State of the Game – After the Cork Kotei

State of the Game – After the Cork Kotei

This is a Guest article by Akodo Hato who I had the pleasure to meet during the Cork Kotei. – Bazleebub

As the dust settles from the glorious fights of the previous days, katanas as sheathed, fans are folded and Bushi, Shugenja, and Courtiers leave exhausted but content after the amazingly organised Cork Kotei of 2018.

The clan breakdown was somewhat unexpected, but the results were not. Taking into account the contemporary state of the game, the unshakeable master of the meta is – and will continue to be –  the Scorpion Clan.

Let us take a historical perspective in the evolution of the meta, so as to better understand where we are and why we are here.

State_1/Wide : Core Set. The world is simple. The conflict cards are there to supplement the dynasty characters, Ornate Fan and Fine Katana are staples, same as Banzai! and Court Games, all due to their combination of low prerequisites – relevant impact. Going wide and creating a dominating board state is the key in the game and the Lion clan with For Greater Glory and their cheap characters have a dominant position.

State_2/Tall: First Half of the Imperial Cycle. The fates seem to change. Going wide (and cheap) is now problematic. Cards like Ikoma Ujiaki, Isawa Kaede, Stoic Magistrate, Pathfinder’s Blade, Prodigy of the Waves, and Bayushi Kachiko all favour spending the – very limited – fate of each turn on strong characters with game-changing (or, indeed game-winning) potential. This is also encouraged by the fact that passing first in Dynasty awards the player with an extra fate, hence going wide creates a two-fate differential between the players. The Dragon clan dominate the meta.

State_3/Events : Second Half of the Imperial Cycle. The game changed. Iron Mine, Crisis Breaker, Gaijin Customs, and Talisman of the Sun create a game state that encourages the “tall” gameplay over the “wide”. Mono no Aware, Waning Hostilities punish any effort of going wide, absolutely.

The fate differential created by passing first allows players to explore the dropbear playstyle which finds itself among the most competitive. Cards that require minimum to no proactive action and set up become dominant. Reactionary play through strong, high-cost events ( i.e Mono no Aware and A Fate Worse Than Death ) can nullify the “tall” characters, which players have been setting up for turns, allowing for violent swings with little to no answer. The Scorpion become everyone’s nightmare.

This is where we find ourselves right now.


Having covered the historical context, let us, now, cover in depth the power-level of effects.

The three strongest effects, in the contemporary state of the game are:
a) Character removal/control
b) Attachment removal
c) Event Cancellation

First, let’s break this down to which clans have access to cards that allow for these effects :

a) Unit removal: Scorpion and Crane. I Can Swim and Noble Sacrifice allow players that have made the required set up to remove opposing characters from play irrespective of the amount of fate on them.

The main difference here is that the Crane player needs to take several steps so as to enable the card’s effects: Honor one of his character ( easy part ) and dishonour the opposing character. The Scorpion player needs to bid 5 ( which the current style of control deck almost always does, due to their stronghold ) and dishonour an opposing character ( which is the easy part as half their decks revolve around that ).

There is neutral big unit removal: Fallen in BattleIt is inconsistent and bad. You need to be winning the conflict, winning by 5 more, therefore it requires that you overcommit to that particular one. It requires that the character to be dealt with is participating in the conflict. Hence, it only makes sense for clans that have harpoon mechanisms ( Scorpion and Crane ) which, as has been covered have already, have access to unit removal and therefore this card being neutral “unit removal” is of no use.

Unit control: Cloud the Mind is a neutral card, which is favoured by clans with a strong Shugenja trait in characters. Those are the Scorpion, Crane, Phoenix and Dragon clans. The rest are forced to splash one of the aforementioned in order to gain access to them, conceding access to the Big 3. Of course, the Scorpion clan has enough Shugenjas to run it alongside A Fate Worse Than Death.

A Fate Worse Than Death demands no setup and for a fate cost ( fate being the intrinsic resource in the game, one that is generated automatically, one that is not lost automatically-i.e. honour from unopposed conflicts) removes and nullifies a character for the rest of the turn (if not the game).

Bow is also a weaker form of character control. Lion’s Pride Brawler, Admit Defeat, and Mirumoto’s Fury are prime examples of the power of it – however Lion’s Pride Brawler demands a 3+ fate investment, her attacking as well as the opponent to have played at least one character during their dynasty phase; Admit Defeat demands that the opponent plays into it by defending with just one character, if they defend with too, playing around it, the opponents attacking prowess is significantly lessened. Mirumoto’s Fury is a one fate investment that nullifies attacks in the early turns.

This effect can be canceled by most clans with effects like Crisis Breaker, Steadfast Witch Hunter, Prodigy of the Waves, Niten Master, Against the Waves, Gaijin Customs, Ready for Battle and even, the Ring of Water.

Send home is an action that results in in-conflict unit control but is disfavoured due to the fact that the sent-home body is available for a following conflict and is a means for obtaining the Imperial Favor.

b) Attachment removal: Scorpion and Dragon ( and Crab and Crane). Calling in Favors and Let Go allow attachments to be either discarded or stolen, this weakens the “tall” gameplay and sometimes punishes greedy plays too hard ( redirecting an attacking character after stealing the Talisman of the Sun to your Shameful Display/Feast or Famine can be game changing).

Crab have Karada District and Crane, due to their Air role, have access to Frostbitten Crossing. Both of them can be played around, in the case of the former by breaking the holding and in the case of the later, simply by not attacking it, making these options inconsistent.

There is a neutral attachment removal: Miya MysticIt is very inconsistent, though: you declare a 2-fate investment to your opponent’s attachments which – if not played – will not be played before the mystic is Assassinated (because she can be, hence she will) or until the next turn, when she will have been discarded.

c) Event cancellation: Scorpion and Crane. Forged Edict and Voice of Honor. As with the case for Unit removal, the Crane player has to set up a board state ( have more honoured characters than the opponent ) whereas the Scorpion player only needs to have bought a courtier.

There is a form of effective event cancellation, available to the Crane and to a lesser extent to the Lion Clan. Guest of Honor is a single card of the Crane that effectively nullifies 30-35 cards of the opponent’s deck, that is 75-88% of the opponent’s entire DECK. Her old and weary grandma, Ageless Crone simply taxes both players for playing event. A carefully played Crone can swing the course of a conflict and even a game, since it is a conflict character and not a dynasty one, hence benefiting from the element of surprise ( as well as being a prime example of the huge strength of conflict characters over their dynasty deck counterparts ).

There is neutral event cancellation: CensureIt is, again very inconsistent: it depends on the fact that one would have the Imperial Favour. The ONLY clan that has a card with “Take the imperial favour” is the Scorpion clan, who don’t even need Censure as they already have Forged Edict.


The Complete Scorpion Domination.

Does anyone see a pattern here?
All three game-swinging actions are available to the Scorpion Clan. The one clan that has numerically the most – and most relevant and strongest- conflict characters in the game, allowing them to combine the dropbear gameplay ( which allows little to no interaction between opponents’ characters like ring effects, or proactive actions like Lion’s Pride Brawler, Yogo Hiroue or even Doji Challenger ), one for which they are rewarded by an extra fate in dynasty, which allows them combined with their seeker role to generate fate to pay for the ‘dropbears’ and the events they need to clear the board. This state, combined with the ability of their Stronghold, City of the Open Hand, leads to a game that the longer it goes, the more dominant a position they can establish.

Combining this with the ultimate king of non-interaction in the early game, the Dragon splash of Mirumoto’s Fury allows them to have complete board domination with little to no Dynasty phase investment throughout the game: For Shame, Mirumoto’s Fury, A Fate Worse Than Death, Assassination, I Can Swim, Policy Debate fuel the powerhouse of the Scorpion Clan to be able at this stage, to spend very few fate, have board presence ( and even advantage ) with their strong political skill, bow attackers consistently, cheat cards into their hands ( comparison between Bayushi Liar with Matsu Berserker or even Doji Whisperer will give anyone not convinced a hint ) steal honor ( an equivalent card resource ) manipulate dials for cards and/or policy debate, leading them to manipulate potential threats and cancels to their big events, which in turn can cancel with their own cancels.

All the aforementioned seem to favour a reactive playstyle. A playstyle of waiting, not commiting, not interacting, just pushing opponents who don’t have access to the tools needed to go late game, a further step back, until they run ( or you run them with earth rings, policy debates, cancels and higher bids ) out of steam. This playstyle is also favoured by going to time. After an hour of getting run into, pushing back, the Scorpion and Crab clan players who have access to mechanisms that allow them to prolong their survival, will eventually dominate. This is portrayed in the fact that most Scorpion and Crab decks had a dishonor switch mechanism, either natural in the case of the Scorpion, or through the watch commander in the case of Crab. The game has an intrinsic honor loss element, too favouring this winning condition, as leaving a province unopposed deprives you of an honor point. This could be rectified by being awarded a point of honor to the defending player if the defense is successful.


Looking Forward

So, this is where and how we find ourselves at, right after the Cork Kotei. As preparations are imminent for the Paris Grand Kotei, the meta does not seem to be radically different from what we have already had a taste of. Nevertheless, gathering up some of the knowledge of Madrid and Cork might allow some slight differentiation which will hopefully bring more variance to the game and a shift to the meta, moving Scorpion from their throne. The Big3 ( unit removal, attachment removal and event cancellation ) remain the prime target for all clans who want to have a strong toolkit of proactive and reactive actions. The effects that the strong events that the Scorpion ( and those who splash Scorpion ) have access to, might be mitigated by intriguing game-play choices, like giving that Shiba Yōjimbō that one extra fate as Phoenix to protect your precious Prodigy of the Waves and Isawa Kaede, moving away from the all-event type Crane and playing Above Question and throwing maybe a couple of Censure and Finger of Jade, while all around playing small characters early and scouting aggressively for provinces to nullify Mirumoto’s Fury. A more daring approach could be the super-mega-skyscraper with first turn-pass, second turn, one or two people with 3 or even 4 fate on and several protective attachments with a combination of Mono no Aware and Waning Hostilities to slow the game down and run control-oriented decks slightly off balance tempoing them down with attrition might just do the trick.

The Paris Grand Kotei will probably be the last major event before Disciples of the Void is introduced. The card pool is now stagnant and known, however, the one thing that is not to be underestimated is the creativity, ingenuity, and adaptability of Legend of the Five Rings players on the path of glory and victory.

Akodo Hato

 


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15 Replies to “State of the Game – After the Cork Kotei”

  1. I really enjoyed this article, thanks for doing it. It does leave me with 1 comment and 1 question.
    The comment is that Way of the Crab is worth mentioning in the Unit removal section.
    The question is why are Crane not doing better if they appear so much in your sections describing what is strong in the meta ?

  2. Thx for the article, that help explaining the red domination that we see on the table these days.

    Concerning unit control, we can t really say that Crane have a reliable access to Cloud the Mind. Only 1 Shugenja is a 1 drop, and the other 2 are usually not played because they can t compete with Guest of Honor on this spot and are very expensive (both are 4 drop). Scorpion on the other hand have 3 Shugenja costing 2 or less.

    @Eoin : As I see it, Scorpion can do what Crane do (Unit removal and event cancelation) but much more easily (I can Swin / Noble sacrifice and Forget edict / Voice of Honor). And they have access to unit control (AfWtD and Cloud the Mind) and attachment removal (Calling in favor), and Crane doesn’t (not enough low cost shugenja and Frostbitten Crossing is not reliable enough as pointed Akodo Hato). And because they have all these tools in red conflict cards they can splash Dragon to add some early turn survival, or Lion to cancel opponent bow action.

  3. Thank you for your comments.
    @Eoin. The reason why Way of the Crab, despite being a unit kill action is not mentioned is because it is not a “condition-kill THAT unit of yours”, i.e it can be played around by making sure one has more smaller units, since it only requires that the controller sacrifices a unit. Before Cork I made sure I had played enough to be able to remember to play a 0 fate crone from hand in the fate phase action window if I went first, so as to be able to combat the strongest point at which the Crab can Way themselves to victory.

    The reason why Crane is not doing that well, from my perspective and it has been pointed out by someone on the stream, too is the following : Their individual cards are very well strong and would be able to put Crane in a dominating position. The drawback is that almost all of them require set up, as I have already pointed out in the article. That puts Crane on a defensive position to try to keep the set up they have developed to be able to activate their strong cards, as the scorpion simply pay for them ( comparison between Edict and VoH, FWTD and Noble Sac ), while using their other cards to disrupt re-actively the Crane’s board state. Similar is the case for the Crane against the rest of the Clans, where they can more consistently pull their tricks off, but their set up still remains prone to being messed with. The Crane have good individual cards, but somehow I find there is dissonance in the way the work with each other.

    @Kakitako I agree that most Crane decks don’t play enough shugenjas. My point in the article was about the Clans that have a relatively justifiable to play CtM number of Shugenjas. Crane is one of them, having three, versus say the Crab having only two, or then Lion having a sole one.

    Lastly, one of my points that were covered in yesterday’s stream, is the importance of the Scorpion having access to fate through their role, through them going dynasty-go because they have the events to sustain that gameplay, while having the most conflict characters allowing them to be relevant with small to no dynasty phase investment, since you can hideaway your people in as pre- or even conflict actions.

    To quote Mat Light from his interview “Playing Scorpion you don’t play the game the rest of the Clans do. You have more cards and more fate. It really feels like cheating.”

  4. I can agree with Scorpion being the most dominant in the current meta but this article leaves a terribly skewed perspective on how much Scorpion dominates. Most advantages mentioned were conflict effects and it doesn’t take into effect the inefficiencies in costs that Scorpions have to work around with especially regarding stats in dynasty. You could at least counterbalance the article with what are the biggest weaknesses too or something like that.

    Things like ICS are a bit overblown because it still requires timing and the choice of whether that already dishonored character is even worth removing for 2 fate. Yes it’s a removal effect but it’s worth fluctuates greatly IMO.

    In general, this article comes off a little bit loaded because a frame was created to drop Scorpion into it. The conflict deck is half the game and if you focus so much on it, then I guess the clan known for the strongest conflict cards are quite obviously going to appear the strongest (by a lot). This could have been written better IMO without appearing like you had your sights set on Scorpion the entire time and thus not lose credibility for the article. This doesn’t come off as a state of the meta article to me since the scope it covers is too narrow.

  5. Thanks for taking the time to write this down for everyone to read.

    While I agree with your general points on the state of the game, I disagree with the concept of “the big3”. I think that the part which trumps all of those are resources. Actions which give you cards or fate especially. Resources in L5R are very tight and being able to get more or be more efficient is key to winning any match up. You do touch on this later on with how Scorpion are doing so well. It is certainly a different play style which is allowing them to be more efficient with resources and having actions which are strong.

    In my opinion it will not matter how many of the “big3” actions a clan/deck has, if they cannot draw them or have the resources to pay for them it will not matter.

  6. @Chris Thank you for taking the time to read it. I could not agree more on your statement “I think that the part which trumps all of those are resources. ” and exaclty that is the reason why BIG3 is BIG3: because they allow for a huge amount of fate swings. Some examples: A 3-fate Dragon character with a couple of one-fate attachments on them and a couple of fate amounts to a total investment of 3 + 2+ 1 + 1 = 7 fate. This can be dealt with a well timed and set up ICS or even a well timed Noble Sac (which I have covered the inconsistencies of ). Even in the “expensive” case of a FWTD it’s a 4-fate investment to trump over a 7-fate one. This leaves a minimum of 3 fate differential to be capitalised by the scorpion ( or, even, the scorpion splashing ) player. Similarly with a 2-3 fate investment that gets shut down early by a mirumuto’s fury. All these non-interacting defensive cards are great EXACTLY because of the fact that they create what you describe as effective fate differential. which leads to fate accumulation and eventually to financial domination which can result in having more honor, cards, fate or all of the above.
    Similarly for the case of attachments, calling in favors and let go are there not for katanas or fans, but for tetsubos ( 1+ differential ), pathfinder’s blade ( effective 1+ differential, in the case of fof conflict ) or talismans ( 3+ fate differential, if you take into account the resources needed to be bought next turn to break that province you have been reassigned to, or break the SH that you were sent away from ). Similarly, in the case of event cancellations in province break situations.

    In a limited resource game, creating fate differentials and/or effective fate differentials is vital. If that is combined with a Clan or some Clans having all tricks they need (hideaway and passing first in dynasty, having the most relevant conflict dudes, one of which is repeatable, BIG3 in the Clan for the case at hand) AND a box that allows them to go heavily conflict-oriented, then that clan will end up gathering more resources over time.

    Indeed. having access to BIG3 without being able to play them won’t result in anything substantial. However, the clan that does have access to those, and indeed the most consistent form of them, does have the means to play them. That is the stance I take in the article and that is why, I believe, Scorpion are so strong right now.

  7. Great article.
    I like the ending on a positive note, because I don’t feel that Scorpion are a fatality yet.
    You can honor your guys more and gain more honor, you can spawn a lot of low cost people to make FWTD crappy, you can add more conflict chars to your deck in order to deny them the Pass-Fate… You can adapt. 🙂

    1. @Bronto Thanks a lot. Yeah, I think the Scorpion are super strong as we stand, but I am not saying they are broken or anything. I am sure either someone has already found the scorpion-bane secret tech, or they very soon will 🙂

      1. The problem with using a lot of tech against the strongest deck is clan loyalty and clan challengers qualifying to the top cut. No matter how strong a clan is, many players will not make the switch, so overteching is risky because you may end up not playing any Scorpion in the first half of the Swiss and go down because your deck is worse against other clans.

  8. I can say that you got some points covered there, but the general idea is kinda missleading from a scorpion (like my self) point of view.
    Scorpion is a deck that is build around countering your opponent plays, its not an archetype to counter build for, its the scorpions job to do that.
    The reason we saw that huge scorpion success in recent Kotei, is simply that the meta stuck stale long enough , for scorpion to build a counter for. (Dragon/Crab , “tall” builds like Phoenix Prodigy Decks, even Lion took the “tall” instead of “wide” approach).

    Now the counter is there, people will differentiate their approach until another counter is created.

    Scorpion is at a worse spot atm, than a month ago. There are 3 different deck types that rose up to play around that single target control of scorpion, and there isn’t a single scorpion deck that can counter all 3. Not to mention that mirror matches are a nightmare for scorpions with a quarter of the conflict deck being dead cards in mirror.

    I don’t think we ll see another scorpion parade in France, and if we do then it would be more on “luck of the draw” than actually a scorpion innovation.

    I ll make the travel to France , and i hope to prove my own words wrong, but i doubt 🙂

  9. The Dragon clan dominates first half of Imperial Cycle ?
    In a non tournament environment without any time limit, you are right.
    But I don’t remember Dragon clan won any Kotei.
    The Kotei Madrid was the tournament for the first half of Imperial Cycle.

  10. @Akis Thanks for your comments.
    I could not agree more that indeed it’s the Scorpion’s job to deal with everyone else’s deck and it’snot an archetype to counter build for.
    However, the game is intrinsically punishing some options (i.e going wide) which give the Scorpion a hard time. Hence, since all the more people abandon these options so as to not be punished by the game, they get punished by the Scorpion who have all the answers for the other type of play ( the tall ) .

    I agree that the scorpion mirror is boring, uninteresting and uninspiring despite it being one of the most skill heavy matches.

    Lastly, ” There are 3 different deck types that rose up to play around that single target control of scorpion”, would you please be so kind as to provide these deck lists ? Thanks in advance.

    1. I don’t really want to post specific deck lists, or even splash. But there are Lion , Crab and Crane decks that work really well vs scorpion.
      Plus Dragon and Phoenix adaptations in top player decks/playstyle, have almost eliminated the enormous advantage the drop bear scorpion had.
      Hope i ll have more details to add after the Paris Kotei is over, and this topic is still relevant.

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