Theory Katana – Enlightenment

by Monjoni Osso

Welcome to the second installment of Theory Katana!  This week, we’re going to take a look at one of the least explored win conditions in Emperor Edition, Enlightenment.  Enlightenment is one of, if not the, hardest win conditions to pull off and its complexity has thrown many players for a loop.  It’s my hope that article will prepare those interested in it to construct decks capable of achieving enlightenment and come away with a better understanding of what exactly that means.

What is enlightenment? The only way to know enlightenment is to experience it, according to Buddhism. It is a state known as “awakened”, from the Sanskrit word bodhi. Most of us will never experience it, and even Buddhist masters cannot say what enlightenment actually is. For some, though, achieving enlightenment changes their perspective on the world. Ironically, some Buddhist masters teach that for these people achieving enlightenment was no great feat at all, and to them it would mean nothing.

Enlightenment in Legend of the Five Rings is all about playing the titular five elemental rings and ascending to a new plane of knowledge. It is the most esoteric and difficult win condition to pull off, requiring not only a specific personality base but a unique method of deck construction. The five rings themselves are often at odds with their conditions, compounding the difficulty of the win.  So, how best to accomplish this win condition?

I’ve found it easier if you group rings into what exactly you need to do in order to get them into play. Ring of the Void requires four non-kiho actions in one phase, while Air requires three differently named kiho in the same phase. Ring of Earth and Ring of Fire both require battle, with Earth’s tricky clause being that you have to be opposed and then win the battle with none of your personalities dying which is very hard in a kill-heavy arc like Emperor Edition! Water is yet another battle Ring, but you just need to play four Battle actions from cards with different titles to put it into play.  Ranking them based on difficulty, from easiest to put into play to hardest, I would say that it’s Water, Fire, Air, Void, and Earth.

So, how do we get all these disparate clauses to work together and turn the deck into something able to win games? The generally accepted strategy for most pure enlightenment decks is that you have to win one to two battles in order to enlighten.  While rings like Air and Void can be put into play in the Action phase, the remaining rings require your deck to go to battle.  This strategy requires almost flawless play and an exceptional job of building the hand(s) necessary to win those battles.

The balance for enlightenment in the fate deck is the necessary weighing of Kiho actions against non-Kiho actions.  Kiho and spells are required in order to put the Ring of Air into play, while normal strategies are required for the Ring of Void.  Introspection and Meeting the Keepers are obvious choices to fulfill the Void requirement, regardless of deck construction.  Both cards increase an enlightenment deck’s card draw, smoothing the deck’s flow and greatly increasing the deck’s ability to draw the pivotal hands it seeks to build.  String of Victories provides another powerful, non-Kiho or spell effect for the deck, giving you access to your Rings on either player’s turn and enabling additional actions to be used to quickly put the Ring of Water into play.  It also re-establishes access to rings that might have entered the discard pile, a powerful effect to utilize in any phase of the game.  Sneak Attack and Ambush are also extremely important cards for enlightenment.  Both aim to provide an easy access to Ring of Earth; Ambush in an Action phase battle and Sneak Attack by granting enlightenment the first action in an opposed military battle. That both count for Ring of the Void is icing on the cake, their utility for enlightenment cannot be overstated.

Unfortunately, while Emperor Edition has many incredible spells, nothing quite helps out enlightenment like One With the World did in Celestial Edition. A shugenja-based enlightenment deck will be necessarily more focused on military wins than a more monk-focused deck, and with Emperor Edition limiting all kiho to monks it makes enlightenment as a win condition more reliant on them. Martial Instruction is without a doubt one of the strongest kiho printed for the game, and it enables very easy access to several powerful cards such as Deadly Discipline and The Weakness of Man. The World Disappears offers a similar effect, providing a recursion effect for kiho already used. The Lesson of Earth, from The Shadow’s Embrace, has been one of the most pivotal cards for enlightenment printed this arc.  It provides harpoon access, bringing an enemy personality to the battlefield and allowing Pillars of Virtue-based decks very easy access to an effectively unopposed Ring of Earth.

Dynasty decks are somewhat easier to construct. Generally speaking, most enlightenment decks will be either Phoenix Henshin or Dragon Tattooed Monks. Both Clans offer a lot to prospective enlightenment players. Henshin bring the card draw and recursion of Shiba’s Guidance Experienced as well as the powerful search of the base version of Asako Chukage.  On the other side of the mountains, Togashi’s Guidance Experienced offers ring search from deck or discard pile, which is extremely valuable, and the experienced Celestial Sword of the Dragon offers the same. The Phoenix have a slightly stronger synergy with enlightenment overall because of Asako Karachu’s interactions with Martial Instruction and The World Disappears.  Both decks can very easily alternate into military win conditions as well, with the Dragon having an easier time of that due to the destruction Tattoos in the format such as Volcano Tattoo, Deadly Discipline, and Breath of the Heavens.

Regardless of clan, some cards will merit thought for inclusion due to their potent effects for enlightenment.  Wisdom Gained offers yet another way to search for rings, though the drawback of giving your opponent access to one of their rings is significant. Tales of Valor is Event-based card draw very similar to A Game of Dice and extra card draw is always potent especially for enlightenment decks. War of Honor brought in The Seekers’ Temple, an extremely good unique holding that searches out rings. The Seekers’ Temple is one of the best ways, late game, to find any missing rings and ensure they’re ready to be played. Few personalities offer solid options for enlightenment, but both Itoku and Yung bear some thought.  Itoku allows reuse of non-Void rings, opening up powerful synergies with the rings.  Yung provides reusable ring search at six gold.  While there are plenty of effects that search for rings, only Yung provides it repeatedly and at Reaction speed.  This enables very smooth playing of rings during battle, and he doesn’t even need to be at the battle to do it.

That wraps up this week’s installment of Theory Katana!  I hope you’ve enjoyed this overview of enlightenment in Emperor Edition, and as always please leave comments below.  Thank you for reading!

4 thoughts on “Theory Katana – Enlightenment

  1. Personally I think Phoenix Shugenja works a little better than monk for enlightenment. Mostly because you have walking the way available and because spells can be used over and over.

    Another workable deck is Shadows Lair Ninja Shugenja. It has most of the tools needed and plays the most difficult ring (earth) with ease.

    This is a great time to play it. The card draw available is amazing and that is a key element to making these decks work.

    I’ve found that the transition to military rarely works out well. Enlightenment can win some battles, but it often lacks staying power to repeatedly engage a military or honor deck in battle after battle. I almost always find it more effective to just go for the ring victory. The only time I’d switch up is if I knew that path was shut tight or I had to fish my dynasty deck for a card to make it possible. So far I haven’t had that happen in a game.

    Mine can generate some pretty impressive force and battle actions, but the more times I have to get into a pitched battle the more chances there are for me to loose. I should only engage if I can play a ring, or if I must to survive. The only exception is if my opponent is just wide open, then you may as well swing just to slow them down, its just most of the time there is something better to do or you are swinging to play ring of fire before they get any defenses up.

    Games are typically…
    1: buy gold
    2: buy guys
    3: Attack for Fire+Void or play spells for Air+Void
    4-6: Get the remaining rings out, usually earth is last.

    Turn 4 to play all 5 is not uncommon, especially if your opponent isn’t putting up much of a fight.
    Turn 3 is possible but I’ve never done it.
    Any game lasting past 6 is probably a struggle going down to the wire where your opponent has actively interfered with your ability to play earth or fire.

  2. Thanks for the comment, sigtrent!

    On the whole, I agree with your assessment. Part of it is also that shugenja are simply stronger as personalities than monks, and running the shugenja base open you up for powerful actions like Might of the Sun and Strength of the Tsunami to say nothing of the ability to run Mahatsu.

    With Starting the Path, though, I do think there’re viable military enlightenment switch decks. I’ve personally lost to several t1 Naka Mahatsu + Void out of Library of Rebirth plays, and with slightly more emphasis on military (e.g. not running Meeting the Keepers) then shugenja based decks can be very powerful dual threats.

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