Imperial Cycle – Phoenix

Imperial Cycle – Phoenix

With the Imperial cycle finally out, let’s have a look at the Phoenix to see which of the new cards might earn a place in their decks.

The Imperial cycle has been very kind to the Phoenix. In the core set environment, they had a low-tier deck with a lot of powerful moving parts that never quite came together. That has definitely changed.

Prodigy of the Waves is the standout card from the cycle for the Phoenix. With an honoring effect and the stronghold, this is a 7/7 monster that can participate in up to two conflicts each turn. Where previous Phoenix characters had effects that relied on contesting a certain ring, or on the Phoenix player having already claimed a certain ring, the Prodigy simply requires anyone (opponent included) to have claimed the water ring. This makes the Prodigy incredibly reliable. Asako Tsuki riffs on this ‘claimed by anyone’ mechanic by honoring a Scholar in reaction to the water ring being claimed (by – you guessed it – anyone). As a Courtier and Shugenja, Tsuki also helps the clan reliably play cards that require either trait. And as both characters activate when the water ring is claimed, they strongly encourage Phoenix players to pursue the water ring, which is something Phoenix want anyway as Keepers of Water.

But these weren’t the only impact characters the Phoenix received. Isawa Kaede is immune to her opponent’s ring effects, effectively turning off the fire and void rings as a means of controlling her. This can make her especially hard to control if she gets honored. Her second effect, adding the void element to the ring she in contesting, is essentially a focused Akodo Toturi – and, as such, is comparable to that of a clan champion. However, because it is an ongoing effect, if a bowed Kaede is moved into a second attacking conflict, she can threaten to remove more fate from enemy characters. The Haughty Magistrate is possibly the best of the clan magistrates, due to the Phoenix Clan’s ability to turn him ‘on’ or ‘off’ using their stronghold. He is incredibly hard to defend against in regular conflicts, and makes a devastating finisher at an enemy stronghold. Rounding out the dynasty side is Kanjo District, a holding whose ability grants the Phoenix playeran incredibly powerful effect in exchange for discarding the Imperial Favor. With their high innate glory and stronghold ability, the Phoenix are one of the better clans at gaining the Imperial Favor.

On the conflict side, the Phoenix received a number of powerful cards. Benten’s Touch has a tricky cost, but offers huge rewards for the Phoenix clan, since honoring characters activates their stronghold. Embrace the Void works as effective fate generation, helping the Phoenix to afford some of their very expensive characters. Harmonize is a strong defensive action that allows you to save a province and still trigger Display of Power. Lastly, Shrine Maiden is a flexible 1-cost conflict character with an ability that typically draws at least one card.

From the neutral cards, Censure is a very tempting card, giving the Phoenix event cancellation as long as they hold the Imperial Favor (which, as we’ve already noted, they’re very good at). Policy Debate, arguably one of the most influential cards in the set, is extremely playable by Phoenix, whose political skills can explode with a combination of honoring effect plus stronghold. All of these cards neatly fit into the Phoenix conquest-style deck, pushing some already great cards out. Phoenix might be one of the top clans coming out of the Imperial cycle and will certainly be contenders.


Characters

Shrine Maiden

The Shrine Maiden is a 1 military, 1 political, 0 glory character for 1 fate. The Maiden is a Monk, making her the first Monk outside the Dragon clan. When the Maiden enters play, she reveals the top 3 cards of your deck and places each Spell and Kihō card revealed this way into your hand, while discarding any others. Phoenix have a good number of spells in their card pool, with Against the Waves, Display of Power, Grasp of Earth, Know the World, Supernatural Storm, Embrace the Void, and Benten’s Touch. Phoenix decks also play Cloud the Mind as a matter of course. As of yet, the only Kihō cards in the environment belong to the Dragon Clan and key off Monk characters. There isn’t a lot of Monk support in Phoenix yet, but that looks to be changing. But spells are where it’s at for Phoenix, and drawing even one of these (mostly) powerful cards via Shrine Maiden’s ability can impact a game significantly. In addition, the Maiden is a 1/1 for 1 conflict character, which we know to offer huge flexibility and power for its cost. Whether dropping a Maiden pre-conflict to declare an unexpected attack, or adding a defender when you’re about to lose honor due to an unopposed defense, or providing a key +1 skill to win a conflict or break a province, the power of 1-cost conflict characters far exceeds their apparently poor stats. Most 1-cost conflict characters have 0 glory, presumably to stop them from contributing to claiming the Imperial Favor. However, the Phoenix can drop this character after the last conflict and then bow their stronghold to give her +2 glory, to snatch the Imperial Favor. Monk is not a trait the Phoenix cares about, but this is a hugely useful card.

Asako Tsuki

This 2-cost unique character has 1 military, 2 political, and 2 glory. Asko Tsuki’s trait line has all the right words. The dual Courtier and Shugenja traits allows a Phoenix player more reliably run Courtier and Shugenja cards from their conflict hand. Tsuki’s ability honors a Scholar character after the water ring is claimed. So, as a Scholar herself, she will always have a target for her ability. (And, just like Prodigy of the Waves, it doesn’t matter which player claims the ring. Once a water conflict is declared, it’s pretty certain that someone is going to claim it.) Other scholars include Henshin Disciple, Naive Student, and Solemn Scholar, all of whom have 2 glory, apart from the Solemn Scholar, who has 1. Asako Tsuki is a fantastic character who ties together many of the Phoenix Clan’s more scattered focuses.

Henshin Disciple

This 3-cost Monk character is the first dynasty Monk for the Phoenix. With 2 military and political skill, and 2 glory, the Henshin Disciple doesn’t appear to have great stats. However, if you have claimed or are contesting the air ring, the Henshin Disciple gains +2 political skill; if you have claimed or are contesting the earth ring, the Disciple gains +2 military skill; and if you have claimed or are contesting the fire ring, he gains pride. This creates a complex matrix of conflict element types and conflict opportunities that is too involved to discuss at any length here. The main takeaway from the Henshin’s ability bonuses is that he is a dishonor character. Phoenix conquest decks focus on void and water – both to activate their key characters and to control the board – while the Henshin focuses on the three rings that dishonor decks tend to pursue. (This mechanical dovetailing of Phoenix Monks and dishonor is further reinforced by Kaito Kossori in the just-announced Disciples of the Void Phoenix Clan pack.) While Phoenix dishonor is probably not quite there as an archetype yet, the Disciple is sure to play a significant role in it, where the boosts he gains from contesting and claiming key dishonor rings can push him well above the curve in terms of cost:skill ratios. Until then, however, he’s not likely to see a lot of play.

Haughty Magistrate

The Phoenix’s imperial magistrate possesses an identical stat line to all the other magistrates. The difference, of course, is in how he prevents characters from contributing to the conflict. While the Haughty Magistrate is attacking, characters with less glory than the magistrate do not count their skill during resolution. As the Magistrate has 1 glory, only 0-glory characters should be affected. However, with the Phoenix stronghold Isawa Mori Seidō, the Magistrate’s glory can be boosted to 3, which is typically reserved for champion-level characters like Akodo Toturi, Bayushi Kachiko, and Togashi Yokuni. Crab have zero characters with 3 or more glory. In fact, the total list of 3+-glory characters is very small indeed, with Phoenix just barely edging out Lion for the most options with Isawa Kaede, Serene Warrior, Shiba Tsukune, and a hidden, secret option in Fearsome Mystic, who has 3 glory during air conflicts. The Haughty Magistrate does have one incredible advantage over all the other magistrates, which is that increasing his glory is optional and can be performed during a conflict at the moment of greatest advantage. Unfortunately, as a Bushi, the Magistrate doesn’t have the Shugenja trait the Phoenix are looking for, but his aggressive potential means he will see a lot of play.

Prodigy of the Waves

This Shugenja is 4 cost for 3 military, 3 political, and 2 glory. If the water ring has been claimed, either by you or your opponent, then the Prodigy can take an action to ready. The cost and stats here are the same as the Niten Master, who is considered by some to be the true Dragon champion. Like the Niten Master, the Prodigy can get involved in multiple conflicts. Phoenix currently have the Keeper of Water role, so they have an additional incentive to claim water, to summon their Keeper Initiates. On top of this, Phoenix have Adept of the Waves, who can give a character covert during water conflicts, which makes taking the water ring that little bit easier. Importantly, the Phoenix player does not need to claim the water ring themselves! As long as any player has claimed the water ring, the Prodigy can ready. This is an exceptionally powerful card (arguably Phoenix’s best character), which should fit into most if not all Phoenix decks for now.

Master of Gisei Toshi

This 4-cost Shugenja character has 2 military skill, 4 political skill, and 1 glory. At the start of the conflict phase you can choose a ring, and, during conflicts where that ring is contested, non-Spell events cannot be played. The currently playable Spell events are: Against the Waves, Benten’s Touch, Consumed by Five Fires (note: because Consumed is a Seeker card, Phoenix cannot currently play it), Display of Power, Know the World, and Supernatural Storm. Phoenix already have a really impressive lineup of 4-cost Shugenja, so while this looks like an awesome character, she might struggle to break into current Phoenix decks. The ability to lock down a conflict – even when she is not in that conflict – still makes this a good character. However, given that the ability triggers at the start of the conflict phase, a Phoenix player will have to accurately map out the entire conflict phase to make best use of her, before even a single pre-conflict action is taken. If a powerful ring-control strategy becomes available to Phoenix, the Master of Gisei Toshi figures to be a key cog in that deck.

Isawa Kaede

This 5-cost Shugenja has 3 military, 4 political, and 3 glory. Kaede is immune to opponent’s ring effects, which means she cannot be dishonored by fire (so, once she’s is honored, Kaede can be incredibly hard to dishonor). Likewise, Kaede cannot have fate stripped from her by the void ring, and cannot be bowed by the water ring if she has no fate herself. When Kaede is attacking, the ring she contests gains the void element, and, if she wins, her controller gets to resolve all of the ring’s elements, instead of having to choose (so if you declared fire, you get to resolve fire and void. And if you dropped in a Seeker of Knowledge as well, you can resolve fire, void, and air). Adding void to the ring she is contesting powers up Isawa Atsuko, even in battles where the ring of void wasn’t originally declared. And, because Kaede’s text is a continuous effect, and not an ability, moving her into a second attacking conflict with Favorable Ground (even while she’s bowed!), will allow you to resolve the ring of void effect again, along with whatever ring was declared. The Phoenix clan champion Shiba Tsukune is considered one of the best champions, but Kaede gives her a run for her money.


Holdings

Magnificent Lighthouse

While no Phoenix holding can compete against the card draw from Forgotten Library, Magnificent Lighthouse makes a compelling case for its inclusion in a specific deck type, namely dishonor. Because card draw is intimately linked to honor in L5R, a dishonor deck can constrict an opponent’s willingness to draw multiple cards during the bid phase. In fact, a dishonor deck can quickly force an opponent to bid 1 each turn – and this is where the Lighthouse’s ability can become devastating. By looking at the top three cards of an opponent’s deck, a Magnificent Lighthouse can brutally filter what an opponent draws. The opponent is then left in a quandary: accept the worst of their top three cards each turn, putting them at a big disadvantage on board, or bid higher in the hopes of hitting more useful cards, but at the cost of hastening their own dishonorable demise. Any card draw generated outside the bid phase will reduce the Lighthouse’s effectiveness, and will mean that the Lighthouse needs to be used during the dynasty phase to re-introduce its soft lock ability (which means an additional opportunity cost in having to likely pass second during the dynasty phase). Nevertheless, the Lighthouse can exert a lot of pressure on an opponent’s draws, and the implications for an opponent’s morale should not be underestimated, as they see vital cards being repeatedly placed in their discard pile. The Lighthouse’s +2 province strength bonus makes it harder to remove from play, but it’s a card that works best in the later game, once the dishonor lock is in. As such, a Crab splash for Rebuild would allow a Phoenix player to discard their Lighthouse(s) early, and then brig them back at the most opportune time.

Kanjo District

Kanjo District is a potentially game-winning card that deserves a place in every Phoenix deck. It has a +2 province strength bonus, making its province a little harder to take. However, its action may make its province almost impossible to break. Its ability requires the discarding of the Imperial Favor and – in exchange – bows and sends home any character participating in a conflict. This action can be used on attack or defense, and is not limited to Kanjo District’s province. It is, in effect, a hybrid combination of Rout (or Outwit) and Mirumoto’s Fury, but without the limitations placed on any of those cards. Because it sends a character home as well as bowing them, characters with participation abilities like Lion’s Pride Brawler will not get to use their actions. And, because Kanjo District’s effect is not an event or a card from hand it gets around Guest of Honor and Watch Commander. The Phoenix are also highly adept at gaining the Imperial Favor, so they can turn this holding on with considerable ease. Since Kanjo District can randomly show up, Phoenix players now have even more incentive to claim the Favor at any opportunity. Decks that can swarm may only be inconvenienced by Kanjo District, but decks that rely on single, large units may find themselves in terrible trouble if this hits the table.


Attachments

Seal of the Phoenix

This is the Phoenix seal and is equivalent to the seals of other clans. Right now, the Scholar trait is relevant only for Asako Tsuki, but it may gain further prominence in the future. Apart from Tsuki, the Phoenix currently have three other characters with the Scholar trait: Naive Student, Solemn Scholar, and Henshin Disciple.

Embrace the Void

This is a 0-cost attachment you can only play if you control a Shugenja. It gives +0 military and +0 political. As an Interrupt, when one or more fate is being removed from the attached character, you can instead place that fate in your fate pool. The easiest way to play this card is to drop it on a character with the largest amount of fate on it to get a slow economy drip. As interrupts are actions, they are limited to once per turn, so you can’t use the ring of void to get one and then gain another during the fate phase, when fate is removed naturally (unless you put two Embrace the Void on the same character). The effect does say “when 1 or more fate is removed,” so if you can arrange for multiple fate to leave at once, you can claim it all. In this case, it is generally preferable to play Embrace the Void on your opponent’s character rather than your own. If that character is then discarded, for example due to an Assassination, you would get all the fate on that character. Similarly, this works very well with the Crab card Jade Tetsubō, by sending all the fate back to your pool instead of your opponent’s. Lastly, this card can mitigate the game-changing impact of Feast or Famine, which is currently all but guaranteed to be among the provinces of both the Dragon and Lion Clans.


Events

Benten’s Touch

Getting characters honored and keeping them that way is key to a successful Phoenix deck. Phoenix characters have innately high glory scores, and once you have an honored character, the stronghold becomes a +2/+2 bonus for that character for the remainder of the phase (not just a single conflict, as with most other bonuses). Benten’s Touch is a 0-cost action that can only be played during a conflict. It requires a friendly Phoenix Shugenja to bow as part of the cost, and the effect honors a participating character you control. While any Phoenix Shugenja can bow for the action, bowing a cheap Shugenja with low skill will almost always be preferable. There are five Phoenix Shugenja who cost 2 or less: Adept of the Waves, Solemn Scholar, and Asako Tsuki on the dynasty side, and Seeker of Knowledge and Ishiken Initiate on the conflict side. These characters are typically 1 to 2 skill, who can bow to honor a 2-to-3-glory character that in turn then becomes a viable target for the Phoenix stronghold. Given that the Phoenix role is Keeper of Water (and that Phoenix have many, many, many reasons to pursue the water ring), Benten’s Touch also provides a handy target to unbow, when an attacking water conflict is successful.

Harmonize

This is a 1-cost Keeper only event. The current Keeper clans are Crab, Lion, Phoenix, and Unicorn. During a conflict in which a player is defending, they may choose a defending character and an attacking character with equal or lower printed cost, and send both characters home. As this is a 1-cost send-home event, it can be compared somewhat to Rout and Outwit. Rather than looking at skill, however, Harmonize considers cost. It also sends your character home in addition to your opponent’s, a markedly different effect to Rout and Outwit, and one that is markedly superior. One of the drawbacks with send-home in L5R is that the character you are sending home usually goes home ready – meaning it can attack again, defend, or contest the Imperial Favor – while any characters you may have committed to a conflict to even play the send-home action will be bowed. However, Harmonize brings your character back, ready to attack or defend. So, not only can this card end an opponent’s conflict (often without a ring being claimed, so the ring will go back into the unclaimed pool, allowing you to contest it), Harmonize can hand you a significant amount of tempo.

Harmonize also lets you defend a military conflict with a political character and send your opponent’s best military character of equal cost home, and vice versa if you’re defending a political conflict. This locks that character out of their ‘best’ attack and may force them to defend at their worst against your next attack. In addition, Harmonize can save a province while leaving it undefended, in preparation for a Display of Power. This feature, along with its 1 influence cost, makes Harmonize a great splash. Overall, it looks like an excellent defensive card.

Consumed by Five Fires

This 5-cost event is the most expensive we’ve seen so far, requiring almost an entire turn’s worth of fate. Before we even look at what this card does we need to acknowledge the massive risk there is in playing it. Forged Edict, Voice of Honor, and Censure would all love to cancel this effect, leaving its player 5 fate poorer with nothing to show. As a Seeker-only card, it’s not currently playable in Phoenix, and only Crane, Dragon, and Scorpion can currently access it. Playing the card also requires a Shugenja, which further limits it, but all three Seeker clans do have Shugenja they could use for this. The effect allows you to remove up to 5 fate from your opponent’s characters, most likely removing all their fate, and setting them up for removal during the fate phase. To play this, you need to have 5 fate banked, which is no small feat in itself. This will probably mean playing conservatively over several turns to amass the fate required without completely surrendering the board. Then comes the boom.

While it may appear that only removing, for example, 3 fate is a poor use of this card, if that 3 fate is keeping a clan champion and two 4-cost characters on the board, this card is actually removing 16 fate’s worth of value from the table. In fact, the cost of the characters this effect can remove will almost always exceed the 5 fate that this event costs. It is also worth noting that Embrace the Void can be used to recoup some of that fate, and that Kakita Yoshi can make this card much more affordable. Ultimately, this is a very cool card with a big investment for a big effect. If the environment encourages decks to have 4+ fate spread across characters on a typical turn, then the effect could be huge. But to play it, you’ll need to somehow get the fate together, and you’ll also need to be ready for event cancellation. Regardless of how playable Consumed by Five Fires ends up being, I think a lot of players are going to enjoying having it in decks.


Conclusion

Things are looking bright for the Phoenix following the Imperial cycle. With the Keeper of Water role and multiple cards that trigger off the water ring they have developed a definite synergy. This deck utilizes Guard Duty from the Lion splash to keep those Phoenix characters honored and to activate the stronghold. Although quite expensive in the dynasty deck, Embrace the Void helps return some of those investments allowing this deck to control the board as the game develops.


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