Imperial Cycle – Unicorn

Imperial Cycle – Unicorn

With the Imperial cyle finally out, lets have a look at the Unicorn specifically to see what cards in the new packs go into their decks.

Unicorn were the big disappointment of the core set environment. To say they were unplayable would be a stretch, but anyone playing Unicorn was at a significant disadvantage. Initially, those heroes who stuck with Unicorn focused on a Bushi based military deck that used the Lion card For Greater Glory to get maximum benefit out of Cavalry Reserves. Later, a Courtier based deck had some success as the Madrid Kotei. Something clearly went wrong in the design process for Unicorn, and unfortunately, those issues continued to plague the clan for the Imperial cycle. That said, Unicorn as the weakest of the clans had the most to gain. Where other clans were getting incremental improvements as they replaced a good character with a slightly better character, Unicorn get a bigger jump when they replace a bad character with a good one.

In this cycle, Unicorn receive a number of good characters. The Utaku Mediator, Child of the Plains, and Shinjo Scout are all great cheap characters. The Swift Magistrate should see some play and Moto Juro is fantastic. These are all solid characters without any frills that will help support the base of future decks. In the core environment, the Unicorn did not have clan holding and this changed with the Imperial cycle which gave the Unicorn Windswept Yurt a really great holding that will have a big influence on the Unicorn playstyle. From the conflict deck, Talisman of the Sun is a great card and thankfully the Unicorn currently have a Keeper role and can play it. Despite my reservations about Gaijin Customs being better as a splash card, it does allow the Unicorn to play non-Unicorn characters such as Miya Satoshi, Seppun Ishikawa, and splashed characters such as Unassuming Yōjimbō to greater effect.


Utaku Mediator

This 1-fate Courtier has 0 military, 1 political, and 0 glory, and while you do not have the Imperial Favor, this character gains +1 military and +1 political. So, while you are behind, this is a 1-military 2-political character for 1. Those are decent stats, making the Utaku Mediator similar to the Otomo Courtier. Where the Otomo Courtier cannot attack when your opponent has the favor the Mediator has only 1 political skill when you do have the favor. The Otomo Courtier is a popular character that still sees play. The Mediator as a cheap Courtier does open the trait to the Unicorn, although exactly how that might play out is unclear.

Child of the Plains

And here we have a way to take the first action! This 1 cost cavalry character has 1 military, 0 political, and 0 glory. After a province this character is attacking is revealed, the attacker gets the first action. So it will only work when you attack a blank province. It will let you get the first action, this gives you the chance to deal with problem characters such as Doji Gift Giver before they have a chance to act. As a cavalry character, the Child of the Plains can be returned with Cavalry Reserves, while the ability won’t work it does help round out the numbers to the 6 fate total. The question then is whether this character is worth the province slot. At 1 cost he compares to the Seppun Guardsman trading the drawback and +1 military for the ability. Having a few cheap characters in the deck does help round out a turns dynasty spend making it likely this character will make it into decks, even if the ability doesn’t always have a direct application.

Shinjo Scout

This 2 cost Bushi Cavalry character has 2 military, 1 political, and 1 glory. After you pass first in the dynasty phase you can take a reaction to gain 1 fate. One way of looking at this character is as a 1 cost 2/1 which is pretty good. Alternatively, you can invest some fate in the Scout and can trigger the ability a second time. In which case, the additional fate spent is slowly dripped back as long as the Scout remains in play. This does require aggressive passing to try get that additional fate. With the Bushi and Cavalry traits, this character has the primary traits the Unicorn are interested in. It’s a solid character that will see a lot of play.

War Dog Master

This Bushi character is 3 fate for 2 military, — political, and 2 glory. When it is declared as an attacker, you discard the top card of your dynasty deck and add the fate cost of that card as a +X military bonus for the turn. Worst case you flip a holding and it’s a +0 bonus; best case it’s Shinjo Altansarnai and for a turn the Master gets+5 military. Looking at the top Unicorn deck from Worlds, 35% of the time this is going to be a 4+ bonus making this a Moto Horde at a 1 fate discount. It isn’t going to work with Cavalry Reserves, something that seems to be an ongoing theme, as with Cavalry Reserves it is never declared as an attacked instead just appearing in the battle. As it actively discards characters, it may help the pool of targets for Cavalry Reserves. This isn’t the character the Unicorn were looking for.

Swift Magistrate

This 3 cost Bushi has 2 military, 2 political, and 1 glory. Despite horse in the picture, this character does not have the Cavalry trait. While attacking, each other character that has fate on it does not count its skill for the resolution of the conflict. Any card that changes the rules of the game is worth paying attention to. The stat line of 2 military and 2 political for 3 fate is poor but at least it is Assassination proof and is useful in either conflict type. That the ability only works on the attack means your opponent gets to see what is going on and choose who to declare. It also means you cannot neuter a defense with just 1 character. The ability works nicely with Charge and Cavalry Reserves where characters are coming in without Fate anyway. It also provides a fun Charge! target which could make a big difference as a surprise arrival. The Magistrate can be sent home and unfortunately without the Cavalry trait, cannot be moved in again with the stronghold.

Ide Tadaji

At 4 cost for 1 military, 4 political, and 2 glory you’re hoping for a Guest of Honor level ability, but Tadaji does not deliver. As a Courtier with high politics, Tadaji advances an aspect of the Unicorn that currently hasn’t been rounded out. Tadaji does not have the Cavalry trait and as such cannot be used with the stronghold. As it comes before the dash, to use Tadaji’s ability you need two eligible targets to use Tadaji’s ability, this makes it very conditional. If you do manage to make the conditions, you need to decide if it is actually worth doing, you don’t want to pull in more skill for your opponent than for yourself. We have seen, with Yogo Hiroue and Doji Challenger, that pulling an opponent’s character can be used to deny them from assigning it elsewhere, again with Tadaji if you’re doing that to your opponent you’re also pulling your own character in. This is not the character the Unicorn need.

Moto Juro

Moto Juro, on the other hand, is an awesome Unicorn character. A 5 cost he falls into the clan champion bracket. He has 5 military, 2 political, and 2 glory with the Bushi and Cavalry traits. With just 2 less political skill than Shinjo Altansarnai he might be a better card than her. Juro has all the right traits, Cavalry lets him use the stronghold and Bushi lets him benefit from the popular Lion splash of For Greater Glory. His ability is even more movement, but in this case, Juro also has worked out how to charge in the opposite direction and is able to into the conflict or move home when needed. In addition, he can use the ability twice per round. This movement allows the Unicorn to properly feint, assigning Juro into a conflict and threatening to bring another character in with Golden Plains Outpost. If they defend, then Juro can back out leaving the defenders to bow. The ability works wonderfully with key Unicorn cards such as Ide Trader and Spyglass. Indeed, with SpyglassJuro can assign for 1 card then leave the battle and rejoin for another card making sure you have everything you need to win that first conflict. This is a very cool card and I’m delighted to see Unicorn get something great.


Windswept Yurt

This is the first holding for the Unicorn. It has +1 province strength and can be sacrificed to give each player 2 fate or 2 honor. The province then refills face, so although the ability benefits both players, it doesn’t penalize the Unicorn player. This is a bit of a strange addition for the Unicorn as it, in theory, supports an aggressive honor running strategy, something the rest of the Unicorn card pool does not promote. Alternatively, the honor gain can be used to pull back from a dishonor loss, allowing more card draw. In both cases, you’re hoping the honor gain will help you more than it will your opponent.

The other side of this is the extra Fate, everyone likes more Fate so getting an advantage out of this is going to be tricky. During the dynasty phase you can choose to let your opponent pass first, this will allow you to use the extra fate during the dynasty phase while your opponent will have to wait. Alternatively, it can be used as late as possible, only when you have an action you want to use, for example, Cavalry Reserves. This will retain the fate for the most advantageous time for you and not your opponent, it will get the least benefit out of the face-up refill though. Arguably, if this card didn’t have any honor or fate gain and only sacrificed to refill face up it would still be playable as it tightens up the dynasty deck for Unicorn. This will be 3 in every Unicorn deck even if it will take a while to work out how best to use it. It will also offer a strong incentive for Unicorn to splash Crab to get access to Rebuild.


Seal of the Unicorn

Like the other seals, the Seal of the Unicorn is a 0 cost attachment, it gives +1 military, the Unicorn clan, and the Cavalry trait. Unlike most of the other seals, the Cavalry trait is immediately useable as it is required by the stronghold. On the other hand, the majority of Unicorn characters already have the Cavalry trait. Cards that require the trait and could be helped by the Seal are Born in War and Shinjo Saddle.

Shinjo Saddle

If the Seal cards have been considered poor at 0 cost for 1 skill, what on earth is Shinjo Saddle doing with 1 cost? It is Cavalry only, further pushing the Unicorn struggle of looking for Cavalry cards while they keep getting characters without it. As an item, but not a weapon, it cannot be attached to the Moto Horde. It has an action to move this card from the current character to another Cavalry character. This can be used to have the Saddle’s +1 contribute in two conflicts starting on a character in one conflict and moving to another character in the next conflict. Preferably these are both going to be military conflicts. It can also move from a character going to leave play at the end of the turn to one who is going to stick around. Ultimately, this is an inefficient card with a limitation all for an ability that doesn’t have an amazing effect. The Unicorn definitely need help, this isn’t it.

Talisman of the Sun

This 1 cost attachment gives +1 military and +1 political skill. It is Keeper role only, which currently the Unicorn are as Keeper of Void. While defending, you can bow this attachment to move the conflict to another of your eligible provinces. As the card is unique, you’re only going to be able to do this once per turn. At the most basic, when defending the stronghold province, you can move the attack to the other unbroken province delaying it by a turn. More complex interactions involve utilizing province abilities. If the attack starts at your Manicured Garden you can gain the fate from the province’s ability and then move to Meditations on the Tao also using that province.

The next consideration is what province you want your opponent to end attacking into. Against a military attack, you might choose to move the conflict to an Entrenched Position. Against a political focus attack, you might choose to move the conflict to a Pilgrimage as often political decks are more interested in winning rings than taking provinces. Looking at the options, a line up for Unicorn might include the Shameful Display and Riot in the Streets to help win battles, provinces like Meditations on the Tao and Manicured Garden to create board advantage and provinces like Public Forum to dump attacks onto. In this instance, I think Riot in the Streets would be the best option under the stronghold for later in the game when more characters are available. Notably, this does not work with Endless Plains as the reaction triggers after characters have been assigned and not when the province reveals. Other clans can have more fun: Crab get to pull attacks into a Defend the Wall or Guardians of the Seikitsu, Lion can pull attacks into a Feast or Famine, while Phoenix can assure a Shameful Display.

Update – I totally missed this first time around, this does not require the character being in the conflict!


Chasing the Sun

This Seeker only, 1 cost event, allows the Unicorn to change the province they are attacking to another province. For provinces which trigger on reveal, this isn’t going to help as the effect will have already resolved. For provinces with actions to take, the defending player will most likely take the action on their first opportunity. This card only makes sense if the Unicorn player has someway to take the first action. Even then, it’s not really doing much. You get to dodge out of the way of a dangerous province, but you’re likely going into an equally dangerous one. Unless there are specific provinces that cause problems for the Unicorn it’s not going to be much help.

Gaijin Customs

Gaijin customs is a great card — just not for Unicorn. It is a 1-cost event which can only be used while you have a Unicorn card in play, and which readies a non-Unicorn character. Any deck splashing Unicorn will be able to include 3 copies of this 1 influence card along with 3 Spyglass at 2 influence each. The remaining influence can be rounded out nicely between Favored Mount and Iuchi Wayfinder, both at 1 influence. Once you have any of the other Unicorn cards in play, you can use Gaijin Customs to straighten your best character. For the Unicorn, it’s not as great. The Unicorn stronghold does count as a Unicorn card, so they really only need a non-Unicorn character to straighten. However, the selection here isn’t as great. The unaligned characters are generally underwhelming (outside of possibly Seppun Ishikawa), as are many conflict characters. However, Unassuming Yōjimbō or Political Rival could make excellent targets. In short, a great card, but not for Unicorn.

Ride Them Down

Alas, this currently appears to be another dud for the Unicorn. The effect only reduces the base cost of a province, so normally you’re looking at a 3 skill boost when taking the average 4 province strength province. That only helps take the province and doesn’t help actually win the conflict. Unicorn would be better off running something that helps them win opposed conflicts.

Unicorn still aren’t in the best of places. Undoubtedly, they’re still the lowest tier clan. However, they probably have benefited the most from the increased card pool making strides to close that gap. The suggested decklist, below, is a development from the Courtier deck that performed well at Madrid. The neutral characters and Unassuming Yōjimbō benefit from Gaijin Customs, while Forged Edict helps land Captive Audience and Cavalry Reserves.

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