The Imperial Gauntlet — Decks to Test Against

The Imperial Gauntlet — Decks to Test Against

Top players prepping for a tournament will put together a range of the decks they expect to face and play their chosen deck against this ‘gauntlet’. The first difficulty with this is picking out the right decks, hopefully, I’ve done a decent job below but any suggestions are welcome. Different environments have different playstyles and sometimes a deck that will do well in one area will underperform in another. At the most basic, does your environment typically bid high or low during the draw phase? Just that simple norm can shift which decks come out on top. This might mean you need to shift your playstyle to get the best out of each deck. The hard part then is getting the games in. Practice, practice, practice.

My previous article, which included some rampant and wild speculation, received a mixed response. Some were critical of the rankings, especially Scorpion and Dragon being low, while others criticised the decklists. I’m delighted that people came to the article expecting something more than it was. The idea was to give a snap ranking based on the packs which had just been revealed along with some interesting deck options coming out of the new cycle. It was never supposed to be a definitive list and never claimed to be. With that in mind, this article is something closer to the one I think people were looking for. The goal of this article is to put together a list of decks to test against. Where the previous article included quickly thrown together deck concepts, here I’ve taken some of the more tested decks from, what I believe, are reliable players. In many cases, these are minor changes, where the concept was good and it has been refined through testing, in other cases it goes back to the drawing board.

We did get some good feedback on the last article. Most suggestions seem to put Dragon, Crab, and Lion as the top clans with everyone else a mix beneath that. That might even include Unicorn who have definitely closed the gap. One of the points made by Scott was the importance of province selection. While I rated Dragon pretty low based on the few cards they got out of Imperial, that ignored how awesome Feast or Famine is and how terrifying a board containing that and Restoration of Balance is. It was a small change but makes a big difference for the games. The power level across all provinces has increased and more than just Dragon had this kind of shift. As we touched on in a recent episode, Pathfinder’s Blade and Talisman of the Sun seem to be setting metagame. Any of the Seeker clans (Crane, Dragon, and Scorpion) can run an aggressive conquest deck that uses Pathfinder’s Blade to cancel their opponent’s provinces. Similarly, any of the Keeper clans (Crab, Lion, Phoenix, and Unicorn) can run the Talisman of the Sun to double up their province use. As both cards are items, we can expect to see cards like Let Go, Calling in Favors, Kurodo District, and Miya Mystic to be important. With that assumed environment in mind, the below are a list of decks that are a starting point to test against.


Crab is considered either the top clan by many. Largely, this deck has locked down already with minor changes from version to version. With their stronghold focused on defense and the Talisman of the Sun, they are an incredibly difficult nut to crack. The Imperial cycle gave Crab incredible resilience in the form of Iron Mine with characters from turn 1 often sticking around all game. This version by Joe From Cincinnati covers the basic essentials with a few twists, Joe has included Jade Tetsubo and Cloud the Mind to help deal with problem characters. Joe even has some videos of games with the deck which is awesome. Playing against it you’re going to want some attachment destruction with Talisman of the Sun and Spyglass priority target although a well-timed Let Go on a Reprieve can be worthwhile. As always, Crab have Way of the Crab and Assassination, something you always have to keep in mind. This is a really tough matchup.


Crane is in a tricky spot, this version by GiannisKouris is from the first Imperial tournament which ran in Greece. As such, it is a pretty early version that is likely to have changed in that time. It holds to the idea of seeker clans playing the Crab splash for Pathfinder’s blade. The Crab splash is pretty locked in with 3 Pathfinder’s blade and 3 Reprieve, but those last few points of influence can vary. In this case, it was 2 Rebuild, other options include 2 Skirmishers. The Lion splash is also a consideration for Crane.

This deck is possibly is the most dedicated control deck there is at the moment. Censure and Voice of Honor cancel events while Guest of Honor and Policy Debate stop them being played in the first place. Pathfinder’s Blade and Cautious Scout stop province actions. Assassination, Cloud the Mind, and Noble Sacrifice deal with problem characters. The gap is with attachments, which is why there are two Miya Mystics included. When playing against this deck, be aware of the setup. If the Crane player has the favor or more honored characters, they can cancel an event. If you have a dishonored character, they can are vulnerable to Noble Sacrifice.


The most common deck for Dragon players is the one shared by Kingsley the top Dragon player at Worlds. Again we’re seeing the Crab seeker splash. When attacking into Dragon there are very few provinces that aren’t going to hurt. The best case scenario is a Manicured Gardens. Shameful Display often isn’t the worst to hit. While Restoration of Balance is still out there, you really need to bid low. There are two approaches to this, bid 1 to apply pressure to the Dragon players honor or bid slightly higher, 2 or 3, with the goal of playing cards before the first attack. If you’re bidding 5, the Dragon player is going to keep bidding 5 and if you do hit Restoration’s you won’t be coming out ahead. Next in line is Feast or Famine, a painful province that will clear the fate from one of your characters and will extend the life of one of the Dragon player’s characters. In both cases, Pathfinder’s Blade stops the action from triggering, although with Dragon you know they’ll be playing Let Go.

You also know Dragon will be playing Mirumoto’s Fury, it is still one of the best defensive actions out there so try factor it in. Dragon aren’t running any event cancelation so you can reliably get your own events off but do be aware of the Kitsuki Investigator and Policy Debate which can strip key cards out of your hand. As this deck has minimal card draw, just the Agasha Swordsmith and Imperial Storehouses, it does try to bid high often and can be vulnerable to honor locks.


For me, Lion is a hard one to pin down. The World’s winning deck was pretty solid and the card it has gained in the Imperial cycle push the team focus forward. That approach, however, doesn’t adjust for the metagame and the threats that are out there for the Lion. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a published decklist that I feel really pushes the new Lion deck out. Initially, I went back to the Greek tournament to see the approach taken there. In his deck, Kostakias has gone for a Unicorn splash using the Iuchi Wayfinder to help play Cloud the Mind which solves problems such as the Crab Magistrate. That said, it is a novel approach and might not be reliable enough. Again we see Miya Mystic helping deal with problem attachments. I do feel this deck is missing out on Talisman of the Sun which can funnel your opponent into the right province even while the character the Talisman is attached to is bowed and at home.

Based on that deck, I’ve made a number of changes which may improve the deck or may make a mess of it! Notably, I’ve added Way of the Chrysanthemum into the deck. This card isn’t part of the core decks philosophy but does provide an opportunity to test against it as this Lion deck can win Air conflicts, can easily honor characters, and typically bids low. So a well-timed Way of the Chrysanthemum could shift this deck into an accidental honor victory. As I mentioned, this isn’t the primary goal of the deck, but this is a card you should be aware of in the environment just in case someone takes the notion that honor might be viable. When playing against this deck you need to factor in the moving parts and Lion has so many. Understand how Feast or Famine works and be aware that this deck has 5 conflict characters it can drop without fate just when you think you can get away with it. Where you can, try Cloud the Mind the Lion’s Pride Brawlers and the Kitsu Spiritcallers. Understand how both those characters work and be ready for them.


For the Phoenix deck I’ve selected the winning deck from the Greek tournament. Again, this tournament was just after the last pack became legal, so there is likely to be scope for improvement. This goes for the Unicorn splash again although Lion splash is also quite popular. Phoenix have some pretty scary big characters. Kaede can keep stripping fate tokens clearing your board, Prodigy of the Waves is going to be pushing multiple conflicts each turn, while the Haughty Magistrate makes it incredibly difficult to defend. With Gaijin Customs and Against the Waves in the deck those scary characters will be appearing in two conflicts rather than just one.

When the deck hums, it really comes together but that doesn’t always work out. The deck is especially weak to Cloud the Mind as it includes no ways to deal with attachments. Where other clans are able to leverage the Miya Mystic in to help play Cloud the Mind themselves, with Phoenix it seems wasted. The deck can apply a decent amount of honor pressure once a Library and Spyglass appear as it is well able to bid 1 and still get draw cards. Kanjo District is a particular problem, Phoenix can easily take the favor if they choose to and Kanjo District can be used on the attack or defense. Once the favor has been spent, this does open up events again as Censure is no longer a risk for you.


Scorpion actually have two decks you need to test against. A conquest deck and a dishonor deck. It is important to be aware of both as although they are similar in many regards they play very differently. As such, it can be difficult to know what kind of deck you’re up against until a turn or two in. The conquest deck typically bids high drawing lots of cards to generate pressure, while the dishonor deck typically bids low applying pressure through dishonor. Without prior knowledge, bidding 3 is the best bet. Against the conquest deck you’ll gain 2 honor, of which they’ll steal 1, and will still have a decent number of cards. Against the dishonor deck agressively bidding 1 turn 1, you’ll lose only 2 honor and will still have options open. There are definitely variants on this approach, but many dishonor players consider it an easy win when their opponent opens with 5 while conquest players feel the same when their opponent opens with 1.

This decklist posted by Calimsha is a development of the ‘dropbears’ style conquest deck pushing the conflict characters out to 9, 1 short of the maximum. Again we’re seeing the Crab splash, but this time without the typical Reprieves. The Skirmishers are especially effective in this deck as Scorpion are weaker in military conflicts. This deck is currently 6–1 in the discord league so Calimsha must be doing something right. Against this deck, you need to always be aware of the amount of fate it has available. At any point that empty board could appear with enough to covert your characters and take a province, so be wary when it looks like the Scorpion players has bowed out on their first political conflict. This deck is well suited for the environment with 3 copies of Calling in Favors allowing it to grab a Talisman and use it against its owner, this is especially notable as the Talisman is unique so once it is stolen the original owner cannot play a new one until the stolen copy leaves play.

Scorpion also have a dishonor deck with the below, an updated variant from the Bayushi Akai decklist. This deck could be developed even further to adjust to the theorized attachment metagame pushing out the Calling in Favors and Let Go’s to 3 each. This deck aims to bid low and uses the actions on dynasty characters to slowly wear down their opponent’s conflict hand. Scorpion have a lot of power actions on characters so you need to know what is on the other side of the table and play around them. This is especially true for the new Illustrious Plagiarist against whom you need to be especially careful when playing events.


For the Unicorn deck I’ve gone with an updated version of the Switchycorn deck that Contrast managed to have a respectable 5–2 in the Madrid Kotei with a 5–1 in the side event, results that anyone in a top tier clan would have been delighted with. This deck is essentially a mirror of the Scorpion conflict character deck but instead of the aggressive Pathfinder’s Blade splash, it uses the Talisman of the Sun defensive option. The Yurts help provide extra fate to power the costly conflict deck. There is an extensive write up which is worth checking out showing some of the play options the deck provides. Although Unicorn might be considered the weakest of the factions right now, I think ignoring this deck would be a mistake.


This list of decks to test against makes some pretty big assumptions about the environment. It hinges on the idea that the most powerful cards in the game are the provinces and the two attachments that interact with them Pathfinder’s Blade and The Talisman of the Sun. Everything revolves around that idea. In this hypothetical environment, there are essentially only two splashes Crab or Unicorn. The Blade and the Talisman.

If you’re new, and you’re getting ready for one of the upcoming tournaments, this hopefully is going to give you a good place to start. Find a buddy, put together these decks and get some games in. Playing with your own deck against these versions will give you an idea of what you’re going to face. If you are an experienced player and you vehemently disagree with some of the choices, post below. Tell us where the decks went wrong and what should be changed. Otherwise, post some suggestions on how to beat those decks.

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.


11 Replies to “The Imperial Gauntlet — Decks to Test Against”

  1. This was a great article. Thanks for taking the time to research and write it. It’s very helpful not only for competitive players, but also casual players looking for a good quality deck to play with and some ideas to take into their own deckbuilding.

    1. Oh, thank god! Someone enjoyed it!
      Sometimes I think no comments are a good thing, but it makes me wonder if anyone even reads this at all 😉

      Let’s hope these decks hold up under the scrutiny of this weekends PAX South tournament! I’ll be stealing all the updates from the discord channel and hopefully, we’ll get some decklists to go along with it next week.

  2. Great article as always,
    i played as scorpion in the Winter Warfare tournament, (Greek tour you got some of the stats for your list),
    managed a top4 finish using a DH/Control deck(similar to the 2nd you posted), but with few small but crucial changes.

    So here are some tips for people that plan to follow similar builds.

    More attachment hate (as you mentioned), no Nieces, opt for more Diplomats and Shoju, and Unassuming Yojimbo instead of Informants.

    Most decks need the favor to work , so 3x Dimplomat messes with their plans.
    Yojimbo nets you some unopposed conflicts and some easy breaks that will help when a match goes to Time , which happens ALOT.

    Go for wins not breaks, invest as low as possible in cards spent , take the breaks that require minimum effort (Usually Shoju attacks, and Yojimbo), so u ll have some points when time is called.

    Plus in order to compete with the extreme breaking power of Dragon/Crab and Phoenix/Unicorn, you cant bid low straight way, bidding 5 at first 2-3 turns is pivotal if you want to control the board.

    Changes after the tournament that i consider is adding couple of Magistrates, since they can cancel all Voltron / High stats characters easily.

    My 2 cents, keep up the good work,
    – Akis “Scorpion King” Chotemis

    1. Thanks for the insight. Scorpion seems to be one of the really scary decks out there. It is interesting to compare the two styles of deck and realise how similar they are. I would imagine a good player will be able to leverage either direction depending on the match-up, which I think your version is probably better suited to. I know some Dragon players have talked about using Finger of Jade to save their units, but the Dragon splash is just going to Let Go or Calling in Favors the Finger! Rough.

  3. I’m not even to pretend fir a minute I have time to practice against those decks; I’ll just pitch up a Cork and see what happens!

    Still a good read though, there’s some pointers there without without being able to play against the decks.

  4. I just wanted to take a moment and say how much I enjoy your articles. I’m just breaking into the game and your articles have been invaluable in helping me grow as a player. Keep up the fantastic work!

  5. Thanks for this article I read a few times. Don’t worry, you have some readers in France, even if they remain silent.

    1. Thank you for posting 🙂 it’s always nice to get positive feedback. We do have some stats on who views the site and we can see that for every 4 American viewers we get 1 viewer from France. Pretty awesome since we’re comparing a continent with a country! Since the start of Jan, our top 5 cities starting with the most views are Paris, Madrid, Dublin, London, and Athens. No sign of an American city yet. I think that says something about the European L5R communities. The Cork Kotei looks like it’s going to be around 200 people and a lot of fun. I suspect the Paris Kotei is going to beat Madrid for biggest Kotei yet!

    1. We weren’t planning to, with the Elemental cycle just around the corner they wouldn’t be useful for long.
      You could get a good idea by taking the Birmingham lists and testing against those.
      Last time we did this ahead of Worlds when things were relatively stable, but this time Worlds is going to be mid-cycle so it will be a wild and crazy place. If you’re planning for Worlds this year, the best thing you can do is keep and eye on the Elemental Cycle reviews and hope your clan gets all it’s cards before everyone else!

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