Dragon Strategy – This is not a Test

Dragon Strategy – This is not a Test

One of the best ways to build a tournament winning deck is to see what the top players are playing. But what do you do when your faction is weak, and the players winning tournaments are busy playing other factions. This is the situation Dragon find themselves ahead of Winter Court.

The First Truth

We can charitably call the Kunshu season poor for Dragon. Aneil started the season off well with his win of Pax Unplugged in December 2018, but roughly a week after that a new restricted list pulled the deck part. In addition to the previously restricted Pathfinder’s Blade, Niten Master and Void Fist were added. This combined with the loss of Feast or Famine, due to role change (and subsequent restriction), was treated mostly with acceptance by Dragon players. These were powerful cards and Dragon were in a pretty good place. Skip forward 9 months and things are looking bleak for Dragon in the upcoming Winter Court with many considering them below Lion in power level. So what happened?

The Cause

One way to understand where we are is to consider how we got here. The most successful deck throughout the season has been the watered-down version of Aniel’s deck ‘Test’. Despite being considered a Monk deck it only ran 3 Monk characters in the dynasty deck: 3 Togashi Initiate, 3 Togashi Mendicant, and 3 Togashi Mitsu. This along with 3 Tattooed Wanderers and 3 Seal of the Dragon allowed the deck to use the Monk only cards of Hurricane Punch and Void Fist. Despite their strong theme, however, Monks aren’t a major focus of the Dragon.

Dragon Dynasty

  • Dragon have 14 dynasty Bushi characters. Of those Agasha Taiko, Enlightened Warrior, Mirmoto Prodigy, and Northern Wall Sensei do not see play. This leaves 10 Bushi seeing play: Agasha Sumiko, Enigmatic Magistrate, Kitsuki Shomon, Kitsuki Yuikimi, Mirumoto Hitomi, Mirumoto Raitsugu, Niten Adept, Niten Master (who was restricted), Prudent Challenger (arguably borderline), and Togashi Yokuni.
  • Dragon have 9 dynasty Monk characters. Of those, Ascetic Visionary, Impulsive Novice, Itinerant Philosopher, Seeker of Enlightenment, and Togashi Tadakatsu do not see play. This leaves 4 Monks seeing play: Togashi Initiate, Togashi Mitsu, Tranquil Philosopher, and Togashi Mendicant who arguably is a filler.
  • Dragon have 6 dynasty Courtier characters. Of those Kitsuki Yaruma and the Magistrate of Reason do not see play. This leaves 4 Courtiers: Kitsuki Counselor, Kitsuki Investigator, Kitsuki Jusai, and Truster Advisor.
  • Dragon have 5 dynasty Shugenja characters. Of those only Agasha Shunsen doesn’t regularly see play (although maybe he should). This leaves 4 Shugenja: Agasha Swordsmith, Doomed Shugenja, Master Alchemist, and Togashi Yokuni.

An outsider looking at the above would conclude that the Dragon are primarily a Bushi clan with maybe some support from one of the 3 other traits. In the last year Dragon received 6 new Bushi, 5 new Courtiers, and 3 new Monk characters so the recent release schedule is definitely continuing this trend.

Dragon conflict

The Dragon conflict side looks very different.

  • 7 Monk only: Centipede Tattoo, High Kick, Hurricane Punch, Void Fist, and the series of Mantra.
  • 1 Courtier Only: Justicar’s Approach.
  • 1 Bushi Only: Two-Heavens Technique.

The stand-outs here are obviously Hurricane Punch and Void Fist. Centipede Tattoo and High Kick may have some potential but rarely retain a deck spot. The Mantra are generally considered trash due to their difficulty to play. Justicar’s approach is currently being heavily tested but reports are not positive. Two-Heavens Technique is too hard to play given the current selection of weapons. The point here is clear, the Dynasty side does not support the conflict side.

Out of all of these, only Hurricane Punch and Void Fist make the bar as seriously competitive. Hurricane Punch due to its simple efficiency and Void Fist for the way it can turn conflicts. Unfortunately, Void Fist is restricted and given its power level this is absolutely understandable. This puts Dragon in a weird position, however, as restricted cards are essentially their own list and Void Fist is in direct competition with the most powerful cards like Charge, A Fate Worse Than Death, or Policy Debate. With Void Fist restricted and the remainder of top Dragon cards very playable in other factions with only 2 influence a card, any unique elements the Dragon have can easily be played by other clans.

Designs implementation of the Monk trait has been somewhat erratic. As with all the other clans, Monk is a sub-trait for Dragon. Crane have Duelist, Phoenix have Scholar, Lion have commander, and so on. This shows the first wrinkle with Monk. Crane have Bushi who are Duelists, Phoenix have Shugenja who have Scholar. Monk doesn’t get this treatment in Dragon for some reason with the only case a Phoenix character Kaito Kosori who is a Monk and Shugenja. Indeed, that the Henshin Disciple and Roving Michibiku of the Phoenix also have their sub-trait of Scholar suggest that Monk has been moved by design to a primary trait.

In the core set there were only 2 cards that referenced Monk: Ascetic Visionary’s ability and the Mantra of Fire. These are notable as they both share a specific wording requiring a ‘Monk character or a character with a Monk attachment’. Although these cards were relatively weak, it did allow them to be a little more consistent as it meant they could target characters with the Tattooed Wanderer or Togashi Kazue attached. The first cycle shifted away from that almost immediately, with Centipede Tattoo and High Kick requiring a Monk character. From what little we know of the changes in the design team, this suggests the original plan of Monk being a sub-trait expanded with Monk attachments was abandoned by the current team.

Bringing it together

Aneil’s deck was successful as it combined some of the best cards available, Void First and Hurricane Punch with some of the best Dragon Dynasty characters. It managed to tie this together by using Seal of the Dragon to give those non-Monk characters the Monk trait. As the Monk contingent had only 1 cost characters and Togashi Mitsu, the deck really needed the seal to make those monk reliant cards reliable.

Despite experimentation with new cards like Mirumoto Daisho, the top finishing Dragon players this cycle inevitably were playing a variation on this deck. Unfortunately, while numerous cards have been released very few support this deck type. Alwin Boschek’s top 4 finish at the Paris Kotei in March, for example, added 1 Tranquil Advisor and 2 Mirumoto Dojo. The last Dragon making that top 4 was James Lewin at the Atlanta Kotei in May where he had 2 Tranquil Philosopher and 2 Defend Your Honor. More recently, Neojko made top 32 at the Krakow Grand Kotei and was playing 3 Kitsuki Yuikimi and 3 Tranquil Philosopher. Dragon essentially is playing the same deck that was destroyed in the restricted list 9 months ago with almost nothing new to support it. In the last week, Niten Master was removed from the restricted list prompting his re-addition to the list using the Crab weapon Sharpened Tsuruhachi to trigger his ability. So the deck is closer to the original, but is still essentially the same deck.

The First Step

Looking ahead, we have Winter Court. At this stage, it is important to accept that it is not realistic to hope for a Dragon Shogun. Considered by some to be currently the weakest faction, Dragon will be an after thought for those preparing for the Worlds Meta. For Ronin players (those without faction loyalty), that simply means you don’t play Dragon, but for others, faction loyalty is an important part of the game.

If you are a loyal Dragon player going to Winter Court, there really are only 2 things you can do; play the updated version of Test or try something new. In many regards, this is liberating. A Dragon player can choose to build a fun deck and not feel guilty about it. More competitive players (and yes, you can be a competitive faction loyal player) have the unique situation of having a puzzle no one else is working on. Maybe, there is a Dragon deck that can do well!

The Path

Hopefully, I’ve clearly laid out my concerns with the current design approach for Dragon. The Monk cards are supposed to be Dragon’s uniqueness, but current implementation is poor at best. Decks running Monk cards are relying on the power of Mitsu and Void Fist and struggle when those pieces don’t align or when their opponent removes them. The cards previewed so far in the upcoming clan pack Seekers of Wisdom don’t seem to change that. Knowing this, one option is to keep playing with Mitsu and Void Fist accepting the weakness. Keep playing Test and get enough games in to really master the deck. Today however, I’m advocating for another option.

How about we don’t play Void Fist.

If we step away from Monks we free up a number of cards and hopefully make our deck a little more reliable. We lose out on Void First, Hurricane Punch, Togashi Mitsu, and Sacred Sanctuary, but don’t have to play Seal of the Dragon. This, hopefully, will make the deck a little more consistent and avoid situations where you lose because Mitsu or Seal don’t appear.

Now, this is already an approach than has been taken by some of the dueling dishonor decks who focus on using Mirumoto Daisho with as many duels as possible. While I’ve had a lot of fun with this kind of deck myself, I believe it falls prey to the same problem, if the combo pieces don’t line up then the deck collapses. It also requires a decent amount of setup before it can start to roll in which time often the game is lost. Rather than looking in more detail at the Daisho deck, instead I’m going to look at decks focusing Bushi and Shugenja or Bushi and Courtiers.

Losing Void First is a big deal, but we get to replace it with another Restricted card. The only other in clan restricted option is Mirumoto’s Fury, which for a while was the go to splash of every clan and was the restricted choice for last year’s Winter Court winning deck. The neutral card Charge! might be an option especially in a Crab splash running Reprieve. Alternatively, Policy Debate becomes an option. Scorpion splash offer either A Fate Worse than Death or with the new influx of Dragon Courtiers, Forged Edict. With Unicorn’s Spyglass on the restricted list, Crab have walked away from it in favor of Rebuild, but maybe Dragon could leverage it to greater effect?

In addition, by moving away from the standard test deck we get to try out some new cards as splashes from other clans. Unicorn, in particular, have the Unadorned Barcha which Dragon can use with great effect due to the high number of good unique characters who have actions to use. Similarly, Lion have just received Regal Bearing which is a pretty amazing card if you have Courtiers and are willing to bid 5. Lion will, but so could Dragon.

Left to Right: Bushi/Shugenja with Unicorn splash using Unadorned Barcha and Favored Mount to get our big duelists into as many conflicts as possible. Bushi/Courtier with Lion splash using Regal Bearing to draw as many cards as possible. Bushi/Courtier splashing Scorpion using Forged Edict to back up the conquest style. Bushi/Shugenja splashing Crab to use Fight On and Reprieve to keep our Bushi around as long as possible.

At this stage, these are just rough drafts and I’ve clearly favored Keeper as I really like having 3 Defend Your Honor. Despite the rough edges, I do think they showcase some of the potential in Dragon decks.

Maybe I’m wrong and the updated version of Test is the best Dragon deck out there, but right now I’m having a lot of fun on my own path, building decks that move away from the pre-conceptions of what a Dragon deck should be.

If you are going to make Winter Court, I wish you the best. Every faction goes through phases when they are weak and when they are powerful. Although the goal is always to have a perfect meta, that rarely is a reality. I’m hopeful that design will get a grip on Dragon, but I’m not going to lose any sleep on it if they don’t. So play Test, or play something else, but most importantly, enjoy yourself, and make sure those playing against you are also having a good time!

If you have any comments or feedback please post them in the comments section below. Check us out on the Imperial Advisor website, podcast, and YouTube channel for more discussion about the L5R LCG.

One Reply to “Dragon Strategy – This is not a Test”

  1. Another great article. I sadly don’t have enough time to both play the game and get down to some proper deck design, so ideas like this allow me to pilot other peoples ideas in an attempt to become familiar with them.

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