Dave of the Five Rings Special Report: Winter Court 2019 Recap Part 2

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 2

Welcome back, dear reader, to my coverage of the Legend of the Five Rings 2019 Winter Court World Championship, straight from the heart of Minnesota. In my first part, I shared my modest travel adventures in reaching Roseville and the community’s jubilant response to the surprise announcement of Fantasy Flight Games graduating everyone who had signed up for the Last Chance Qualifier straight into the Main Event.

However, when we last left off, conflicting information provided to me regarding my tournament schedule for opening day very nearly undid all off that excitement before the Main Event had even begun.

I just didn’t know that yet.


Conquering the Arena

My first round of Clan Arena on Thursday was against Jakub Irzyk, playing the Scorpion Clan. If you follow the L5R tournament scene, this name should be familiar to you; Jakub is a well-known Scorpion Clan player from Europe who has been a frequent champion of many Koteis. He is rightfully considered one of the best players in the entire world, and it was an experience to face him. He won, unsurprisingly, but appreciated the changes I made in the standard Dragon Clan deck.


My second round was against Daniel Schroeder playing a Crab Clan deck. Things did not exactly go to plan there either as the first turn saw a Hida Kisada charged into my province with an Iron Mine on board. The fact that I made the game last until the fourth turn before an honored Hantei Sotorii broke my Stronghold on a political conflict was an accomplishment in and of itself. After two rather eventful rounds, I wasn’t sure what my third and final challenge would bring. In the end, I faced Leenath from Hungary, playing for the Unicorn Clan. It was well fought but comparatively uneventful as I was able to get my Niten Master up and crushing provinces, taking me to victory.

Afterwards, I grabbed an impromptu early lunch with Dan Lovat Clark, the author of the Unicorn Clan Novella “Across the Burning Sands”. Both the meal and conversation proved quite enjoyable. It was exciting to share in his passion for Legend of the Five Rings in general, and the Unicorn Clan in particular. Hopefully we will see more of his fiction in the future, as his influence on Shinjo’s children of the Four Winds grows.


Competition, Recheduled

I had just started considering whether or not to return in my search for a good cup of coffee when I was called by name over the intercom. I was to report in for my scheduled slot…on Day One. Apparently they had been trying to reach me for some time. Upon anxiously returning to the Event Desk, fearing that I had lost my slot, Matt Holland apologized for giving me incorrect information.

He then presented me with two options to make up for it: I could choose whether to play that day or the next. A quick count of names revealed there were 17 Dragon Clan players scheduled for our Group. With prizes guaranteed for the Top 16 of each Clan, it would mean at least one person would not get the prizes if I played. Given the circumstances, I chose to play on Friday, and headed off with a profound sense of relief. What could have been a potentially catastrophic scheduling mishap not only freed me up for other activities but also ensured that my fellow Dragon Clan players would all receive prize support of some kind.


Playing L5R Draft

Fortune favored on me once more as afterwards I was selected as one of the players for the afternoon’s Draft Pod with Tyler Parrott. Since its relaunch, the Legend of the Five Rings LCG has not been in a format to allow for ease of drafting. Drafting in L5R was tricky even during its AEG days, with the balance of Draft only fully establishing itself during its last full arc.

(For those unfamiliar with drafting, it is a format of play where the card pool is separated into “packs” and players are separated into pods. Players are each assigned a set of these packs. Each player simultaneously views one of their packs, selects a single card from it, then passes the remaining cards to another player in their pod – typically to their immediate right or left. That player then selects a card, and passes the pack again, while you select a card from one to you. You repeat this until all the cards of a pack have been selected. Players then repeat the drafting process for each subsequent next pack, usually passing in the opposite direction each time. When complete, this leaves you with a selected, personalized card pool to build a deck out of, which you then play normally.)

Draft L5R is a format that Tyler has been working on for several months, having created a draft pool out of the currently printed cards. These selected cards were further sorted into Commons (3 copies in the pool), and Rares (1 card in the pool), and separated randomly into packs consisting of 12 Commons and 4 Rares. Each player receives 5 packs, giving them a total pool of 80 cards to work with.

They then use those 80 cards, plus a set of neutral Provinces, a neutral Stronghold, and a set of Draft Only Roles to build a 30 Dynasty / 30 Conflict deck. Additional spots in the deck would be filled with Wandering Ronin on the Dynasty side and Good Omen on the Conflict, until each deck was at least 30 cards. Influence is handled differently in Draft L5R, with the eight Alliance Roles taking the place of the standard Influence rules. A deck can run one Great Clan and choose a second through the appropriate Alliance Role to include in their deck construction. Alternatively, a player can select the Allies of Convenience Role, allowing them to include cards of two additional Great Clans in their deck but only the Uniques of their primary Great Clan.

That Uniques rule threw me off in my first draft attempt. I was able to draft Bayushi Kachiko in my first pick and Kyuden Bayushi in my second, which locked me in early on the Scorpion Clan. I also started drafting Dragon Clan for its strong Attachments and Phoenix Clan for its useful support Characters. It wasn’t until halfway through my third pack when Tyler repeated that Allies of Convenience only let you include non-Uniques of your allied Great Clans, and it hit me. It was too late for me to step out of my three way split, but I only drafted Scorpion Clan uniques from that point forward. I was able to score some powerhouse rares for the Scorpion and made peace knowing a couple Good Omens and Wandering Ronin were going to be in my deck. I ultimately went 1-2 in my three rounds due to my missteps, but Bayushi Kachiko showed up in each matchup and carried my game on her back. Although I didn’t win, I did take home an honorable prize for the Best Character in Play with Bayushi Kachiko being turned into an unstoppable tower of power at one point.

It got a little silly

Tyler has posted the rules for Draft L5R online, along with images of the Draft Pack of Provinces, Roles and the Stronghold. I highly recommend checking them out, and if you’re feeling ambitious, putting together a Draft event for your local playgroup. It is a very different way to play L5R and can go a long way in keeping the game fun and fresh!


Tripped Up By Formality

On Friday morning, I finally achieved my biggest goal of the trip so far.

Yes, I’m talking about finding my long-sought java grail.

I made certain to allot enough time before checking in to make a sojourn out into Minneapolis in search of a coffee shop worthy of my patronage. My long quest came to fruition in the form of Anelace, an excellent specialty coffee house on Central Ave NE. It was by far and away worth the effort to get out there, and it definitely holds my highest recommendations for anyone visiting that city. I will be certain to visit again next year.

Coffee blissfully in hand, I checked in for the Main Event and sat down for my Round 1 matchup against…Jakub Irzyk, playing for the Scorpion Clan.

We got over our déjà vu and played a solid three turn match before I was dishonored out of the game. It was a privilege to face Jakub twice in two days, who would go on to be undefeated the remainder of the day. My Round 2 matchup was against another Dragon Clan player, Alex Jacobs. Alex is one of the prominent voices in the Dragon Clan community, a friend from previous events, and also my roommate at Winter Court 2019. Unfortunately, he was also playing the Daisho Dueling deck which I knew intimately. I was able to keep the Mirumoto Daisho off the table long enough to secure victory and was able to claim my first Hatamoto killer pin – a prize I’d been hunting for since Gen Con 2017. That would ultimately be Alex’s last loss of the day, however, and he qualified for Saturday with a record of 4-2.

A formal loss

In Round 3 I faced Jacob Wishart playing Seeker of Void Crane Clan, during which I was able to keep a Niten Master on the board big enough to be unthreatened by Kakita Toshimoko. As this was the deck I had the most practice against (as well as the one I had built to gain the edge on), it proved to be a very frustrating match for Jacob. This would only become compounded when one of his Formal Invitations mistakenly got shuffled into my Conflict deck during cleanup.

My Round 4 opponent, Thomas Curnaz of Switzerland started strong with a charged Hida Kisada. I was able to stabilize during the match before I drew the illegal card. The floor rules were explicit in this case, and I conceded on the spot. Regrettably this also led to a round loss for Jacob, as he too was now playing with an illegal deck. Even the honorable move by his opponent, conceding rather than taking the win on a technicality, did not change the judge’s ultimate decision. The floor rules are the floor rules. While waiting out the remainder of the round Thomas bought me a drink, and we spent the time talking about indigenous land rights and international law, an issue which is rather near and dear to my heart.

With a record of 2-2, Round 5 was make it or break time, as a third loss would likely eliminate me from advancing. I faced off against Handsome Dan of the Jade Throne podcast, playing for the Lion Clan. It was a game of breakneck aggression and was ultimately decided in his favor when I broke his third Province as second player in the third round. He had broken my Restoration of Balance in his first conflict, discarding down to four cards, with a face up Ikoma Ujiaki and Champions of Yomi in his provinces. Ujiaki was in a broken province, so there was nothing I could do about it.

I attacked the province holding his face up Champions of Yomi, choosing Earth Ring and coverted out both his defenders. I broke the province, claimed the Ring, and randomly chose the only card, Prepare for War, in his hand which did not give me the game. While I was able to ready both my Niten Master and Togashi Yokuni to handle his attack, he was able to Charge his Ujiaki, then revealed Akodo Toturi and a Kitsu Spiritcaller with Ujiaki’s ability. Two Way of the Lions on Toturi and the Champions of Yomi out of his discard pile gave him enough Military skill to crest the Dragon Mountains and break my Stronghold. Had I not spent my last Fate to covert his board, or had I discarded any of his other cards, and the game would have been mine. It was a game where neither of us made any mistakes, and we each made all the right choices. Which means that, sometimes, luck wins out.

In the final round of the day I faced off against Doug Bare, who was also playing Seeker of Void Crane Clan. As with my previous match against the deck, I dispatched it quickly, and we both watched the results as they came in. I finished the day with a 3-3 split, and only missed on qualifying for Day 2 as the Dragon Clan Challenger due to one Dragon Clan player going 4-2 with a modified Loss. The Challenger position is given to the highest placing non-qualifying player on each day for each Great Clan, letting them play against the lowest scoring Qualifying players for one last chance to make the Top 64. As per the floor rules, modified Losses give 0 tournament points to the regular Loss’s 1 point, giving them a total of 41 tournament points. Since a player needs 42 points (four 10 point wins, two 1 point losses) to qualify naturally for Day 2, this easily solidified the Dragon Clan player with the modified Loss as the Dragon Clan Challenger.


Free At Last

As I did not meet the threshold for Saturday’s tournament, I opted to spend the day visiting friends in the Twin Cities area. I arrived back in time to watch the Final match between Jose Luis Saenz playing for the Phoenix Clan and Zachary Lowe, playing for the Scorpion Clan. (For a full breakdown of the major matchups of the day, Imperial Advisor has you covered). Afterwards, Tyler gathered the various champions of each of the Great Clans to make the choices before them. Jose chose first in the Story Prize, deciding that Akodo Toturi would seek his assassins in the capital, a choice which was covered the next day in the story “The Cornered Lion – Part 2” by Robert “Spooky” Denton III. Following that, Tyler stood with the gathered champions and announced that the Elemental Role Draft would be skipped this year. Instead, the winners had unanimously chosen to free the Roles.

As you can imagine, dear reader, the crowd went wild.

In the brief period after the celebrations in the hall moved to celebrations elsewhere, several of us in L5R media gathered to record the Legend of Five or More Podcasts, organized by Tobin and the rest of the Art of Warcast crew. I highly recommend giving it a listen, though I was only able to get in the occasional word. An hour long show with more than ten people does not leave a lot of time for subtle commentary.

Saturday blurred into Sunday, whereupon I spent the remainder of my time at Winter Court watching games at the Winter Court Farewell and conversing with friends before finding myself at the New England L5R House that evening. There I got in my second Draft and performed much better, putting together a Unicorn-Dragon deck out of Mountain’s Anvil Castle and only losing one game to tiebreakers at time. The following day I squeezed in a couple casual games at the airport with the Meek Informants before returning home, and thus, to normal life. Replete with acceptable coffee.


Cold Season and Warm Friends

Things are going to get interesting

My experience at the Winter Court 2019 is something I will remember. While it was a little excessive to go through five straight days of Legend of the Five Rings, it reminded me a lot of my experience at Gen Con 2015, when L5R was celebrating its 20th anniversary. The energy throughout the week of competition was high, and the announcement of freeing the Roles at the end was exactly what the community had been calling for over the last year. I expect a lot of that was pageantry, the decision to make the option available to the champions of the Great Clans was a bold one for both Tyler and Matt to make. It took one of the main points of competition in the game’s Organized Play structure and threw it entirely out the window. The next year of competition is going to be completely unpredictable as a result, and I for one am excited to finally be able to take my Keeper of Air Dragon Daisho Dishonor Dueler to a Kotei.

Well, I was, until that Ban List came out. But we’ll talk about that another time.

I would like to thank Alex Jacobs for being an excellent roommate; Nick, Adam, and James of the Meek Informant for being fun travelling companions; Drew Horgan for his awesome vinyl sticker; Erik Stenberg, Brandon Lane, and the rest of the New England L5R crew for the weeks of training and the five days of excitement; Tobin, Doug, and Carl of the Art of Warcast for their support of the community; Mark Armitage for always being the kindest person in the room; Mel Bowers of the 6th Ring for her unquenchable enthusiasm; Trevor Cuba and Jeanne Kalvar of the Court Games podcast for good company and too much origami; each and every of my opponents for amazing games; Dan Lovat Clark for the secrets of the Unicorn Clan; Tyler Parrott and Matt Holland for keeping this game alive and kicking; Mars Hage for being an amazing friend who I have not nearly hung out with enough in the two decades we have known each other; and of course, last but not certainly least, I would like to thank you, dear reader, for taking this journey with me, each step of the way.

Each and every one of your made my journey to the Twin Cities one which I truly loved, overlooking the fact I came home from with a terrible cold as a result. If you are a part of the Legend of the Five Rings community, and you are on the fence about making the journey, let me advise you this: do it, at least once. Rarely do we get the opportunity to be surrounded by people who love what we love. This is one of those opportunities. Come. Play. Maybe you’ll even win, and leave your mark on this story we have each been telling for the last twenty years.

Maybe I will see you there next year, dear reader. I hope I will. And until when next we meet in the cold of winter.

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.