The Ten Orders – Elemental Lion

The Ten Orders – Elemental Lion

The Elemental Cycle has given us plenty of food for thought as new archetypes emerge from the increased card pools for all clans. Excitement is in the air from all the shiny new tools we have at our disposal. Unfortunately, not all clans are created equal, and if I was to rank the clans in terms of power as I feel they stand after the Elemental Cycle, it would go a little something like this:

Tier – S (aka. The clans that are just better than everyone. Aka. Scorpion Tier)

  • Scorpion

Tier – 1

  • Unicorn
  • Crab
  • Dragon

Tier – 2

  • Phoenix
  • Crane

Tier – 3

  • Lion

Now I’ll take all arguments about tier 2 and 3 into consideration, as I feel they are very debatable at the moment, with no major tournament results to solidify either an increase or decrease in their rating. Unicorn were a major winner in the Elemental Cycle, so much so that I think they get jet-propelled to tier 1. I truly believe that Unicorn now have the tools to challenge the top decks and may emerge as the natural predator for Scorpion, which would make for a very healthy tournament scene. With Unicorns’ rise in the ranks, we are left with The ever sinking Lion clan as the sorrowful sole occupant of tier 3, the dreaded bottom tier.

What does it mean to be bottom tier?

Being bottom tier is NOT saying that Lion as a whole are bad, there are decent options available to Lion and it has been shown many times over the course of the Kotei season that highly skilled play is a massive determining factor in your chances of winning, so good players WILL win games with Lion. To me, being bottom tier can originate from a variety of sources, or in the case of Lion, a combination of them. Primarily, the problems for Lion arise from:

  • Lack of clear thematic card support
  • Linearity of playstyle
  • Lack of synergy in the card pool
  • Lack of variety in deck construction options

These 4 pain points for Lion were apparent before the Elemental Cycle and have not been addressed by the new influx of cards. The consequence of this is that opponents will know what your deck is going to do immediately and they will know the key components of your strategy and how/when to counter it. There is no surprise factor to Lion at the moment and while some will argue that there has been little surprise factor to Scorpion over the past year, it’s undeniable that they have great synergy, thematic card support and enough non-linearity in their play dynamics to give them flexibility in their win condition so that their opponents have to play with caution.

The main problem with Lion at the moment goes all the way back to the Core Set. I have heard rumors that last minute changes put the honor victory condition to 25. Lion have traditionally been the “Honorable” military clan, and their decks in Old5R gave options in both Conquest and Honor victory conditions. With the bump to 25 and the overall lack of card support/game mechanics to attain an honor victory, we have essentially been stripped of a win condition. The effect was that a decent portion of Lions core card pool is intended for a win condition that is unattainable. Our only option is all out Conquest, and our opponents know it.

The Silver Lining

This article is not all doom and gloom, there is a silver lining for Lion. I would argue that Lion possess one of the most powerful line-ups of Dynasty characters in the game, and that power is quite well spread across the Fate curve too. We have some of the most powerful abilities in the game with Lions Pride Brawler, Ikoma Ujiaki, Kitsu Spiritcaller and a very playable clan champion in Akodo Toturi. The entire curve is stacked with awesome characters and the superstar addition from the Elemental Cycle, Ikoma Ikehata provides an incredible boost exactly where Lion needed it most. Hisu Mori Toride is a wonderful vehicle for a military focused conquest deck. It immediately undermines the original assumptions of the game (that there are only 2 conflicts per player per turn) and creates an avenue for Lion to be an incredibly punishing foe to play against. If your opponent is not prepared for war, they can lose the game incredibly quickly!

How do Lion Win?

It’s probably no secret by now that I believe the most competitive deck for Lion will be a Military heavy Conquest deck out of Hisu Mori Toride. So without further rambling let’s get down to business. Here’s my take on a competitive Lion deck post Elemental Cycle:

The Strategy

  • Deny your opponent the opportunity to defend using covert/send home/bow effects
  • Your provinces breaking only matters if they will get a shot at your stronghold before you get to theirs. Committing to a defense is wasting resources that could be used to attack
  • Be efficient, you should aim to only use the stronghold once per game and when you do, be sure you can follow up to ensure a win
  • Never buy an influential character you could cheat into play instead. Cheat to win

What to Splash

At the outset this seems like a very difficult choice. In my eyes there are some options that really stand out as having great potential. Let’s take a look at what is realistically on offer from the rest of Rokugan:

A critical component that Lion have really been lacking is a consistent way of cancelling the opponents actions. Being Keeper of Fire and having relevant Glory stats as well as Keeper Initiate makes it very viable to regularly contest the Ring of Fire. Factor in the new superstar courtier Ikoma Ikehata and you’ll routinely find that you have a board chocked full of honorable characters. This makes Voice of Honor an exciting option. Couple this with strong battle actions like Admit Defeat, that will help trigger your stronghold and Curry Favour that will provide great tempo for a 3rd conflict and Crane seem to come from nowhere as a potential splash option. They also provide interesting protection/denial with Above Question and Menacing Iron Warrior. Getting a bit more wild, one might even look into the viability of Duelist Training or Formal Invitation!

The staple splash for the vast majority of successful tournament decks for Lion due to the undeniably powerful Let Go and before the restricted list Mirumoto’s Fury. Other cards that are very familiar in the most competitive Lion decks are Tattooed Wanderer and more recently we have seen Indomitable Will appear since HMT was introduced to the tournament scene. Instead of going down the well-trodden path of what Lion have done before, let’s look to the future. Well…. There’s not a whole lot to add. The major noteworthy addition is the extremely exciting Hawk Tattoo and possibly Ancient Master to help fetch it. Loop in a Fallen in Battle and you’ve got yourself a very inconsistent, very convoluted Kill action!!

Like Dragon, the Unicorn splash has probably been very interesting to Lion players since the Core set. Cards like Spyglass could be super valuable over the course of multiple conflicts in a turn, Captive Audience is possibly the most interesting card in the unicorn splash as it could provide you with a 3rd military conflict! Does any clan have the military stamina to push through 3 military conflicts? Lion certainly have the potential to do it, with access to more military force pumps than anyone else. There is a world where Cavalry Reserves looks like a nice addition to Lion’s arsenal of character recursion. With Matsu Seventh Legion and Matsu Mitsuko both sporting the cavalry trait, you are already gaining efficiency by buying either and the thought of using Charge!, HMT and Cavalry Reserves to get 2 conflicts out of a Matsu Seventh Legion is very enticing indeed. Gaijin Customs provides a much needed tempo boost, and could be a part of the engine that facilitates breaking 3 provinces in a turn. Iuchi Wayfinder supports that very naturally and is cheap in both fate and splash cost. On the opposite end of splash costs we have Invocation of Ash, which is restrictive to play in bulk, but very powerful as a means of transferring force around the board both in military and political conflicts. All told, Unicorn have a ton of potential as a splash clan for Lion.

I spoke earlier about the strategy of conflict denial, well, Pacifism provides exactly that. The cost is almost certainly too prohibitive, but the idea of preventing a key opposing character from defending your military conflicts is very intriguing. The Path of Man is another obvious choice. Providing an economic boost to fuel further oppression is quite the prospect, though at a whopping 4 influence it might be the only thing you borrow from the Phoenix arsenal. Harmonize is possibly the best defensive card for HMT as it gives you the option to nullify a conflict or force your opponent to overcommit and lose no tempo yourself. Phoenix represent a very passive addition, which I don’t feel synergizes with the desired strategy of HMT.

The Crab Splash brings with it one of the most hotly anticipated cards of the Elemental Cycle in Spread the Darkness. It serves every purpose a HMT deck could hope for, it’s usable in all military conflicts without restriction and provides built in protection. The 2 honor loss is heavy, and due to it being a cost, you are really going to hate playing it against Scorpion. It does provide great protection against a vast array of other nasty things though. One of the best possible conflict characters for lion is the Hiruma Skirmisher. Covert and bushi for the low low cost of 1 is jaw dropping. She is perfect fodder for HMT and with the array of force pumps in this splash, you can easily solo a province with her before being sac’d to HMT. I also mentioned cheating characters into play right? Well, Reprieve is one of the best tools for unexpectedly keeping those cheated characters around. The efficiency this card represents is staggering in Lion when you take into consideration our excellent pool of Dynasty characters. Some lesser options that also provide food for thought are Jade Tetsubo which encourages you to actually engage in fights. I for one can’t recommend that strategy, better to remove the burden of choice from the opponent by just preventing their presence outright. Raise the Alarm would be interesting in a particular incarnation of HMT. I hear getting massive characters for free is decent, and bearing in mind that HMT can be proc’d on defense, using the free dude you just cheated in to defend is pretty neat. You are also putting another card in the bin for your Kitsu Spiritcaller so what’s not to like? Iron out the inconsistency of the card by having 40 characters and you are good to go!

I think it’s pretty obvious which splash I favor, so without further preamble here’s the deck I propose:

There are some controversial choices in this deck, no doubt about it. So let’s get right into it.

Province Line-up

You may think this choice of provinces is somewhat suicidal, but really it is just maximizing the benefit of losing your provinces for you. Defending should be largely irrelevant for you, and with most of these provinces, you are putting your opponent in quite a bind by costing them resources even when they win. The only province worthy of defending is Shameful Display as you only get to inflict attrition by defending it, but this also gives you a benefit and possibly also a win in the conflict, as your array of pump actions can overwhelm most opponents and allow for HMT to be used on a military defense.

Probably the most controversial choice was removing The Art of War. I wanted to maximize my opponent’s pain and my gain from attacking into my provinces, which meant the choices for Air, Void and Fire were fairly obvious. This leaves the option of The Art of War and Ancestral Lands for Water and Earth, or alternatively, the arrangement I have above in the decklist. It’s my opinion that the stronghold province is largely irrelevant as, if the opponent is attacking yours, you have probably already lost, or rather, you should have won by that time. I feel the maximum pain for my opponent comes from discarding up to 3 of their most influential cards that can stop me, rather than drawing into more force pumps. I’m open to being convinced either way, but I feel the bidding system, the Earth ring, Ikoma Ikehata and Gifted Tactician  provide plenty of card draw for this deck.

General Strategy:

  • Commit to conflicts efficiently, using covert to support minimal assignment.
  • Don’t overreach early, build momentum for a turn before you try to end the game
  • Your tempo comes from your ability to cheat characters into play and efficiently keep them there
  • Use your pump cards wisely, they are a precious resource that is key for you to win the game
  • Generally aim to deplete your opponent’s resources and reveal provinces with your political attacks, if you manage to take the province it is a massive bonus towards winning the game, but the main purpose should be depleting their resources.
  • Hurt your opponent’s resources whenever possible. If you see a prominent moment to play a Goblin Sneak, take it and don’t look back

The most difficult matchups for this deck will be Unicorn, Dragon and Scorpion. Generally these opponents will counter your best efforts by having superior fate cards (Scorpion), more attachments than you can deal with (Dragon) and more movement/units than you have denial (Unicorn). All matches are of course winnable in this game, with great play and patience to wait for the right opening. You create that opening by being more efficient than your opponent and denying their presence through Covert, Lions Pride Brawler, Ring of Water etc while maximising your board presence through cheating characters into play.


It’s a rough world out there for Lion right now, but there is hope. The Elemental Cycle was not super beneficial for Lion but some key additions have helped keep Lion viable at the very least. The main takeaway from this cycle is that Lion have a lot of possibility to improve in the near future and with just a few new cards there is potential for Lion to pounce on Rokugan and be truly dominant.

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.

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24 Replies to “The Ten Orders – Elemental Lion”

  1. @Andy
    Thank you for the well written article, and bonus points for the details you threw in such as your suggested Province lineup. Well done.

    Only bone I’d pick with you is your Clan rankings. Placing Dragon and Unicorn in Tier 1, above Crane and Phoenix (if played with their new SH) is laughable imo, especially when viewed through recent tournament results that took place across several continents. While, sure, Unicorn will be a serious contender given the release of their upcoming cards through the Elemental Cycle, Unicorn cannot challenge Lion and Crane (am just picking those 2 for my arguments here in this post) and comfortably defeat those decks consistently during tournament settings.
    Having played this game since its inception, and having watched a large number of games among other players (who are 1,000 times better than I am or will ever be at this card game), the top tier remains Scorpion and Crab, followed by (Tier 2) Crane and Phoenix with their new SH, followed by (Tier 3) Lion and Dragon and Unicorn…. I can say this with confidence after viewing the crazy cards coming out for Crane and Phoenix which continues to gain more synergy after each previewed card… Any single top player can take the helm of a Clan, compose a polished deck, go on and beat a host of other players online and in person during tournaments, but overall that will only provide us a false positive that will not agree with the current and established meta as to deck strength and deck abilities in the hands of average players… I’d bet my mortgage on any top player changing decks (and choosing Unicorn with Crab splash as an example) and going on to win Worlds – but seriously; will that be commonly seen during tournaments? I don’t believe so.
    I’m coming off as harsh in this post, but that’s not my intention. I guess I’m dis-illusioned at not seeing consistent results with my chosen decks…..

    1. Hey @AJ thanks for reading it and taking the time to write something.

      1) even if you did come across is harsh (which I don’t think you did), that is 100% acceptable, in fact, it’s fantastic because it means you’re passionate about the game and the topic

      2)My rankings are based on very little real information, just my play experience, my general knowledge of design and card games and a lot of guesswork 🙂 If you listen to our podcast, you’ll hear a lot of hot takes from me and I like to bring that style to the page too. I’m always happy to be wrong too!

  2. I know it’s not the topic about tier list but you made it so… Why do you consider Scorpion above crab? Scorpion didn’t get any (in my opinion) auto include cards except 1 per deck holding. Crab got a lot of very good to great cards. Before Elemental Cycle Scorp and crab performance was quite equal. Crane had got slight advantage in scorp MU and got cards (Game of Sadane, Soul Beyond Reproach) that makes this MU way better. In my personal opinion power level of Scorpion (comparing to other clans) dropped after this cycle (comparing to other clans), it will probably come back to top after the clan pack.

    1. Haha, I guess I did, shame on me.

      I think that Scorpion are so dominant that even though they got very little, no one else got enough to displace them. The problem I see is that the nature of Scorpion’s strength is their ability to efficiently counter every other clans preferred line of play. The major exception for me, is Unicorn with Hisu Mori Toride, as they bring a dynamic to the game that we haven’t seen yet. They are what I would consider the first true swarm deck! Will scorpion be AS dominant when they have an opponent they cannot consistently beat? I’m gonna enjoy finding out

  3. The only card I really question in the deck is the inclusion of Satoshi. I know that he lets you fish for your keepers and provides Caller bait but with only 7 Imperial card in the deck (3 of which are him) there is a very good chance you’ll end up milling to much of your deck when you use him, as was evidenced at Houston in the Semi-Finals where one mill saw 20 odd cards and all three Callers getting discarded. I would maybe consider Kudaka in that slot as her economy is a great increase.

    1. Hey @Jon Schmidt, Thanks for the comment!

      I was on the fence about satoshi for ages, and I only recently gave him a real shot in the deck and I have to say that in combination with Ikehata, you can really push those politics conflicts through, and with HMT, That means I’m a massive step closer to winning the game.

      You are correct though, he is a risk, but generally teh hypergeometric distibution will be on your side, and the rare case that is isn’t, is not a strong enough case to NOT play him. Just my 2 cents.

      Kudaka is a nice call actually, I’ll give her a shot for sure

  4. It’s a great article, thanks for your work.
    Besides, soon the elemental roles will be changed (and Lion will be Seeker of fire if rumors are true). That makes some cards of your chosing not playable in the deck.
    I agree with the crab splash too, the maho kiho and the hiruma are very good to be ignored.
    I want to try the Tireless Sodan Senzo in Lions deck. He got 3 advantages: Good political skill for his cost. 0 glory (and that’s good against dishonor) and his ability. You can leave him to defend your provinces making your enemy to spend resources (a card spent is a card spent after all), with high probabilities of not bowing and be ready for another defense or counterattack. What do you think?

    1. ……. Seeker of void….. (yeah, my bad, sorry) Moderator feel free to erase comments and edit the main one 😉

    2. Thank you for reading it, really appreciate the kind words!

      I was hard on Tireless Sodan Senzo in the recent pack review, mostly because I really just can’t find a good fit for it. The card has a ton of potential like you say, but my main bone of contention is that cards like that don’t fit into my deck construction philosophy:

      If you aren’t winning, you’re losing and don’t plan to lose.

      Tireless Sodan Senzo is too ok with losing imo. Maybe I’m too much of a purist though 🙂

      1. Well, you are using Vengeful Oathkeeper…. 😉
        Jokes besides, Senzo is a good defense for the first enemy attack. The best position for him will be that. Defending the first attack, forcing the rival to spend resources (even tiny ones). If rival wins, you have your senzo for the second attack (in league with the oathkeeper, for instance). If rival loses… well, you saved your province so…

        1. Haha, ok you got me there. You’ve also convinced me to at least test it out a bit more and see if it fits too 🙂

  5. Lack of clear thematic card support
    Linearity of playstyle
    Lack of synergy in the card pool
    Lack of variety in deck construction options

    well, these are just beautiful words. Linearity isn’t a problem, if you overwhelm your opponent with the brute force. Variety isn’t needed at all. Most top decks are quite solved, so you know what to expect, but it doesn’t help you.

    Lion desperately need GOOD STUFF. If Kitsu warrior was 4/4 for 2, it wold be broken. No one would care if he is thematic or not, synergistic or not, it’s just an enormous body. This is what they need. Unconditional good cards. Like doomed shugenja, border rider, etc.

    1. I’m going to assume there was no sarcasm there and take that as a wonderful compliment. Thank you.

      I DID say that it was a combination of those things, not purely a single one. I will absolutely concede to your points that any single one of those things on it’s own is not an issue, but by their powers combined…. well, I feel it makes life very difficult for the clan.

      As for the topic of unilaterally good cards. That would be lovely, but it would make for quite a dull game in the short term and quite a broken one in the long term. In any case, we have some unconditionally powerful cards, but they are not propelling us to the top of the pile, so what is the problem?

      In my opinion, it’s the lack of those generically powerful cards synergising with anything else. Lion’s card pool points in so many different directions at the moment that it is hard to make any mechanic feed off any other. I’m just calling it like I see it, and I’m always happy to chat with fellow Lion players who are feeling the pinch

    2. Lion has GOOD STUFF. His dynasty deck is one of the best in the game.
      Focusing on this cycle:
      Ikoma Ikehata would be a crazy card in any other faction. You print that for Crane, phoenix or scorpion and people will call it op.
      The holding that recurses weapons, would be great on dragon.
      My ancestors spell, would be played in phoenix.

      And old stuff like pride brawler, Spiritcaller or Ujiaki are great cards, with a level of power way higher than the average and which will see play in any deck if they where assigned to another faction.

      Their problem is exactly that there is no synergy or theme in their game. Their cards would be better on other decks, since they support play styles that are not developed. Recursive weapons is great, but only if you faction has a weapon theme like Dragon.
      Shugenja spell boost is great if you have a shugenja theme and a holding that recurses them.
      An fire ring effect plus a card draw if you win politics conflict(In a card with covert and courtier trait) is CRAZY if your theme supports it.

      Lion cards are great in isolation, they just dont have a cohesive theme besides GOOD STUFF that dont work together.

  6. Thank you Andy.
    It was a great article.

    We are a lot of players to think (after some testing) Ikoma Ikehata and Ikoma Reservist are by far the best Lion cards of the Elemental cycle.
    It’s a good new to know it’s not a local feeling.

    1. I think Ikehata IS that good. at first glance he doesn’t look all that great, but he is actually super practical. I like to use him to declare Fire Political fights, and here’s why:

      – He has covert, you will immediately have a solid advantage over the opponent in the conflict, particularly early in the game
      – Your opponent will not want to invest resources in stopping Ikehata from winning, as they will NEED those resources to stop up to 2 additional military attacks.
      – By contesting fire, you are potentially getting a HUGE amount of resources: a card, an honored character, the fire ring and any number of keeper initiates you have lying around (who can be honored after they enter play by the fire ring and potentially also Ikehata’s effect[?])
      – He’s a courtier to fuel running powerful cards like For Shame more consistently

      One of the things that should not be dismissed is the long term effect he has if he sticks around on the table, and that is: When combined with implacable magistrate, he is essentially your endgame strategy to comprehensively win at the the opponents stronghold.

      1. Thanks for the reply, and the detailed analysis of Ikehata. I think I’ll need to try slotting him into the deck somewhere and see what impact he has.

        Also, thanks for the article!

  7. Great article, really enjoyed it.

    What are your thoughts on running appealing to the fortunes instead of shameful display?

  8. Thanks for the deck.
    I got a L5R we coming up with a friend. I’m going to build this Lion deck and a Unicorn one with the same stronghold. So we’ll reenact the battles to take this fortress… It’ll be fun! 😉

    1. We did play all WE that deck and a Unicorn using the same Stronghold. Given the time I had, I only took my Unicorn deck and made a few changes. The Lion deck fared very good but the Unicorn one was very weak due to bad design/errors (the conflict deck was 37 cards, lol).
      We still had a lot of fun and both deck did make use of the stronghold reaction. 🙂

  9. “any number of keeper initiates you have lying around (who can be honored after they enter play by the fire ring and potentially also Ikehata’s effect[?])”

    Nope. Keeper Initiates enter play after you Claim the Ring, which is step 3.2.7. Ikehata triggers in 3.2.3 (Compare Skill Values) and Rings are resolved in 3.2.6.

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