Elemental Cycle – Pack 2 – Tainted Lands

Elemental Cycle – Pack 2 – Tainted Lands

Pack two in the Elemental Cycle is focused on the element of Earth, but, as the name suggests, also features some ‘darker’ cards. We get to see Shadowlands and Mahō cards in this pack, both of which are very playable.

21. Teachings of the Elements

Teaching the Elements is a Phoenix-only earth province that gets +1 strength for each claimed ring. Since it starts at 5 province strength, it will typically stand at between 5 and 7 province strength. It lacks a proactive action, so, if this does see play, it is most likely to be placed under a player’s stronghold. Once eligible, stronghold provinces are typically attacked on the first available conflict, with the attacker fully committing their forces. Therefore, this province will often be attacked when no rings are yet claimed. There are a few Phoenix cards that can help boost this province, even on a first attack: Secluded Shrine will give an extra ring, and Wholeness of the World may allow a player to keep a ring from a previous turn. Even then, we have to ask, why not just play Ancestral Lands or Entrenched Position which have the same starting province strength and a chance to have a far greater bonus without any work? Teaching the Elements is an instant coaster and, at this time, not remotely worthy of consideration for a competitive deck.

22. Border Fortress

When you play Border Fortress, you have a choice: do you want to reveal one of your opponent’s provinces or one of your own? If you have a province with a reaction-on-reveal ability, playing that province and Border Fortress in your province row will give you a 50% of your opponent running into it on their first attack. Currently, options for this are limited: you can change a ring with Elemental Fury, change the conflict type with Rally to the Cause, gain some fate with Tears of Amaterasu, discard some cards with Night Raid, or, if the Unicorn get an earth role, use Guardians of the Seikitsu to bow out small characters. As Border Fortress is an action rather than a reaction itself, you can time the effect a little better than you normally could and you can use the ability on multiple turns. The drawback here is that after Border Fortress triggers your on-reveal province, you won’t be able to do that specific reaction again. Based on existing options, this does not look like a particularly strong effect. Guardians of the Seikitsu has the greatest potential but the current Unicorn character pool encourages playing small characters.

The other approach is to target one of your opponent’s provinces. This gives you more information about where to attack next but risks your opponent triggering their own on-reveal province. In addition to those previously mentioned, and of greater concern, Dragon can hit you with Restoration of Balance. Currently, for Unicorn, it looks like the best use for this would be with Rally to the Cause, trying to turn as many conflicts as possible into military, or revealing your opponent’s provinces if you don’t need to change the conflict type.

23. Upholding Authority

Upholding Authority is the second province we see in this elemental theme. Like Demonstrating Excellence it has +2 province strength when you have the correct role, in this case, Earth. The same concerns apply in relation to farmable provinces, but as an earth province, Upholding Authority actually is, comparatively, in a better position, since a larger number of earth provinces are already farmable. Where this province really sets itself from current earth provinces is in its ability. When the province is broken, the attacking player reveals their hand, and the defender selects and discards a card and all other copies of that card in the attacker’s hand. Essentially, a Policy Debate-level ability. There are, however, two big ways in which this differs from Policy Debate: 1) it happens at the end of the conflict, and 2) your opponent sees it coming. Where Policy Debate can stop your opponent in their tracks often winning you the conflict, here you need to lose the conflict for the effect to fire. This also gives your opponent the opportunity to play any cards they consider important before the effect occurs. This is a much more powerful effect than Demonstrating Excellence , but may lack the surprise factor needed to make the effect completely relevant.

24. Apprentice Earthcaller

Crab has long had a defensive focus in the LCG, but has lacked tools to win convincingly on the defense. The Apprentice Earthcaller is a valuable addition to the Crab arsenal. As Crab’s cheapest Shugenja, she also helps fit Cloud the Mind into the Crab toolbox. Her stat line is a little sub-par, but she’s really all about the ability. Her main use is to shut down the use of offensive stat boosts from actions and being honored, making Crab provinces tougher to take, since people often rely on a Banzai! or Court Games to send someone over the top. She’s less useful against Voltron-style mega units, since she can’t be used on a character with attachments. She also represents some value offensively, since you can negate stat or dishonor penalties on an attacking character. Critically, and like most Shugenja, she doesn’t need to be participating to use her ability. She will definitely be considered for decks.

25. Kuni Yori

The Daimyo of the Kuni arrives in all his sinister glory. At 4/4/1 for 5, Kuni Yori has the highest political strength of any Crab character and pumps all your characters during Earth conflicts. This means attacking into Crab for earth becomes a super-tough proposition, since even two 1/1 Crab can defend, and, between the stronghold and Yori, muster a mighty 6 strength! Yori swinging in for a political earth conflict will become a common sight on gaming tables. He also has a devastating action: during a conflict, you can lose 1 honor to force an opponent to discard a random card. You can use this ability in any conflict, at any time, so it’s probably best used as early as possible, to hopefully strip a critical action. Alternately, if you have any hand knowledge, waiting until an opponent’s hand is more depleted to try to hit a key card may be the better play. He’s a monster, and will make his way into every Crab deck.

26. Asahina Takako

Crane receive another Shugenja in Asahina Takako, this time a 4 cost dynasty character with – military and 5 political. Getting 5 skill for 4 is a fantastic bargain, but having a – on either skill gives your opponent a little more control. As a Shugenja, she helps round out what is clearly a growing deck theme for the Crane. Her always-on ability lets you look at your facedown provinces, which lets you plan your next turn in advance. As an action, she can also switch two cards in your provinces or discard one. If you’re about to lose a province, this lets you save the card in it by moving it to another province. If you have a holding, this ability lets you either save the holding by moving it out or maybe use it by moving it in. This can allow you to move an important holding, such as The Imperial Palace, on to a province that is difficult to break such as Shameful Display. Her ability works well with Daidoji Nerishma who will always reveal the best card. Weirdly, she is amazing with the Crab card Raise the Alarm, since she lets you switch a facedown character into the attacked province, so you’ll always know what you’re going to get when you play it.

27. Bonsai Garden

With Bonsai Garden, the Crane clan get another tool to develop their honor deck. Getting into an air conflict isn’t difficult to achieve, although if your opponent is going first, it does give them an opportunity to try break the province in a non-air conflict. The effect gains 1 honor each turn, so if we assume each game is around 4 turns we’re probably looking at about 2 honor over a game, between waiting for it to appear and broken provinces making it leave play. That might not seem like a lot, but the only cost is tying up a province. The Crane start at 11 starting honor needing another 14 to win by honor. This definitely isn’t the card to singlehandedly make honor-running viable, but it is another piece in that jigsaw.

28. Impulsive Novice

This is the Dragon’s entry in the range of characters that gain a bonus when you claim a ring. Unlike the others, this Dragon Monk costs 2 rather than 1 fate. To account for this, he has 2 military and 2 political skill, rather than the normal 1/1, and when you control the fire or void rings, he gains an additional +1 military and +1 political skill, putting him at 3/3. These are both great rings, and void is especially popular for Dragon players, who tend to have key characters they are looking to keep in play for as long as possible. Since Dragon are spoiled for cheap 3/3s with Doomed Shugenja, Impulsive Novice doesn’t seem like the greatest of deals. But the Novice is a Monk, which is a trait that Dragon are currently looking to round out. Like the Doomed Shugenja, the Novice is 0 glory, which is extremely useful, since it minimizes the impact of the dishonored condition. Unfortunately, this does also mean there is little value in honoring the Impulsive Novice, which is somewhat disappointing because the fire ring is one of the two he’s interested in. The Novice also compares to the Togashi Initiate who ends up honored at 3 military and 3 politics if you choose to spend the extra fate to a ring. There are definitely merits to the Initiate being initially cheaper, but since his ability only works on the attack, it isn’t always an option, and also often gives the fate to your opponent. Overall, the Impulsive Novice is an unexciting card. It will find room in decks focused on the Monk trait, but once a more interesting option comes along it is likely he will cycle out.

29. Court Novice

There is significant debate as to the effective value of 1/1 for 1 fate characters. For some, they prefer to purchase one or two large characters, ideally passing first and taking that extra fate. Others prefer the options that a wider board gives, or simply getting out a cheap body and saving fate for impactful conflict cards. Both approaches have had some success, and it appears to be more about individual playstyle than any hard rule.

Assuming you want to play 1 cost characters, the Court Novice is quite good for Scorpion. Being Courtier allows you to Forged Edict and For Shame!, and being 1/1 means he can attack or defend in either conflict. Although a 1-skill character isn’t likely to win any important conflicts by himself, being able to mount a military conflict your opponent has to defend with at least 2 skill can be a valuable option for Scorpion. The 0 glory is also quite useful, meaning that he maintains full effectiveness after a Forged Edict or an opposing Court Games, and is a lot harder to neutralize than if he had 1 glory. The +2 political skill bonus isn’t likely to be an important factor since that’s the conflict Scorpion are likely to be winning to get the ring in the first place, but it is effectively a free benefit when it does come up.

30. Sneaky Shinjo

The Sneaky Shinjo neatly fits into two themes for the Unicorn: passing first and having lots of characters. These two themes combined are somewhat of a contradiction, since making more characters often loses you the opportunity to pass first. The Sneaky Shinjo side-steps this by coming into play as a reaction after you pass. Although there was initially some confusion on what this means, our rules gurus have confirmed that the ‘play this character’ on Sneaky Shinjo is distinct from the ‘put that character into play’ on Charge!. This means that you do have pay the 1 fate cost of the Sneaky Shinjo when he comes into play, and you can place additional fate on him if you wish. This lets you pass first in the dynasty phase, possibly triggering Shinjo Scout, while still getting your cheap characters into play.

31. Marauding Oni

Marauding Oni is simple and to the point: For 2 fate you get 4 military skill, a super-efficient bargain. The closest equivalent we’ve seen is Shiba Peacemaker at 1 fate and Hiruma Yōjimbō at 2 fate. Both are cheap 4-military-skill characters, but cannot attack. With the Oni you can attack, but this efficiency comes at a cost. Every time you assign the Oni, you lose 1 honor. As the Oni has – politics, you also lose the option of participating in a political conflict. While the Peacemaker and Yōjimbō typically don’t see play, a cheap, aggressive attacker like this is bound to make its way into some decks. At 4 military, this Oni can threaten a break by itself. This may be particularly useful for clans with more of a political focus, such as Scorpion. This allows them to threaten on two fronts with minimal investment. In contrast, this is less likely to see play in Lion decks, where they already have significant amounts of military skill.

32. Spreading the Darkness

This might be the most powerful card in this pack. Spreading the Darkness provides a Banzai!-level military strength pump along with blanket immunity to opponents’ card abilities. In nearly every situation, your opponent must either negate this spell or face a situation where your character is immune to almost every other action they can take. This has value in early conflicts, to ensure you break provinces, or in the final battle, where you can use it as a shield before dumping all your other skill pumps and attachments onto your newly immune character. It does have some weaknesses. The 2 honor hit is considerable, and bidding 5 and using this is costly. Also, your character can still have enemy attachments placed on him, such as Fiery Madness, and can still be bowed by the water ring effect if your opponent plays a Guardian Kami or Kami Unleashed. Thematically, those who abuse mahō can also be taken out with Way of the Crab if they are alone on the battlefield. I expect this to see lots of play in Crab and in Phoenix, where the possibility of recycling this spell could lead to some incredibly aggressive builds.

33. Adopted Kin

Currently, there are two ancestral items in the game, Ancestral Daishō and Kitsuki’s Method. For much of the last cycle, it was typical to see two to three Ancestral Daishō and one Kitsuki’s Method in a Dragon deck. These were used to support the three Fine Katanas and Ornate Fans already in the deck, so the ancestral keyword wasn’t a priority. Ancestral definitely sees use, however: the Niten Adept often receives an ancestral item because he is vulnerable to Assassination.

Adopted Kin takes a different approach. It gives no inherent benefit to skills and provides no action, so you are unlikely to drop it onto an early or undeveloped board. It will also not help with attachments that destroy themselves, such as Reprieve or Finger of Jade. However, later in the game, when you have a character with two or three attachments who is about to leave play, dropping Adopted Kin before go is going to effectively re-draw those cards, which can be particularly powerful if you’re returning something as powerful asTalisman of the Sun. Adopted Kin can also be used to return cards you’ve play on your opponent’s characters, such as Cloud the MindFormal Invitation, or Embrace the Void.

So, the question then is whether the risk of drawing this card early in the game when it has little value outweighs the benefits that can be reaped later on in the game. At only 1 influence, there is plenty of potential for other clans to splash this, but, inexplicably, it is locked into ‘Fire role only’. Since Dragon currently have a Fire role, there’s certainly some chance this will see play at Worlds, but it seems unlikely Dragon that will be able to retain a Fire role after that. Other clans are less likely to have the attachments needed to make this worthwhile, so the future of Adopted Kin seems uncertain.

34. Ikoma Reservist

The Lion’s entry into the cheap character theme for this cycle is the Ikoma Reservist, a Bushi who gets +2 military when you control the fire or water rings. The Reservist, however, is set apart from the others by being a conflict character. We already know that a 1 cost 1/1 conflict character is fantastic, and, with their new stronghold, the Lion have even more opportunities to claim rings and turn this into a 1-cost 3-military skill conflict character, which is way above the expected cost curve. I think it is likely this will be an auto-include in Lion decks and, at 2 influence, this is a potent choice for Lion splash.

35. Writ of Authority

Writ of Authority is another elemental-locked card, this time for Earth roles. At 1 cost for +3 political skill, it is very efficient, it but comes with a precarious condition, requiring you to discard the attachment if an opponent has more honor. Normally the biggest honor shifts come during the draw phase, and during the fate phase as characters leave play. This means you’re relatively safe to play this during the conflict phase and have it stick around until at least the end of the conflict phase, which makes Writ of Authority a little more reliable than Obstinate Recruit. Considering the existing political attachments, we know Ornate Fan at 0 fate sees play in almost all decks, while Height of Fashion at 2 fate almost never does. At 1 fate, Kitsuki’s Method sees limited play in Dragon, so there does seem to be space for Writ of Authority. At only 1 influence, it may be a tempting choice for decks who are likely to be higher in honor. Interestingly, the drawback provides some protection from Calling in Favors, since the Writ will destroy itself if stolen by a player with less honor.

 36. Feral Ningyo

Feral Ningyo doesn’t seem like an earth card, but who are we to quibble? At its base, a 3/2/0 conflict character for 3 is arguably a little over-costed, but not so much so as to make it unplayable. What makes the Ningyo stand out is its ability. During a water conflict, the Ningyo can be put into play (for free), and is then shuffled back into your conflict deck at the end of the conflict. So, during water conflicts, this card becomes a free 3- or 2-skill boost, as well as an additional character. Phoenix tempo decks already pursue the water ring at almost every opportunity, and the Ningyo reinforces that. Phoenix can already field what is arguably the most aggressive deck in the game, and cards like Feral Ningyo, Spreading the Darkness, and Isawa Uona are going to push that deck even further. Expect the Ningyo to see extensive play in all aggressive Phoenix strategies.

37. Oracle of Stone

Cards like this set off all kinds of warning bells. To understand why, we need to take a look at its costs and effects. At 0 fate to play, the only true cost of this is the card slot itself. This is inherent to all cards, but it is especially worth noting here because of the symmetrical card effect this card produces. Symmetrical effects affect each player equally, where most normal cards only produce a benefit for the player who plays them. Therefore, a symmetrical card actually sets its player back, at least in a vacuum, because an opponent gets the same benefit as it player, but for free (didn’t have to include and play the card). Therefore symmetrical cards are played with the intention of reaping a benefit that far exceeds the inherent costs and benefit to an opponent that the card provides.

Next, we need to look at the effect. In card games, there are three Pillars of Degeneracy, which are almost always at fault when a game breaks: 1) Resource Acceleration, 2) Recursion, 3) Card Draw. Oracle of Stone fulfils one of these conditions (draw), and Kyuden Isawa fulfils another (recursion). Combined, these factors make Oracle of Stone a dangerous card that will either be unplayable, because giving your opponent card draw at the cost of one of your own cards is a terrible idea, or it will be broken, because it enables some form of combo, or other degenerate play. Why this card was printed, I don’t know, but it’s one to watch closely.

It may never see regular play. But, if it does, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.

38. Tainted Koku

Fiery Madness sees some play in competitive Scorpion lists, but is far from an auto-include, and, on the face of it Tainted Koku appears to be a weaker version of that. The question really comes down to how much additional value is generated by its potentially staying on the board the remainder of the game.

Although -1/-1 is only a small penalty, it is often enough to swing a conflict, as we’ve seen time and again with the Imperial Favor. Because it’s an attachment, that penalty will carry over to every conflict the character is involved in, generating value every time it comes up, and with the Interrupt, it will hang around as long as your opponent invests fate in his characters. Over a three- or four-turn game that’s a good chance of Tainted Koku influencing the outcome of at least one conflict, and/or costing your opponent at least one card to counter it – which is the minimum you’d want from this type of card. Each further turn is another opportunity for it to cost your opponent a card. This makes it a solid choice for Scorpion decks looking to increase their disruptive elements, supplementing or maybe even replacing Fiery Madness in that style of deck, such as low bid Defensive Dishonor.

An additional benefit of skill penalties over bonuses is that it works well to counter opportunistic attacks by small characters, especially conflict characters. It’s not uncommon for an Iuchi Wayfinder or Hiruma Skirmisher to be dropped for a sneaky extra conflict to get a free ring. But when reduced to 0 skill, they cannot win conflicts, and if your opponent has another target with fate, then the poison will hang around for next turn.

39. Press of Battle

Press of Battle is a Water-role-only Unicorn event. During a military conflict, if you have more characters than your opponent, you can bow a participating non-unique character. Unicorn and Lion are both invested in getting more characters than their opponent and focusing on military conflicts, so this plays to their strengths. Bow effects are powerful, and Press of Battle costs 0 fate, making this highly efficient. For the time being, however, only the Phoenix Clan can play this.

40. Sabotage

Currently, only Crab can play this card, and ironically it is most effective against the same holding-loving Crab. Crucially, you don’t need to be attacking the province to discard their holding. You can use this while defending a military conflict to take away someone’s holding, perhaps even the Favorable Ground they were hoping to use. It’s controversial to lock the holding meta card behind the earth role. With Crab, Phoenix, and Unicorn all playing powerful holdings as standard players are keen to include options to counter them. This might encourage more players to select an Earth role almost solely to play this card, but until worlds only Crab will have the option to put copies of Sabotage in their decks.


In this pack we have 4 elementally locked cards; Adopted KinPress of BattleSabotage, and Writ of Authority. These are all good cards in their own right, but due to the unknown nature of role selection, they could end up denied to clans who would use them.

That said, there does seem to be something for everyone in this pack. The Crane get a few more tools, Asahina Takako to expand out their Shugenja deck and Bonsai Garden for an honor deck. Crab are the clear winners getting both the intimidating Kuni Yori and the terrifying Spreading the Darkness. Dragon get an extra Monk to round out their decks with Impulsive Novice. The Lion get a very efficient conflict character in Ikoma Reservist. The Unicorn get Sneaky Shinjo, who although small fits neatly into some of their core themes. The Phoenix get the Feral Ningyo and are sure to take an interest in the Crab’s Spreading the Darkness. While the Scorpion control decks get a cheap Courtier in the form of Court Novice and more control with Tainted Koku.

Have a listen to the team going through the pack here.

This article was a team effort. All blame will be shared equally.

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13 Replies to “Elemental Cycle – Pack 2 – Tainted Lands”

    1. Yes we are! Great point. So in multiplayer you stack all your claimed rings on this province and between you and your opponent’s it will have a massive province strength that will be hard to break. That is kind cool.

      1. In multiplayer you only use your own rings as claimed rings. You don’t get to add your opponents claimed rings. Look at page 2 of the rules udder ring and card game effects.

  1. I think Oracle oficina Stone is intended to be played with cards like Tadaka, that punish having cards discarded, and assuming you can still play discarded spells with Kyuden Isawa.

  2. You may want to edit Bonsai Garden. You make the statement that Crane start at 10 Honor; they start at 11, so only 14 is needed for their honor win.

    1. Holy shit, they gained an honor when I wasn’t watching! It’s sneaky honor tricks like this that make the Crane dangerous 😀

      Thanks for the catch, I’ve updated it now.

  3. It feels like there’s something to do with Oracle of Stone : played when opponent has an empty hand, with a deck centered on Isawa Tadaka (for a prison deck, using also such cards as Master of Gisei Toshi, Magnificent Lighthouse…) ?
    I need to try it, as this is a list of Phenix cards I’ve been looking at for a while to make a prison deck.

  4. Upholding Authority looks interesting in my dishonor deck. When I’m wanting to bid low, any ability that discards cards from my opponent’s hand is good (and even better if it gets them to play cards inefficiently first and then I get to discard something still).

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