Restricted List Update Q4 2020

At the beginning of September, Tyler tweeted that as of the end of the month Imperial Law would be updated with the latest restricted and banned list covering five of the most powerful cards in the Dominion Cycle in the stronghold format (which is inline with the quarterly update schedule). The list has now been updated and it raises a few points that I would like to touch on so here we go again with another restricted list commentary from Off Meta Musings.

Getting the easy comments out of the way first; Ikoma Tsanuri being too cheap for her incredibly impactful effect, too synergistic with her commander and bushi traits and too reliable with her rally needed to be restricted even if it was to just break up her and Tactical Ingenuity. Given the choice between the two, I would imagine that Tactical Ingenuity wold still be the splash card of choice for Lion players, again due to it's lack of cost and unmatched versatility. In a similar vein, after repeated calls from the community (and rightly so) Lost Papers has been banned for being far too efficient for it's effect. Ultimately it boiled down to a potentially game-winning coin flip whenever it turned up so it most definitely needed to go.

Unbridled Ambition is probably the only card to date that has received an errata before it was actually released. It's effect is a blanket-wide Cunning Magistrate (which I will remind is already banned for being too strong) at that province so in order to remove the prospect of a near unbreakable stronghold, it has been rightly errata'd.

Metagame Pressure

On the topic of Contested Countryside, I would like to direct attention to a post by Tyler in the newly formed feedback group on discord. Here he talks about meta-game pressure, why it is important and some of the mindset that I believe fed into Contested Countryside and a number of other powerful cards that have been released recently;
The current wave of Stoke Insurrection in every clan is a good example, but cards like Contested Countryside or Bayushi Kachiko 2 also have "play-around" cases mostly in the deckbuilding phase... I'd love to hear your thoughts on that type of design generally, and whether you think this needs to be addressed by the players (via deckbuilding/meta evolution) or is something you could see taking other action on.
~ Gulbrandr
You are correct to observe that there are cards in the Dominion Cycle that apply "metagame pressure" to deckbuilding rather than "in-game pressure" to specific decision points. This is an important feature of competitive games that feature customizable decks to encourage diversity among viable strategies. Without the existence of metagame pressure cards, the only way to discourage players from using the best cards available is to either print stronger cards to replace them or to ban/restrict the ubiquitous ones—obviously neither of these options is very appealing. Ideally, a metagame pressure card allows a powerful deck to continue to exist for fans of that deck/archetype, but it carries a risk of losing to a poor matchup that employs the metagame pressure card.

Unfortunately, metagame pressure cards are particularly difficult to use in L5R, due to its more silo'ed clan-based cardpools and the longer game length, which makes individual games matter more. If the pressure card is too weak, it doesn't appear in decks; if it is too strong, it needs to get banned or restricted. In either case, the intended "metagame pressure" is absent and the card is failing at its intended role. Isawa Tadaka, for instance, was explicitly designed to be a metagame pressure card that turned out too strong. While I will continue to make metagame pressure cards, I have certainly learned a few things about their implementation in the Dominion Cycle that will improve future designs!
~ Tyler Parrott, Lead Designer, L5R.

Personally I don't mind the existence of powerful cards in the game that are designed to be a direct counter for specific strategies. It's down to the players to change their decks in order to counter whichever meta happens to be prevalent at any particular time, which as Tyler comments is to stop people from just playing their best cards, and I think that this is evident in the design of Contested Countryside (CoCo). Nowadays it is not uncommon to face province rows that you simply don't want to attack into, either by them being semi-unbreakable (in the case of Phoenix) or simply by being penalised way too much in terms of card advantage and tempo so CoCo acts as a counter to these cards by giving a choice as to which provinces you actually take.

I have written elsewhere that I would have expected the meta to settle with clans such as Lion and Scopion who are able to counter province activations taking a more 'normal' province row and other clans dialing back on the higher impact provinces to counter CoCo and looking into province destruction cards such as Field of Ruin, Sabotage and Peasant's Advice.

It's main effect aside, Contested Countryside as written is of course still an extremely powerful card with it's lack of cost and rally effects offering no losses of agency or advantage by simply including it in your dynasty even if it ends up going unresolved. However with my previous comments in mind I do think that the restriction and in effect, soft banning of CoCo is a little premature given that it has not been out in the wild for all that long. I understand that there is limited scope for changes in each Imperial Law update so I would have preferred other cards to be focused on for the time being and CoCo reserved for a future update (Possibly another Lion card or Stoke Insurrection as commented on for it's raw power level but after it's initial release and being in everyone's deck, it seems to be falling out of every splash so further time is needed to see it's lasting impact) .

Butcher of The Fallen

Butcher of the Fallen has been errata'd with new text;

While this character is attacking, less military skill then the number of unbroken provinces you control cannot be declared as defenders.

The removal of 'printed skill' makes a very large impact on the use of the card and represents a significant step-down in power. The departure from printed skill of 5 or less to actual skill of less then 5 with a full province row makes his effect far less likely to activate especially against clans that use either honour or attachments to boost their skill. It is not uncommon for 2 cost characters in the current metagame to reach 5 military skill with little investment.

Initially it was designed as a way to discourage passive play, forcing opponents to push for breaks to reduce his effectiveness later in the game but given the state of the clan at the moment, my personal use of Butcher was to close out games; Using Crab's various resource generating tools to defend against opponent attacks and then use Butcher to force breaks over a number of turns. With the new wording this will be far less likely to happen and is making me consider Butcher's place in the deck.

Ultimately I don't know what kind of effect this errata will have on the Butcher and his uses. It is far more likely that early game aside, he will effectively just be a big military guy with rally but we now have Pious Guardian with good Military stats, rally and inbuilt dishonour protection so I would imagine that the time of the Butcher has passed.

Closing Thoughts

For my current deck; Again I'm looking to replace another 6-9 cards which represents a change of up to 24 cards in the last two restricted lists. Some replacements are quite easy as I am transitioning to a hard dishonour deck featuring Fire and Oil so the overall impact is far less then the Summer update (though the impact of the change to Butcher remains to be seen).

With the soft ban on Contested Countryside, we can most probably expect all of the high-impact provinces to make a comeback (giving an indirect buff to our man Hida Etsuji). There are plenty of strong cards still remaining in the Dominion Cycle which probably would warrant a move to the restricted list and more new product coming as well so we shall see what the next one brings in the new year.

No comments