Clan Focus – The Lion

Clan Focus – The Lion

The Lion clan are famous for their prowess on the battlefield and their uncompromising adherence to the code of Bushido. In the last few weeks, we’ve seen the majority of their cards from the base set and have had an opportunity to play some games with the Lion deck facing up against the previously revealed Crane deck. This has given us some insights into how the Lion clan play and also some of the intricacies of the game overall. Join with me as I go through each of the revealed cards and discuss their implications for the Lion.


Lion clan Stronghold

Yojin no Shiro, Castle of Vigilance, is simple and to the point. Bow the stronghold to give your attacking characters +1 Military skill. It encourages attacking, it supports a Military focus, and it scales with the number of characters you have. These three elements, as we will see, are key elements of the Lion clan. It does not help in Political conflicts, it does not work on the defence, and it is only a small increase when you have only one character. We are also going to see these limitations for the Lion clan which are important considerations when playing Lion decks.

Dynasty Cards

0 Fate cost character

The obstinate recruit is an unexpected 0 cost character. Unlike the Crab’s eager scout this Bushi contributes to conflicts with 2 Military skill. Of course, there is a drawback. If an opponent has more honour than you, then the Obstinate recruit immediately gets discarded. As Lion starts with the highest starting honour of all clans, it is possible to keep this recruit in play, it does, however, mean making sacrifices. We can expect Lion decks to draw few cards during the draw phase and to avoid cards with honour losses such as Assassination or even the optional 1 point honour loss from Banzai! The discard risk makes it unlikely you will want to invest Fate in this character, so the recruit will typically be an extra character for just one turn.

1 Fate cost Characters

The Steadfast Samurai is similar to the Obstinate Recruit, cheap with a condition linked to having higher honour. One Fate gets you a balanced 1 Military skill, 1 Political skill, and 1 Glory. Where the Steadfast Samurai shines is in the ability. While you have at least 5 more honour than an opponent, the Steadfast Samurai does not lose Fate or get discarded. Everything going according to plan, a first turn Steadfast Samurai will be around turn 4 or 5 for the big final battle. If you’ve been generous, they will have some attachments boosting their stats, if not they provide an extra body to trigger swarm effects such as the Lion stronghold.

The Matsu Berserker, in contrast, is a straightforward 1 Fate for 3 Military skill, — Political skill, and 1 Glory. This is a very efficient Military character but must at all costs avoid getting into a Political battle. If the Matsu Berserker should somehow end up in a Political battle, they must immediately be sent home bowed. Presumably, before they are bundled up before they say something deeply embarrassing. So far all of these characters have had the Bushi trait, which as we will see is the primary trait for the Lion clan with multiple abilities requiring this trait.

One last 1 cost character only recently revealed is the Ikoma Prodigy a 1 cost – Military, 2 Political, and 1 Glory Courtier character with an ability than gains a point of honour whenever the character gains one or more Fate. This provides a quick political skill boost for the Lion board and also a quick way to gain a point of honour to help with the Obstinate Recruit and Steadfast Bushi. Right now there do not appear to be any ways to add more Fate after recruitment but that may change as the pool expands.

2 Fate cost Characters

The Akodo Gunso shows how Lion decks get around the limitation of only 4 provinces, by refilling them. When the Akodo Gunso comes into play, you can refill the province face-up allowing the new card to be recruited. As such, recruiting the Gunso as your first purchase in the turn makes sense. The Gunso’s 2 Military and 1 Political skill for 2 are made interesting by its 2 Glory and Pride trait which honours the character if they win a battle, bringing it to 4 Military and 3 Political skill. It is not without risk though, as losing a battle will dishonour the Gunso to 0 skill. With a character like this, there are two ways to play with them. The first is to produce the Gunso with no extra Fate to have them contribute on this turn and add the option of an extra card from the Dynasty deck. The second is to produce the Gunso with at least 1 extra Fate looking to win a conflict this turn and have the larger honoured Gunso for next turn.

The Venerable Historian in direct contrast to the Lion cards so far cannot participate in Military conflicts and is Political only. This character is not a Bushi but instead is a Courtier, one of the few in the Lion clan. The Venerable historian’s ability allows it to honour itself in a conflict if you have more honour than your opponent. As the characters Glory is 3, this brings it to an impressive 4 Political skill making this one of the better Political characters for the Lion. This is arguably one of the better Political characters we have seen so far and compares favourable to the Doji Whisperer. Although the Whisperer costs 1 more Fate and has a higher starting Political skill once both characters are honoured, they have the same Political skill, and the Historian reliably honours herself, unlike the Whisperer. It might be easy to pass this card over thinking the Lion are masters of Military but the Venerable Historian helps cover Lion’s arguable weakness in Political skill and opens up an extra avenue of attack by making Political conflicts viable.

The Deathseeker is quite different to the Gunso and Historian. If the Deathseeker ever loses a conflict while attacking, they can be discarded and discard either a Fate token from a character or a character with has no fate. These seem to be another pattern with the Lion, even when they lose they benefit. Declaring a void attack with the Deathseeker provides an interesting dilemma for your opponent, either let you win and trigger the void effect or stop you giving the option to discard the Deathseeker for a similar effect. If your Deathseeker has no Fate on it then you will want to lose a battle to be able to trigger the effect for maximum benefit. As you have to be attacking, and the Lion typically is going to want to win their Military conflicts, it is likely the Deathseeker will be able to effectively support Political conflicts.

3 Fate cost Characters

Matsu Beiona is pure efficiency, for 3 Fate you get the benefit of 5 Fate in total if you already have three Bushi in play. Luckily Lion have plenty of Bushi, they just need to make sure they have them in play. Fate is the most sought after resource in the game, so her ability is pretty amazing. As a unique character, later appearances will add extra Fate adding to her value. That said, after that you don’t get much. Comparing Matsu Beiona to the Matsu Berserker you still get the same 3 Military skill for 3 turns but also get 2 Political skill and +1 Glory. Also, there is a tight window for her ability to be useful. As the ability requires 3 Bushi already in play, she is unlikely to be able to trigger the ability on turn 1 and later turns might require some planning. As the game heads towards the final few turns especially the final turn having extra Fate is less useful. You probably want to see her turn 2 or 3 to maximise the benefit, hopefully seeing further copies to add extra fate to her.

The Kitsu Spiritcaller doesn’t have amazing stats but given Lion’s focus on Military that 3 Political skill is one of their highest. This is also the first and only Shugenja for the Lion, with only 3 Shugenja character cards in a deck of 40 cards that key off the trait are not reliable. Where the Spiritcaller really shines those is with an absolutely amazing ability. During a conflict, bow the Kitsu Spiritcaller to take a character in your discard pile and put that into play in the conflict. Although the ability is limited, you have to have the right character in your discard, it does give some tactical options in a conflict. It is also notable that the Spiritcaller does not have to be in the battle and can you leave the Spiritcaller ready for another conflict until you decide you need the support.

Those who have watched some of our playthroughs on YouTube will have seen my love and frustration with the Lion’s Pride Brawler. The stat line is respectable with 3 Military skill, 2 Political skill, and 1 Glory for 2 Fate. She is the second Courtier we have seen in the Lion deck, and while her 3 Military skill is fearsome, she actually performs best in a Political conflict due to her ability. She can target a character with Military skill equal or less to her own, and bows them. In a Political conflict against Doji Hotaru, the Lion’s Pride Brawler can take an action to bow that 6 Political skill as Hotaru’s Military skill is only 3. Also, the Lion’s Pride Brawler can target a character outside of the conflict. The limitation and my constant frustration is she can only do this on the attack. So if do not have the initiative, the ability will not be usable in the first conflict declared by your opponent. When you do attack, your opponent will have the first opportunity to act and possibly stop the brawler. The Lion’s Pride Brawler is particularly resilient, however, and does not bow to use the ability and can still use the ability while bowed.

4 Fate cost Characters

Ikoma Eiji is 4 Fate for 1 Military and 3 Political although this isn’t great his 3 Glory can turn that into something fearsome if he is honoured. He is a Courtier and not a Bushi which rounds out the Lion to 3 Courtiers making Courtier cards playable. His ability only triggers when you lose a Political conflict, although losing isn’t a place you want to be in it shouldn’t be a shock if your opponent wins a Political conflict. The ability brings a Bushi character with cost 3 or less into play from your dynasty discard or a province. As the Bushi is coming in via a card effect, you cannot add extra Fate to keep the character around although if you are recruiting Beiona her ability will be able to trigger. As Eiji does not bow to use the ability, he can still get involved in Political conflicts without concern. So either he wins, or you get another Bushi character to help with the next conflict. Eiji appears to be very strong, both bringing some well needed Political skill and also giving a benefit to losing a political battle.

The Honored General is another example of the Lion clan’s focus on swarming. Just by being in the battle the General gives all your Lion characters +1 Military force. This combined with the Stronghold and the number of 1 and 2 cost characters a Lion deck can put out will surely require advanced mathematics to determine their overall Military skill. After coming into play, the Honored General becomes honoured, adding their 2 Glory to their poor stats, becoming a 5 Military Skill, 3 Political skill character for 4 which is impressive. In addition to helping keep a relatively high honour score for conditions such as the Steadfast Bushi, this may help the Lion clan combat and use the Crane clans Voice of Honor action cancellation.

Akodo Toturi

It was a bit of a surprise for Toturi to be a mirror of Hotaru. In a way, it is understandable as the Crane and Lion are the left and right hands of the Emperor. It also forms a nice element to the story suggesting both a connection between the two characters as well as a conflict as they are polar opposites. Everything that applies to Hotaru applies to Toturi. Getting him on the table will have a significant impact on the game, but like Hotaru, he is but one character. Again consideration should be made in whether a first turn Toturi is worth it, a lot of the time the answer is going to be yes. The Lion add an extra element to this as the Kitsu Spiritcaller can bring a discarded Toturi back from retirement into a conflict when needed.

Lion Holding and Province

The staging grounds, help churn out even more characters. As holdings tie up a province, this will effectively give the Lion player 5 provinces to produce out of. The difficulty is that they will need to make two characters, refilling those provinces, before the Staging Ground will show a benefit. Once those characters have been produced you still need Fate left over to make those characters. At the very least, it does help cycling through provinces in the hope of revealing duplicate unique characters to generate free Fate.

The Lion’s Province,  The Art of War, is again quite simple and to the point. If it is destroyed, the Lion player gets 3 cards, hopefully enough to make a counter attack and go on the offensive. The Province strength of 3 is low, especially now we have seen a second strength 5 province. This continues the theme of the Lion getting benefits out of conflicts, particularly Political conflicts, they should lose.

Conflict cards

Conflict characters

Two or three Fate is a lot to keep in reserve, but when you have a character in hand, it can be considered an investment. Paying 2 Fate for the Akodo Gunso gives you a character for that turn but holding onto it for the Oathkeeper allows you to avoid losing the character (or a Fate) at the end of the turn if you don’t need the extra character. So there is definitely a benefit in having conflict characters, but it can take some discipline to free up the Fate. Often this Fate will be a combination of passing early during the Dynasty phase and getting extra Fate form rings.

The Oathkeeper’s ability is situational and doesn’t allow any extra investment of Fate. As there are only two Military conflicts in each turn the timeline for this is going to be quite tricky. Although the Lion are masters of the Military conflict, they aren’t the only Great Clan interested in winning Military conflicts so there will be occasions where they will lose the first Military conflict and will need the extra support for the second one. The Oathkeeper may actually be more important for Political conflicts where even it’s 1 Political skill may be of great benefit. As with effects such as Ikoma Eiji, there is no opportunity to add extra Fate when it is played with its reaction. I am concerned how this compares to Fine Katana which is 0 cost for 2 Military skill, as the Katana can be handed to an existing character it will stick around as long as that character will. The Oathkeeper, on the other hand, is likely to disappear at the turns end. When judging this, however, we must also factor in the Lion stronghold and cards such as Honored General which will give extra bonuses to additional characters.

The Master of the Spear, in contrast, has an action to help win the conflict. The ability can only be used on the attack, your opponent will have a chance to deal with the character before you get to use the ability, and your opponent does get to choose which of their characters go home, so it is very conditional. The ability is still better than a straight two skill and used at the right time could easily win a conflict.

Way of the Lion

Way of the Lion is a simple force boost. The majority of the time it is going to be a +3 Military boost which, while decent, isn’t amazing. It compares poorly to Fine Katana or Way of the Crane which will continue to stick around the turn after. It is, however, one more free Military boost to add to the deck and will allow the Lion to out Military boost any other clan. There was a little confusion due to the wording of what happens if you play Way of the Lion twice on the same character, this was cleared up in one of the recent Facebook streams, and we now know that each Way of the Lion gives a bonus of the printed Military skill. For example, Matsu Berserker has 3 printed Military skill, if two Way of the Lion’s are played, then they will get an extra 6 (3+3) Military skill.

The Lion do not bow

Ready for battle is free and reacts to an opponent’s card effect or ring effect bowing your character to straighten that character. This is an excellent card which will be useful every game as bow effects appear to be common and Lion will typically have characters with no Fate on them making them vulnerable to the Ring of Water’s bow effect. The 1 influence cost on this makes it very usable for other clans.

Sashimono prevents a different kind of bowing, the price of being in a conflict at resolution. It can only be used on Bushi and is quite expensive at 2 cost, but it means a character, such as Toturi, could attack and defend in two Military conflicts and still be ready to go into a Political battle. When you consider that one character effectively becomes 3 that cost of 2 Fate doesn’t look so bad after all. As long as you declare Military for your first conflict, the best your opponent can do is declare Political before declaring Military in which case you decide whether to assign to one of the Politicals or to the last Military and stay unbowed for the Emperor’s favour. The 2 influence cost, 2 Fate cost, and Bushi only requirement makes this a tricky one to splash, but it might be tempting for clans who have powerful Bushi characters.

The Lion finish what they start

Stand your ground trades an honoured token for an extra turn while For Greater Glory gives Fate to each of your Bushi involved in a battle. In both cases, characters are kept around longer. These are both ways of essentially getting free Fate and allow the Lion to overextend in one turn and still recover if needed. When discussing the characters, we noted some characters where the extra investment of Fate might not make sense, these cards give you the best of both worlds. There are times when you want to have a Fate on your character, notably to prevent it being bowed with Ring of Water. Stand your ground only comes into play when your character is about to be discarded and For greater glory only triggers after you have won your conflict, and your Bushi are returning home bowed, so in both cases, they aren’t going to directly help you win your conflicts and instead are there to set up your next turn. The influence out of 3 on For Greater Glory may push it out of some clans, but it is a very powerful card and could still make an inclusion. Stand your ground, on the other hand, could be of interest for the Crane clan who are able to easily honour their characters.

The Weapons of War

A 2 Military skill weapon for 1 Fate with an ability appears to be an almost standard costing. In this case, the effect is to gain a point of honour, which for a Military deck can be seen as the equivalent of drawing a card but for the Lion powers many of their card effects. When looking at honour running based on the basic game mechanics, it was difficult to see how exactly it could be done. Cards like Honored Blade are the answer. This lets a Lion deck continue crushing provinces and winning conflicts while also gaining honour. While winning through honour may not be a final objective, keeping your honour total high enough to maintain Steadfast Bushi and Obstinate Recruit will be important. Interestingly, this card is playable on enemy characters and may allow a deck to lose conflicts and gain honour.

The Guidance of the Ancestors is similar to the previously revealed Ancestral Blade of the Dragon in that after it gets discard you will be able to play it again. It is one of the few ways to actually get extra Political skill, and it isn’t restricted in the same way weapons are, so a character can receive the Guidance of their Ancestors 3 times. It does feel a little costly at 1 of each skill for 1 Fate but could be key in pushing a character out of certain skill levels, such as the Crane Clan stronghold target of 2 or less Political skill.

United in battle

Strength in numbers is similar to the Crane card Admit Defeat, it can only be used on the attack and takes one enemy character out of the fight. Where Admit defeat could only target a loan defender, Strength in numbers requires that you have attackers equal or greater than the targets glory. The caution for this card is that the defender goes back home without bowing, so unless this is the last conflict of the game, they will have an opportunity to assign to another conflict.

With Lion, it is easy to over focus on the Military side as cards like the Matsu Berserker do provide an excellent return on investment and the Lion have a wealth of ways to win Military conflicts. Focusing on Military, however, means abandoning Political conflicts, and halves the number of potential attacks each turn. A successful Lion player will balance the approach, working on shoring up their Political assets while relying on their efficient Military cards to hold the field. Although they may seem Military-focused the Lion does have a reasonable balance. We have 12 Dynasty characters revealed for the Lion clan so far. Totalling base skill we can see the Lion have a total of 27 Military skill and 18 Political skill. While only 3 characters, Venerable Historian, Kitsu Spiritcaller, and Ikoma Eiji, have Political skill higher than their Military skill another 5 have equal skill or Political skill one lower than Military.

Allying with the Lion

If Lion’s weakness is in Politics, their strength is in Military and they can offer this to other clans. All the clans could benefit from Vengeful Oathkeeper at 2 influence, for those who win Military conflicts it is an extra 2 Military skill character for 2 Fate which is worthwhile and for those expecting to lose it is a free surprise punch that might allow them to take a province with the Military skill they already have on the board. Similarly, the attachments Honored Blade and Guidance from the Ancestors both at 1 influence help provide relevant skill boosts where required. Due to the prevalence of bow actions in the brief part of the environment we have seen so far Ready for Battle seems like a solid addition to any deck and at 1 influence only might be a given for any deck allying with Lion.

Crab decks, if they are using Bushi and have a defensive focus, may find the Sashimono a strong card allowing them to attack and defend with their Military characters. Ready for Battle would also provide a strong way to stop your opponent from bowing out your strong cards. For 10 influence they could get 3 Ready for Battle, 2 Sashimono, 3 Guidance from the Ancestors.

Crane decks, if they are winning by honour will find 3 Honored Blades fine additions. At only 1 influence they provide cheap honour gain and also help boost both the weaker Military skill and the duelists skill. Given the ease with which the Crane honour characters, Stand your ground may be a good addition. For 10 influcene they could get 3 Honored Blades, 2 Stand your Ground, and 3 Ready for Battle.

Dragon decks which like Attachments and Weapons will find 3 Honored Blades excellent additions. Guidance of the ancestors may be a useful addition for Dragon decks looking to push out that balanced approach between Military and Political and the lack of restricted traits would help build some super characters. As the Dragon focus is on having single powerful characters then Ready for Battle would be a good way to protect those characters from your opponents bow effects. Sashimono is tempting but only half of the Dragon Characters are Bushi. For 10 influence they could get 3 Honored Blades, 3 Ready for Battle, and 2 Sashimono.

Scorpion decks are tricky to determine at the moment but it is likely simple Military additions such as the characters would help round out Military skill gaps if they exist. For 10 Influence they could get 3 Vengeful Oathkeeper, 2 Ready for Battle, 2 Guidance of the Ancestors.

Phoenix are similar to the Scorpion and tricky to judge without seeing the card pool but they could use the same package of 3 Vengeful Oathkeeper, 2 Ready for Battle, 2 Guidance of the Ancestors.

Unicorn decks, assuming they have Bushi who are Military focused may find Sashimono and For Greater Glory good choices. For Greater Glory is a tricky one is it costs 3 Influence but 2 in the deck for 6 influence in total could give an entire extra turn of characters for minimal cost and would be a strong addition. For 10 influence they could use 2 For Greater Glory and 2 Sashimono.

Shiro no Yojin by Chris Ostrowski

Next up we have the Dragon Clan.

If you have any comments or feedback please post them in the comments section below.

Join us on our Twitch stream on Monday the 26th June at 8pm BST, 9pm CEST, 1pm PST. We will be talking about our experiences with the Lion and the Dragon story and any previews which have appeared by then. As always we will be answering any questions from those who make the stream.

If you check the YouTube channel we have a game of the Lion versus the Crane which shows some of these cards in action.

Check us out on the Imperial Advisor website, podcast, and YouTube channel for more discussion about the L5R LCG.


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