by Monjoni Osso
Deck theory is an important topic, and one rarely covered in most articles I see about Legend of the Five Rings. There are core concepts behind deck building that can help anyone become a better player. I hope that this article sheds some light on these concepts. My intention with this is not to provide you with a winning decklist, but to give you the understanding from which those sorts of deck lists can come.
The first task is to understand terminology. There are three major terms when discussing deck building as a concept: Engine, Accelerant, and Meta. Each of these deserves its own discussion. To aid with examples, I’ll be comparing the terminology I’m using with the existing Dragon Clan Kensai deck.
A deck’s engine is not dissimilar from a car’s. Deck engines fuel a competitive deck, and are the core elements that decks need to see to win. Essentially, a deck’s engine makes it “go”. Deck engines provide your win conditions and your most powerful effects. These two things, acting in concert, are what make a deck win games. Deck engines need to (usually) be simple and consistent. A car without an engine won’t go, and a deck whose engine is too hard to use will have the same problem.
Dragon Kensai’s deck engine is the recursion of Foothills Keepcombined with the power of weapons like Wyrmbone Katana. Weapons are the first element of this deck engine. Cursed Relic, Blade of Champions, and Wyrmbone Katana are the core of a Kensai deck. Each weapon provides powerful actions at a high gold cost. What is notable about Wyrmbone Katana and Cursed Relic in particular is that both items are very cost-efficient; for an 8G investment you’re getting four force and two (or more!) battle actions. However, there are many effects that destroy weapons and that’s where Foothills Keep comes in. There is very, very little attachment recursion in Emperor Edition and Dragon have it on their stronghold. These two simple things, powerful high cost attachments and a way to protect them, comprise the deck engine of most Dragon Kensai decks.
Accelerants are different from deck engines. Accelerants enhance a deck engine, in essence making your deck go faster. These effects are different from a deck engine in that accelerants aren’t necessary for a deck to function, but they do help tremendously. One example of an accelerant in Emperor Edition is the card A Game of Dice. This card is not, strictly speaking, necessary for a deck to function, but the utility of getting three cards in the end step makes A Game of Dice a popular choice.
Continuing with the example of Dragon Kensai, the deck’s power comes from its many accelerants. The event Glory of the Shogun provides a massive speed increase to the deck, replacing expensive weapons in the hand and allowing the Kensai player to attach large weapons unopposed. Glory of the Shogun combines well with Modifications and Hundred-Fold Cut to give Kensai several reliable ways of drawing cards. Of all the major decks in Emperor Edition, few can match the sheer card draw of a Kensai deck. This feature, card draw, accelerates the deck into finding its engine during a game and is a great example of how accelerants should function.
Spider Clan Personalities also act as accelerants for Dragon Kensai. Tetsuo experienced, Fukuzo, and Yamazaki form a nearly essential part of a Dragon Kensai deck. Tetsuo is, flat out, the best Kensai personality in Emperor Edition with an amazing kill action and the ability to destroy other enemy attachments. Fukuzo turns into another copy of a personality and effortlessly gains the Kensai keyword, allowing this 7G Personality to slot easily into Kensai. Yamazaki is one of the best accelerants, because he effectively doubles the gold production of a holding. When that holding is producing 5G or more, one Yamazaki can make a Kensai deck’s economy nearly impossible to match.
Finally, there is Meta. Meta is often the hardest part of constructing a deck, though it may only be six to ten cards of the final build. “Meta” is shorthand for metagaming, and represents the player’s knowledge of the environment. Hidden Defenses is a great example of meta; you would only really run it if you believed your tournament environment to be full of fast blitz decks. Decks that make the correct meta calls in an environment will do much better than those that don’t. Developing the ability to read a tournament field and know what to expect is an absolutely critical element of constructing a deck in competitive play.
Dragon Kensai have a lot of flexibility in their meta calls. They have about two slots open on the dynasty side and three to six on the fate side. Most, if not all, are running Near Miss. While Near Miss does feed into the deck’s engine of mitigating the cost of attachments, it also prevents the destruction of attachments. Given the plethora of military decks running cards like Reckless Rush, Near Miss is almost essential in order to protect a Kensai deck’s 5-8G investment. Fast honor and dishonor decks can lead to problems for Kensai as well, leading to a choice between Alter History and Formal Apology.
So, there you have it, the three critical components of deck building. An engine provides the methods that you use to win the game, accelerants enhance those methods or provide alternate methods to them, and meta is used to shut down your opponents in a potential field. Understanding these three elements and their interaction is absolutely fundamental to building a competitive deck.
So, with that in mind, how would one approach building a new competitive deck? For this example, let’s use Crab Berserkers. What I hope to show here is how we can look at a deck from the ground up and figure out how to construct it at a high level.
The first thing to look at is the personality base. Crab Berserkers have some of the highest cost non-unique personalities in the Emperor environment. The cheapest Berserkers, Hida Bushotsu and Hida Komatsu, clock in at 8 Gold. At 9 Gold you have Hida Bakishi, Hiruma Nikaru, and Hida Horu. You then have Hida Mimori at 10 Gold, and Hida Yamadera at 11!
Expensive personalities need some kind of protection. There are many effects that kill personalities without attachments, or even whole units. While the high force of Berserkers will render them immune to most ranged attacks, cards like Steel on Steel, Wyrmbone Katana, and Cursed Relic will absolutely be a problem. That’s where the stronghold, Halls of the Forgotten, comes into play. Halls of the Forgotten delays an action that targets a Berserker, providing built-in resilience. This is the engine of our deck; expensive personalities with built-in resilience.
For accelerants, the first place that I start looking is actions that are keyword-tuned to the personality set I’m using. For Berserkers, those cards are Headbutt, Fortitude, Blind Rage, Immovable Object, Intimidation, Spirit of the Berserker, and Splintered Weapon. Since Berserkers are naturally large, additional force from cards like Spirit of the Berserker and Blind Rage aren’t super necessary. Fortitude is a great card, packing a unit bow action and negation of force penalties, so that finds a slot. Splintered Weapon is an attachment, offering protection against kill, and feeds into Hida Bakishi’s reaction well so it should definitely go in. Intimidation is one of the few harpoon actions in the environment and is amazing as anti-control meta, especially if you’ve already bled their hand down. Immovable Object packs both straighten and bow, and also works as control meta.
From there, I look at other cards that synergize well with the personality base. Staging Grounds will, more often than not, be a 4 for 4G in the deck and so bears looking at. Duty of the Crab and Your Clan Needs You! are excellent “movement” actions, creating presence at battles in ways that cannot yet be negated. They also go very well with Hida Yamadera’s entering play reaction. Wyrmbone Katana will be able to kill pretty much anything when equipped to a berserker, and provides move in as well. Power of Strength lets you put the overwhelming force of berserkers to use in bowing one target and killing another; all of that wrapped up in an action that is very difficult to redirect. Hida’s Guidance adds a lot of oomph to the deck’s bow actions, and a unit bow action on the defense can swing an enemy’s attack around entirely. Perplexing Guests provides a way to create presence to allow for Duty of the Crab to take a province, while also feeding Duty with its Reaction ability as well. Hida Osote, the Crab Clan sensei, has a well-costed force to gold ratio and his trait is very painful for control decks to deal with.
The deck’s got a lot of meta concerns. Formal Apology and Alter History would be solid inclusions against honor and dishonor as no control deck seems overly fond of event meta this arc. Ryoshun’s Guidance, Chugo Seido, Blade of Champions, and Recruitment Officer provide redirection options as extra insulation against battle actions that can harm your Berserkers, such as A Stain Cleansed, a Sniping ranged attack, and others. Games of Will and its TSE replacement, Deep Roots, offer powerful choices against Game of Sincerity, which can absolutely break a berserker deck’s attack.
I hope that this article has given you a deeper insight into deck construction. Always remember, though, that playing a deck and refining its build after initial construction is an integral part of creating a truly tournament worthy deck.