Dave of the Five Rings Special Report: Winter Court 2019 Recap Part 1

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.


The Winter Court 2019 World Championship: Recap Edition Part 1

Hello there, dear reader. While we are already a fortnight into 2020, I hope that the memory of the World Championship in November 2019 is not too far away for us to speak of it. It was not my first journey to a Legend of the Five Rings World Championship, but it was my first time since Fantasy Flight Games had taken over the game. It was also my first time out to the Twin Cities of Minnesota, a long overdue trip due to a decades long friendship there. Those who follow me on Twitter will have likely already seen and read most of what I am about to share, but for those of you who missed it, it was quite the trip. And there’s a lot to talk about. So much so that I’m breaking it down into two pieces.


The Naga Take Flight

In some ways my trip nearly ended before it began, as I did not earn the honor of standing among those with an existing invitation. Throughout both 2018 and 2019 Fantasy Flight Games had been issuing invitations to the Winter Court 2019 Main Event to the winners of store-level Elemental Championships, as well as premiere level Kotei and Grand Kotei. The only Grand Kotei I attended in that time was Gen Con 2019 – an experience people might recall as not going spectacularly well. My performance at several Elemental Championships in New England were slightly better, but not quite enough to clinch an invite. This left me with one final option: qualify for the main event via the Last Chance Qualifier on Wednesday, November 6th.

The Meek Informant Crew

The Top 64 of that tournament were guaranteed a spot in the Main Event, with additional spots given out to fill the two Day 1’s on Thursday and Friday. As this meant playing at 10 AM on Wednesday morning, my journey to Winter Court began earlier than most attendees. I met up that Tuesday with the gentlemen of the Meek Informant podcast (Nick Mason, Adam Helbling, and James Huff), and rode the commuter bus down to Boston. From there we grabbed some coffee and met up with the rest of the first wave of the New England L5R crew heading out to Minnesota.

With that in mind, I would like to give a special shout out to Drew Hogan of the New England L5R community for his amazing contribution to the ever-escalating struggle to have the best nerd-bling in L5R. When he first started to reach out to the community for their interest in Clan mon vinyl stickers, I inquired about having one made using the old L5R Naga faction symbol. He was happy to accommodate, and I am now the proud owner of a card box representing my first and true faction loyalty.

My fancy new Naga box

Little did I know then just how long it had been since anyone had seen the old Naga symbol. To each and every one who called out this as the Snake Clan mon, especially Tyler Parrott and Tsar Agus, let me assure you: this is not the Snake Clan mon. This is not the Chuda family mon.

This is the Snake Clan mon. Note the difference.

Upon landing in Minneapolis I was able to meet up with the always entertaining Dragon Clan hatamoto and competition ballroom dancer, Alex Jacobs. We checked in for the Last Chance Qualifier over at the Fantasy Flight Games Center next to our hotel and headed out to dinner at Khan’s Mongolian Grill in Roseville. A never-ending bowl of delicious grilled meats and vegetables was exactly what I needed after a long day of travel, and I would like to extend the highest of recommendations for this restaurant to anyone travelling to the Twin Cities area. The service is excellent, the food is on point, and they brought out two rounds of red bean dumplings for the table which were simply delicious.

Then the real work began.


When Last Chance Becomes Fresh Opportunity

Ahh, good times

Wednesday morning brought us the first day of competition. After a morning spent searching for a good cup of coffee (always a challenge for a New Englander), we headed back to the FFG Center in time for the morning announcements. 101 players had signed the Last Chance Qualifier, eager to earn their way into the Winter Court Main Event, and they planned to host both a Clan Arena and the first L5R LCG Draft Event that day as well.

The energy in the hall was palpable, bringing me back to the first time I attended an L5R World Championship all the way back in 2009 at Gen Con. That 2009 tournament marked an achievement I had sought since I started playing L5R in 1997, and this moment felt similar. It hit me hard that morning in Roseville just how long L5R had been part of my life, and how good it felt to have that sort of energy back. This was the most people I had seen gathered to play L5R since the Kiku Matsuri Launch Event at Gen Con 2017, and it felt for the first time since that event that FFG had begun to truly understand the sort of game it had taken on when it purchased it.

As the muster gathered, I busied myself by checking in on Meek Informant and my fellow New England L5R players. Nick Mason had earned his invitation to the Main Event at the Atlanta Kotei earlier that year, and as such, would be spending Wednesday recording the first two L5R LCG Draft events run by Tyler Parrott. They had initially planned to stream the footage, but broadcasting difficulties prevented it. However, you can catch the first footage of their efforts on their YouTube channel. I was also fortunate enough to get a moment with Jeanne Kalvar of the Court Games and The Table Is Yours podcasts, as well as the reigning World Champion Erik Baalhuis, who was providing origami paper for folding paper cranes.

As we prepared for the Last Chance Qualifier to begin, Matt Holland stood before the gathered players with the news we were all hoping to hear. After some consideration, the decision was made to allow all 101 players of the LCQ to play in the Main Event as if they had qualified with a high enough record. While this was hardly unanticipated, the reaction from the community was so jubilant that it showed it to be the correct move. Many players gathered in that crowd with me told me that it was like a storm cloud disappearing into a sunny day, as all the tension just went out. Rather than a day of tense competition, this would be a day of effective practice. And as anyone who plays the LCG can tell you, every day of practice helps.

It also freed me to continue my search for what passed as a decent cup of coffee in these parts.


A Dragon Roused

For both the Last Chance Qualifier and the Main Event, I chose to play for the Dragon Clan. While I would not call myself the most devoted Dragon Clan player, I have been playing them since the release of Children of the Empire with regularity and have garnered a reputation as one of the better Dragon Clan players in New England. Although I was most practiced with the Daisho Dueling Dishonor deck, such as the one I had brought to Gen Con, I decided after evaluating the meta to bring a variant on the strongest deck the Dragon Clan had to bear. With the return of Niten Master from the Restricted List, the Dragon Clan had a very straightforward early to mid-range aggro deck focused on breaking its opponent’s Provinces through consistent pressure.

Niten Master was the backbone of the deck, allowing me to build a powerful singular character whom I could ready twice per round and thus use to attack twice while still defending once. Most Dragon Clan players running the Niten Master deck rely on the Seal of the Dragon to give one of their stronger Characters the Monk trait to open up the ability to play the powerful Event, Void Fist. As my decklist illustrates, I instead leaned harder into the Bushi package. This allowed me to take Pathfinder’s Blade as my Restricted List card and gave me 8 free Weapons to ready Niten Master with. It also let me take Censure to shut down my opponent’s Events and Agasha Sumiko in the place of Togashi Mitsu. Finally, I swapped out Hurricane Punch for A Perfect Cut, relying on the frequency of the Bushi keyword to make it worthwhile. I felt that the choices made my deck stronger against Crane Clan matchups, which had Event cancellation to spare, as well as the strengths of the Phoenix Clan’s Province row. In hindsight, I still feel I made the right choice.

My first round was against Gilles Molina, playing a Seeker of Void Crane Clan deck. This was the matchup I knew was coming, but sometimes you just do not see the Niten Master in the first two rounds. My opponent did see a Doji Challenger, and that was all it took. (Gilles would go on to a record of 3-2, and came in 22nd overall.)

My second round matchup was against Katie Bentley, a Minnesota local who was playing a Keeper of Air Scorpion Clan deck making use of the Imperial trait. This time Niten Master showed up early, and it was a fast match from there. My experience in the Scorpion Clan matchup carried me to victory. Round Three was against Cel Pascenia of Ludland, Colorado, playing Lion Clan. Once again, Niten Master delivered me a fast stronghold break while Pathfinder’s Blade turned off Cel’s punishing row. Round Four came down to an attack on my stronghold by the Unicorn Clan, played by Antoine Lepagnol of Montreal, Quebec. Just 1 more point of Military skill and they would have had the game. However, I was able to rally on the counterattack and take victory.

My fifth and final round came against Michael Kroeker, playing for the Phoenix Clan. One of the strongest decks in the meta, I knew this match was going to be a challenge. Still, I lucked into the perfect opening turn and carried that momentum to a victory. I finished the Last Chance Qualifier with a 4-1 record, coming in 16th overall. We all had earned a ticket to the Main Event simply by playing, but it felt good knowing that I earned my spot all same.


The Fog of War

Before heading to dinner, I checked in with the Event Desk to determine out my schedule for the following days, which had been broken down into Groups A and B. At the time, we were told that we had been sorted into Thursday and Friday evenly and alphabetically, to which I assumed (correctly) that I would be in Thursday’s Group A of the Main Event. Knowing I would have an early day, I turned in afterwards.

Too early, as it turned out. For I was awakened with a 2:30 AM notification that there had been a mixup in the sorting and that people were to be sorted alphabetically – by Clan. This meant that the first half of Crab, Crane, and Dragon were indeed part of Thursday’s Group A, while the first half of Phoenix, Scorpion, and Unicorn were put in Group B, with Lion split between. This only dimly made it through my sleeping mind, and so I still awoke early with the intent of playing early Thursday.

I really should have known better. Perhaps if I had been more successful in my quest for decent coffee…

With some lingering confusion, I checked in with the Event Desk early and was assured that there was no change to when the Dragon Clan players were scheduled, and that I was correctly slotted for Group B on Friday – the exact opposite of what my 2 AM update had told me. With that I sought out Matt Holland personally to confirm this. He pulled out his laptop, and began checking spreadsheets. He located my name quickly, and nodded.

Unfortunate accident, or carefully laid plan?

“Which day am I playing?”
“Definitely Friday.”

With that information in hand, I signed up for the Thursday Clan Arena instead, as well as the first window for the L5R LCG Draft Event with Tyler Parrott, and proceeded with my plans for my second day of L5R in Roseville.

The problem is, as you may expect dear reader, I was not “definitely playing” Friday afternoon, putting me into a scheduling conflict that jeopardized my entire participation in the Main Event I had traveled so far and planned on working my way into.

I just didn’t know that yet.


This brings us to the end the first half of my Winter Court 2019 experience. Don’t venture too far though, dear reader, as later this week I will return with the remainder of my Winter Court coverage, how my Main Event scheduling conflict was resolved, and whether I ever did find the coffee I was looking for. Until then.

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.