghold. There was enough Force pumps as Strategy cards and cheap Items and Followers to make it sustainable. The proverbial second turn Province was possible in Ivory, and I built a deck to do just that. I was, like many, surprised and amused.
So, with years of balancing odd gold schemes and blitz military in the bank, I returned to the play style I know best with Legend of the Five Rings. Ultimately, I chose the Exquisite Palace of the Crane for its high starting Honor and its ability to buff Gold production. Filling my deck with holdings that produced 3 Gold allowed it to pull a strong chance for 8 Gold on the second turn. or even a first turn 3 Force personality. Balancing my deck against the standard of 4 Gold costs, I was able to assemble a Dynasty deck built towards early speed, and a Fate deck unabashedly Force focused. The night before my first tournament of Ivory edition was a frenzy of playtesting and tweaking, with several last minute changes bringing the deck into focus.
Armed with a second turn Province deck, I was ready to dive once more into the waters of competitive L5R. While I did not expect miracles, my first tournament in three years was an eye-opening experience.
How did I fare? In my next segment I will discuss my deck in further detail – and how fared in my first tournament in several years.
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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