Originating as a series chronicling David Gordon’s return to the Legend of the Five Rings CCG after a several year absence, Dave of the Five Rings continues on as he examines the current and future of the iconic world of Rokugan upon the game’s sale to FFG in 2015.
Chapter 44: The Year That Was
Welcome back, dear reader. Hopefully, you were able to navigate the ups and downs of December and the New Year with reasonable aplomb. It’s a time requiring a great deal of social appearances for me, and as such, this article had been slightly delayed in its writing. There was also the monster of my write up for the L5R Winter Court World Championship to get through as well. But now? Now we stand with 2019 firmly behind us. And what a year it was for Legend of the Five Rings, and what a year we have ahead of us still. And who could have expected that surprise on Christmas Eve?
So let’s start off with talk of December, dear reader.
The Mystery of the Tides
The 2019/2020 Kotei Season got off to an early start at PAX Unplugged on December 6th, and while I don’t have a complete runthrough of the event itself, the final standings of the tournament can be found on Lotus Pavilion. Congratulations to Steve Palumbo for taking home the first Grand Kotei victory of the Clan War Season, playing for the Scorpion Clan. In a field of 28 players, the Top 8 consisted of three Scorpion Clan players, two Unicorn Clan, and one each playing for Dragon, Lion, and Phoenix. Thee standings at the time of this writing currently in the Tides of War place the Scorpion Clan in the lead with 47 points, with the Unicorn and the Phoenix currently tied for least points at 38. The Unicorn Clan also have the first Dissension point earned.
Reviewing the standings of the Tides of War table, however, raises more questions than it necessarily answers. For example, no Crab Clan player reached the Top 16 and thus should not have been able to gain or lose any points. Yet they are held at 39 points. According to the Season of War article explaining the system, games after the cut determine the points won and lost. With the Crab and Crane Clans at 39 points, and the Dragon Clan at 40, it took some digging to get a straight answer.
I discovered that the Grand Kotei did have a Challenger round for the top placing member of each Great Clan which did not otherwise qualify, which counted for the Tides of War. However, only the Dragon Clan Challenger, Alex Jacobs, earned his way into the Top 8 by defeating Jacek Blonski, playing for Phoenix. This gave three extra points to the Scorpion and one to both the Lion and Unicorn. It is also where the Unicorn Clan earned their Dissension point.
The next Kotei on the schedule will be in February in Fort Worth, followed by the next in March at Adepticon. There is some hope that Yeti Gaming, the new company managing the Kotei tournament series for Fantasy Flight Games, may move to separate the Kotei from existing conventions in the United States due to the prohibitively high cost of travel and attendance. There is also hope in New England in particular that we might see a Kotei in our neck of the woods – or at least potentially in Albany, New York, the headquarters of Yeti Gaming. For the time being, however, it is a holding pattern to see just what shape this year’s Kotei season will take.
An Uneasy Silence
December saw no new product releases for any of the L5R lines. The highly anticipated RPG supplement, Path of Waves, and its accompanying adventure, “Sins of Regret”, failed to release on schedule. Originally slated for an early Q4 release, the street date on these two books came and went without any word from Fantasy Flight Games, as per normal.
Amazon was reporting a street date for Path of Waves on January 31 during December, but at the moment its actual release date has been in flux, currently stating a tentative release on February 14th. “Sins of Regret” is slated for even later, possibly as far out as April. The continued silence from FFG regarding the future of the RPG has become a point of worry within the community, especially with the prominent layoffs at the company in January. In that announcement, sources report that the in-house staff in charge of the L5R RPG were let go in the lay-offs, along with most of the other RPG staff at FFG. Without definite answers from the company on the future of the L5R RPG, there is no reason to assume these will release at the stated times, let alone assume we may even see possible future material.
While there were no product releases for the LCG either, Fantasy Flight Games did a livestream (and subsequent article) with more content from the Clan War deluxe expansion, set due out in early 2020. The first set of cards previewed were a series of Provinces, one for each Elemental Ring, designed to be played primarily in Enlightenment. They place Fate on unclaimed Rings matching their Elements when an attack is declared at that Province. While it is possible they would see play in a strange deck built around Awakened Tsukumogami, it is unlikely such Provinces will be able to compete for a spot on most rows.
Of the other cards previewed in the livestream, the Crane Clan and the Lion Clan were the distinct winners, picking up yet another useful duel Event for the Crane and a card which can add a Fate to a character for free for the Lion. As long as Ikoma Ujiaki remains a staple of the Lion Clan, any ability to add Fate to characters in play has value.
With what little ancillary news to report in December, we therefore come to the surprise update dropped by Tyler Parrott on December 24th. Yes, right before the end of the year, and right after PAX Unplugged saw the first truly Free Roles tournament, Fantasy Flight Games released an update to the L5R LCG Learn to Play document, as well as the Rules Reference Guide and Imperial Law. Although the updates to the Learn to Play document and the Rules Reference Guide were mostly to clean up language and streamline certain lines of play, the new Imperial Law has reshaped the meta of the LCG in ways that will take months to truly solve.
Outlined in his article, Examining the Foundations, Parrott explained the need to change the entire mechanics of how the word “then” was implemented in the LCG. Prior to the update, it was impossible to sequence game state changes without making one dependent upon the other. This often led to cards, such as Regal Bearing, failing to work as intended without rulings and clarifications. Parrott introduced new language in the rules, allowing for “then” to be used in an independent sense to allow for sequencing of game state changes, and introducing the phrase “if you do” to account for the dependent sequencing.
The Rules update also changed several elements of the game that it has outgrown or did not function as intended. The 10 Character limit in the Conflict Deck was removed, the Fate and Regroup phases of the game round were combined into a single phase, Ring Effects can now be resolved whether a player is an Attacker or Defender (removing the frequent “as the Attacking player” from many cards), and Discard Piles can now be re-ordered at will. The update also clarified that when a Character initiates a duel, they are explicitly not targeted by the duel unless the duel would otherwise target them based on other language in its effects.
Moreover, Tyler issued several pieces of errata for problematic cards which have had a negative impact for a long time. Against the Waves was changed to only target one’s own shugenja (though the 9 Fate cost in this image is an amusing typo), Daidoji Uji’s reduction of Fate cost to play Characters through his text was removed, and Kyuden Isawa picked up an additional cost of discarding a Spell Event to its text. This was determined to be the best way to rein in the power of what is widely regarded the most powerful Stronghold of the game, without weakening it past the point of competitiveness.
This was only the opening hit the Phoenix Clan took in this update, however.
While the errata on Isawa Tadaka from Disciples of the Void was removed, returning him to his full, game-crushing power, the Phoenix Clan were hit the strongest of all the Great Clans in the Imperial Law update. For the first time in the LCG, nine cards have been made illegal to include in tournament decks, creating the game’s first genuine Banned List. Four of these cards alone were Phoenix Clan, with an additional card being placed on the Restricted List. The Banned List focused on removing three cards which prohibited your opponent from being able to play the game, removing Isawa Tadaka (Disciples of the Void), Master of Gisei Toshi, and Guest of Honor from competitive play.
Tyler also removed the three most problematic “max one per deck” Holdings from the game, finding the restrictions on Kanjo District, Karada District, and Hidden Moon Dojo to be insufficient for their devastating in-game power. Jurojin’s Curse was included in the Banned List for its interaction with the newly consolidated Fate phase.
Additionally, Mirumoto Daisho, a personal favorite of mine, was banned from competitive play due to its ability to siphon excessive amounts of Honor without effective options from the opponent, effectively banning an entire deck archetype for the Dragon Clan’s portfolio and leaving them with only the Niten Master based deck they have been running since the release of the Core Set in 2017.
By contrast, the final card on the Banned List is Charge!, a card which has warped the game since its inception. Banning Charge! hurts many decks which rely on its explosive power to play very costly Characters, but its removal from the game entirely frees up the Restricted List choice to something other than “whatever card in the game my deck needs more than Charge!”.
The updates to the Restricted List were immediately celebrated by the Lion Clan, as the banning of Charge! allowed for the return of For Greater Glory. A powerful tool in the arsenal of the Lion Clan, For Greater Glory was simply too powerful in an environment which allowed Charge! to be played. The Crane Clan got back both the Steward of Law and Daidoji Uji, while the powerful tools of Magistrate Station and Kakita Toshimoku were added. With Guest of Honor now banned, this puts the Crane players into a position of making necessary choices based on their deck archetypes.
The Phoenix Clan got back Secluded Shrine, as it was banned specifically for its interaction with Isawa Tadaka but had their staple province Kuroi Mori added to the Restricted List instead. With Kuroi Mori effectively being essential to the Phoenix Clan’s hopes against the Lion Clan and Unicorn Clan decks in the meta, this effectively locks the Phoenix Clan into choosing Kuroi Mori for the foreseeable future. Miya Satoshi was removed as well but is still being watched for his ability to unlock certain deck archetypes with Gateway to Meido. The Imperial Palace has been added to the Restricted List, which is a boon for all Clans with high Glory, allowing for reliable Imperial Favor control to return to the environment.
And as no Restricted List would be complete without trying to remove more tools from the Scorpion Clan, both Secret Cache and Mark of Shame have been Restricted, though Young Rumormonger has been removed from the list. Secret Cache, like Kuroi Mori and Magistrate Station, was another Province proving too powerful for the environment, while Mark of Shame has no effective counter and lowers the value of Honoring characters.
The final note in all these holiday changes was the extension of the Rotation timeline to be the first Dynasty pack of the seventh Dynasty Cycle, instead of the fifth. This postpones rotation for another year and a half, and for ostensibly good reasons. While many players were eager waiting for certain cards to be rotated out of the meta game, the Banned List hits most of them. By extending the Rotation timeline, the card pool will continue to grow and creates an environment of twenty five legal Dynasty packs instead of thirteen. As this is something we will not see fully manifest until around 2022, it is still far too early to tell regarding whether the impact on the meta game will be good or bad.
The Road Taken, The Road Ahead
Looking back, 2019 is a year which could have made or break the Legend of the Five Rings LCG. The delayed release of Children of the Empire in February gave the game a major shake-up. Entirely new deck archetypes emerged from the resulting meta, and new staple cards were introduced into the environment. March built anticipation for the April releases of not one, but two Clan packs, and May saw the leak of the entire Inheritance Dynasty Cycle.
June set the stage for the first month to month release of Dynasty packs, with FFG maintaining those monthly releases through the end of the run. August had it share of challenges due to the continued problems and questions revolving around the Lion Clan Pack, which took until November for it to finally be released. November also saw the single biggest change to the LCG to date, moving into uncharted territory with the Open Roles announcement. The final two Clan Packs came in November as well as the last Dynasty pack, which led directly into the final tournaments of the year. And all of this was capped off with the aforementioned introduction of its first Banned List, removing staple cards from the game entirely.
Overall, judging 2019 solely in terms of releases and meta game shake ups, the L5R LCG was an undeniable success.
However, in many other areas 2019 was revelatory that FFG’s stewardship of L5R was not quite firing on all cylinders.
While the addition of Matt Holland to the communication team promises a far more open means of communicating with FFG, their continued policy of engaging primarily on Facebook puts a strain on the community to track and document relevant information. Cascade Games has been replaced by Yeti Gaming as their Organized Play partner to improve the overall experience, but Kotei are still locked behind expensive convention gates. Several leaks led to crackdowns on their playtest teams but proved an essential part of community engagement when FFG just gave everything radio silence. The RPG saw the release of Courts of Stone and “Winter’s Embrace”, but otherwise continues to languish with delays and lack of content – as evident by Path of Waves and “Sins of Regret” being still missing in action. L5R Fiction saw several good stories and two novellas released but also generated one of the largest hanging story threads witnessed to date in the new canon.
Looking ahead, 2020 is shaping up to be a year which will put Legend of the Five Rings through the wringer. The Clan War Deluxe Expansion is slated to open up multiplayer options, the Dominion Cycle is playing with some foundational elements of the game, and the new Draft Format provides a strong casual play option. Aconyte Books has two L5R novels set to be released, and though neither tie directly to the ongoing narrative of the LCG, they promise to explore the world of Rokugan in a compelling manner.
And hopefully, perhaps idealistically so, FFG will have rectified its issues on production side and will finally begin giving some concrete street dates for its upcoming products.
Maybe we will even finally see Path of Waves in print.
January may have just ended, dear reader, but it is already a tumultuous time at FFG. I will certainly be going into it in my next article, rest assured, but 2020 may be the year L5R finally hits its stride at FFG. 2017 was the year of return. 2018 was about finding out just how crazy this game could be. 2019 filled out the LCG’s potential. One can only hope 2020 gives us the Rokugan we have been waiting for.
Until next month.
Carry the Fortunes.
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 on Twitter.
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Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings images by Fantasy Flight Games.