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 28: Niten Master And The Void
Welcome back, dear reader. It has been an interesting time since we last spoke, with multiple announcements coming out of the months of silence from Fantasy Flight Games. The first full season of Organized Play continues forward at a steady pace, but the waters have been far from smooth for the community. An unbalanced competitive environment has seen dropping numbers at major tournaments. The doomsayers have again begun to emerge, decrying the imminent death of the game.
In other words, just like the old days.
The Singular Path Of The Dragon
Last month, I promised to speak further about my own forays into the Organized Play scene. I stated my intention to continue playing Dragon Clan on a competitive level, and my local league offered me a unique opportunity in that regard. Assigned pairings were drawn up for all players of the league, along with the Clans we each would be playing. Knowing my weak matchups to be Scorpion and Crab, I was unsurprised to see that two of my scheduled opponents would be Scorpion Clan.
Good luck in pairings had never been a strong suit of mine, after all.
I would also face two Crane Clans, one Crab, one Unicorn, and one Phoenix (though not until after the release of Disciples of the Void). I felt confident against the two Crane as well as the Unicorn, though the Phoenix would be unpredictable and the Crab would be a challenge. The Scorpion opponents, however, I figured would likely spell my doom.
However, I took this league as an opportunity to experiment with deck design inside the Dragon Clan. Having two Scorpion and two Crane opponents, as well as a Phoenix and a Crab, allowed me a unique set of test cases for the viability of decks built around – as well as those not built around – Niten Master. For this test, I chose to forego the expected Crab Clan splash into Dragon, despite the sheer economy afforded by Pathfinder’s Blade and Reprieve. Instead, since we could switch our decks entire (save Clan) between games, I varied between a Crane splash for better protection and a Scorpion splash for better control.
Within the Crane splash, Above Question and Student of Law provided a modicum of protection from various powerful anti-personnel Events, above and beyond the 3x Fingers of Jade which are a must. With the Scorpion splash, I ran Calling in Favors to steal useful Attachments and Meek Informant to get a glimpse at my opponent’s hand. Both the Niten Master deck and the non-Niten Master had versions with either splash, as per what I was expecting to face.
The Niten Master build was more reflected in playstyle by focusing on filling my hand with Weapons to attach to a Niten Master in play and running cards like Good Omen, Mantra of Fire, and Togashi Kazue to keep him alive and relevant. My other deck went in another direction, foregoing Niten Master entirely and utilizing Mirumoto Raitsugu and Enigmatic Magistrate for disrupting the table. I split my matches with Crane and Scorpion across the two decks, and then randomly determined which of the remaining three matches would face which. In the end, only the Unicorn Clan drew the short straw and wound up facing the Niten Master deck.
What this tournament outing demonstrated for me was just how powerful the Niten Master Character was to the game – and how central it was to the Dragon Clan’s chances at victory. It felt like having a star quarterback on my football team, and the rest of my efforts were spent spent trying to get him on the field with the ball in hand, ready to score a touchdown. My Conflict hand became the means to protect him and leverage him towards victory.
By contrast, playing my non-Niten Master deck I found both Mirumoto Raitsugu and Enigmatic Magistrate to fall short of the same sheer power and versatility. While Raitsugu was a powerful defensive piece, eating multiple opposing characters through his potent duel, and Enigmatic Magistrate changed the tempo of any Conflict he was attacking in, neither provided the level of board presence of Niten Master.
Simply put, in games with Niten Master on the board, victory was always within reach. Games without Niten Master felt like an uphill slog, requiring a great deal more investment into each Conflict.
At the end of league, I still managed to take Top Dragon, but at the time of this article’s release my position in the Top 8 (and thus a seed to the finals) is still contingent based others’ strength of schedule. I did manage to win one of my matches against the Scorpion, though ironically not the one with the Niten Master deck. While the Crane splash certainly left me stronger against the schemes of the Scorpion Clan, they simply have the answer to Niten Master. My victory against them came from the unusual application of Enigmatic Magistrate and a well-timed Goblin Sneak disrupting their plans for defense at their Stronghold.
The most impactful result of this league experience, however, is that I am reconsidering sticking with Dragon Clan in the current Organized Play environment. The power of the Niten Master deck is unquestionably effective on the field, but its reliance on a single Character to achieve victory leaves me unsatisfied.
I have never enjoyed the “one path to victory” style of deck as I feel it constrains me to a single strategic path. In the case of Niten Master, it is literally “Get Niten Master on the board, attack, attach Weapons, attack again”, with a side of “Keep Niten Master safe”. What initially attracted me to the Dragon Clan was the wider range of strategic options available to it, allowing me to pivot in game towards my opponent’s weaknesses. While the Dragon Clan offers more of such options than Unicorn or Crane at present, the challenges it faces against the dominant decks of the field (Scorpion Big Hand and Crab Economic Crush) pigeonholes it into the limited design.
Disciple Of The Void Releases
This limitation may simply be due to the current small pool of available cards, however, and the upcoming releases may see the fate of the Dragon Clan change. Fortunately, we have news on that front.
First and foremost, April saw the release of the long-awaited Phoenix Clan pack, Disciples of the Void, bringing with it twenty eight new cards focused around the Phoenix Clan. By the numbers, Disciples of the Void adds 9 new Phoenix Characters, 6 new Phoenix Conflict cards, a new Phoenix Holding, a new Phoenix Province, and a new Phoenix Stronghold. For non-Phoenix players, each faction receives a Unique Character related to the themes of the Phoenix, generally in an oppositional manner.
Additionally, Disciples of the Void has a Neutral Event and two Neutral Conflict Characters tied to the Keeper and Seeker roles. Finally, the set includes the Support of the Phoenix Role, which allows a player to forego their traditional Seeker or Keeper Role to instead increase the Influence Value of their Stronghold – but only if they are splashing Phoenix Clan.
Disciples of the Void had some impact on my local league, though you should expect to see a much more dramatic impact as the spring competitive season moves forward. The new Stronghold, Kyuden Isawa, is a game changer for the Phoenix Clan. While it has the same Honor, Influence, and Fate production as Isawa Mori Seido, it has one less Province Strength and a significantly different ability. As an Action, you can bow it to use a Spell Event in your Conflict discard pile as if it were in your hand, then remove it from the game. This effectively allows a player to get double the use of Phoenix’s powerful Spell Action Events, such as Supernatural Storm or Against The Waves.
As the game is currently without the ability to remove cards from another player’s discard pile, this expands the number of available Actions for a Phoenix player considerably by allowing them to treat their discard pile as a second Conflict hand. The advantage to getting double the use out of Spell Action Events also reduces the effectiveness of the Event cancellation abilities currently impacting the meta game.
That said, while the addition of a new Stronghold may give the Phoenix Clan a competitive advantage, it’s the additional Conflict cards which really sway the game in their favor. In particular, the Event places a powerful tool in the hands of the Phoenix. For 1 Fate, it is a Spell Action which provides two very powerful, and separate effects. First, it prevents the bowing of the targeted Character by opponent’s card effects, shutting down many options for dealing with a more powerful Character. Second, it prevents the targeted Character from bowing due to the resolution of a Political conflict, freeing the Character up for another Conflict that turn.
Either one of these abilities would be worth the cost of 1 Fate, but the incorporation of both effects into the same price and Action is a significant advantage in both resource management and tempo. When added to the already powerful Against The Waves, the Phoenix Clan has two strong methods to deal with the most common means of handling Characters in conflicts: bowing. As long as Mirumoto’s Fury remains one of the most commonly splashed cards in the environment, I would expect to see Phoenix Clan to rise to a force to be reckoned with in competitive play.
All in all, Disciples of the Void shows a great deal of promise for the concept of Fantasy Flight Games’ Clan Packs, and it adds a degree of necessary strategic depth to the game that had been lacking to this point. As the game grows, I look forward to seeing how the other Clan Packs will change the environment.
How much Disciples of the Void shapes the current tournament scene, however, remains to be seen. The Scorpion Clan will very likely remain crushingly dominant, as many of the tools added in this Clan Pack neither stop their strongest weapons nor can be used by Scorpion Clan to a significant advantage. Add to that the Scorpion Character, Yogo Kikuyo, is on the Conflict side and can be played for free as an interrupt, cancelling a Spell Event’s effects entirely. The arrival of a fresh Character and cancelling an Event is another powerful tool in the Scorpion Clan’s arsenal and will serve as a silver bullet aimed straight for the Phoenix Clan.
The one true criticism with Disciples of the Void is a particular oversight in its design. Specifically, the Support of the Phoenix Role. The Support of the Phoenix can be played instead of a Clan’s Elemental Keeper or Seeker Role, and increases the deck’s Influence value by 8, but limits that additional Influence to Phoenix Clan cards only. As there is no way to use Influence to splash two Clans at present, this Role locks a player’s secondary Clan in their Conflict deck to the Phoenix Clan.
There isn’t anything inherently bad about this, and it does provide an interesting alternative to the current Roles, but the Phoenix Clan gains nothing from its inclusion. This feels like a design gap with Disciples of the Void to not include a Phoenix Clan specific Role card, easily printed on the back of the Support of the Phoenix card, which could have given the Phoenix Clan some mechanical reason to run it without splashing a second Clan. Although the card pool isn’t quite robust enough yet for a single Clan deck to be potent, the inclusion of such a Role in each Clan Pack would open more options for the existing Strongholds and themes.
Here We Go Again
Finally, some release news, as the next cycle of Dynasty packs have been announced. The Elemental Cycle will be released in the third quarter of 2018, though no exact street date has been given at present. It will be another accelerated released schedule, with one new Dynasty Pack being released each week for six weeks. Each Pack will focus around a single Elemental Ring, with the final pack filling out the gaps in the previous ones. In addition to the Elemental focus of the cycle, the L5R LCG will be gaining multiple Neutral Characters from the fan favorite Mantis Clan. A minor clan in the current timeline, the Mantis Clan had been their own faction in the original game, eventually earning the status of a Great Clan.
Additionally, it has been announced that the first Dynasty Pack in this cycle, the Breath of the Kami, will contain a Stronghold among its cards, though no information has been given about which Great Clan (if any) this Stronghold belongs to.
Personally, my hope that it is either a new Stronghold for the struggling Unicorn Clan, or a Neutral Stronghold to support the various Imperial cards from the last set.
The reactions to these announcements have been swift and loud. While the community has greeted the news of a new Dynasty Cycle eagerly (especially one featuring the Mantis Clan) the reaction that the game will be subjected to another six packs in six weeks has been roundly negative. Most players accepted that the initial accelerated release was necessary to expand the card pool sufficiently for the Kotei Season, the choice to do it again has left a collective bad taste in peoples’ mouths.
Without an explanation from the notoriously tight-lipped Fantasy Flight Games, speculation has erupted as to why this was being done again. Theories run the gamut from the usual corporate greed argument, to unexpected production delays, to the unavoidable ‘L5R is dying!’ cry that springs eternal from certain parts of the community.
Although I have yet to receive official confirmation from FFG, I suspect the most likely reason is that FFG wants all the sets out and legal in time for either Gen Con in August or the Winter Court Worlds Championship in November. The latter is more likely in my opinion, as we would need to see the packs beginning to be released in June for the former, and June is not third quarter.
And so, dear reader, we begin the move towards the end of the Toshi Ranbo season at Gen Con, with a competitive environment rife with Scorpion victories. With the Phoenix Clan Novella still in a nebulous release date, you can expect my next article to be speaking about the current Kotei standings, and just what Fantasy Flight Games is bringing to the table in the way of events at Gen Con. Summer is just around the corner, and we shall see where the most popular game at Gen Con 2017 stands one year later.
Until the next time.
Carry the Fortunes.
David Gordon was 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 were his stories. He can be reached on Twitter.
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Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings images by Fantasy Flight Games.