To the Wall! Defenders of Rokugan is finally revealed (Part 1)

The wall isn't there to keep the Shadowlands out of Rokugan, it's to keep the Crab clan out of the Shadowlands.

Back in October 2018 there were a series of live Q&A sessions with Tyler basically covering everything from card design to clan background and themes. One of the questions I asked but didn't get an answer to at the time revolved around the Kaiu wall;

"Do you think that there is design space for a series of holdings or even provinces representing the wall that would work together and give various effects the more of them are face up on the field? It would help to make the wall less of a thing that's there in the background and more of an actual defensive asset in-game."

I must have been channeling my inner shugenja that day because as it turns out, not only was there design space for a series of provinces representing the great Carpenter Wall but it was something they were actively looking to put into the game!

Not only do we get a sweet new Stronghold allowing us to finally enter the double stronghold club but also the introduction of Crab clan's best girl O-Ushi and SIX holdings each representing a different area of the wall, and each boosting each-other! I'm all for characterful deck builds so you can probably tell I'm a little excited over this release.

Kyūden Hida

Crab Clan have gone full Warhammer with the giant skull over the door.

Crab Clan's newest stronghold. Kyūden Hida has the simple ability to; as an action, search the top three cards of the dynasty deck and play any character from among those cards as if they were in your provinces. Considering that a potential Kaiu Wall deck will likely run ten or more provinces the new stronghold effect will enable some much needed character consistency as well as being able to keep your provinces on the board whilst still being able to have characters on the field.

There is something here to be said about dynasty deck consistency. One of the reasons Crab was prominent for so long with Spyglass was that it offered large amounts of conflict deck consistency in the form of being able to draw several additional cards per turn, allowing us to dig into our best cards more quickly; Along with the draw phase, you could feasibly draw eight or nine cards in a turn. Compare this to the dynasty deck where you will flip at most four cards per turn and often less because you might want to keep characters and holdings in place across turns.

It's this dynasty consistency issue which results in us often using Miya Satoshi to thin the deck and remove bad flips such as Keeper Initiates so that we can use Rebuild and now Gateway to Meido to get access to our better holdings and characters when we need them instead of when they decide to turn up. Recently I have been using copies of Walking the Way in my main deck to further address the problem to good effect but the lack of shugenja often means that it has to normally be paid for.

Kyūden Hida changes this dynamic. We now go from a four card dynasty draw to a four plus one in three. It reduces the possibility of a bad flop by giving more cards to use and discards the remainder, thinning the dynasty deck and giving access to the discarded cards through our recursion. With this in mind, given that we will be effectively reducing our dynasty by 3 cards a turn it may give the breathing space needed to finally stop running Miya Satoshi in our decks for other characters.

Hida O-Ushi

Hida O-Ushi, daughter of Hida Kisada, sister to Hida Yakamo and Hida Sukune, Crab clan's best girl and all round badass.

Before her preview, Hida O-Ushi was speculated to do everything from insta-break provinces to automatically winning the game. This is obviously a step down from that but she does have decent stats for her cost and finally gives Crab the opportunity to enter the three conflict club along with Lion, Unicorn and recently Crane. The good thing about her ability is that she does not need to be participating and the reaction works on any defense and not just military. I'm inclined to think that most of the time she will be giving us just a second military attack instead of having to do political but where she shines I think is in conjunction with first player and The Mountain Does Not Fall. Assuming that you win one of the defenses there will be the opportunity to use the same character in three conflicts (more if you can ready by the water ring or some other means).

Kaiu Shihobu

Kaiu Shihobu has the potential to be very strong in any deck that has a decent number of holdings to use. Her abilities are twofold; When she enters play you can remove from play any number of holdings in your dynasty deck. Then, as an action you can put one of those holdings into a non-stronghold province, discarding whatever is in there already.

Her main issue is the increasingly available Cloud the Mind. If she loses her text-box those provinces remain out of play until another copy of Shihobu comes out (after the first dies) to use her action again. It's for this reason that instead of removing all holdings from the deck when she is played, I would look at removing only one or two depending on your opponent at the time and what you need. Against Dragon for example, you could play her, remove Karada District and then use her action to play Karada District without contest as players are not allowed to play attachments in the dynasty phase.

Alternatively, it has been suggested that you could go the other way entirely with the possibility to run mostly holdings (20+), mulligan hard for Shihobu turn 1 to remove them all and then use Kyūden Hida to ensure that every dynasty flop is pure gold, bringing out exactly the characters you need.

Either way, considering that you will most likely get at least one holding of your choice on the turn Shihobu is played, I would expect her to enjoy a place in most decks going forward.

Edit: So from Tyler's recent comment regarding Kaiu Shihobu it is evident that she actually puts the chosen holding face down in the province because for the holding to be face up the wording on the card would have to be 'put into play'. This has the considerable effect of delaying the use of the holding until the turn after she activates. By using her effect you telegraph to your opponent that there is a key holding facedown on top of whichever province you use it on giving them the opportunity to attempt to break the province first.

If her ability worked as I originally thought then she would have a justified 5 cost for her stats and good ability. As it stands, she is sadly not worth using as Frontline Engineer from the Inheritance Cycle is both cheaper and arguably more effective as it does not involve losing access to your holdings should he be clouded.

The Kaiu Wall

The Kaiu Wall consists of six holdings, all limited, with what looks to be an ability that can be used either at conflicts at any holding with the Kaiu Wall keyword or on the holdings themselves. With a combination of Rebuild, Kaiu Shihobu and Frontline Engineer from the Inheritance Cycle, we should be able to quickly fill our provinces with the wall pieces whilst also being able to effectively defend them using their effects and characters from Kyūden Hida.

Northern Curtain Wall

Perhaps the simplest of the wall pieces shown so far but in my opinion this would be one of the most important to get out early. It has a hefty +4 strength and increases the strength of other Kaiu wall holdings in adjacent provinces by +2. Of the pieces of the wall already previewed this looks to be a linchpin to stop its adjacent holdings from being easily broken.

Due to the Northern Curtain wall only buffing the strength of its adjacent holdings, I would expect to need only 3 pieces of the wall on the field with the fourth province slot kept clear for characters and other key holdings such as Iron Mine.

River of the Last Stand

The River of the Last Stand was once the Seigo river. It was used by Kuni Osaku to stop the army of an Oni known as The Maw by channeling her lifeforce every day for 73 days into a great wall of elemental water. Every sunrise she lost another year of her life and the 73rd day she had spent the last of her energy; ending the spell allowing time for Hida Banuken (Crab Champion at the time) to prepare his army. The river was then renamed in honor of the battle and Osaku's sacrifice.
If the likes of Spies at Court and Policy Debate have taught us anything it's that discard effects can be very powerful. With this holding, any attack against any Kaiu Wall gives a random discard effect which could be very useful considering that the defender will always get to activate the province first. As mentioned in the release article if you are going into a conflict with relatively few cards in hand, losing two of them can really affect your plan for that conflict. Recently I have also been giving some thought to a hand destruction style deck with Spies, Kuni Yori etc. to try and force earth conflicts through so this card might be able to fit into it.

Watchtower of Valor

Is that Shadowlands graffiti of Plankton from Spongebob on the bottom right?

Ah the old 'Crab have to win on defense' ploy. We are fighting at the wall this time around so i'm not so bothered about the restriction from a background point of view. The issue I do have though is that the holding lends itself better to Shiro Nishiyama as the stronghold then Kyūden Hida. Winning on defense as a mechanic has always been problematic as the attacker always wins a conflict on a draw so hopefully there are some other cards in the set which will help in that department. It does mean however that there will be less of an incentive to farm fate on rings with smaller attacks because crab will have the ability to gain resource on each win.

Subterranean Guile

Of all the clans, Crab currently lead in most cards with an inbuilt covert with Hiruma Skirmisher, Kaiu Shuichi and Yasuki Oguri. Subterranean Guile adds to this by giving the ability during military conflicts, and then only if we have an unbroken province with a holding. Given that this set is going to be all about the holdings I don't necessarily think that it will be too difficult to use. However when compared to other covert-granting cards such as Infiltrator's Tools and Tattooed Wanderer, it seems a little lackluster for its cost.

Speaking of Tattooed Wanderer, there is the possibility to go full covert with either Dragon, Crane or Scorpion splash running either the wanderer, Political RIval or Unassuming Yojimbo respectively. With 15 sources of covert across the dynasty and conflict decks, this could result in a potentially large number of undefended conflicts for your opponent.

Siege Warfare

The final card previewed in the set and the one I find quite lackluster. My issue with this (and others with similar effects) is that it doesn't actually help you win the conflict; only bringing you closer to the break with less skill. Personally I don't think that this will see much play as generally cards that increase strength such as Banzai and Spreading the Darkness are more valuable for their flat stat boost.

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