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 47: Skirmishes and Stagnation
To paraphrase a meme, I feel like I now have played L5R in five decades: the 90s, the 00s, the 2010s, the 2020s, and now March.
Yeah. About March. That was a month to remember. By the time I am writing this, it is already most of the way through April, and I apologize about the delay, dear reader. We are all having a hard time out there, and I would be lying if I said it was easy. Still, we are all in this together, and so I hope that you are somewhere safe and healthy during this time of struggle. Know that your support and readership does help me get through this.
So, without any further ado, let us speak about March 2020.
The War Has Begun
The first pack of the Dominion Dynasty Cycle, Rokugan at War, was released at the start of March, just before the release delays on all products due to COVID-19 was announced. With the rest of the Dominion Dynasty Cycle delayed for the foreseeable future, it is going to be even more impactful on the meta of any Organized Play seen before regular releases resume. Even before the delay, however, it was expected to make waves. Two cards, City of the Rich Frog and A Season of War, have quickly become staples of the game, and every player should expect to see one if not both of them on the other side of the table.
City of the Rich Frog, despite being both an Eminent Province and competing against both Shameful Display and Upholding Authority in a Province Row, speeds up the Dynasty half of the game dramatically. By being filled to three cards each time it empties, it increases the potential number of Dynasty card revealed each turn by 50%. Combined with Those Who Serve to lower costs during the Dynasty phase and Holdings or Characters which can turn cards face up, decks have begun to emerge that flood the board with bodies in the early game. The Crab Clan and Lion Clan especially have benefited from this style of deck, though the recent errata to Those Who Serve placing “to a minimum of 1” next to its Fate cost reduction, has in part hampered this deck from dominating.
The other piece holding the swarm deck back comes from A Season of War. A neutral Dynasty-side Event released in Rokugan at War, Season of War comes with one key piece of text: the Rally keyword. When a Rally card is revealed in a Province, another card is added to that Province from the top of the Dynasty deck, face up. While Rally will not trigger a second card with Rally, this causes A Season of War to effectively function as a non-existent card for deck building purposes. Slimming one of L5R’s decks down to 37 cards is a distinct strategic advantage – and that is before its Action. A Season of War immediately discards each card in each Province, including face down cards, then ends the Dynasty Phase. A second Dynasty phase starts, where players do not collect Fate.
This has been used by decks to increase the chances of seeing an essential Round 1 Character, end a Dynasty phase after an opponent has played Those Who Serve, and to put a solid kibosh on any Holding-based deck strategy. Between the release of A Season of War and the new Imperial Law document at the end of the month, my heart goes out to the Crab Clan for the death of their two fledgling deck types. As an OG Mirumoto Daisho Bomber, I feel your pain.
Other than these two cards, there were not much in the way of meta-shaping releases in Rokugan at War. For a full card-by-card analysis of each card in the Rokugan At War Dynasty pack, Imperial Advisor has you covered. However, the strongest of the non-Neutral cards will likely prove to be Prepared Ambush, a Lion Clan Attachment which allows its controller to buy Characters from their Provinces as if they were in their hand into a Conflict at the attached Province.
While not necessarily powerful on its own, skillful play with Hidden Moon Dojo has revealed the power of playing this Attachment on an opponent’s Stronghold. Cycle of Rebirth, a Dragon Clan Dynasty side Event, also merits some watching as it can effectively cycle both itself and another card in either player’s Province, which can be useful effect. Its chief limits are that doing so shuffles both cards back into their owners’ decks and that its Action has a maximum of once per round attached to it. If Cycle of Rebirth discarded itself, it would be an auto-include for me, but the loss of Passing Fate in the Dynasty Phase is just too costly for the effect for me.
Beware What Lurks In The Shadows
Fortunately, Rokugan At War is not the only new cards for the LCG we got to see in March. Despite the shipping of physical product being delayed, CardGameDB uploaded a complete visual spoiler of Dominion Dynasty Pack 2, Spreading Shadows, with each of the 24 new cards.
As opposed to Rokugan At War, there are no major Neutral cards in this pack. On the contrary, it’s the Clan specific cards which see the most impact here, and none more than the Scorpion Clan. Seven Stings Keep, although a card I had a great deal of enjoyment testing in my local playgroup, is not likely to see much in the way of top tier tournament play.
The same cannot be said about Dispatch to Nowhere, a 1 Fate Dynasty Event which directly discards a Character without Fate, and Suffer the Consequences, a 2 Fate Conflict Event which allows for a player to make an additional Political Conflict in a given round. The power of Dispatch to Nowhere comes from its ability to force an opponent to invest more in characters early on while also allowing a late-game blowout, removing a troubling tower on the round it would be able to strike. Suffer the Consequences shines in that while it requires a bowed Character to be sacrificed to be played, it can be done during the Action window after the second player’s last Conflict, providing an unmatched capacity for a surprise conflict to strike at a key Province – or just drain one more Honor from an unopposed conflict.
Spreading Shadows provides both the Crab Clan and the Unicorn Clan with their Eminent Provinces this cycle, with both Shinsei’s Last Hope and Wind’s Path possibly finding a home due solely to being Water Provinces. The Crab Clan also picked up a useful Attachment in the form of Obsidian Talisman, allowing them to shed status tokens from an attached Character for the cost of 1 Honor.
This can be useful both defensively to prevent from Dishonor and offensively in the form of removing an opponent’s Honored status. The Crane Clan have gained their Rally card for the cycle, with Daidoji Marketplace filling out a very interesting role in the deck. As a Rally card, it effectively does not take up a Dynasty slot, and it can reveal the Province it’s in, allowing a Crane Clan player to make use of powerful Provinces such as Magistrate Station or Pledge of Loyalty before they are put at risk by an attack. It can even potentially be good for a quick Fate in Seeker decks.
The Phoenix Clan, however, gained the most interesting card of them all, with Ethereal Alignment providing them an Event which restores a Province from its broken status. As this literally sets the game back an entire Conflict, it is fair that it should cost 5 Fate and be restricted to an Interrupt to the end of the Conflict Phase. Even still it will likely be seen as a 1x in most decks, at least until the Phoenix Clan can muster a deck which stalls the game out entirely.
We See Some Of What Honor Demands
Fantasy Flight Games also previewed the penultimate Dynasty Pack of the Dominion Cycle, As Honor Demands. As is often the case with official spoilers it’s likely that the most impactful cards in this Dynasty Pack were not included, though the Crane Clan is quite pleased with the arrival of their third Stronghold. Seven Fold Palace provides the Crane Clan with the ability to bow their Stronghold after winning a conflict with an Honored Character to gain 2 Honor.
While not quite as powerful as some of the sheer Honor-gaining mechanics present in the Lion Clan, having it be present on their Stronghold will see it impact the game significantly. The ability to potentially gain 2 Honor per turn regardless of Rings claimed may give the Crane Clan the edge in combatting the City of the Open Hand Scorpion Clan decks.
Included in the preview as well are two more cards for the Phoenix Clan which reward passing on declaring a Conflict, favoring a passive method of play. Considering the emphasis being given to active play, it will be interesting to see if the Phoenix Clan will be able to piece together a deck which allows them to simply…not play the game…and still somehow achieve victory.
The Koteis End & The Laws Change
For Organized Play in March there was only one major tournament successfully run. The Kotei was held in Cork, Ireland, and was attended by 19 players in total. Detailed rundowns are available, but in short, Dario Perri took home the top seat for the Lion Clan, with Tom Nys, also playing Lion, taking second. The Top 4 were rounded out by Marios Bounakis, again playing Lion Clan, and Tam Fullard, playing Crane Clan.
Concurrent to the Irish Kotei the Madrid Kotei also attempted to run, bringing in over 40 players. Unfortunately, despite extensive efforts by the event runners to minimize dangers of infection to the players, the police were ultimately called and the event was shut down on their orders. As was announced shortly thereafter (and alluded to in the last article), FFG Organized Play was formally put a hold on all events until after the COVID-19 crisis passes. With most countries banning gatherings of over 10 people, it is uncertain just how the Season of War Kotei series will be handled once the storm passes – if at all.
Additionally, March saw the release of the quarterly update to the LCG’s Imperial Law and the Rules Reference Guide. While language for “eligible provinces” were cleaned up for Multiplayer, Tyler also removed the Restricted List for Multiplayer and other formats. Going forward, only the standard Stronghold style of L5R LCG (more on what Stronghold means later) will have a Restricted List. All other formats will have solely a Banned List.
Timing on Keywords was also clarified, and they will now specifically occur after a triggering condition (winning / losing a Conflict for Pride, leaving play for Sincerity, etc), but before any Forced or triggered Reactions. This technically gives all gamestate changes in the LCG a six step micro-window for play:
- Forced Interrupt
- State Change
- Forced Reaction
The Imperial Law removed the erratum from City of the Open Hand, returning it to its original text, while adding errata to both Kuroi Mori and Those Who Serve. Kuroi Mori is no longer allowed to be a Stronghold Province, something that has been desperately needed since its release in the Core Set, while Those Who Serve has been given its aforementioned “to a minimum Fate cost of 1” rider to its Fate cost reduction text. Moreover, after several months on the Restricted List, Spyglass has finally been banned in Organized Play as it proved simply too much of a vehicle for a very negative play experience, allowing tower strategy decks to consistently keep their hand filled by regularly drawing 2-6 cards a turn for free.
On the other hand, Secret Cache, and more notably, Void Fist, were removed from the Restricted List. The latter change was heralded by the dramatic rise of the High House of Light deck focused around using Dragon Tattoo and Policy Debate – along with other tower strategy mainstays – to cheaply strip cards from your opponent’s hand without any loss of momentum while easily qualifying for “X cards played or more” requirements. As I predicted, the High Five, using High House of Light and spamming 5 cards a conflict, has gone from little better than a joke to an oppressive deck type in a single card, though still as dependent on seeing Togashi Mitsu as the former deck was on seeing Niten Master.
Yet no Restricted List update would be complete without another attempt at trying to break the Scorpion Clan’s continued dominance of the meta. This time, Tyler has placed their most powerful Stronghold, City of the Open Hand, on the Restricted List, along with Duty. Duty being placed on the RL effectively creates a soft ban on it, as a Scorpion Clan player must now choose between the best Stronghold in the game (City of the Open Hand), the best Event cancel in the game (Forged Edict), the best single-target kill in the game (A Fate Worse Than Death), the best Conflict Character in the game (Cunning Magistrate), or a single copy of a card which might, once a game, cause them to not lose (Duty).
The fact that Cunning Magistrate and A Fate Worse Than Death barely see play should reveal just how powerful the first two are.
As a player, I feel that City of the Open Hand belongs on the Restricted List and has for quite some time. I do not feel, however, that it will have any significant, lasting impact on the Scorpion Clan’s dominance in the meta. The Scorpion Clan has the ability to push two victory strategies at the same time, and until that changes, they will continue to perform powerfully in the hands of skilled players.
Quiet Storyline Reflections
Unsurprisingly, there was no major news regarding the L5R RPG in March, save the announcement of Edge Entertainment Studios taking over the production (which we covered last month). They have launched an English language website, but there has been no development since its launch. For fiction, FFG released two new short stories.
“Hidden Markings” by Robert Denton III follows Asako Maezawa on the trail of heresy and ponders how the road to suffering is often paved with the best of intentions. “The Art of Matchmaking” by Nancy M. Sauer continues the growing narrative of the rising Clan War, as Doji Shizue arrives at the court of Shinjo Altansarnai with an offer of alliance between the Crane Clan and the Unicorn Clan. While neither story is particularly revelatory or surprising, both show the skill of the authors and their familiarity with Rokugan. “Hidden Markings” particularly feels more like just a day in the life of an Asako Inquisitor, making the narrative all the more tragic in its mundanity for Maezawa.
The Skirmish Format
The last piece of news from March remains arguably its biggest. Or at least the most impacting at the moment Since his time at Worlds 2019, Tyler Parrott had been working on a way to make the Legend of the Five Rings LCG a quicker, more approachable game. While the full LCG is absolutely wonderful piece of strategic design, with deep lines of play and hundreds of decision points at any given point, its “hour or longer” time of play holds it back from being a game for casual play. Many of the same issues I identified in my article on my Daimyo L5R format were being felt at the highest levels of design. The turning point came when Tyler demoed the Canadian Battle Box format while at the 2019 Winter Court and experienced a highly random yet still essentially fun L5R. While the five minute, incredibly random play from Battle Box was not quite what he was looking for, it gave him a target to hit. And so, in March, he released the Skirmish format.
Skirmish L5R is similar to Stronghold (i.e. default) format in many ways. Both use (most) of the same cards. Both use (most) of the same rules. Both are designed to simulate a conflict between two feudal rulers in Rokugan escalating into a war. Skirmish L5R is intended for new players who want a simpler, faster version of the L5R LCG experience, and does this by paring down not just the decks themselves but what goes into the deck.
In Skirkmish, players use two decks of 30-35 cards, split between Dynasty and Conflict. Players may have no more than 2 copies of a given card in their deck. Players have only 3 Provinces instead of the usual 4. Each Province is effectively blank, with a Province Strength 3. Neither player has a Stronghold. A player is eliminated when one either has their third Province broken or they are reduced to 0 Honor. Players start at 6 Honor, win at 12 Honor, and only receive 6 Fate per round. A lot of the other small rules, like passing Fate, or placing Fate on Rings, or multiple Conflicts a round, simply do not happen in Skirmish.
Ultimately, I feel that Tyler has succeeded in achieving his goal of making a lighter, faster version of Legend of the Five Rings. My personal favorite change in the rules is reflected in the updated mechanics of Dueling. Giving the Character with higher Skill only a +1 bonus to the Duel resolution is a mechanic I truly hope to see get adopted by standard L5R, even if it leads to Duels being transitioned out of most competitive decks. When coupled with his statements of greater support for this format in side events at Kotei and Winter Court, I think that the Skirmish format will take root in the L5R community.
Most importantly, I think that this format is ideal for teaching the foundational elements of the L5R LCG. It makes for a perfect “demo game” for FFG to take to conventions or local tournament organizers to host a “Learn to Play L5R” night. It would be wonderful to see some prize support sent out through their OP kits for this.
Just saying, they keep making those full art “Province Backers” as pre-order bonuses. It would be good to see FFG do something to support Friendly Local Game Stores as a change…
And that’s in for March. April is going to be an interesting challenge, and my apologies if this article does not arrive until early May. My goal for April is to provide you with news on many of the exciting ways to play L5R online right now, while practicing responsible social distancing. Until then, dear reader.
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.
You can discuss this article and more on our social media!
Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings images by Fantasy Flight Games.