Post-Breath of the Kami: A Phoenix Dishonor Deck

Post-Breath of the Kami: A Phoenix Dishonor Deck

Phoenix dishonor is an archetype that finally seems to be on the rise. Dedicated players have been making cuts in Koteis with it, but I’ve always felt as though the deck lacked a certain edge. However, with Breath of the Kami offering a slew of new air options, it feels like the archetype is starting to fill out and gain an identity. So here’s a breakdown of the build I intend to start testing with from week one of the Elemental Cycle.

Overall Strategy

We’re going to build this as a deck that seeks to aggressively dishonor its opponent out. Breath of the Kami provides at least one card that heavily encourages and rewards contesting the air ring in Kudaka, and with Phoenix’s other air support cards, we already have a picture of a highly focused, single-goal-oriented deck. This direct focus is going to inform our choices, so we want to be clear about that from the start. This is a deck that will attack its opponent’s honor at every opportunity, to put them in range of a final strike from Backhanded Compliment. That means we’ll be running a Scorpion splash.

We’ll start with the dynasty deck, move on to the conflict deck, and then finish with the provinces. From the start, we’re going to assume our stronghold is Isawa Mori Seido. Dishonor is a spell-light deck, so Kyuden Isawa is unlikely to benefit the deck more. That said, we’ll review again at the end.


1. Dynasty Deck

1.1 Holdings

Forgotten Library. Given that you’ll be bidding 1 for cards on most turns, any additional sources of card draw must be considered. Forgotten Library can give you additional condition-free draws turn after turn, making it the best card-draw holding in the game.

3 Imperial Storehouse. With so few cards being drawn naturally, any additional draw is valuable.

Kanjo District. When it’s active, Kanjo District is the most broken holding in the game, and Isawa Mori Seido provides exceptional control over the Imperial Favor. Power of this level can’t be dismissed, and Kanjo remains an auto-include.

Several other holdings were considered, but ultimately left out. Magnificent Lighthouse seems tailor-made for dishonor, but has yielded underwhelming results in previous playtesting. Nothing in Breath of the Kami seems to have changed this, so we’re going to exclude it. Similarly, Secluded Shrine doesn’t benefit from or contribute to anything new, and it hasn’t proved itself in tournament play, so that also fails the grade. Finally, Favorable Ground, while a great holding, does not contribute in any clear way to the goals of the deck.

1.2 Characters

Naive Student. Again, the mantra of card draw reigns supreme, making the Student an auto-include. The Courtier trait is also valuable to the deck.

Solemn Scholar. The Scholar rewards claiming the earth ring, which has a high priority in dishonour decks. Not only does it draw more cards for you, it removes cards from an opponent’s hand, exerting increasing dishonor pressure over the course of several turns. The Scholar’s defensive bow ability is powerful, and is now reinforced by Isawa Uona, giving Phoenix a formidable array of defensive bowing options.

Phoenix’s other 1-cost characters contribute almost nothing to dishonor. Shiba Peacemaker lacks the traits we’re looking for (Shugenja and Courtier) and is also inflexible and easily played around, while Fire Tensai Initiate is a tempo card, and this is not a tempo deck.

Asako Diplomat. The Diplomat is a shoe-in, since she can dishonor enemy characters, or honor one of your own if that’s a better play. If you happen to have multiples of her on the board, things can get hairy for an opponent very fast, and Diplomats with 1 or more fate can create snowballing board states.

Isawa Uona. Uona’s ability is extremely powerful, and we know that we are likely to run a number of air cards in our conflict deck. She adds to the number of defensive (and aggressive) bow and send-home actions that Phoenix can field in their dynasty deck, and should be a staple character in all Phoenix builds for the foreseeable future. Immensely powerful for a 2-drop.

Meddling Mediator. Another lock for dishonor decks, the Mediator either restricts an opponent’s capacity to declare conflicts, or moves them one step closer to losing.

Miya Mystic. Despite our splash being Scorpion, we are not (for the time being) running any attachment control cards. Attachments are powerful, and at least some answers are needed.

One of the great advantages dishonor decks enjoy is that Assassination is almost unplayable against them. Because of this, 1- and 2-cost characters are very much worth additional fate investments. An Uona or Mediator with 1 or 2 additional fate can really put an opponent in a lose-lose situation – which is a win for you.

Cards that were considered but rejected in the 1- to 2-cost range included Asako Tsuki and Adept of the Waves. While Tsuki has the Shugenja and Courtier traits we’re looking for, she doesn’t have an effect we care about. Similarly, Adept of the Waves, normally a staple, does not contribute toward the key rings we want to contest (air most of all, then fire or earth, depending on the situation, then void, with water last). Phoenix’s remaining 2-cost selections do not contribute at all toward what we want to achieve, although we may revisit this later.

Haughty Magistrate. Combined with Isawa Mori Seido, the magistrate can force through a successful attacking conflict against almost any deck. He’s not necessarily great at breaking provinces, but the deck doesn’t care about breaking provinces, just inflicting honor losses. That said, if you get him honored, there’s very little in the game that can stand against him.

Inquisitive Ishika. This is a card that I have not liked at all until this pack. In my view, she held a very particular and peculiar position of ‘win more’. In general, I don’t think ‘win more’ exists in L5R, because board states are constantly degenerating. However, the Ishika is tremendous when you can dictate board tempo, and tremendously bad when you can’t. The problem is that she drops you in a tempo hole as soon as you buy her, given her terrible stats and zero board impact. However (There are many zigs and zags to this thought process), in a deck built to focus almost solely on a single element, I think she offers significant upside. Whether she stays in the deck remains to be seen, but I think she warrants testing.

Radiant Orator. We need somewhere in the range of twelve Courtiers. In addition, the Orator can defend provinces, or force an opponent to overcommit while defending their own provinces. If an opponent does not commit at least two characters, she can send a sole defender home, inflicting an honor loss for an unopposed conflict.

Of the remaining 3-cost options, the Henshin Disciple is the closest to playable. However, while he may contribute stats, he offers nothing else, and it’s not enough to recommend him over the current 3-cost selections (as always, this could change). Isawa Masahiro, Serene Warrior, and Shiba Yojimbo offer even less, so we can discount them completely.

Kudaka. The lone 4-cost character in the deck, Kudaka transforms the air ring into a feast of resources, providing conflict cards and fate on top of the honor the ring already provides. In this deck, additional cards are worth a lot and extra fate is always than welcome. Combined with the Ishika and some of the conflict cards, Kudaka can create an engine that draws cards, gains fate, and drains honor. I’m really excited to see how she pans out in play.

It may be surprising that no 4-cost Phoenix characters have been selected (at least yet), given that the 4-cost range is where the clan’s power characters have traditionally dwelled. Fearsome Mystic is very close to making it in, and may yet feature in future revisions as the numbers of certain cards are tweaked. However, cards like Fire Elemental Guard, Isawa Atsuko, Kaito Temple Protector, and even Prodigy of the Waves do not contribute directly enough to the rings we want to contest, and the Master of Gisei Toshi, while incredibly powerful, is going to be largely unsupported by the conflict deck, so she doesn’t make the cut either.

The one other 4-cost character that might make the deck is Miya Satoshi, but with so many Imperial cards, his impact is erratic and unpredictable. We’re not running Keeper Initiates (we don’t aim to contest water much if at all), so the other reason to run Satoshi is also absent from the deck.

Shiba Tsukune. With the number of flashy 5-cost characters Phoenix have received, it’s easy to forget how dominating Tsukune can be. She does have some terrible match ups (Scorpion), but the amount of pressure she can exert on most other clans is extreme. If you can get her honored, she will stonewall almost any attack against you, and her ability offers precisely the kind of incremental advantage that dishonor decks thrive on. In addition, we know that Ofushikai is coming out during the cycle, which has many powerful applications in a deck like this. As with everything else, her inclusion is open to revision, but she seems to offer enough for now.

So, what about the other 5-plus-cost characters? Fushicho offers nothing, so he’s out immediately. And similarly, Isawa Kaede has no place in this deck. She’s expensive, and this deck will not run the support cards such as Against the Waves and Clarity of Purpose that make her such a terror. Perhaps more surprising is that Isawa Tadaka doesn’t seem to have a place in this deck either. Dishonor decks place severe restrictions on draw, which reduces the chances of duplicate cards being played in multiples throughout a game. It’s not going to eliminate that chance completely, of course, but we are forced to contemplate the cost:benefit ratio of a 5-cost character with uncertain impact. It may turn out that Tadaka is important regardless, but, for now, he is excluded.


2. Conflict Deck

2.1 Events

Assassination. Between turn-one bid differences, Meddling Mediators, and resolving air each turn, we should have the honor buffer to play this card whenever we need to. Great for setting up unopposed conflicts for additional losses to your opponent, and for stymying quick starts, a regular dose of murder should help the deck along nicely.

Backhanded Compliment. Inflicting the last point or two of dishonour can prove decidedly difficult. Backhanded Compliment allows you to burst an opponent down to zero from an apparently safe position. It is a dead draw until that time, however, and given how restricted our card draw is, we can only afford a few such cards. We’ll push things as far as we can for now, but will probably need to tighten the list after a few games.

3 Banzai! Aggression is still important, although you should view your Banzai!s more as a counter to opponents’ Banzai!s. Your primary win condition is not breaking their stronghold, so don’t feel compelled to break an enemy province because you can. In addition, you want to force your opponent to expend resources at as many decision points as possible, and reactive play is the best way to achieve this. Always view these as mainly (not always, but mainly) defensive cards in this deck.

3 Censure. With Isawa Mori Seido, you should enjoy control of the Imperial Favor on most turns. Reactive cards like Censure allow you to judge when to best force an opponent into committing more resources to a conflict, further diminishing their hand and locking them into a losing position.

3 Court Games. You should use this almost exclusively to dishonour an opponent’s characters. Use Assassination to set up a more impactful Court Games if you can.

Forged Edict. The most powerful counter in the game, but one that doesn’t play well with Phoenix’s high glory. I’ve opted for 3 Censure/1 Edict to free up influence while maintaining a fairly strong suite of counters.

3 For Shame! A very powerful card when backed by Isawa Mori Seido, since it generally leaves your opponent with no good choices. This is the reason we want at least twelve courtiers: to make playing this card as reliable as possible. Don’t be afraid to play two on a single character to force through dishonorable status if you feel it’s worth it (since the character is already bowed, it must be dishonored).

2 Spies at Court. Dropping your opponent’s hand size restricts their options and sets up the rest of your strategy. The cost can be high, indeed almost equivalent to what you inflict on your opponent. But the chances are that your deck is far better set up to take advantage of those circumstances. This is a possible cut as we tighten the deck.

1 Supernatural Storm. We’re not running the overwhelming numbers of Shugenja, nor Kyuden Isawa, which make this such a powerhouse. Still, it can contribute toward winning a conflict or forcing an opponent to spend another card. Could possibly have its number increased if we find ourselves wanting for conflict-affecting actions.

1 Way of the Phoenix. You want to run air yourself every turn, especially with Kudaka on the table. Way of the Phoenix means you get to do this, and can catastrophically affect an opponent if they were banking on being able to claim the air ring during their conflict as first player. This could also be Guardian Kami, but running air yourself may be far better in certain situations, and Way of the Phoenix costs 0 fate, so it gets the nod. Guardian Kami may deserve a slot regardless, and it’s a card that may get added to later versions. Way of the Phoenix should be seen as an adjunct to Display of Power, below. Way is less powerful, however, so we’re only running one.

3 Maze of Illusion. Although inherently unreliable, the upside of this card is enormous, especially combined with I Can Swim, and it could cause certain opponents to tilt. The combo with I Can Swim revolves around the fact that both players should be locked into bidding 1. You then play Maze of Illusion, which allows you to set your dial higher, and automatically turn I Can Swim on. Should your opponent then guess incorrectly, you can completely blow them out by destroying their now-dishonored character with ICS (although, ideally, you should already have an ICS target set up.) Another combo to look out for, though it will probably be quite rare, is to play this with Uona on the table when your opponet commits two or more characters to a conflict. Uona targets a non-unique, if any, while the Maze targets a unique, if any. Should your opponent fail their guess, they will have both characters bowed, and one dishonored.

3 Display of Power. Ring control in critical situations is the name of the game, and with five counters to back it up, Display is very likely to go through. The potential impact of this card can’t be understated, and it’s a vital three-of in dishonor.

2 I Can Swim. Sometimes, you just need to kill something. Maze of Illusion can set this up seamlessly, though some canny bidding at a critical time could do the same.


2.2 Attachments

3 Cloud the Mind. This card is played as much for its Air trait as for its ability. Free during air conflicts with the Inquisitive Ishika, and able to bow non-uniques with Uona, Cloud intersects with several significant pieces in the deck, as well as offering its usual disruption.

2.3 Conflict Characters

3 Seeker of Knowledge. More air conflicts is good, and the Seeker helps create them. She’s not going to benefit from the cost-reduction of the Ishika, unless you want to play her into what is already an air conflict. However, if she is played into a non-air conflict, she immediately turns the Ishika on, perhaps offering cost reductions on other cards in hand (so be aware of your play order).

3 Kaito Kosori. Kosori will contribute her skill from home in the most important conflicts of the turn (from the deck’s point of view). This also means that she should contribute to at least two conflicts per turn, making her extremely valuable. If you can honor her and pump her with the stronghold, she could well dominate an entire turn (or several of them).

Cards that nearly made it in (and still might) include Guardian Kami, Know the World, A Fate Worse Than Death, and Calling in Favors.


3. Provinces

Phoenix’s greatest weakness remains its province row. Don’t expect good things here, because there aren’t many.

3.1 Air

Before the Throne is the obvious choice here, since it directly advances you toward your victory condition. With its robust province strength of 5, however, your opponent might need a little help breaking it.


3.2 Earth

Entrenched Position is your stronghold province, freeing up slightly more active provinces for your row. The upcoming earth province in Tainted Lands, the next pack in the Elemental Cycle, may cause a complete re-think of the province row.


3.3 Fire

I’ve gone for Sanpuku Seido, though you could also go for Night Raid. Sanpuku Seido is very defensible, and may force an opponent into attacking Before the Throne or Shameful Display if they want to reach your stronghold. Night Raid will probably force an opponent to discard a card, though you could place it under your stronghold to (probably) clear their hand if they make it that far. Again, the upcoming fire province in The Fires Within dynasty pack may offer a worthy option, but for now, it’s Chinatown. There are very few good Phoenix province choices.

3.4 Void

So thank goodness for Shameful Display. Still obnoxiously good, even more so with Isawa Mori Seido.

3.5 Water

Elemental Fury might allow you to switch out an air ring for something worse. The other option here is to go with Rally to the Cause as your stronghold province, with Public Forum in your row, but neither choice is exactly wonderful. Alternately, you could still play Elemental Fury, put Night Raid under your stronghold, and run Public Forum in your row as well. Keep watching the Elemental Cycle packs for anything resembling a good province.


 4. Complete prototype build

The dblist is here:

And if you just want to c&p:

Isawa Mori Seido

Before the Throne
Entrenched Position
Sanpuku Seido
Shameful Display
Elemental Fury

3 Forgotten Library
3 Imperial Storehouse
1 Kanjo District

3 Naive Student
3 Solemn Scholar
3 Asako Diplomat
3 Isawa Uona
3 Meddling Mediator
3 Miya Mystic
3 Haughty Magistrate
3 Inquisitive Ishika
3 Radiant Orator
3 Kudaka
3 Shiba Tsukune

3 Assassination
3 Backhanded Compliment
3 Banzai!
3 Censure
3 Court Games
1 Forged Edict
3 For Shame!
2 Spies at Court
1 Supernatural Storm
1 Way of the Phoenix
3 Maze of Illusion
3 Display of Power
2 I Can Swim

3 Cloud the Mind

3 Seeker of Knowledge
3 Kaito Kosori

All of this is subject to change, of course, but it seems like a tight enough build to start from.


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12 Replies to “Post-Breath of the Kami: A Phoenix Dishonor Deck”

  1. Really interesting write up, going to try it out!

    Be interested to hear your experiences if you try Fearsome Mystic, she can work wonders in dishonor decks as she puts the opponent in a lose-lose situation – undefended honor loss or a fate wipe, especially if you are running the Air ring.

    Kosori isn’t supported by many attachments, with only 3 Court Games it seems unlikely you’ll be able to get her honored…some Benten’s maybe, with additional Uona synergy?

  2. Thanks for the article, I am also eager to try something like this after the Air pack.

    Some comments and suggestions:
    Maybe also add Imperial Palace? It makes claiming the favor easier and breaking the province harder.

    Do you really want to select Forged Edict as the card from RL and take it as one-off?
    Maybe take charge or against the waves?
    I also do not believe in combo with I can Swim and Maze of illusions, considering your low draw potential. Maybe take Unassuming Yojimbo for covert to make unopposed attacks?
    Also you can take magnificent kimono to play it on the opponent characters when they are going to lose a conflict.

  3. Hey GasMan. I’ll definitely be giving the Fearsome Mystic a go soon. One of the worries at the moment is the lack of upper end in the deck. The Mystic and Tadaka are top of the list in that regard, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they change the way the deck plays.

    Kosori doesn’t have a lot of support, it’s true, but I think she still represents a lot of value if she gets to affect two conflicts (one projecting in, the other participating). Benten’s is a consideration, but the character has to be participating to be honoured, which makes things a little awkward. I haven’t played a lot of dishonour, so I expect the learning curve to be pretty steep, with plenty of revisions both to list and play style. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

    Hey xRAVEx. Glad you enjoyed it. I didn’t include The Imperial Palace because the stronghold acts like a mini-Palace that you have in play from the start of the game. Adding the Palace on top of that felt like overkill, and I’m not sure I could justify including it.

    That said, I think you might be completely correct about I Can Swim and Maze of Illusions. Tbh, I think Maze will find its best home in Kyuden Isawa, which is where Uona will also be at her strongest (and, having played a couple of games, she’s even crazier than I thought she’d be). Unassuming Yojimbo is a great suggestion, and I’d also look at Calling in Favors. I really felt the absence of attachment control playing this deck.

    I don’t think this deck has the density of quality targets that makes Against the Waves really shine (and, without Kyuden Isawa, I think AtW loses a huge amount of the value that makes it such an overwhelmingly clear choice), and same with Charge!, although both issues could easily be remedied with a beefier dynasty deck. A single Edict does look super sad, though, so this is something that needs to be looked at. Maybe drop the Edicts and go for Policy Debates?

    I’ve been a big fan of Magnificent Kimono tricks, and maybe with Uona, those tricks have some real validity again. Thank you for your insight.

    1. In order to play Policy Debate in dishonor deck you need to exceed the opponent character’s POL by a lot, so that you could win the duel with a bid of 1, because you can’t bid more if you don’t want to give honor to the opponent. And I do not see good characters with high POL. Maybe Henshin Disciple in Air conflict?

  4. I would not underestimate the values of Keeper Initiates in a dishonor deck as they are also a great tool to get the favor. Together with the palace they free up your stronghold to manipulate challenges further which is good.
    Sure you will not be using the Water effect that often but this does not mean that you do not declare the water ring, that is exactly why Seeker of Knowledge is so wonderful. You also want that fate which is often lying around on that ring. Additionally, this makes Tsuki also a valuable tool in the dishonor deck because you can honor her and use that to mitigate the dishonor from forged edict.

    I would also highly recommend 1 or 2 Guardian Kami as they can win you games with little counter in that situation.

    As xRAVEx mentioned I find it very weird to include I can swim if you only want to bid 1 all the time. This makes it a dead card except for those situations where you have Maze. I would rather invest those 8 points of influence in 2 Fate worse than death and a second Forged edict

    I also don’t see that much use in Supernatural storm as you will usually spend your first two turns to build up Asako diplomat or the mediator and they are not shugenja. I would replace this with 1x Karmic Twist which proved so wonderful to get rid of some annoying non uniques or even better: to keep your magistrate for 2 to 3 turns longer in the field against crab

  5. So I have a few games under my belt with this deck and am loving it. I was originally a scorpion player but wanted to switch it up a bit. My question now that the new roles dropped – Is it worth the switch to Seeker of Air to lose access to backhanded compliment BUT gain access to Kami Unleashed, Winds of Change, Seeker Initiate, & Frostbitten Crossing. Adds more control and attachment hate but gives up a bit late game.

    Perhaps there are other cards I am missing but namely interested in your thoughts? I haven’t made the switch yet to try it but might over the weekend.

    1. Hey Jason,

      I think Seeker of Air makes a big difference to the deck. Kami Unleashed is a good addition, though I’m not as convinced by Winds of Change, Seeker Initiate, or Frostbitten Crossing. I think I’d go for more resource advantage with Fertile Fields as the second air province. Mark of Shame stands out as a great addition from the newly unlocked air cards, imo. It’s only 1 influence cost, and being able to drop an honored character straight to dishonored does amazing things for the deck’s ability to control the board. Not as bomb-y as Backhanded, but maybe better for the deck.

      The deck also gets an upgrade with Ethereal Dreamer, who probably replaces Inquisitive Ishika.

      I’ll probably give something like this a shot over the weekend:

  6. Hey Phil,

    I completely missed your comment the first time around! Sorry about that.

    There is a lot to be said for Keeper Initiates, I agree. And for Tsuki. The real issue has been finding space, though the Ishika has continued to be a disappointment for me, so that’s three open slots (which probably get filled by Ethereal Dreamer first, but that’s another discussion). I like Guardian Kami as well, and would agree with one replacing the singleton Storm, though a single Karmic out of left field can do a lot, too.

    The I Can Swim/Maze experiment was a colossal failure, so all of that’s an easy cut 😉

    Getting Seeker of Air opens up a whole new conversation, however. I’ve got a tentative list at that I’ll probably try out this weekend. Phoenix aggro remains by some distance our strongest deck, imo, but a change of pace would be nice.

    Thanks again for the comment, and, again, sorry I missed it the first time around. I’m hoping to have the time for a couple of Phoenix articles soon, so a revisit to PX dishonor might be upcoming. Cheers!

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