Crab Woes – A Reflection on Worlds

Crab Woes – A Reflection on Worlds

A lot of information about the L5R LCG’s competitive scene emerged from the World Championships this past weekend in Minnesota. Among the most surprising revelations was the Crab Clan’s failure to perform at expected levels. Despite decent participation numbers, Crab struggled in the format, with only a single challenger limping to the final cut. Different reasons have been offered as to why Crab failed – from the trollish to the bewildered. After my own series of bruising defeats, I have been trying to analyze what went wrong, and why, and I have a few hypotheses.

1) Crab’s focus is divided and non-synergetic
Broadly speaking, there are three types of Crab dynasty character:

First, the defensive Crab, like Hiruma Yojimbo, Borderlands Defender, and Hida Kisada. Crab commits a lot of value to defence, but defending does not independently advance you toward victory. The Crab province Defend the Wall is the only card that allows you to turn an unavoidable commitment to defensive value into progress on the board (though Staunch Hida in the Tears of Amaterasu dynasty pack will also help). These characters have good stats, but lack actions, which reduces their flexibility quite a lot.

Second, there are the Crab characters that interact with holdings, like Hida Guardian, Shrewd Yasuki, and Kaia Shuichi. These all require a holding to activate their abilities, and are all quite powerful when you do have a holding. This means, however, that they want a good number of holdings in the deck, generally 6–8. Because they depend on dynasty flips, they almost demand additional fate investment , making them more expensive in real terms, as well as in opportunity cost.

Third, there are the sacrifice Crab, like Eager Scout, Kaiu Envoy, Vanguard Warrior, Hida Tomanatsu, Vengeful Berserker, and Steadfast Witch Hunter. These sacrifice either themselves or other characters for useful effects. They want a high throughput of characters – plenty of meat for the grinder. You could also add the card Funeral Pyre here. It’s when these three character types are forced into a single deck that the problems begin.

Basically, the defensive Crab play well with either of the other two sets, but the holding Crab and the sacrifice Crab have issues working together. The holding Crab want a holding in play and to hang around for a turn or two to maximize their value. Meanwhile, the sacrifice Crab want buy a bruiser and use cheap, throwaway characters with no additional fate investment to fuel their continued existence or additional power. This leads to frustrating dynasty flips when the different elements come out in the wrong order.

2) Mulligan issues
I’m going to develop some language here, for the sake of ease of reading. I’ll refer to a character that costs 3 or more fate as ‘major’ and one who costs 2 or less as ‘minor’. Some clans have obvious goals with their mulligan: they have a powerful major they want to see, and would like 1–2 minors to support the major. So while a Lion player might aggressively mulligan for a major like Lion’s Pride Brawler and some supporting minors, a Crab player’s mulligan has additional complications.

Crab have the issue of wanting to get value from the holding Crab. To do that they need a holding – and running cards like Rebuild further compounds that instinct, because you badly want a holding so you can use Rebuild. This means that if you see a holding in your first four cards, there is significant incentive to keep it. But this also means that you’re only mulliganing 3 cards, while possibly still searching for major and 1–2 minors, or 2–3 minors. However, with the number of holdings you are required to play to make your holding Crab work, you run the risk of getting a second or third holding. This makes the Crab mulligan much more stressful and variable.

3) Costings
Most clans have 7 minor dynasty personalities. The Crab have 6. To make matters worse, because Crab are running large numbers of holdings, they often cut down the number of Eager Scouts to avoid a quarter of the deck (Scouts plus holdings) offering 0 strength in conflicts. If you draw 3 holdings and an Eager Scout, you could easily lose two provinces on turn one. So Crab are compelled toward including only 5 minor in-clan personalities, with Keeper Initiates bringing the total up to 6, or 18 cards total. Given that you either want to see a major and 1–2 minors on your first turn, or 3 minors, those numbers are not statistically comforting.

Reducing holding count to increase the potential number of minors runs into two problems: the unaligned options are lackluster, and you greatly reduce the reliability of the holding Crab in your deck. So, Crab are suffering from a character base badly in need of a few more quality minors. The current situation too often leads to a squeezed economy where we struggle to save fate for conflict cards that might help, particularly conflict characters.

4) Playstyle
Crab are at their best when defending. If Crab turtle up, they can hold off most clans for quite a while, with only Lion reliably overwhelming them in military, and Scorpion and Crane in politics. The problem is, Crab find it difficult to get ring effects off and progress towards victory while simultaneously defending. Crab’s dishonor win condition also lacks a reliable finisher. I spent a lot of time on the weekend getting people to 1–3 honor, only to be unable to seal the deal, the final point or two frustratingly out of reach.

Additionally, the low bid play style which facilitates dishonor means you increase the randomness of your conflict deck draws as you draw far fewer cards. So you usually find yourself on the back foot with few options in the early game unless you hit the card draw Crab can provide.

5) No high-skill attacking minors.
Except for Phoenix, every clan has a 1-cost minor with a sometimes conditional 3 skill value in either military or politics. Crab’s version, the Hida Guardian, has two conditions and a higher ceiling. She needs another character with her, and she needs a holding in play. One of the strengths of those aggressive minors is they can attack or defend alone for a low cost and can reliably grab a ring or even take a province if uncontested. Crab’s minors don’t have that aggressive flexibility and tend to suffer in the early game because of that.

Conclusions:
Crab need more cards to round out their decks. A few more minors will help, and hopefully skew each deck more towards either a sacrifice- or holding-based strategy, allowing many or all of the non-synergetic elements to be cut. A selection of defensive techniques to help grab rings or punish attacks would also be helpful, and some more fate-gaining tactics would be lovely. Crab’s conflict characters need to be a bigger part of the holding deck, and hopefully, we’ll get a 1-coster to help fuel sacrifice effects. A few closers for dishonor like Backhanded Compliment to combo with Levy for a bomb finish would be marvelous.

Finally, with the addition of the 6 packs of the Imperial Cycle, I hope to develop a few new potential Crab personality lineups once we have some valuable additional options. Stay tuned for more missives from the wall.


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10 Replies to “Crab Woes – A Reflection on Worlds”

  1. Excellent write up. You have summarized the lack of synergy and initiated a dialogue around Crabs dynasty woes. Crabs dynasty is lacking punch and what punch it could provide is subject to variance.

  2. Very good article. I play crab and really felt that some cards are just doing nothing if they dont get paired with their requirements. Same as with the mulligan decisions.

  3. Very good analysis. I dearly hope for some good synergetic 1 or 2 cost crab personalities in the first cycle. Crab is not bad atm, but it lacks focus.

  4. Good write up. I have been wondering for a while now if Crab are defending so much how, are they supposed to win games? I am not entirely sure FFG knows. I feel like Dishonour is their primary victory condition but it still lacks a few tools in the arsenal to really work. Staunch Hida from Tears is a solid addition for my mind to claim rings on defense and be an Assassination target. Again, not a strong Mil for a 2 drop and – Pol so only limited use but I like her ability especially as Defend the Wall is going to have stiff competition from Guardians of the Seikitsu soon enough.

  5. Excellent article. I think something worth emphasising here is that one of the best Crab paths to victory – a slow grind to an opponent being forced to 0 dishonour, or creating situations where an opponent’s low honour removes their ability to function effectively, and thus allows attrition wins – essentially takes a lot of time to achieve, so the current tournament rules (with the 1 hour cut off, and massive points difference between modified and normal wins) don’t really favour crab. Clans that break provinces fast are best in this environment, and Crab – who will often come back from behind after setting up dishonour pressure and weathering attacks for a few turns – simply aren’t set up to play well within a one hour window.

  6. I think most of Crabs dynasty issues can be smoothed out by running the correct number of conflict characters. I also think that overly defensive play and overly conservative bidding are getting many crabs into trouble.

    Also, a main reason Crab had a poor worlds showing was that their player who qualified in 5th place dropped to play netrunner.

  7. @Eugene Earnshaw: Okay so let clear a few things up. First off Crab didn’t have a character qualify 5th. Philipp Rover (7-1), who was a Scorpion qualified 5th. He did indeed drop after swiss and go play netrunner. Dave Hoyland (6-2) was the top finish Crab post round 8 of swiss at 21st. He also dropped to go play netrunner. I finished 25th also at (6-2) and played our play in game to the top 16. Also I’d appreciate you not throwing blame at people who had a damn good tournament. You want to blame someone for Crab not being in top 16, then I’m right here.

    With that being said, crab had 5 people in the top 5/53, which is 9.4%. So yes we did slightly worse than our 12% total showing of the field (less than anyone except Phoenix and Unicorn), but I would say that’s within acceptable variance.

    Thirdly, the best things that crab has going for it in my opinion are twofold. One, our resilience and the fact we get more out of more out of our dudes due to sacrificing them than any other faction does. Crab typically doesn’t do well in quick games. We need time to set up our superior board position and then crush people between dishonor and military conquest.

  8. Lastly, I don’t think Worlds was this colossal failure on the Crab Clans part. We had quite a few people do well. Do we need more cards to make us better balanced and give us better depth? Yes. That makes us no different from most other clans. I think we need to be patient and not have knee jerk over-reactions to bad things happening. The sky isn’t falling and if we went and played day 2 of worlds again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see 3-4 crab in the top 16. Good players lost to good players. It happens.

  9. Great article! It’s good to see high-level analysis of how a deck works (or doesn’t) and I agree about the cards Crab would like to see in the future in order to ease some of the their cardpool’s shortcomings.

    But … I agree with Spector that Crab is in an okay place in 3x core, so here’s my long-winded rebuttal. My opinions come from matches against strangers online where it’s hard to gauge the average skill level, which might be a reason O-win and I would disagree on the more subjective stuff. If anyone else’s experience is vastly different or anyone thinks I’m way off the mark I’d love to hear why.

    (1)
    The holdings theme isn’t a huge burden on the deck and isn’t getting in the way of anything else. Sensible crabs run the 6 neutral holdings, as do lots of other factions at the moment. You only have 2 dynasty cards that really care about having holdings, you have rebuild to get them back as long as you’ve seen one, and Shuichi is probably sticking around for a few turns so it’s not disastrous if he doesn’t get value right away. So basically you only get screwed if you have nothing to play but Shrewd Yasukis and no holdings early on.

    The sacrifice theme is even less of problem. Your main sacrifice outlet is Steadfast Witch Hunter, and when you have one in play it’s not hard to have a bowed fateless character to use for her every turn. Stoic Gunso and Way are in your conflict deck and can wait around for the opportune moment, so you’re not getting screwed if you don’t see fodder for them right off the bat. Back to Witch Hunter, it’s important to understand that she’s so good that she broadens the definition of sacrifice fodder to pretty much anything. Playing a Borderlands Defender with 0 fate then saccing her after she’s bowed to ready your best character is Crab’s (better) version of Shosuro Actress.

    In short: The themes work fine together as neither is taking up too much deck space. Running Shuichi and Witch Hunter in the same deck is not an imposition.

    (2)
    Crabs shouldn’t let holdings distract them from responsible mulliganing. Ship your holdings back along with your unwanted characters if you haven’t found all the characters you need yet. The dream is to get a Witch Hunter and a 1-coster, but any big/small or 3-small flop will do. If you naturally hit Shuichi+Small guy + Holding then by all means keep it all, but otherwise ship the holdings. Shuichi with no holdings isn’t disastrous, 3 holdings is.

    (3)
    My crab deck runs 17 small characters, which is pretty standard across all decks I’ve built and doesn’t automatically cause mulligan issues. You’re 90% to hit at least one small guy from your starting 4 and likewise for a big guy with 17 of each, and if you don’t get both you’re 86% to hit the missing part mulliganing your other 3 cards. That’s not considering a lot of other okay starts (3 small, 2 small + gunso, 1 big + The Mountain Does not Fall), and the fact that some nominally bad starts (2 small, 1 big) still transition into winnable games. That’s glossing over a lot of the complexity of mulligans and starting turns, tough. I’ll concede that Crab have more units or combinations of units than average that they don’t really want to see on turn 1, and a few that they really don’t want to see on turn 1 (Vengeful Berserker).

    (4)
    Crab’s 4+ cost guys are really good at attacking, since they self-ready, have covert, or just smash. You’re incentivized to defend with your little guys since your Stronghold’s bonus scales with head count, or with a big guy when you have a good TMDNF turn. That’s a huge oversimplification of the whole when to attack/defend question, which is a huge skill-testing part of the game, but I don’t think Crab should be triggering fewer ring effects than their opponents, on average.
    I’m not exactly sure what this talk of crab’s dishonor win condition is. I imagine angling to dishonor from turn 1 probably hurts your winrate as crab. Bid 5.

    (5)
    No disagreements here. Hida Guardian sucks but you still play it. Kaiu Envoy and Vanguard Warrior are good but aren’t exactly rocking the raw stats. While we’re at it, their 3-costers are also pretty bleh.

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