The Imperial Environment

The Imperial Environment

The first Imperial tournament is going to be at PAX south on January 12th followed by Cork on 27th January. So far, we have only the faintest idea of where the clans stand relative to each other as the Imperial cycle added 120 cards to the small starting card pool. At the end of January, we will have a pretty good idea, but that’s no good for us now. This Christmas, Imperial Advisor is giving you the gift of rampant and wild speculation. We’ve had limited testing and nothing to back it all up with. I’ve included win rates based on the results from the Lotus Pavilion tournament website. As tournaments, you’d hope that it would be a little more accurate, but that could still have a lot of noise. With that aside, we present, the Imperial cycle tier list.

Warning – Take this article with a decent supply of salt. Lots of players disagree with both my tiers and decklists. This was written after the release of the last pack rather than after extensive testing, so the ranking is based on how the clans looked before the imperial packs and how much they received from the cycle. The intention here is to start the discussion, not provide a definitive guide on the environment. With sufficient comments and PAX south, we might get a better idea of what the true meta actually is.

Tier 4 – Bottom Tier

There always is a runt of the litter and any tier list has a bottom. These are the decks no one is expecting to win and it is unlikely players are going to worry about facing these clans in the single elimination rounds. They shouldn’t get complacent, however, not knowing how to play against these decks could result in disaster.


Unicorn are unfortunately still at the bottom of the pack. Their decks clearly have improved but so have everyone else’s. I think the gap is less than it was in the core environment, so hopefully, we’ll see a better performance for Unicorn than before, but no one is expecting to see Unicorn win. Surprisingly, the Lotus Pavilion numbers are indicating good performance for Unicorn, especially versus Crane and Dragon.

This deck looks at what Unicorn are good at. They actually have a decent number of Courtier’s that work well together despite the lack of Cavalry trait. They have powerful event cards like Captive Audience and Cavalry Reserves that we’re supporting with Forged Edict. They also have Windswept Yurt which gives the Unicorn an impressive amount of fate allowing them to pay for cards such as Cavalry Reserves and Unassuming Yōjimbō. Miya Satoshi works wonderfully in this deck, support the early Courtier based game and setting up the late game Cavalry Reserves play with his discard ability.


Tier 3 – Low mid-tier

The next step up are the contenders, decks which could win a tournament but are having to fight against the odds to do so.


Dragon have some explosive power with a first turn Niten Master and one of the 9 weapons in the deck. The core strategy remains solid, characters receive extra fate so they will stick around and their value is increased with attachments. This style is vulnerable to effects that neutralize big units such as A Fate Worse Than Death, Noble Sacrifice or Way of the Crab. This seems to be reflected in the poor win rates against Crab and Crane but hasn’t materialized with Scorpion. The Unicorn rate may relate to Endless Plains. Overall though, the Dragon win rate is surprisingly low.

This deck also doesn’t like the new card Mono no Aware which can clear big investments off the table. This deck has taken the controversial approach of leaving out the ‘A, B, C’s of AssassinationBanzai!, and Court Games to make room for more options. Unicorn may also prove a solid splash if more card draw is needed, especially when dishonor is prevalent in the meta. In this version, the Seeker Initiate has been included to help draw those additional cards along with Agasha Swordsmith.


Variations of the Scorpion deck have been incredibly successful with great qualification rates in tournaments. It has yet to win a tournament though. This may just be poor luck or it may reflect more experienced players knowing how to play against it. It has only had a few changes going from the Imperial cycle, but it was already a very solid deck. This deck can be weak to decks with a large amount of honoring effects and decks with decent card draw.

The win rates coming from Lotus Pavilion suggest a consistent but below average performance. The deck isn’t overly weak to any clan but doesn’t have any great match-ups either. The worst match-up appears to be Crane with the best match-up against Phoenix. As both clans are great at honoring the difference may simply be the high glory of Phoenix characters. So while they are able to maintain decent honor scores they aren’t as effective when dishonored as some of the Crane characters when it comes to conflicts.

Tier 2 – High mid-tier

This high mid-tier is just a touch above the low mid-tier. These decks have a better chance to win a tournament and should have decent qualification rates, but they aren’t the favorites.


In contrast to the Scorpion deck, this Phoenix deck has had significant changes with over 25% of the deck brand new. It has the potential for some early game blow out with the Prodigy of the Waves and Against the Waves while also have late game punch with Haughty Magistrate and Isawa Atsuko. Due to the high glory values of their characters, Phoenix has issues with dishonoring effects, this is one of the reasons the deck is splashing Lion to allow it to use Guard Duty. It also lacks any attachment control and, ironically, is vulnerable to Cloud the Mind.

The weaker match-ups here are Crane, Lion, and Scorpion but they aren’t terrible odds with at worst 46%. That puts Phoenix in a nice reliable position.


This Crane deck’s strategy is almost the reverse of the Dragon. Characters are cheap and expendable and more focus is placed on temporary events rather than long-lasting attachments. As the deck can be temporary in nature, it can stall if the initial attacks are repulsed. With Pathfinder’s Blade and Cautious Scout provinces can be scouted and neutralized. This approach can also work quite well with the Lion splash and the new A Legion of One which is an impressive solo military boost.

The Crane win rates aren’t terrible with a decent performance against all but Lion and, surprisingly, Unicorn. The Scorpion win rate may reflect the number of honoring effects the Crane have which makes it hard to make dishonor stick. Dragon might be a case of a well-timed Noble Sacrifice taking out their key units. The Lion matchup is a bit of a concern, as these would be expected to be in the top tiers. A Crane deck would do well to include options to help take out a Lion opponent.

Tier 1 – Top Tier

The Top Tier are the decks to beat, those clans who are likely to win tournaments unless they are somehow stopped. When considering your own tournament deck, these are the first decks you should be testing against and including cards to improve your odds against them would be a wise decision.


Like the Phoenix deck, the Crab deck has had a big rework with over 25% of the deck new cards from the Imperial cycle. Crab has an exceptionally strong game against Lion and has low glory and decent card draw allowing it to compete well against the Scorpion.

Based on the Lotus Pavilion results, Phoenix might give this deck some problems. The Haughty Magistrate is of particular concern as a large number of Crab characters already have low glory. Cloud the Mind provides a potential counter to this although this does require getting the Steadfast Witch Hunter or Kuni Ritsuko into play. Their small characters can be taken out with Assassination while their big characters can be cleared by Mono no Aware and Way of the Crab. For Crab, the matchups to win are Phoenix and Lion.


The Lion deck has been strong from day 1 and the new cards have helped maintain that position. While in the core environment the deck relied on having high honor, this deck is less focused on it and can quite happily bid 5 losing honor but drawing more cards. Against most decks, the explosive potential of the Lion deck will put the opponent immediately on the backfoot. The Crab matchup might push Lion into adding the Tattooed Wanderer to keep the Stoic Magistrate out of the conflict.

Lion have better than 50% win rates against everyone but Crab, where they have a roughly even matchup. They are similar in this way to Crab but without the weakness to Phoenix. If Lion can dodge Crab, and again surprisingly Unicorn, they are in a good position to win out any tournament.

Tiers by their nature are arbitrary. Match-ups, player skill, and straight luck are all factors that can’t be ignored. This tier list does not come from weeks of testing and practice, instead, it is straight speculation based on where the clan seemed to be in the core environment and the new cards that have come along since.

It does appear some clans are more powerful than others, but realistically that difference is likely to be quite small. Although the Lotus Pavilion info gives us a look, realistically people are still learning the new environment. Over the next few weeks, in preparation for the upcoming Koteis, the top players will be trying to work out which of these decks will be qualifying and what they need to play to improve their matchup against those prevalent decks. For the rest of us, add your comments below and tell us why the decks need work and how the tiers really look.

House of Tomorrow by Chris Ostrowski

Hopefully, these cards reviews over the Imperial cycle have been helpful. We’ve been really enjoying the game and look forward to a 2018 full of L5R. In the meantime, play some games, have some fun, and enjoy the holiday season.

If you have any comments or feedback please post them in the comments section below. Join us on our Twitch stream every second Monday at 8pm BST, 9pm CEST, 1pm PST.

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


22 Replies to “The Imperial Environment”

  1. I’ve got to say that I’m baffled at you lumping Dragon and Scorpion in the bottom, and Crane in the upper half. It seems like this is coming from a tiny sample set. Some of the decklists too are… interesting.

    1. Yup. This is very early, essentially a few weeks in. The first actual data will be Pax South in a fortnight or so.

      The initial tier list was placed from the core environment, which honestly is quite tight. I then adjusted ranks based on how I felt the clan did out of the cycle. As a Dragon player myself I’ve been quite down on the clans’ imperial performance but I’ve seen several players having great success. Crane were down with Dragon initially but the win rates extracted from the lotus pavilion made me shift that slightly.

      The decklists certainly could be improved. Unicorn, Crane, and Lion are very much rough estimates based on little first-hand experience. The others to one extent or another are proto-decks still in testing.

      I’d be interested in where you think I’ve gone wrong. The goal wasn’t to answer the question but instead to drive the discussion!

      1. I think where this article is going wrong is that you are trying to do a data aggregation analysis with a very small sample. You can’t get anything meaningful out of that. Then you adjusted based on “how you feel” the clan is doing in the cycle. Adjusting statistics based on feelings invalidates any meaningful analysis from an already small sample.

        I think you should have started with the core rankings, then discuss how you think the top 1~3 meta defining cards for each clans archetype would affect the ranking over the coming year.

        Alternatively, you could have just left out the data and just discussed what’s been commonly floating on the various online environments and then we could have had a discussion about what we think will happen at PAX South based on what we are seeing there.

        1. Hey Seizuka,

          I’m interested in where you think the article is wrong. Is there a clan you feel is too weak or too powerful? I’m not saying this is the final conclusive listing, but I am willing to go out on a limb and write this article to start the discussion.

          In relation to the method, you’ll need to go re-read my response to Scott. The article was completed before I worked out how to extract the data from the Lotus Pavilion API. The only adjustment following that was in the position of Scorpion and Crane, who I moved down and up a tier respectively, and the added commentary. Personally, I find the Lotus Pavilion data interesting and it’s something I plan on using in future. Given the option of including it or leaving it out, I’m happy it was included.

          I’m not sure why we couldn’t discuss what we think will happen at PAX. Essentially, starting the discussion is the entire point. I’ve already posted what I’m expecting with this tier list, I look forward to your own perspective.

  2. So here are some of my thoughts. I’m solidly a tier two player, but have played a lot of games, and spent a lot of time looking at talking about decks. The big two are probably Lion and Dragon. They have the nastiest province suite available (with both having Feast or Famine). Dragon is Seeker so has Restoration of Balance and access to Pathfinder’s Blade. It is no accident that both of these decks are very easy to pilot and forgiving of mistakes too.

    The second rung are the potential spoilers. Crab has a very good match against Lion, as seen in Madrid, so with the right pairings and draws can plow through top cuts. Scorpion has two very different decks out there with different strong matchups, and the Scorpion kit is very easy to tune against any predicted meta (just don’t wrongly predict). Scorpion has access to PFB to help against Lion and Dragon, and good matches against a couple otherwise good decks. Both of these two Clans are trickier to pilot, and much less forgiving of mistakes.

    On the third rung are Phoenix and Crane. They have especially bad matches against Scorpion and Lion respectively. Phoenix is capable of running away with a game, but if they miss one piece of their puzzle it can spell doom. Crane seem to be struggling right now, but I haven’t been able to suss out exactly why. I think they got a little less oomph from the cycle than most others.

    Finally, Unicorn I would consider putting in its own category, and I don’t mean trash tier. It’s a total wildcard right now. It has some really fun and innovative decks that are making a splash, like Politicorn and the Unicrab deck. I would love to be a Unicorn player right now leading up to a major tournament. Unloved, underestimated, with a deck that many people have never seen or tested against.

    I hate tier lists in general, but this is my perception of where the Clans stand right now. At the end of the day, motivated players will be able to succeed with any Clan, especially if they are assisted by favorable matchups and good draws.

    1. This looks like a pretty decent assessment and certainly matches some of the feedback I’ve been getting elsewhere. Specifically, people have been emphasizing how important the province line up is (hence Dragon, Lion, and Scorpion being good) and how important Pathfinder’s blade is at dealing with those issues. It certainly does seem like the power level of the provinces has increased and those cards might have a greater influence in the meta game than any others. The Talisman of the Sun is also mentioned in a similar vein.

      1. Thanks for opening the dialogue. I do think that the province lineups shake things up drastically compared to the core environment.

        I think a few of the meta defining cards from Imperial Cycle are going to be Feast or Famine, Pathfinder’s Blade, Iron Mine, and potentially a couple of the different magistrates. Having answers to those things, or at least knowing how to play around them will be important to success.

        I am pretty confident that any clan could win Pax South, and that the winner will be determined, in large part, based on the bracket of the top cut. I’d call even the rough “rungs” I posted above to be fuzzy, and based almost strictly on the individual matchups and popularity (meaning the field percentage) of each given Clan.

  3. Your tier list and deck lists are flawed on a fundamental level. Your assasment of Unicorn is right, but the Scorpion splash is inferior to the common splashes and even then you have to include Calling in Favor in the current meta game.

    Your assasment of Dragon is really bad and the deck looks like a random pile. You think it is a controversial rout to take out good cards, but it is just plain bad. Every beginner can tell you that not including a void province is a bad idea.

    Pretty much the same with the Scorpion deck, it completely neglects how experienced players are building it right now.

    1. Hi rqE,

      Thanks for posting. I’m glad you liked the Unicorn deck. The Gaijin customs approach really only works if you splash Scorpion or Crane for their big conflict characters. Do you prefer the Crane splash or do you have another option? You’re right in relation to Calling in Favors, as we discussed on the most recent episode the Talisman of the Sun does seem meta defining right now.

      Sorry to hear you didn’t like the Dragon deck. The omission of a void province is actually a typo, the only controversy was leaving out Assassination, Banzai!, and Court Games. Assassination’s honor loss is difficult for Dragon when they need to spend for cards, Banzai! getting replaced by something that sticks around for more than one turn has merit. Court Games can be situational depending on getting a decent glory character. I’m not arguing they should be removed, but it is worthwhile playing without them and seeing if they are essential as many people think. After that compare with the current ‘gold standard’ and you’ll see it doesn’t differ too much.

      In relation to the Scorpion deck, it is a direct evolution from Bayushi Akai’s deck which can be found here Variations of the deck have been top Scorpion most of the big tournaments so far. So you’re pretty off on the assertion of ‘experienced players’. It is totally fine to say you’ve seen other players have success with different approaches but to claim ‘experienced players’ have abandoned dishonor makes you come off like a bit of a twat. If you do have thoughts on how Scorpion should go by all means post them. I know some environments have always favored bidding 5 and laying down some beats with ‘Drop bear’ style decks. Is this your experience also?

      Looking over your comment I see the criticism is focused on the two clans just above Unicorn in my tier list. I have to admit it was pretty hard putting those clans there as I’ve had a lot of success in my local stores and have hit the finals against an experienced Scorpion player a couple of times. As I’ve already mentioned, the Dragon might be a bias thing where I’m closer to the clan and I’m able to see the issues clearer where for other clans I’m more likely to be blind to similar issues. I’ve also noted that Scorpion and Crane switch spots following the data from Lotus Pavilion, whether that data should be relied on is another issue. Ultimately, though, someone has to be there. If Scorpion and Dragon don’t have that position then Phoenix and Crane do, would that then be a source of concern? Should all 4 be in a mid-tier instead of dividing the mid-tier into an upper and lower?

    2. Experienced Scorpion players are building decks almost identical to the one Baz posted. I know this because I’m one of them and the success rate of my decks speaks for themselves (see Gencon, Worlds and PAX). One of Scorpion’s big strengths is that we have more viable deck styles than the majority of Clans, and Defensive Dishonour is definitely one of them.

  4. Thank you Bazleebub et Imperial Advisor.

    I fully agree with you.

    You do a really good job and it’s a pleasure to follow you.

  5. Very interesting but I think it’s leaving off one important aspect: deck’s are much more varied than they were two months ago.

    In single core everyone was running the same stuff for their clan and the only real variation was splash and role. With the major tournaments so far (World’s, Pax Unplugged, Madrid Kotei) everyone was mostly limited to the core cards (a little bit more for Madrid) and so decks were still extremely consistent – even splash tended to be consistent (how many people splashed Dragon at World’s?). Now there are finally enough cards to see different build types. Dragon Fate manipulation may not be a competitive deck now – and I tried so hard – but it’s still viable. We’re seeing decks that leave out what were once their clans’ core cards in order to fit in the new hotness from Imperial. The result is a much more dynamic environment. I have a very different match against Pony Coutiers than I do Crabicorn.

    The result is that the meta is so varied I hesitate to put weight on how valuable the metadata is. It’s an interesting academic exercise to be sure, and the numbers don’t lie, but in terms of trying to predict what one will face, I think it’s an exercise in futility.

    1. Good point. There definitely is more potential for variety in decks. When we looked at the World’s decks it was pretty ridiculous how many similarities there were between all the top decks, let alone the top decks within a clan.

      That said, I don’t believe we’ve reached the point where the top decks within a clan are going to vary a lot. Your example of the Dragon deck is a good one, you can definitely face a Dragon fate manipulation deck, but as you (hopefully) progress in the tournament you’re (probably) less likely to see that kind of deck. Although, to be fair you can add that as a small component in a Dragon deck, so maybe that’s a poor example. There are some situations where the clan’s preferred splash hasn’t locked down and there are a couple of options that could work. It’s also worth acknowledging that the metagame where certain splashes favor certain environments. In what appears to be a metagame shaped by Talisman of the Sun and Pathfinder’s blade do you play the item or play a counter splashing Dragon or Scorpion?

      The metadata is definitely academic. It would be preferable to only look at the top cut of decks from major tournaments where we know good players are playing good decks against each other. Hopefully that is something that will come out in time. The big perk of Lotus Pavilion is the data is there, but I wouldn’t be putting a lot of weight in it. Just looking at the 2017-12-22 to 2018-01-01 data for Crane, they’re 58% against Crab, 40% against Dragon, 62% against Lion, 64% against Phoenix, 39% against Scorpion, and 46% against Unicorn. Those are some drastic shifts from the two weeks before that. On the plus side, that most recent period has 109 games played by Crane which is pretty impressive for such a short period. It definitely isn’t going to help you predict what you will face, but it might (with a suitably low weighting) help you identify what your clan might be weak against.

      1. I’m also finding the Win Rate data from Lotus Pavilion an interesting way to challenge my own perceptions. I’ve been very much impressed by the current Phoenix deck, which is why I bumped it to a tier 2 deck. Given some of the feedback I’ve got people seem to think they are in the low mid-tier category. The win rate since the 22nd has no win rate above 50% which is a big concern. The data isn’t going to make me decide Phoenix are trash, but it is something I’m going to have to look further into.

        1. Phoenix also got the first really strong injection from the packs. Several Clans didn’t get theirs until packs4, 5 or 6.

      2. I was debating replying here or to the new article, but this seems the most relevant.

        You point out in the new article that there are really only two competitive splashes: Crab for Seekers and Unicorn for Keepers* which hinges on how potent provinces are. I agree, but the fact that these are the most powerful choices doesn’t mean they’re the only valid choices. By that logic no one would play Unicorn at all, but clearly despite being a sub-optimal choice, in the right hands (Contrast’s for example) they’re doing quite respectably. The mistake isn’t in being prepared for the optimal choice, but in assuming that’s the only valid choice.

        Each of the clans has strengths that are worth splashing and the right player can and will leverage then to advantage. Now at the very top of a tournament top 8 and up, let’s say, one needs both the best deck possible and the skills to play it, but building up to that point I think more variety is possible than is being credited, especially if someone’s unprepared for it.

        I’m not trying to argue with you – and you’ve certainly put in enough qualifiers about the quality of the data and how careful we should be about drawing inferences from said data – but rather to expand upon what you’re saying: the meta is important, but in the end only a guideline. Chasing the meta becomes a snake eating its own tail.

        * Still no love for the Beaters or Chasers 🙁

        1. You make some good points.

          It is important to acknowledge that an environment is not made up of the ‘best’ decks. If we were to do a detailed assessment of all possible decks and matchups played by perfect players, we would find one perfect composition of a deck that would have the optimal matchup against the greatest number of decks. In reality, no one is ever going to be able to do that amount of testing. Someone might luckily stumble into that deck but there are so many other random factors involved that it is unlikely that deck will ever win a major tournament.

          In the new article, I talk about an environment based on the assumption that seekers should always splash Crab for the blade and Keepers should always splash Unicorn for the talisman. From listening to different podcasts and reading posts made across social media I think that is close to the current ‘zeitgeist’ in the L5R ‘community’. Those do appear to be strong choices. I’m not willing to say those are the best decks out there yet. That entire basis could be incorrect. Instead, it might be more important to look at an event control based Environment where cards like Policy Debate, Censure, Forged Edict, and Voice of Honor rule the roost. Decks start to look different then. My point here is that an environment is based out of a consensus and not a reality. If you look at the comments on this page you’ll see a critic of the Scorpion decklist, in that players environment dishonor is not a factor. In reality, that style of deck has consistently been top Scorpion across multiple environments. On the flip-side, the Scorpion players I play favor the dishonor deck so I didn’t think to put up the conquest style deck when looking at this article. The dishonor deck got very little imo from the Imperial cycle, so I pushed Scorpion down the rankings, but the conquest deck got lots meaning others would have pushed Scorpion up. Both perspectives are right within their own environment, but wrong in the greater environment.

          If we take the list of Talisman and Blade decks as the lists to beat, whatever deck you end up with will hopefully be the kind of deck you’re talking about. One that considers whats out there and then works out the best option for that environment in mind. Scorpion’s Calling in Favors looks really strong, if you steal a Talisman they can’t play another. If Talisman decks are prevalent then a Dragon deck losing out on Pathfinder’s blade to instead have Calling in Favors might be a good option. Alternatively, that same Dragon deck could pack Phoenix splash and pull a completely unexpected Consumed by Five Fires out of nowhere. No one is going to expect that.

          As a final note, I’m not seeing Mono no Aware or Waning Hostilities feature in decks yet. Now I don’t know if that is because people have tested them and they didn’t work out or if people, like myself, still haven’t fully wrapped their heads around the impacts. After we have PAX south we’re going to have a little bit of an environment shake-up as the top decks circulate and shift peoples perceptions. Two weeks after that when we finish up the Cork Kotei we’ll probably see another shift assuming it isn’t an identical repeat. It’s going to be fun and I’m content in my accepting my own inability to fully grasp it all because hopefully, I’ll see some surprises.

          Thanks for posting, no arguing because I 100% agree 🙂

  6. After testing, it’s not Dragon who is strong but seeker of Fire (so Dragon clan too).
    The clan has the best provinces and a way of avoid nasty effects of opponent’s provinces.
    Players seems to be tired of Dragon splash and I think it was the main reason why Dragon didn’t win Madrid because let go and mirumoto’s fury were the best tool against Dragon.
    The “bid always five” meta and the lack of honnor pressure benefits Dragon a lot because need cards to trigger his stronghold.
    Crab and Scorpion seems to be pretty solid too and have some tools to fight Dragon.
    If Dragon doesn’t win Pax South or Cork, it will never win.

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