Road to Winter Court; One-month crab

Steadfast Witch Hunter remains the best disguised target for Isawa Tadaka Crab have. And they both use the same hat. Coincidence? I think not!

As anyone will be able to testify, the reason I started playing L5R in the first place was the excellent prize support. Oddly, we don't have many large events here in the UK (with one Grand Kotei and no Koteis, Grand Championships or Elemental Challenges) and travel is relatively expensive so I have not had the opportunity to try and secure a spot at worlds this year. However, I do have the opportunity to travel for the Last Chance Qualifier event for a shot at winning some great prizes in the main tournament.

The pre-worlds restricted list is also upon us and on first glance it seems to have hit the traditional Crab deck types the most with the addition of Miya Satoshi and Gateway to Meido. We are still at least a month away from the Crab Clanpack hitting shores with the new stronghold to cover Miya Satoshi's effect (leaving it well out of legality for Winter Court) so I've been playing around with a few different decklists to tide over until wall deck hits later on in the year. I'm a firm believer that Crab have a number of viable splashes and decklists ranging from Pablo's Scorpion splash dishonor crab that featured in the Spanish Grand Championships a few weeks back to Lion Splash with Blade of 10,000 battles for conflict deck recycling and even the standard Unicorn tower splash with Spyglass as the restricted card. Because of this, I'm fairly happy to take something not so obvious to see how I do on the day.

Building on the excellent work carried out by members of the Crab community, and following an interesting open role event I participated in a few weeks ago, I have been looking into Phoenix splash as an answer for some of the more common deck-types that I expect to face.

Incidentally, to the open roles event I brought my standard Broker deck but Phoenix splash with 3x Earth Becomes Sky, 3x Pacifism and 2x Tadaka. These performed admirably in shutting down opponent towers whilst Kuni Yori, Tadaka and Spies at Court limited opponent choices in hand. If I manage to get anywhere at Winter Court I'll definitely be pushing for an Earth role so that I can play the deck legally at some point in the future.

Most definitely MVP of the deck as it stands. A Policy Debate style effect every turn as long as you have enough characters to remove from discard with Disguised and Shugenja to enable Cloud the Mind. Some fun things to do include using his effect, sacrificing him to a Steadfast Witch Hunter and then using Disguised to re-buy a new copy to use his effect again. Combined with Kuni Yori (incidentally also pictured) you can remove several cards per turn with little to no cost.

At the time of writing (some 3 weeks out from the actual event) I have settled on something that I'm fairly happy with. As with all of the decks I use, I try to figure out what I want the deck to do and then make choices based on that. So without further ado;

Basic Principals

  • Attack the opponent's hand.
  • Force opponents to use their remaining cards and Fate inefficiently (also known as attacking the opponents tempo).
  • Run enough Shugenja for Cloud the Mind to not be dead in hand most of the time.
  • Run more control elements.
  • Seeker of Void role for the excellent province lineup and couple of points of increased fate generation during the opening turns.

I would like to take some time to do a quick summary of what is meant by tempo as for someone new to the game, it might not be immediately obvious what the term means. 

While tempo is often considered to be a common term in other card games such as Magic the Gathering and Hearthstone, you can also apply some of the same ideas to L5R and it can be seen as being one of the more difficult things to describe verbally. Some common descriptions are as follows;

  • The 'momentum' of the match.
  • The change of the board state at any time (usually during a play or a turn - For example, Way of the Crab a Kaiu Envoy vs a large 4-fate tower is considered a huge change in board state and as such a big swing in tempo).
  • The speed at which a player is reaching his/her win condition (In L5R its either conquest, Dishonor, Honor or some combination of the above).
  • Linked to the above, the value of the change of board state in relation to the resources (fate, honour, characters, etc) used to achieve the change.

"Tempo decks" are named as such because they attack the opponent's tempo, forcing them to use their fate and cards inefficiently by removing characters from conflicts or making them over-commit in order to win rings and break.

Ultimately I am looking to maintain tempo by trying to gain control over the game in the immediate and short-term by neutralising threats with Yasuki Hikaru and Pacifism, and restrict opponent card advantage with the combination of Tadaka, Kuni Yori and Spies at Court. Early game we are trying to mulligan for any combination of Kaiu Envoy, Shrewd Yasuki and Storehouses, and looking to start turn 2 with 10 or so fate and a healthy hand size so that we can start to buy the big guys.

Yasuki Hikaru and Stoic Magistrate

I anticipate to come up against a number of specific deck-types whilst at the LCQ, namely HMT Unicorn rush and various flavors of dueling towers from both Crane and Dragon. Crab will also put towers on the field and despite not being entirely sure what impact the Lion Clan-pack will have on the event it's a safe bet they will either have massive military characters or be able to swarm (probably both). With that in mind I'm using Crab Clan's defensive magistrate power couple. I have had really good test games where Stoic Magistrate shuts down entire Unicorn turns and Hikaru's Pacifism synergy is great at pushing characters out of political fights so that they can't participate in either conflict. I can see myself using a 3/1-2 ratio of Hikaru and Magistrate in most of my decks going forward. 

Having Yasuki Hikaru in a fight essentially means that against an average province, an opponent will need to win by 7 or more points in military. Also due to its effect being able to be used on any defence, and most honored political characters also having more then 3 points of military skill, Hikaru is quite good at defending vs both conflict types.

Incidentally, Stoic Magistrate has also proven to be quite good in the Scorpion match-up given that they typically run a large number of 1/2 cost characters. There is a reasonable argument to be made for upping the number of Stoic Magistrate to 2 so this is something I will look into over the coming couple of weeks.

Charge vs Rebuild

I have gone back and forth on taking either Rebuild or Charge but ultimately Charge wins out as it is great at cheating out extra fate economy and allowing cheeky province breaks. I think that with the restriction of Miya Satoshi, Rebuild becomes much less consistent as a restricted card so there is space for different options in decks this side of the Crab Clanpack. However, with the release of Frontline Engineer in pack 5 of the Inheritance Cycle, and Kyuden Hida coming for a more controlled dynasty deck mill, Rebuild might once again become my restricted card of choice.

How do we play this one then?

As I've mentioned previously, we should look to building some early hand advantage on the opening flop with cards like Kaiu Envoy, Shrewd Yasuki and Imperial Storehouse. Unless we are playing against something like HMT Unicorn, where we might have to build a fated Stoic Magistrate, or go all in on the first military conflict to stop them gaining traction, I generally don’t fate my opening characters and will try to pass early. Depending on our opponent it’s usually a 5-card bid to load up the hand before bidding low for the rest of the game to put some pressure on our opponents honour and ultimately draws.
A sample opening Dynasty draw. Generally we would look to buying the Shrewd Yasuki with no fate saving 5 for next turn and netting two more cards with his effect and Storehouse. Under ideal circumstances we would be able to save the Vanguard Warrior and Kuni Yori in order to buy them next turn.

On the conflict side of things we are generally looking for some combination of cards that include Charge and Cloud the Mind/Pacifism to start to control the board from turn 2 onwards as having them onboard early can really help restrict problem characters.

In this opening Conflict draw we have a good combination of cards to use over the first couple of turns. Generally we are looking for tech cards that would be useful over the duration of the game as the initial mulligan gives the highest probability to draw specific cards you might need.

During the first turn there aren’t many rings that can cause serious damage so either try to defend against breaks or try to poke with either the earth or void rings if fated characters are on the field to force a defence. Ofcourse the super-play turn 1 is earth ring into Spies at Court but its important not to use too much resource to pull this off as it becomes counter-productive to your own hand advantage.

From the second and third turns we will be able to use that banked fate and increased draw to start building our field. Kuni Yori and Tadaka are the preferred characters in this instance to further control the opponent hand. It is worth noting that I try to save the charges for Hida Kisada making him a 7 point swing for 1 fate. Also, if you have the opportunity to buy Akodo Toturi with the Imperial Favor, his effect almost grantees that you can break a province each turn as its unlikely to beat over his Military strength in one card.

Even though Winter Court is the premier event of the tournament calendar and everyone is shooting for the prestige of becoming Shogun, we shouldn't forget that having fun, close games and enjoying the community are still why we play the game in the first place. I am told that there are some 200+ tickets already sold between winter court and the Last Chance Qualifier so with a bit of luck on my matchups ill hopefully be able to get into the main event and see how it goes. If not, there are always several side events that should be alot of fun during the weekend.

Until next time.

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