Careful Consideration – Pax South

Careful Consideration – Pax South

Today we have a guest article by Alcibiates who took the time to go through the top decks from the PAX tournament to see if any insights could be found.

PAX South gives us the first look at Kotei results with the full imperial cycle. While the imminent Phoenix clan pack looks to shake things up, it is important we get a firm handle on the meta before Disciples of the Void so we can look for the missing pieces to solve the puzzle. We will not focus on how one particular clan solves the meta-puzzle, but instead look for confirmation of what the meta is. With limited information from clans other than Dragon & Scorpion, we will try to nail down those decks and consider the most common cards you should expect to see across all decks.


Court Games checks in with the highest count of any card in the tournament, and the highest utilization of any neutral card. This should come as no surprise as Court Games has no character restriction and provides high impact. Banzai!, Charge!, and Ornate Fan all check in high on the same basis. One thing to note here is that Ornate Fan is played in substantially higher numbers than Fine Katana, likely due to Katana competing for a slot with Banzai. Assassination is an interesting note because, although it only shows up at 19 copies played across 11 decks, 10 decks played assassination (one scorpion player opting for 3, 2 dragon lists opting for 1, 7 others playing 2). It seems the consensus is Assassination is a must include, but not a 3-of. Policy Debate, For Shame!, and Cloud the Mind are heavily played in lists that can fulfill the required conditions. Policy debate requires you to be able to safely win political duels, For Shame requires a significant number of Courtiers, and Cloud the Mind requires a significant number of Shugenjas.

Knowing the expected influence cards is equally important. Crab and Dragon each checked in with three, Unicorn and Scorpion with two, and Lion with one. The Crab splashes were all in Dragon decks. This deck is well defined and will be covered later but the splash is specifically 3 Pathfinder’s Blade, 3 Reprieve, 2 Hiruma Skirmisher in all three top cuts Dragon decks. Each Scorpion deck opted for Dragon influence. Two decks opted for 3 Mirumoto’s Fury & 2 Let Go while the third opted for 2 Mirumoto’s Fury and 3 Tattooed Wanderer to add another covert to Scorpion’s Unassuming Yōjimbō. Unicorn splashes both brought Spyglass, Talisman of the Sun, and Iuchi Wayfinder. Note that Unicorn splashes were both employed by Keeper role clans as it is a bit heavy on influence. Crane opted for Scorpion influence for needed champion removal in A Fate Worse Than Death which allowed some Dynasty deck options that weren’t bound by playing sufficient Shugenja’s necessary to play Cloud the Mind. Calling in Favors brought equally needed attachment hate removing the need for Miya Mystic. Phoenix opted for a different route in the Scorpion splash. 3 Forged Edict provided event cancellation, 2 Calling in Favors complimented 3 Miya Mystic for attachment control, and one 1 A Fate Worse Than Death complimented 3 Cloud the Mind for character control.

Province numbers came in largely where expected. Shameful Display, Meditations on the Tao, and Manicured Garden remain the standard core of most province decks. Water sticks out as the most likely province element to cut for Seeker roles with only 6 water provinces played—5 out of 7 seeker roles opted to cut Water, the other two opting to cut Earth. Rally to the Cause sticks out as the most played Water province if you are not a Seeker, while Earth is very split–4 Entrenched Position, 3 Ancestral Lands, 2 Public Forum. Be prepared and have answers to Shameful Display, at a minimum. Meditations on the Tao and Manicured Garden may both merit an answer, but Shameful Display merits dedicated answers in your deck because it is largely guaranteed you will see it every round.

Dragon with Crab influence remains the deck to beat on paper.If you are looking to win a Kotei, you have to have a well-formulated game-plan against the deck. Thankfully, PAX provides us a very accurate look at the decklist. We will use the Swiss Champion decklist for ease:

If you are doing serious testing for a Kotei, this is where you should begin. To win a Kotei, you will need to be able to beat this deck, or a deck +/- 4 cards AT LEAST once before the weekend is through. The Dragon+Crab deck has a wealth of exceptionally efficient cards… What it lacks is raw card advantage. It has to use its honor to draw cards (hence you generally see it playing 1 Assassination instead of more because it needs the honor for card draw) or it will fall behind. The only card in the deck that will generate raw card draw is Agasha Swordsmith. There are many ways to efficiently turn off Swordsmith, so keep it in mind if you are looking to suffocate a dragon player of cards. If you can put the deck in worry of a Dishonor loss, it will slow down considerably. Its cards are still very efficient and hard to beat, but card advantage remains one of the prevailing ways to beat the deck. Given that information, it should come as no surprise that a deck that generates card advantage from abilities and threatens your honor would be the prime counter for the Dragon deck.

The Scorpion deck presents a unique challenge in the current meta, most decks like to go big early, which grants Dragon a great advantage because it uses its cards the best. Scorpion stands out as the primary deck that is happy to go small early and heavily punish you for going big. Betting 5 on turn 1 risks your Scorpion opponent betting one and going hard after a dishonor win. Many people believe betting 3 on 1 has become the most viable option against Scorpion because it prevents them getting a 4 honor swing on one but also protects you against the Scorpion playing betting 5 and crushing you under card advantage via conquest. Being two cards down against their conquest plan isn’t the end of the world; likewise, being 2 honor down against the dishonor plan is not backbreaking. Being 4 cards down or being 4 honor down will put you at a massive disadvantage early. The biggest problem playing against Scorpion is that these decks are exceptionally hard to tell apart early. Generally, you will only see 4 Dynasty cards and need to make your decision on which deck it is before you bid for the first time… the risk of making the wrong choice is too high, thus the bet 3 strategy.

Moving forward, the white whale of the format is a deck that can compete with both the Dragon deck and both variants of the Scorpion deck while maintaining game against the other five clans… Ideally, this includes a deck with a highly efficient conflict deck that can generate card advantage from abilities from its dynasty deck.



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4 Replies to “Careful Consideration – Pax South”

  1. Thank you for contributing! It’s really nice to have something to read that I didn’t already write 🙂

    I’m definitely enjoying the Dragon deck but I’ve always been nervous about the Scorpion match-up. This is due to the lack of card draw in the Dragon deck which relies on burning honor to keep it going. When Scorpion decides to lock down and bid 1 for card draw it forces the Dragon deck to do similar. This doesn’t even require a dishonor deck as the difference between the two decks is minor at best and any Scorpion deck can dishonor you or take your provinces. I suspect bidding 5 turn 1 is actually better, as it can potentially turn off the Scorpion stronghold for a few turns and gets you those cards early. It’s important to realise that some dishonor decks will also bid 5 turn 1. So you shouldn’t take it for granted turn 2 that you’ll be able to get away with another bid 5 if the Scorpion bid 5 the first turn.

    The new additions to the Scorpion deck of AFWTD and now Mono no Aware is really difficult for the Dragon deck. Keeping characters in play is a key part of the Dragon deck and these additions really cripple that approach. That the Scorpion deck now runs City of Lies make it all a lot more affordable. This combined with the ‘drop bear’ style allowing early passing for more fate and dropping conflict characters with fate after Mono no Aware has been played, all clicks beautifully. Even with the military style, the majority of Dragon fatalities are probably going to be through dishonor. The air ring, dishonored characters leaving play, and no defenders stacks up quickly. My current thought is to assume to try force use of these cards with minimal investment from the Dragon side, but that is easy to say and much harder to do.

    The White Whale I think is the Crab. Dragon versus Crab is a real grinder and if the Crab deck can weather the first turn it can build up the momentum it needs as pretty much everything that comes into play never leaves. Against Scorpion it is doing similar, trying to counter each control card with a saving effect. That the dishonor card lockdown approach is effective for Crab against Scorpion. This is a bother for Dragon as Crab players had been taking out Watch Commander which was best in the Dragon matchup but now is worthwhile in two of the top matchups.

    1. I have mostly been playtesting from the dragon side, and we’ve been working the Dragon vs Crab matchup a good bit because we also think that may be the answer. Getting an economic advantage against Crab has been our most successful strategy. It’s hard to do but I have had success generating repeated value from Niten Master and Agasha Sumiko to allow me to under commit to board state.
      Keeping a swordsmith up and activating every turn has been my saving grace. It puts your opponent in an awkward position of using removal on swordsmith instead of one of your heavy hitters while you can reserve Cloud the Mind for basically only Hida Kisada.
      I have a new build that I haven’t testing yet that uses Way of the Dragon to activate Swordsmith more often. Yokuni copying the ability can also generate additional card advantage. Because you can only grab attachments, Finger of Jade is also seeing some testing in the deck as an attachment based protection scheme for Swordsmith/Sumiko/Yokuni/Niten Master.
      An alternative scheme would be to build more towards econ control with Stone of Sorrows, but I haven’t finished building or begun testing that deck. In theory, it’s very easy to keep a Niten Master or Agasha Sumiko ready with Stone of Sorrows attached and prevent econ generation from rings. I’m not sure choking Scorp or Crab on econ will be that effective, but we’re looking at all possible solutions.
      Policy Debate and Investigator do the heavy lifting in terms of Mono No Aware protection. I’ve also considered playing Censure for additional protection because it can be such a huge swing if it does resolve.

      1. I’m still learning the game but I’ve been running a Dragon/Crab deck similar to this. I managed to play a scorpion deck and a crane deck that were very honor/dishonor focused.

        Both decks were “Sprinters”, the kept bidding low to drain me of honor. As the game went on they became card starved. Kitsuki investigator was able to kill off their hand. They very rarely had more than four cards, so restoration of balance wouldn’t apply. At the same time having Ancestral attachments allowed me to recycle the cards to newer characters as the old ones ran out of fate.

        I had the most difficulty mitigating the Dishonor that Scorpion and Crane were dishing out.

        Once idea of the deck I’ve been working on has been the Mountaintop Statuary/Imperial Palace/Rebuild combo that Statuary is nice because I’m able to go through the Dynasty deck faster.

        As tricky as they are to work with, Dragon may need seeker initiate. As Seeker of Fire, Dragon needs to deny dishonor decks the fire ring.

        Eventually I’m hoping to run a Dragon/Phoenix Monk -based deck, but it will be a while until all of the card come into place.

  2. So, the Irish Kotei has finished.
    Things of note. Crab attended in massive numbers, but struggled to make the cut. Two Crab made it to the top 16 but lost to Dragon and Scorpion. The Crab decks by Josfred Poinsot and Pierre le Massonq had some differences but both were solid foundations and would be what I consider good decks. At first blush, it looks like they suffered against the Phoenix who had second highest numbers for attendance and the highest number of qualifiers for day 2. Presumably Haughty Magistrate was the defining feature.

    The top four Scorpion decks that made the cut were variations on the control theme, notably one of them was Lion splash which was interesting. The winning deck was Fro Ttop’s deck with some minor adjustments played well by Matt Light. I gather he had discussed the deck a little with Fro Ttop before the tournament.

    Of the day 2 Dragon decks, 2 were Crab splash and 1 was Crane splash. The core of the Kingsley deck remains, but each had their own adjustments. Josselin who made it to the top 4 was playing 2 Censure and 3 Finger of Jade as additions to help with the AFWTD matchups. Josselin also had some interesting dynasty options that were not standard like the Enigmatic Magistrate and Enlightened Warrior. Ben Fox stuck closer to the list changing only an ornate fan into a Togashi Kazue. Kieran Waters the Dragon challenger opted for Crane splash and Way of the Chrysanthemum to try deal with the honor issues against Scorpion. Alas his challenger round was against Lion. Dealing with AFWTD then seems to be the big issue for Dragon. Mono to a lesser extend damages their board.

    The learnings then.
    Crab aren’t the the White Whale we were hoping, at least not in their current incarnation. They need something to push them over. In this case it looked like they struggled in the swiss, this might be related to Crab’s optimal position in the late game which doesn’t always happen in timed games. This is something we’ll have to examine in more detail by looking at the pairing and match breakdown.
    Dragon need to throw everything at the AFTWD issue. Josselin seemed to have the most answers to it but still couldn’t overcome that top 4 Scorpion matchup.
    Scorpion are in a very good place. Scorpion decks seem to be focusing more on the mirror matchup and were I a Scorpion player I’d be practising the hell out of that. In the finals it seemed to come down to the winning player getting his opponent to play their Forged Edicts and AFWTDs early for less impact. It sounds like a really subtle matchup.

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