Elemental Cycle – Scorpion

Elemental Cycle – Scorpion

In this article, we look at the Scorpion cards in the Elemental Cycle. For added commentary, we have Jakub Irzyk winner of the Polish Kotei, the Paris Grand Kotei, and the Birmingham Grand Kotei. Jakub comes from the Polish L5R community, which has always had a reputation for being highly competitive.

I consider Scorpion and Lion losers of this cycle. It looks like the designers decided that Scorpion was good enough already and new scorpion options/playstyle will be introduced in clan pack. I see no great nor interesting Scorpion cards in this cycle and all fun from playing Scorp now comes from interesting splash options. Anyway, I tried to put my disappointment away and rate cards as accurately as I can.
Cards rating:
1 – No idea how to use this card.
2 – In a future with more cards supporting this playstyle it could be fine.
3 – This card will work as a filler or for a specific build.
4 – This card is good, it will compete with other choices for a deck slot right after I put all top cards in.
5 – Just put it into your deck, you won’t regret it.
– Jakub

09. Soshi Shadowshaper

Scorpion have an impressive selection of Conflict characters, and Adept of Shadows ranks high amongst them. Soshi Shadowshaper gives a similar ability to high utility characters like Meek Informant or influence characters such as Seeker of Knowledge, Iuchi Wayfinder, and Hiruma Skirmisher, allowing you to get the full benefit of their abilities and then return them to your hand for a later use. It also works aggressively, forcing your opponent to repay for their cheap Conflict characters if they are able. It’s a powerful ability that has the potential to swing turns in your favor, though it’s heavily dependant on the decks involved.

Deck space-wise the Shadowshaper has some issues. Currently, Scorpion decks often run Cloud the Mind but beyond that have very little Shugenja synergy. The lack of Courtier hurts a lot and means it’ll often be in contention with Soshi Illusionist, a character with better stats and a weaker but more reliable ability. Until we see more Shugenja synergy the Shadowshaper may be limited to decks that rely on its combo potential, a risky prospect with a 2 cost character. The Soshi Shadowshaper is a good card, but unlikely to be an auto-include yet.

The only reason this card’s ability is not great, is Adept of Shadows. Used on opponent’s character it looks like a 1 honor for 1 fate trade (it’s fine), but used on your own character is way better. Bouncing your own Shrine Maiden, Iuchi Wayfinder, Meek Informant, or Hiruma Skirmisher is awesome. This card is not great but it’s good, it’s a fine option in proper decks. Rating: 3.5.

– Jakub


10. Heartless Intimidator

Milling (discarding cards from your opponent’s deck) is a relatively rare ability at the current stage of the game, which actually hurts this card. In isolation, the Heartless Intimidator is unlikely to be able to force the 5 honor loss of a reshuffle. The 3 cost Courtier slot for Scorpion is competitive, and the other three characters (Favored Niece, Shosuro Actress, and Fawning Diplomat) have abilities much more likely to impact the game. Discarding a card from your opponent’s deck has the potential to hit a powerful card, but is effectively just as likely to discard a weak card allowing your opponent to draw a more powerful one. If further support for this archetype comes then the Intimidator may find a deck, but for now, the Heartless Intimidator doesn’t do enough to outshine the other 3 cost Courtiers and currently does very little to help you win the game.

A very high cost for stats along with an ability not supported enough by other cards makes this cards bad. Maybe we will see more mechanics like this in a future? Rating: 2.

– Jakub


20. Maze of Illusion

When it works, Maze of Illusion makes Mirumoto’s Fury look weak. The question is how reliable is it?  I suspect dissertations could be written on how best to get the bow and dishonor to resolve, and whether it makes it into a player’s deck will largely depend on how reliable that individual player finds it. It should be 50/50 but we know from research on Rock-Paper-Scissors that these games are often more Psychology than chance. Maze of Illusion does have another use beyond the written effect. Modifying your dial independent of standard bids allows you to set up cards such as I Can Swim or Good Omen without loss of cards or honor. This can be even more powerful than the baseline effect and increases the value of all the bid reliant cards in the game (with the exception of Misinformation, which is beyond help).

As a Spell with only 2 influence, it may be of interest to the Phoenix who with Kyūden Isawa can always try again if it doesn’t work out the first time. This is especially relevant for Phoenix as it is also an Air card for use with Inquisitive Ishika and Isawa UonaMaze of Illusion is a powerful but potentially unreliable effect, and how viable it is may vary greatly from player to player. The potential to set up other card effects is significant, and it may be worth playing for that alone, with the actual effect being more of a side benefit.

The power of the card is good enough to justify the 50% chance of working. Setting the dial is a good option but usually Scorpion want to have a higher bid than their opponent and this card can’t do that if your opponent’s dial is already set to 5 (duels makes this way better). It’s a good card. Can be frustrating but it’s still a solid option. Choosing to play it or not depends on how stable and predictable a deck you need and how can you utilize changing the dial numbers. Rating: 4.

– Jakub


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.

A 1 military, 0 glory courtier for 1 is a solid option for scorp. It’s still worse than Liar or Manipulator but if you want more 1 drops it’s not bad option. Rating: 3.

– Jakub


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.

The best part of this card is that it makes 1/1 conflict characters unable to win a conflict by themselves. In cases like this both players have used 1 fate and 1 card from hand. The attacker might get some fate from a ring but the defender got the option to use their province ability… In addition, you will probably be able to move it to more important character during fate phase. It’s a fine option now and probably will synergize with future cards making it good. Rating: 3.

– Jakub


49 Soshi Shiori

A lot of people freaked out when they first saw Soshi Shiori, concerned that she’ll be causing 4 points of honor loss a turn. I can reassure everyone that it’s very unlikely, because winning four conflicts in a turn is very difficult. Instead she’ll likely be causing 1 or 2, but, honestly, that’s still massive. The potential of winning a game, from apparently nowhere (or ‘reach’ in card game parlance), is one of the issues that can hinder Dishonor decks, which can often get opponents down to 2 or 3 honor, but can’t quite take those last few points. Shiori fixes that, fulfilling a similar role to the Blackmail Artist but on a bigger scale. If she hits the table turn 3, a lot of games are simply over. On top of that, she has a strong control influence. If she’s sitting on the table, even bowed, she may force your opponent to pass a conflict opportunity rather than risk running into a timely Assassination or For Shame!, losing that conflict, and suffering further honor loss. 

The question then is: does she makes the cut, even given the power of her ability? First, she’s up against Bayushi Shoju in the 5 cost slot, and Scorpion are unlikely to want to play two dynasty characters that expensive, especially when they already have Bayushi Kachiko and A Fate Worse Than Death in their conflict deck. Shoju is a one-man army, capable of forcing through a ring against nearly any defender, but, outside of that, has limited value in a dishonor deck, which means replacing him is quite possible. Like the Soshi Shadowshaper, Shiori is Shugenja without the Courtier keyword, and there are still very few spells that require the keyword. Her stat line is poor in comparison to Shoju’s, but it appears that most 5-cost characters have weaker skills than the Core Set Clan Champions. A political skill of 5 is still enough to win most conflicts, and will help you to trigger her ability at least once each turn – potentially more than enough to swing a game. Testing will be needed to see if the loss of the Courtier trait is significant, but I suspect we’ll be seeing a great deal of Soshi Shiori going forward.

I would consider her in deck with backhanded compliment aiming for a fast dishonor win. Othewise, she’s an over-costed, “win more” card. She does not compare well to Shoju, who is able to win conflict alone (effective 9 pol vs 5),  has better traits, and can force an undefended conflict quite easily. I don’t see replacing Shoju with Soshi Shiori as an option and playing with both of them needs a bit of reconsideration on how to build and play a Scorpion deck. Rating: 2.5.

– Jakub


56 Infiltrator

The ability on the Infiltrator looks good, appearing to be almost as powerful as drawing a card. However, the game already has a similar ability in Pillow Book, which currently doesn’t see play and is probably a better effect. Stealing an opponent’s card feels like it could be powerful, but in reality, the likelihood of you hitting something you can’t use is much higher due to traits and reactions, and discarding from the deck doesn’t really matter until you’ve gotten rid of the whole thing.

The Infiltrator also has the terrible bid-based restriction that has been plaguing Scorpion and Lion cards. Wanting to encourage and reward a specific bid pattern is a good idea that provides some interesting design space, but, for weaker cards, they should still work if the bid is identical. In the current environment, most bids are 1 or 5, with very few reasons to bid 2 to 4. You are unlikely to be able to play this card until turn three in most games, and it simply isn’t a strong enough effect to warrant clogging your hand for that long. The Infiltrator is a card that looks more powerful and interesting than it unfortunately is.

The biggest problem with Infiltrator is being locked out by an opponent’s 5 bid. Around half the time we get a card from our opponent’s deck that we cannot use, but sommetimems using our opponent’s cards (Plagiarist, Actress) can lead to unexpected and powerful interactions. This card is far less predictable than Plagiarist and Actress but still can make great swing. In decks where you want to invest a lot fate to characters and you don’t want to draw a lot, this card can shine. Rating: 3.

– Jakub


67 Disguised Protector

Although filled with potential, this Disguised Protector is unlikely to ever fulfill it. If it had had the Skills appropriate for a 4 cost character (i.e. at least one 4) or was 3 cost, then it could be a potentially interesting card that interacts with bid dials and Maze of Illusion to catch your opponent off-guard. Unfortunately, the majority of turns in most games you and your opponent will bid similarly unless they are actively attempting to win by honor or dishonor, something reinforced by this being a Dynasty character so your opponent will see its potential impact before the Draw Phase.

The best case scenario for this character is that you and your opponent both bid 1, then you play a Maze of Illusion and set your dial to 5. This results in you getting a slightly stronger Banzai! effect. The issue is that a Dishonor deck won’t ever want to bid 5, which removes the threat of the ability outside of having a Maze, and a Conquest deck would generally rather bid 5 and draw the cards rather than not draw them and hope for a Banzai! Your opponent may also bid 3, in which case they are up in cards and the maximum benefit you get from this character is significantly reduced. In many ways, it is character version of Deceptive Offer, with the majority of its power being under your opponent’s control rather than your own, and the baseline character and payoff aren’t worth the tradeoff.

There are two scenarios where the Disguised Protector may be worth playing. Firstly, as a Shinobi he will have a place in any deck reliant on that keyword until the card pool is large enough to be replaced with something more efficient. Secondly, it has potential in an environment that is heavy on Honor and Dishonor decks, where you know your opponents will likely bid 1, and thus the ability has a higher chance of being active early in the game.

This card just costs too much for its unreliable skill. Being a dynasty character, the requirement of participating in a conflict, and the 4 fate cost makes this card bad. Rating: 1.

– Jakub


68 Hidden Moon Dojo

The current tiers for the Unique holdings are Kanjo District and Karada District at the top, followed by The Imperial Palace, with everything else quite a distance behind. The Dojo is in the same bracket as The Imperial Palace – there is very little reason not to play it in the deck. It gives you a lot more options when it is in play even though those options may still not be significant, but it won’t be the main reason you win the game like the Crab and Phoenix holdings can be.

The potential value of this card is quite high, allowing you to pass earlier in the Dynasty Phase to net the Fate and deny it to your opponent. It means you can buy characters only when you need them for Conflicts and force through threats simply by having the potential to buy a high-cost character mid-fight. The flipside is that it will reveal on an end Province half the time, the character you need to buy this turn may be in a non-adjacent Province so you don’t get to pass first anyway and if your opponent attacks this you may have to make purchases just to keep it alive. On an average turn, it is more likely to benefit that hinder, especially with the card reveal that means it doesn’t quite cost a Province slot to keep in play, and as a Unique holding it’s likely to be an auto-include in Scorpion going forward.

Let the scorpion pass early… Nothing new in scorpion decks, this card just supports current playstyle. Scorpion can pass early because of: Ambush, control events and good value of conflict characters. 1 card per dynasty deck isn’t good enough to impact amount of control cards or dynasty char in Scorpion decks. Anyway this single copy of this card will be worth almost always (at least it will reveal single dynasty card so it will return the slot it occupies). +0 strength and limited power in 50% of cases (going into most left or right province) are the biggest weaknesses of this card. I see no reason to not include this card in any Scorpion deck. Rating: 5

– Jakub


79 Deceptive Offer

This card is terrible. Either effect alone is decent, but giving up control of which one happens means that the card is too unreliable to play over any other available options. Levy at least involves a resource that can be at 0 and has a high value when stolen, and even that is a borderline card at best.

Giving your opponent options is in most cases bad. Both options on this card aren’t very powerful making this card even weaker. Only good things about it is granting bonuses for both stats and possibility to use it during any conflict. Rating: 1.

– Jakub


96 Shosuro Sadako

When the Underhand of the Emperor Clan Pack is released, it’s likely Sadako will become a potent tool for Kyuden Bayushi, but right now she lacks relevant keywords, and requires another card to dishonor her in order to generate value from her glory. Therefore, most of her benefit (for now) resides in being a 2-fate character with 3 glory to help take the Imperial Favour. Some decks may like this, but it looks likely that she’ll sit in folders until October, and then become a potent tool in Shinobi or Kyuden Bayushi decks.

But when that day does come, she has a lot to offer. Turning dishonored status into a significant positive is a powerful effect. First, it reduces an opponent’s options in dealing with the character – Shameful Display cannot effectively be used against Sadako, and she protects her entire army from Court Games. More importantly for Scorpion, it allows her to not only ignore certain costs on powerful cards like Calling in Favors and Spies at Court, but turn them into skill buffs as well. It will also allow her to use Kyuden Bayushi and become a significant threat, all on her own, twice per turn. Having Sadako is on the table will open up new lines of play for Scorpion, whilst simultaneously shutting down some of their opponent’s, which is a lot of potential for a 2-cost character.

This card is waiting for more options to dishonor your own Scorpion characters. 3 glory conflict character is a grat tool for imperial favor control. This card is ok now and it will be better and better with new cards for sure. Rating: 3.

– Jakub


97 Mark of Shame

As an Air role-only card, Mark of Shame is currently available only to Crane. At 1 influence, it’s quite splashable, and the Scorpion splash is already a strong option for Crane – but I think it’s unlikely that the Mark will take priority over A Fate Worse Than Death, Forged Edict or Calling In Favors.

If Scorpion acquire an Air role at Worlds, which is a definite possibility, this card may have a place in dishonor-focused decks, providing a way to dishonor honored characters and effectively causing a two-point honor swing, as well as a small skill penalty. 2 fate is a lot to pay for what will often just be a Way of the Scorpion, but that may say more about the strength of Way of the Scorpion than the power level of this card. If a deck is looking for more options to dishonor enemy characters (and has an Air role) this is well worth considering.

This card is costly but it’s effect and uncancellability is good enough to justify the cost. Being locked by air isn’t bad too because both Keeper and Seeker of Air looks fine for scorpion. It’s good, well balanced card in my opinion. Rating: 3.5.

– Jakub


98 Discourage Pursuit

If this card could be physically placed in a Scorpion deck, it would be excellent with the upcoming Kyuden Bayushi. It doesn’t require your Shinobi to be participating, it sets up the powerful Stronghold ability as well as Bayushi Aramoro and on top of all that it also wins conflicts. It’s exactly the kind of card Shinobi need to be an actual competitive deck.

So, of course, they put “Earth role only” on it and ruined the whole thing. Earth doesn’t even make sense as the element for this card – Shinobi have none of the characteristics associated with earth. Skill penalties and dishonoring aren’t earth-related in the game, and Scorpion have no other reason to ever take an Earth role. No other Clan has sufficient Shinobi to consider it, nor are they ever likely to, with the one non-Scorpion Shinobi having direct counter-synergy with this card. In general, I’m a fan of role locking cards and not role locking clans, but this card is a testament to the fact that than even a simple concept can be mishandled, and waste all the potential of role locking cards.

Did I ask for a card being able to dishonor my own shinobi? -4 mil strength for cost of 1 honor and a card from hand? No requirements like participating in a conflict? I like this card as much as I like the scorpion’s ability to defend the conflict w/o committing your own characters to defend. Rating: 4.

– Jakub


103. Web of Lies

There are some scenarios in which Web of Lies can be impressive – e.g., your opponent’s first few attacks in the game, or a Maze of Illusion played in a clutch battle to jump from 2 province strength to 10. But by playing this you are choosing to gamble that it will be high when you need it to be, or that you’ll be able to manipulate it when required.

Unfortunately, the flow of a game means that the ideal place for this is your Stronghold, since you don’t want your opponent to be able to farm it for rings in the early game, and then, often, by the time you are forced to defend your Stronghold, you are down to bidding 1 or 2. 8 or 10 province strength can be nice, but it’s unlikely to be worth the risk that your opponent duels you, or your honor forces a low bid for the last battle and you’ve instead got a blank 2 or 4 province-strength province. There are enough good provinces in the game, even in water, that it’s not worth gambling this will be 8+ Strength when you need it.

Standard Scorpion province setup do not include the water province so being a water province is great for Web of Lies. I do not like provinces w/o skills that do not punish opponent for poking. Anyway 10 strength province for both conflicts under Stronghold or 10 strength province in early game in case where you are racing for breaks with your opponent is great. It requires a bit of support from your deck but it can works well without big investment. Rating: 3.5.

– Jakub


109. Reclusive Zokujin

In general, the assessment of many of the Scorpion characters in this cycle has been: “Potentially very good, but lack of Courtier means it may be hard to fit in the deck”. That is also true of the Reclusive Zokujin, but with one minor difference – it’s definitely going in the deck.

First, the main drawback of the card (other than the lack of Courtier) – only working during earth conflicts – isn’t really a drawback. Earth is, on average, the best ring in the game. Every other ring can offer a situationally better option, but it takes a cosmic alignment of factors for earth to not be worth resolving. You won’t always be able to capitalize on the Zokujin’s ability, but it will come up enough that it’s worth the risk.

If the Zokujin were a 1/3, it would be much less appealing. A large part of its strength lies in its being ‘off-stat’ for Scorpion. Being able to safely engage in a military conflict where the biggest defender can’t assign thanks to Covert, and in which you’re safe from most defensive actions is a big deal in a clan primarily oriented toward winning political conflicts. Even just the 3 military skill and Covert would be a strong combination (as we’ve seen with Unassuming Yojimbo), but the immunity to your opponent’s card effects is the delicious icing on the cake. And though not ideally used on defense, the Zokujin’s Covert and its ability make sure it can defend and guarantee that it will remain present for the whole Conflict. I fully expect this character to be one of the star Scorpions of the Elemental Cycle.

Restrictive skill with ok but not great effect, and no useful traits on 3 cost characters with medicore statline? I do not like the idea where your 3 cost characters works in half of turns (being 1st player usually) and force you to pick ring (despite the always-work earth ring nature). Rating: 2.5.

– Jakub


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

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2 Replies to “Elemental Cycle – Scorpion”

    1. “It’s not a 50/50 call, its a 40% even, 60% odd”

      It is a 50/50 call if the reason for your opponent to bid odd or even is 50/50, else it’s a mind game:

      For these examples I am leaving out Good Omen (the other card where dial values are important currently released)

      Scenario 1:

      Scorpion’s dial is (doesn’t matter)
      Opponent’s dial is 4
      Scorpion plays Maze of Illusion
      The scorpion player may want to bid 5 to enable I Can Swim
      The opponent should realise the Scorpion player can only bid 5 to enable I Can Swim
      This is not a 50/50 call because there are reasons for the Scorpion player to bid odd, and the opponent to guess odd.
      The interaction is now a mind-game, between the players, and whether enabling I Can Swim or the effect of Maze of Illusion is more important to either player.

      Scenario 2:

      Scorpion’s dial is (doesn’t matter)
      Opponent’s dial is 5
      Scorpion plays Maze of Illusion
      The Scorpion player cannot enable I Can Swim by bidding higher
      The opponent should realise the Scorpion player cannot enable I Can Swim
      This is a 50/50 call because there is no reason for the Scorpion player to bid odd or even, or the opponent to guess odd or even.
      The interaction is a 50/50 call, a coin-toss.

      This logic process won’t apply as robustly when more cards are released which require certain dial states, but stands true for now (and who runs Good Omen anyway)

      The only time the bids get more complicated is when two players are playing I Can Swim / Maze of Illusion

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