Winter Court 2019 Roundup

Hello everyone and welcome back after a hectic weekend at Winter Court. The dust has settled and we have Jose Luis Saenz of the Phoenix clan as our new Shogun, open roles much to everyone's surprise, a new clan-pack and a very exciting year of L5R to look forward to. Having had the time to properly digest my trip out to the US, here is my summary of the event and thoughts about the format. I'm not really going to be talking about the games themselves mainly because I don’t think that its all that interesting reading (or writing for that matter) a play by play account of 12+ games.

LCQ and Invite only

This year, FFG had chosen to make Winter court invite only. To be eligible for a ticket you had to either cone top 8 in a Grand Kotei, top 4 in a Kotei, become Hatamoto, or win an elemental championship. Whilst this format is fine in principle, with the best players going through to play in the main event, I tend to find that there are familiar faces winning most events in the regions that they are held. This cuts down on the number of potential participants and the issue is further compounded by a combination of relatively short notice on the exact dates of the event and the expensive travel for those winners who do not live in the US. I understand that also there was a relatively low conformation rate of participants vs winners this year that lead to a little over 120 actual people turning up with a pre-existing seat.

To rectify this, FFG also held a last chance qualifier (LCQ) event with the top 64 players plus however many unclaimed seats qualifying for the main event. There are many great players who might not have had the opportunity to qualify otherwise (either by not being able to play in as many events during the tournament season or by just missing out on the top spots) so overall I support the idea of such an event.

We found that of the 300 or so potential spaces at winter court, only 122 seats were claimed so this allowed a large number of people from the LCQ to go through. I do wonder though if, due to the low number of people claiming their spaces, it would have simply been more effective to just hold one event with the winners of the various tournaments getting a reserved place up to a cut-off date, after which the remaining seats could be sold as normal. There were some mixed messages from the tournament organisers a number of days before the LCQ regarding how many people would actually qualify so a single tournament with open slots after claimed seats are taken would solve these issues.

About half way through the first game we were told that due to the low take-up of tickets for days 1a and 1b they shuffled around the side events and that we would all qualify for the main tournament. Because of this we would only need to play 5 games and would get the prize tickets for the 6th. Players were then sorted by clan into either days 1 or 2 but this did cause some disparity in the field so they moved a large number of players around to accommodate.

Personally, due to the 13 hour flight the previous night I was feeling very ill by the end of the first day so I asked to move to the day 1b event so that I had the Thursday to recover. The organisers were happy to oblige but in hindsight this was probably not too great of an idea for me given how my games went on the second day...

Incidentally I won all of my games in the LCQ beating 3 crane players, one Crab and a Unicorn to take 3rd place.

Main Event

The main event was a fairly standard affair with players achieving 42 points (4 wins and 2 normal losses) as well as the highest ranking non-qualifying member of each clan moving forward as the challenger. Everything was run on lotus pavilion so we didn’t have the same issues as other large events with a rush to look at physical pairings for each round.

Despite being buoyed by my initial successes in the LCQ, I couldn’t quite translate that into wins for the main tournament. I did have some issues against high-rolling HMT Unicorn (which ill have to resolve for next time if it is still prevalent in the meta) but aside from this the level of the field was very high as expected, especially with the majority of day 1b players being some of the best in clan. I’m looking forward to improving over next year's tournament season so hopefully ill place higher when the time comes. I have also learned that I am very much an instinctual player, sometimes playing what I feel is the right move instead of taking the time to fully consider counters that my opponent could make - this is something I will work to improve on over the coming season.

Side Events

Draft with Tyler Parrott

As expected, the draft events proved to be extremely popular. Run by Tyler, players were sorted into groups of 8 and took turns drafting a conflict and dynasty deck from preconstructed packs containing 'common', 'rare' and 'unique' cards. You would typically pick 2 clans to focus on with the ability to take all of the cards from both but there is the option to choose your deck from 3 clans with several restrictions and either wondering Ronin or good omen making up the remaining deck spaces. FFG ran 2-3 concurrent drafts at the same time twice a day on most days so a fair few people managed to experience the format. For those who did not manage to secure a spot, a number of draft sets were handed out containing the unique draft stronghold and provinces so that we could still play draft with our playgroups. Whilst the rules and draft sets are available online, receiving physical cards to play with for anyone who didn't manage to get a seat is welcome.

The draft pack included the above Stronghold and default provinces as well as the support and open role cards to construct your deck.

Roleplaying Game Session

My chosen character for the RPG. High-notes include being the best tracker in the world and almost killing a centipede god before we had to end the session. Low-notes include almost decapitating our Geisha for desecrating a spirit shrine (and totally calling it wrong).

I was fortunate enough to be able to play in one of the various roleplaying sessions at the event where we played a party under the employ of the local lord tasked to find his shipment of lost sake. We were playing one of the new scenarios from the Gaijin book just announced so spoilers aside the session was very well GM'd and organised with a variety of endings depending on the players choices. Our GM was one of the writers of L5Rs RPG setting so he was very knowledgeable about both the background and the mechanics of the game and was very enthusiastic with his voices despite the loud setting. I had a lot of fun with this and it was a welcome addition to what would have otherwise been a full week of solid L5R.

Clan Arena (normal and Elements Unbound)

Aside from the main tournaments, there were two side tournaments running each day offering Koku for participating, playing and winning games. The Crab Clan pack was released during the event to it was revealed that it would be legal for both of the Clan Arenas. As we know, I had personally been waiting to get my hands on this for a long time so of course I took the earliest opportunity to cobble together a wall deck to test with mixed success. For those interested in the other side events like myself, the Clan Arenas provided an additional way to get Koku in the morning whilst waiting for either draft or the roleplaying sessions to start with the opportunity to drop out. I understand that these were run instead of the enlightenment pods that would normally take place to reduce the ability of people to farm Koku for the prize wall but overall they were run just as well as the main event with the added bonus of being able to test out new builds made available by the Crab Pack and open roles.

Wall deck was legal so I had to give it a go. I am pretty sure that at the moment it doesn't have any great way of closing out the game but having an honoured 6 glory Frontline Engineer was glorious so I'll be testing with Soul Beyond Reproach in Crane splash to build him into the game-winning tower.

Prize Wall

Throughout the weekend by participating in both the main tournaments and side events there was the opportunity to earn Koku and trade them in for additional prizes on top of the excellent participation prizes. Note that the Koku available was different to the coins that could be won during the 2019 tournament season so only Koku won during the weekend could be used on the prize wall. For the tournaments it was 1 for entry plus 1 for playing a round and a further koku for winning and for the RPG event you would receive 10 koku for the 4 hours of participation. You could then receive extra koku for qualifying to day 2 and placing highly in the main events and draft. Arguably the most desirable prizes on the wall were the gold bordered Banzai, Miya Mystic and Court Games (sorry Miya Satoshi) and these were 15 koku for a playset of each. Participating in either of the day 1s, and playing in the Clan Arena would net 21 koku so a number of wins or other side events would also be needed to fill out the collection.

Prizes were priced in accordance with their participation levels in the main tournament (except with silver borders instead of gold)  

The Gencon 2019 prizes were also available for 2 Koku a piece which was a nice gesture for anyone who could not make the limited events that these could be won.

Above; Silver bordered versions of the participation prizes for top 64/32/16 of clan and also the gold bordered neutral cards available for 5 Koku a piece.

Closing Comments

Overall the weekend was organised well with each of the events being organised on time and everything aside from the top cut being managed through lotus pavilion. The finals were broadcast in the FFG cantina and on Twitch which allowed everyone to be able to enjoy the tense finale of L5Rs premier event. No doubt some people were complaining about the Crab pack being legal as well as the recent opening of the roles #freetheroles being allowed at the 2020 first chance qualifying tournament that took place on Sunday but overall i feel like these decisions were taken with the best interests of the majority player base in mind and what would be most fun as opposed to a minority of diehard players. I don’t necessarily think that the decision to make Winter Court invite only was the best one for this year so perhaps in the future they should just offer guaranteed places for the winners of the big events with them having to confirm by a certain date after which the remaining seats are sold to fill out the event.

We flew out to Minnesota as a group of 6 from the London Legion so overall I had a blast being able to play in the side events, meeting other members of the community and soaking up the atmosphere.  I think that the choices FFG made during the weekend (allowing the Crab pack and open roles for the side events) were the right ones for the community as a whole so I was more then happy with the way that the weekend was run. Despite my initial success at the LCQ not quite translating into qualification in the tournament proper, I was also humbled at the skill level of all of the participants and would gladly go again if opportunity permits.

10/10 would play again.

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