Elemental Cycle – Unicorn

Elemental Cycle – Unicorn

In this article we look at the Unicorn cards in the Elemental Cycle. This is a pretty important cycle for Unicorn and hopefully should bring them up to a competitive level where Unicorn players will be able to win a tournament. To add a Unicorn perspective we have Milán Terék aka Leenath, who is currently the top ranked Unicorn player on the Discord rankings and went 5-2 during the Swiss at Birmingham getting Unicorn Hatamoto. If you enjoy the article, consider donating to the fund to get him to worlds!


11. Shinjo Shono

The Unicorn Clan has suffered from a lack of quality 4+ cost characters. Thankfully, Shinjo Shono is here to help redress that balance. At 4 military and 3 political skill for 4, along with 2 glory, Shono’s stats are already quite reasonable for the cost. He has Cavalry, always welcome, and Commander, which is an emerging sub-theme. His Pride keyword means that should he win a conflict he becomes honored, vaulting his stats to 6/5, and his ability is tailor-made for winning conflicts. We’ve seen a few Unicorn cards that reference outnumbering, so we can hazard a guess that this is a new mechanical direction for the clan. Assuming this gets the support it needs, Shono fits right into that strategy, both by buffing it and being rewarded for its success. As such, we’d expect to see Shono as a staple character for Unicorn, in much the same way that Honored General has been for the Lion. Unicorn have some way to go to catch up with the other clans, and cards like this will definitely help bridge that gap.

Our Lord and Savior Shono. Why? We lacked powerful 4 and 5 costers before this cycle. If you check the other clan’s Dynasty decks you will see that their backbone and key cards are 3 and 4 costers, while the 5-costers are mostly “game finishers” (Tadaka says hi). Our earlier 4-costers like Moto Horde were most likely meh. Shono’s stat line is a bit better than mediocre for 4 cost (4/3/2). However, he has the Pride keyword and quite easily a beast.

Cavalry trait is quite useful and a must-have for a 4 coster now in our decks (except Shahai, but we will talk about her later.) We don’t really have support now for Commander trait, but I think in the future there will be some kind of swarm empowering theme revolving around it.
Paired with Shiotome Encampment, he can easily handle defending and attacking alone. Shono introduced Cycle 2 Unicorn theme: the powerful midrange or the swarm blitz deck type. Sadly full swarm is not as powerful yet, but we are only missing 1-2 cards for it.

His ability has pretty good synergy with our new Stronghold. He just made Cavalry Reserve more valuable. Imagine a conflict where you are presenting 1 or 2 cavalry unit then Reserving out Shono and another 2coster (or 3x Battle Maiden Recruit ;)). You can easily reach 30-40 force with him for 3fate. Another good card synergy is Force of the River since the tokens have the Cavalry trait, so Shono’s ability is working with them. As I can see he is easily 3x in every deck now and will remain so for a while.

Rating: 5/5 – Leenath

 


12. Shiotome Encampment

Shiotome Encampment is the Unicorn equivalent of the Crab Clan’s Iron Mine. Where the mine keeps a character around for an extra turn, the Encampment makes one character twice as good this turn. Unlike Iron Mine, Shiotome Encampment does not get discarded after use, but it does require the Unicorn player to have claimed a ring from a military conflict, either on attack or defense. Captive Audience takes on even more importance as a cornerstone card for Unicorn, and can turn unfavorable political conflicts into fuel for Shiotome Encampment’s ability. Straighten effects are hugely powerful in L5R, so this should be an instant staple for all Unicorn decks, as well as a priority target for all opponents. Unicorn could be competitive with a vengeance in a very short time.

Since we lacked good holdings (sorry Yurt, I still love you) Shiotome’s introduction was quite a big news for the Unicorn community. In my opinion, Shiotome is on par with any other holding in the game or even better (shoo Hidden Moon Dojo). Easy to use and powerful. Somehow the effect is similar to Crane’s Magistrate Station however you can stack 2 or 3x Shiotome in a crucial turn and devastate two or even three provinces with the new Stronghold.

Rebuild became a quite powerful splash card for us since we can time the holding when we want and take provinces by surprise at any time. As the other’s wrote Captive Audience became a staple 3x as well with Shiotome. You can turn around a powerful political attack to a military win then make a big swing with Shiotome. During my playtest games I discovered that if the enemy is letting me keep Shiotome around, I will just trample them quite fast. Luckily at the moment there isn’t too much holding removal in the game. In the future, Sabotage could be a threat, but I don’t really fear it.

Rating: 5/5 – Leenath

 


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.

This card is a tricky one. We Unicorns are debating over it all the time to use it or not use it in our already not-too-great province row since you lose Manicured/Fertile Fields this way. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Border Fortress. 4 province strength is stable. As Barry wrote you can use the ability defensively or aggressively.

First of all, let’s speak about the offensive usage. Several clans have a quite strong province line, and we NEED to know where to attack. Earlier we could do scout or poke attacks to find the safe provinces. However, BF paired with Iuchi Wayfinder we can map the enemy row quite fast. This is crucial in some matchups (like Dragon, Lion, and Scorpion). Against Dragon and Lion, we want to find Feast or Famine fast. However, Dragon has the Restoration on Balance province that could mess our whole tempo. Luckily we don’t need to use BF ability mindlessly but on-demand. If you have 4-5 cards just go around and try to find Resto (or Feast).

Now speak about the defensive usage. As we talked about it earlier, 3x Captive Audience is most likely a staple for most Unicorn decks. With BF you can move this number up to 4 since you can fire up your own Rally to the cause province. Against political heavy clans, this can mean a win or lose situation. Imagine when a Phoenix player is attacking you in politically with a big guy, where you dishonor his character, then Captive Audience or Border Fortress his Clarity, then win the military ring and ready your character with Shiotome. Sounds good right fellas ?:)

Rating: 3/5 – Leenath

 


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.

Well at first I really liked this card. A mediocre 1 cost character fitting into the swarm playstyle and strengthening our “have more character in the conflict” theme? Hell yeah! However, as playtesting the deck went more and more, I realized that this character is lacking the Cavalry trait. In the world of scare 1 costers like Doomed Shugenja, this character is quite lower than the curve. I feel that even Moto Youth has more space in the deck than Sneaky Shinjo. At the moment I’m running 0x of this character, however, there are some Unicorn who are trying to love this character and using 1-2x. If you are building a full swarm deck and want to counter Scorpion, then he has a space in your deck. Otherwise, he is mediocre, and Utaku Infantry is a better option.

Rating: 2/5 – Leenath

 


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.

Press of Battle. The foretold savior of our Clan. It is a Water role only event sadly. During a military conflict, if we have more characters than the opponent we can bow a non-unique character. At first glance, this seems pretty mediocre since you can’t bow a unique character with it. However non-unique 3-4 costers are quite impactful in the game and carrying most decks on their back (Niten Master, Prodigy, and LPB say hi). This card alone led me to want Keeper of Water at Worlds (and later on led me to my journey to Worlds) Bow effects alone are quite good cards, but they are even better in Unicorn since we are lacking impactful Conflict events in our Clan. It costs 0 fate and its requirement is easily doable.
Pairing it with Fight on crab splash card Press of Battle could be easily a staple 3x card in our future Water role deck.

Rating: 4/5 (When we get KoW) – Leenath

 


50 Battle Maiden Recruit

The Battle Maiden Recruit is the Unicorn’s addition to the elemental cycles theme of cheap characters who get bonuses for rings. In this case, we have a 0 cost character, reminiscent of the Crab’s rarely played Eager Scout. The Maiden becomes a 2 military 0 political character if you manage to claim either the Water or Void rings, both quite strong rings early in the turn.

As with the Eager Scout, she forces you to decide between allowing your opponent pass first or to gaining what might be a marginal increase. On the other hand, she does get boosted by Shinjo Shono, boosts Utaku Infantry, and will help with Unicorn’s outnumbering theme. With the Cavalry trait, the Maiden is a target for any Cavalry requirement cards and any discarded copies can come into play as an extra bonus during a Cavalry Reserves.

At first glance, this card could seem as bad as Eager Scout or Obstinate Recruit. However, if you inspect her closely, she is a cheap fodder that we really needed. Her ability is somewhat meh since Water and Void are not our most preferred rings (it’s even more true with Keeper of Fire around now), but quite manageable. What makes her insane then? She is a cavalry so you can sacrifice her for UHMT then just bringing her back with Cavalry Reserve for free, activating Shinjo Shono’s ability. These days you can easily reach 35-50 force with Shono+Cavalry Reserves+Force of the River, and 3x BRM is a good part of this niche. If you include Utaku Infantry in your deck (as I do), BMR is just more valuable since buffing the Infantry.
Tests are going around her, but in my opinion, she is easily a 2-3x in mid-range or swarm type of decks.

Rating: 3/5 – Leenath

 


57 Shiksha Scout

The Shiksha Scout is a 2-fate conflict character with 2 military and 2 political skill, which is still relatively flexible but would be considered slightly less efficient than a 1-cost 1/1. While the Scout is in a conflict, you are considered to have an extra character in that conflict for the purposes of card effects. This helps power cards such as Press of Battle and seems to be one of the key themes for the new Unicorn cards. With 1 glory, there is the option to play the Scout after the last conflict to help take the Imperial Favor – something that is especially important with the current tiebreaker rules in tournaments as time winds down.

The Scout doesn’t work well with characters like Shinjo Shono as the ‘extra’ character has no skill. Without the Cavalry trait, the Unicorn cannot use this as a target for a number of their effects including their current stronghold. This Naga Scout then sits in a weird place where it helps some of the Unicorn themes but not all. If the Unicorn find themselves having trouble with outnumbering their opponent, then the Shiksha Scout will find a place.

When I first saw this card, I was pretty excited. A conflict character that costs 2 fate and bringing a solid 2/2 stat line? Hell yeah! She has good synergy with the new theme of UHMT and Shono. However, when I playtested more, I started to cut the card. Why? Because she is not cavalry, thus not getting buffs from Shono. We can easily achieve the “have more character” theme of the new decks so most of the time she is useless. We already have a quite expensive Conflict deck with all the new attachments around. At this point, every other conflict character is more valuable than her (Iuchi Wayfinder, Hiruma Skirmisher, Tattooed Wanderer). So until we receive more cards that focus on swarm deck types, she is just a binder fodder sadly.

Rating: 1/5 – Leenath

 


58 Invocation of Ash

Getting an extra use out of an attachment in a turn is pretty big, especially when it is useful in both military and political conflicts. Losing a fate from the character you move it onto is a harsh penalty, however, since you limit the lifespan of that character. Moving the Invocation onto a character without fate gets around this penalty, but does mean that the attachment will be leaving play with the character during the fate phase, but there are ways around this. The Giver of Gifts allows you to move the Invocation onto a third character, one who still has Fate, potentially offering you several more swaps for the following turn. Invocation is an interesting card, even if it only offers stats. As a Meishōdō card, it may interact with more cards in the future, and, if the rumors of Unicorn getting a stronghold similar to the new Lion one are true, the effectiveness of the Invocation of Ash will be increased.

If we check this attachment closely, we can see that the statline 2/2 for 1 fate is a superb start. Attachment heavy Unicorn decks are working better lately, so we like new and usable ones. The ability seems a bit downsized at first. Losing an honor and a fate from the target character? Not worth it.

However, Invocation opens up a lot of niches. You want to equip your big Voltron targets with it and after you broke a province, and the enemy not expecting a counterattack you can just rush in with a weenie 1 coster, move to the Invocations to him and break again. Well, you can say that in this way you are losing the attachments for a break. With Giver of Gifts, you can move back the Invocation to your Voltron target thus not losing it.

Another pretty good usage is to build up a scary Shahai with it since every piece of it is free. The new Keeper of Fire role opened up a new niche too: Use Force of the River then play all your Meishodo attachments on one of them for free and attach an Adopted Kin on it. This way you will get a military beast for free, and after the end of the conflict, you are getting back EVERYTHING into your hand. Sounds good, right?
This card is quite strong since it can be in three conflicts for 1 fate. Staple 2x or 3x include in the new deck.

Rating: 5/5 – Leenath

 


69 Master of the Swift Waves

While rumors of a new Unicorn stronghold continue, it’s good to see the old stronghold hasn’t been completely abandoned. This Shugenja has a relatively competitive set of skill for a 3 fate character which typically hovers between the poor 2/2 with a very rare 3/3 or 4/2. For most competitive decks Cloud the Mind is a key element allowing a player deal with significant threads on the opposing side of the table. This has not been an option Unicorn players have had up until now, but the addition of this Shugenja might change that.

As a Cavalry character, the Master can be used with Cavalry specific cards like Cavalry ReservesShinjo Shono, Shiotome Encampment, and Golden Plains Outpost. Her ability, allows two characters to switch places between home and the conflict. As is typical of Shugenja characters, the Master does not need to be in the conflict and does not need to be one of the two characters used. This opens up a lot of flexibility Apart from the obvious uses, this does allow you to move a non-Cavalry character into the conflict replacing a Cavalry character and then use Golden Plains Outpost to move the Cavalry character back into the conflict again.

It is a bit sad but earlier our Dynasty deck was so bad stat-wise that a card like the Master is quite relieving. For other clans, this is quite normal: 3 fate for 3/2 and 1 glory. However low glory is a good addition in Unicorn because in core we suffered from high glory-low stat characters and dishonor heavy meta.

She is a Shugenja thus strengthening our already not that bad Shugenja lineup. With the new Shugenja we can now run 3x Cloud the Mind easily. Another good usage for her is to carry around the new Force of the River (aka the UHMT enabler) for turns. Another good trait on her is Cavalry. We really wanted a good Cavalry Shugenja, and we got that. She has synergy with all of our new Cavalry boosting cards like Shono, Shiotome or Cavalry Reserves (however we will never Cavalry Reserves her :D).

The most interesting part about her (apart from the sick art) is the ability. She doesn’t have to participate in the conflict and could switch out a character from home and a character from the current conflict. Why is this good? Makes our bluff tactics even stronger. Unicorns most of the times want the enemy to over or under-commit according to our will. You don’t need to switch with a ready character, so sometimes you just can make the enemy over-buff his characters then just bail out and switch with an already bowed character. But you can do the exact opposite as well. Poking with a weenie 1 coster and if the enemy under-commits you can just “call the cavalry” into the conflict. All in all, she is a perfect all-around defensive and attacker character that we really needed in our decks. Mostly 2 or 3x easily in the new type of decks.

Rating: 5/5 – Leenath

 

For 1 cost, Force of the River can get you up to 4 Cavalry characters with 1 military. This is something you can use once a turn and it will power up those cards that care about Cavalry and outnumbering your opponent. For this, you need a Shugenja character you can place this spell on, and you need to clear as many of your provinces as possible. Currently, Unicorn have only 3 Shugenja characters, Meishōdō Wielder, the conflict character Iuchi Wayfinder, and from this pack Master of Swift Waves. From the Neutral cards, they could also include Kudaka and Miya Mystic. Including all of those cards, the Unicorn could probably get enough Shugenja to reliably play this.

If you have a holding, you’re making 1 less spirit. If you didn’t make a character that was in a province, you’re down another spirit. As both scenarios are pretty typical, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this only generate 2 characters. As passing early is a bit of a Unicorn theme, this card forces you into some difficult decisions. If you do manage to trigger all 4 however, you leave those provinces with new face-down cards. This leaves you ready to use another copy of Force of the River generating another 4 spirits! Let’s assume you do this, that is 8 cards you’ve just discarded, one-fifth of your deck! The good news here is a Unicorn deck is going to have a lot more Cavalry options in their discard for Cavalry Reserves but it also pushes the deck a little closer to a reshuffle and 5 honor loss.

On the face of it, getting a typical 2 to 3 military skill isn’t great. This will, however, work with Shinjo Shono to both trigger the ability and benefit from the bonus. It will also enable cards like Press of Battle and Minami Kaze Regulars. This is a card that might have a place. If the Shugenja build for Unicorn works out and the effect reliably produces 3 to 4 spirits this will be a good card. For other clans, the influence cost is significant and without the additional ‘swarm’ effects Unicorn have may not be reliable. It definitely will be interesting to see how this one plays out in testing!

For 1 fate this is a quite good addition to our (already packed) attachments. Don’t forget that with Iuchi Shahai you can play this Meishodo for free on her or on a Kudaka. Most of the times you couldn’t play all your cards from your provinces (holdings and Keeper Initiates are making it harder a bit) so this card usually gives 2-3 tokens. That seems a bit low at first; however a free Banzai! in every military conflict is quite good. Sadly the tokens are neutral so not boosting Utaku Infantry. However, they are Cavalry so working together with Shinjo Shono is fantastic. Force of the River almost 100% of the time making Shono, Press of Battle, Minami Kaze Regulars active so its a must for us.

Now with the addition of Master of the Swift Waves and Iuchi Shahai, we have lots of Shugenja to run this attachment. (Like 9 Shugenja per deck is quite common.) Force of the River also means we can replace Miya Satoshi as it gives a more controlled burn of our Dynasty deck, helping to discard Cavalry cards to reuse with Cavalry Reserves. The best about these tokens is that you CAN sacrifice them for the new Unicorn stronghold aka UHMT thus allowing the third conflict. So all in all you want to include 1-2x Force of the River in your deck according to what playstyle are you aiming for. Sadly the influence cost is way high; otherwise, you can try out a janky Force of the River + Yasuki Broker deck.

Rating: 4/5 – Leenath

 


91 Iuchi Shahai

Unicorn receive another quality character at a cost slot that hasn’t had a lot to offer until this cycle. Iuchi Shahai offers reasonable 2/4/1 stats for 4 fate, but also possesses the Covert keyword, one of the most desirable in the game. Just like Togashi Mitsu, she is perhaps most directly comparable to Kaiu Shuichi, one of Crab’s better characters. Both are 4-cost Covert characters with a total of 6 skill points (although Shahai’s 2/4 split arguably make her better than Shuichi’s 3/3), and both have economic abilities. But where Shuichi’s revolves around holdings, Shahai’s involves Meishodo attachments and reducing their cost when attaching to her or to unaligned characters. (This is a nod to Shahai’s role in the story as an instructor and go-between for the Unicorn and the Imperial families in matters of Meishodo talisman magic which was a result of the first storyline vote). There are currently four Meishodo cards: Force of the River, Invocation of Ash, Talisman of the Sun, and Unleash the Djinn. Of these, Unleash the Djinn is role-locked to Fire, 0-cost, and not an attachment – so she currently affects three cards. However, all three cards are excellent, and even defining. Shahai’s cost reduction is a little less predictable than Shuichi’s, but comes with a higher ceiling, potentially allowing a Unicorn player to play a flurry of attachments for free. Shahai’s Shugenja trait is desirable for Unicorn decks, and allows access to other game staples like Cloud the Mind. With options at the 4-cost slot still quite limited, Shahai should make a more than welcome addition to Unicorn decks still striving to reach parity with the other clans.

Iuchi Shahai. Our Queen. The foretold Prophet that we needed. We lacked 4 cost character pre-cycle (however we got a boost now with Shono as well), so the addition of Shahai is most welcomed. Her stat-line seems a bit meh first for the 4 fate 2/4/1. However, she is a Shugenja so boosting our already not that bad Shugenja line (maybe even allowing a janky Supernatural Storm based Shugenja deck) so more stable Cloud the Mind usage is at hand.

The Covert keyword makes Shahai a beast. Covert is so powerful in this game and combining with our new Stronghold that allows 3 conflicts per turn it is even more valuable. Her passive ability makes all Meishodo attachments on her or on a neutral character 1 fate cheaper (so at this moment free). Now we only have three Meishodo attachments, however, all three are quite powerful and game-changing. Practically you can play all your Meishodo attachments on her for free making a Covert political beast who can take a province alone per turn. Adopted Kin here makes value from her because if she dies you can get all of the attachments to your hand again. However, her Covert combined with Master of the Swift Waves and Dispatch opens up more bluff plays than ever. You can Covert out their big Voltroned units then switching in a weenie who can take the province, and you will have covert in the next conflict as well. She is versatile, powerful and allows lots of crucial plays. All in all, I’m totally sure that she will make her way into most of the decks (maybe except full swarm blitz) with 2 or 3x copy.

Rating: 5/5 – Leenath

 


99 Dispatch

Dispatch is Favorable Ground in conflict-card form, albeit limited to Unicorn characters and costing 1 fate. Favorable Ground possesses one of the most powerful and impactful actions in the game, so there’s little question that Dispatch will warrant at least some consideration for any Unicorn archetype. For the new outnumbering mechanic, it offers fine control over the terms of engagement, allowing you to attack with the optimal number of characters in order to meet your goal. It also offers a get-out-of-jail-free card against provinces with powerful on-break effects, such as Feast or Famine or Appealing to the Fortunes. It is one of the few answers to Harpoon effects such as Hawk Tattoo or Formal Invitation which are about to enter the meta-game. The card is Limited, and only one Limited card can be played per turn – which isn’t an issue now, but may become one in the future. Dispatch is a card that offers both direct, conflict-winning power and some potentially game-saving utility. It’s not a sexy card, but one we feel can offer a lot in a metagame with increasingly hazardous provinces and decisive tempo plays.

Maybe this is the most discussed card of the cycle in the Unicorn chat. Most of the guys want to love this card since its working as a Favorable Ground on a stick. However, it costs 1 fate and limited to one per turn making it to a meh card in most people’s eye. If Dispatch cost 0 fate, it would be an instant addition to all deck, but in its default state its quite mediocre. Sometimes you want to use it to allow the new mechanics to tick in like Shinjo Shono or UHMT. However most of the times you will use it as a fluke, baiting an attack then bailing out.

Works well with Iuchi Shahai and Master of the Swift waves. Its one more card to our bluff strategy. Not powerful but can be game changing if used well. With the recent “Hawkpoon” meta (Hawk Tattoo all around) Dispatch’s value went higher, making us the most “I Don’t care about your tattoo” Clan since you can just go home when harpooned to the conflict. At the moment it’s usage is quite Limited (haha) but I can see that it will be a valuable card in the future. Now mostly is a 1 or 2x card depending on the splash choice of the decks.

Rating: 3/5 – Leenath

 


101. Hisu Mori Toride

The Unicorn and Lion are currently at war for control of Hisu Mori Toride, so a stronghold for each clan that shares a name and a broadly similar effect makes for a pretty neat way to represent this. There are some differences though, which we think the Unicorn are going to be much happier about. To start with, the Unicorn version of Hisu Mori Toride (hereafter UHMT), exchanges a point of province strength for one additional influence. While neither of these values may have an impact during a specific game (your opponent may not reach your stronghold, or you may not draw the card you spent your additional influence on), the implications of the additional influence are much greater, offering a wider range of deck-building options. Province strength can matter (and when it does, it really does), but the additional influence can and will alter the very fabric of the decks coming out of UHMT.

Next, we have the ability. Whereas LHMT relies on winning a military conflict by 5 to trigger its ability, UHMT requires that you outnumber your opponent during a military conflict. On the face of it, UHMT may seem to have the more restrictive requirement, but cards like Force of the RiverShiksha Scout, Moto Nergui, Moto Juro, Dispatch, and others, give the Unicorn unparalleled control of the outnumbering game, while Lion remain vulnerable to many standard defensive measures. Unicorn also do not have to spend influence on Captive Audience to transform any conflict into military, and have Shiotome Enchampment as both an economic multiplier and major tempo tool. All in all, UHMT appears to outclass LHMT in almost every capacity, with synergistic tools and a more complete vision for its design.

The implications UHMT has for the environment are far-reaching. While LHMT remains peculiarly vulnerable to Scorpion’s standard box of defensive tricks, UHMT may present an almost intractable problem. Its strength (outnumbering) lines up directly against one of Scorpion’s (minimal board presence) and appears to trump it, at least sufficiently to guarantee getting its additional conflict. By continually pushing multiple conflicts, Unicorn have the very real possibility of blunting Scorpion’s defensive edge. Scorpion players may be able to adapt to this of course, but if they’re forced to make major changes, this is almost guaranteed to have huge knock-on implications for the rest of the metagame. Scorpion have lacked a natural predator, and by attacking along a completely new axis, UHMT may prove to be just that.

It can be rightly argued that Unicorn required an enormous jolt of power to bring them up to par, which the Elemental Cycle appears to have achieved. Just how far up the tier rankings Unicorn go remains to be seen, but UHMT is the lynchpin that all the other Unicorn cards have been waiting for. Hopefully, the long purgatory of the Unicorn Clan is now officially over.

The Imperial Advisor team already talked about the history of Hisu Mori Toride and why we have two (Lion and Unicorn) version of it, so I will skip that part. My only comment is: Hah Lion, we got it back!

First of all, let’s see the stats of the Stronghold. Apart from its ability, the Stronghold is already better than Golden Plain Outpost. 10 splash influence is the same as GPO; however, the +1 strength on it is a bit of improvement. The real big up here is the 11 starting honor since there were so many games when we lost with 1 honor, plus this improvement is bringing us up to the other clan’s stronghold. The ability is quite similar to the Lion counterpart. However its easier to trigger since you only need to have more participating characters instead of winning a military conflict with +5 force. Why is this so good? Because we are already running this theme thanks to Shinjo Shono and the other new cards so triggering the Stronghold will be easy. UHMT synergizes well with the new cards and even the old ones. Since the ability is only working at a military win Border Fortress and Captive Audience is a real value here, where you can switch an underdog political conflict to a devastating counterattack. The best part is that Force of the River tokens are sacrificable for the Stronghold thus easily triggering. At this point, you could say “But hey how will you attack three times a turn?”. Luckily we have Shiotome Encampment so we can ready our Cavalry characters and attack again.

However don’t forget that you don’t NEED to trigger the Stronghold all the time, and don’t need to aim for a break every time. The fear of the three break per a turn is enough to disrupt the plans of the enemy thus forcing them to make sub-optimal plays and overcommitting to your first military conflict and defend it out. According to our testing Scorpion matchup became a bit easier since they are more likely good against Voltron decks and swarm decks are harder to outwit and we can grind them down with the three conflicts per turn. (There was some turn 2 and turn 3 wins against Scorpions on Jigoku, but I don’t think it will be THAT easy.) All in all this Stronghold with the new role and the new deck synergy will push us up to tier 1,5 or tier 2 in my opinion (it’s quite a big improvement from tier 125 :D). Golden Plains Outpost will be usable in the future for more Voltron oriented decks or the supposed Ide theme that we are expecting so we won’t forget it.

Rating: 5/5 – Leenath

 


110. Minami Kaze Regulars

One of the issues Unicorn suffered from was a complete lack of quality top-end characters. With the arrival of the Minami Kaze Regulars, along with Shinjo Shono and Iuchi Shahai in earlier packs, we can now say this problem is over. The Regulars’ 6/3/2 stats are roughly on par with most champion-level characters at this cost. Their Cavalry trait is most welcome, and their ‘No attachments except Weapon‘ clause is a significant bonus in most cases, since it prevents Cloud the Mind. That said, Unicorn have access to a number of quality non-Weapon attachments, so it’s not always a benefit.

The Regulars’ ability is similar in many ways to Kudaka‘s – a Shugenja who’s been seeing a lot of play since her release. If the Regulars win a conflict and meet the outnumbering requirement that’s been a mechanical feature of the Unicorn throughout the Elemental Cycle, you gain 1 fate and draw a card. Even getting this ability off once effectively makes the Regulars a 4-cost 6/3 that draws you a card, and, should you resolve the reaction multiple times, the Regulars’ value skyrockets. With 6 military skill, they should dominate military contests, but their 3 political skill isn’t useless in a pinch, and their ability to threaten a meaningful political presence only to turn it into military rout with Captive Audience is not to be underestimated. They are non-unique, though, so watch out for Karmic Twists.

As a card with almost zero glaring weaknesses and some very glaring strengths, Minami Kaze Regulars will probably oust Shinjo Altansarnai from Unicorn decks. Altansarnai‘s ability offers less than it appears to, while the Regulars are almost guaranteed to generate value, and have a better skill split for what Unicorn will want to do post-Hisu Mori Toride.

When we first saw Minami Kaze Regulars (aka MKR aka “Robosamurai”) spoilers all of my herd was really excited. As I said earlier we were lacking good 4 coster characters but we were quite lacking in the “top” side as well. The other clan’s had characters like Yokuni or Akodo Toturi while we had Altansarnai the “meh granny Alty”. We all tried to love her however her ability for 5 fate was quite subpar. (After this cycle, however, her value went up with the introduction of Shiotome encampment and her solid 5/4/2 statline). So when Minami Kaze was introduced we were quite hyped.

He has a good statline 6/3/2 for 5 fate. That’s quite solid and reinforcing our top side of the deck. No attachment except weapons. This is both good and both sad at the same time. He can’t be Cloud the Mind-ed so that’s cool since his ability is giving us quite a swing if you can win. However, you can’t Reprieve him, so weakening the Charge + Reprieve combo. He is a piece of the new “have more character when you win” theme giving us free fate and card advantage when wins a military conflict. Since he is mostly a Charge or Cavalry Reserves target that means that he is paying the event’s cost. He opens up some quite nice plays like attacking your first military Charge! him out and winning back his cast, then sacrificing for the new Stronghold and getting him back in the next military conflict with Cavalry Reserves (and he will give fate again, lowering CR to 2 fate).

He is working well with Shiotome Encampment what makes him an absolute beast, allowing to take two or sometimes three provinces a turn. All in all, he is a good addition to our ranks with some weakness (like Karmic Twist and his 2 glory), but a lot more strength. Since mostly you won’t play him at full cost you only want to play 2x (or sometimes 3x).

Rating: 4/5 – Leenath

 


120 Unleash the Djinn

Unleash the Djinn offers an immensely powerful effect – at a price. By setting the military and political skills of each participating character to 3 until the end of the conflict – an effect which cannot be overridden, and which overrides all attachments, and skill and honored/dishonored modifiers – Unleash the Djinn basically says that the player with the most units present wins the conflict. This can be especially devastating against clans like Lion and Scorpion, who tend to have very high skills in one area, at the cost of lacking them in the other. Unleash the Djinn can then effectively neutralize their innate advantages, turning the game into ‘who has more people’ as opposed to ‘whose are better.’ However, Unleash the Djinn is Fire role only, which severely restricts its availability, particularly to Unicorn, who have cards like Force of the River, which in combination with Unleash the Djinn, offer terrifying potential. The card does also cost you 3 honor, which can be extremely painful if it’s countered, and also almost precludes you from playing Assassination, or other cards with heavy dishonor costs, like Spreading the Darkness. Of the two clans who can play this at the moment – Dragon and Lion – Lion are much more likely to be able to generate the swarm-style that this card best rewards.

At first glance, Djinn seemed a quite bad card. Since we didn’t have the Fire role for it we didn’t do much testing with it. However, when we started the campaign for Keeper of Fire more and more Unicorn started test runs with this card, and oh boy it’s working! For 3 honor you are setting every participating character to 3/3 (and no further boosts are applying nor previous ones! nor attachments). Since we are running a swarm build (or a semi swarm blitz) now this card became quite powerful.

If you have a Force of the River out you are turning every token into a 3/3 and allowing to break almost everything. This card is game-changing and if you are at the enemy Stronghold (and have bigger board or Force of the River) it’s allowing an easy break and easy win. However, the three honor is pretty much so Windswept Yurt and Air ring both will be popular choices later on with the new decks. If you consider running Unleash the Djinn you should think about the exact copies and Assassinations and Spread the Darkness as well since you will be honor hungry soon enough. Depending on what honor eating cards you chose this will be 1 or 2x mostly.

Rating: 4/5 – Leenath

 


Summary

So what can we say about all these new cards? The cycle will improve the Unicorn clan a lot. We were lacking in both mid and high-cost characters and this cycle gave us a solid 3 coster Master of the Swift Waves, two pretty strong 4 coster Shinjo Shono and Iuchi Shahai and a superb 5 coster Minami Kaze Regulars. These characters will reinforce out Dynasty side and brings us on par (or at least close) with the other clans. The new characters allowing us to make more swarm oriented deck and we can build a themed deck at last (cavalry swarm, this wasn’t a thing pre-cycle.) The new Stronghold and the new super Meishodo attachments are making this theme even stronger. Luckily we could grab Keeper of Fire so Feast or Famine and Unleash the Djinn just made us stronger as well.

In my opinion, this cycle was really good for us (maybe the best, or at least on par with Dragon monks). If you check in to the Unicorn discord or to Jigoku you will see lots of Unicorn games and feel positive vibes as we CAN win against everything now. The best part is that pre-cycle the Crab and Scorpion matchup at tournaments was almost impossible (like 15-20% win-rates), but with the introduction of UHMT these clans become easier. We see lots of bandwagoners swarming into the clan, but this deck is NOT as easy as they think (as they will see:D). In my opinion these additions won’t make us suddenly top tier clan, however, we will close the gap to the other clans and will fight our way up to tier 1.5 with Phoenix and Crane.

– Leenath

 


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

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Check us out on the Imperial Advisor website, podcast, and YouTube channel for more discussion about the L5R LCG.

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