Deck Theory – Engines, Accelerants, and Meta

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.

Recursion Engine

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.


Card Draw Acceleration

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.

“I Bushotsu the sheriff, but I did not Bukillsu the deputy.”

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.

10 thoughts on “Deck Theory – Engines, Accelerants, and Meta

  1. Not sure where the deep insights into deckbuilding are in this article. Seems like you just name a bunch of cards you think should be useful in a couple of different decks.

    I would argue that the element which drives a deck, the thing you refer to as an ‘Engine’ , is actually what most people refer to as the Economy or Gold Structure of the deck. Having an appropriate economy for the deck that you build enables you to play weapons and still afford to keep your dynasty flowing in FK, or maximise the number of berserkers you have in play in HoTF.

    I think we have a different understanding of what is considered meta, but I can’t argue with your opinion of what meta actually is, so I wont

  2. Hey there Ayumu! I agree that gold scheme is really important, and is in fact the next article I’m working on. A bad gold scheme can absolutely destroy a deck, but even the best gold scheme can’t save a deck that doesn’t know what it’s doing. An engine, as I see it, is what your deck “does.” Gold pays for it, but what’s Jungle Stockade or Temples of Gisei Toshi without Cursed Relic and Wyrmbone Katana? I apologize for not explaining this more clearly in the article itself, that’ll teach me to only do two drafts before submission!

    This article is really intended for people new to deck building, who might take a look at a kotei-winning deck and wonder how it works or why it works. I did not intend it to be a high-level discussion, but more a look at how and why decks function. When Crab take a turn 1 province with ‘zerkers, what’s in the deck to allow for that to happen and why is it a good thing? To you or I the answers to these questions are self-evident but that is not the case for other players. I hope that this article helps them out in their understanding.

  3. I would have liked to have heard your thoughts on the distribution of each of the three components across the two decks as well as how these proportions vary by win conditions etc. For example, enlightenment is notorious for it’s “engine” being in it’s fate deck…

    1. Well, that’s entirely dependent on a deck. Control decks, such as WED honor, will have more meta calls in them than, say, Crab Berserkers. Engines that rely on lots of fate cards will be more fragile (though not less powerful!) than engines that rely on Dynasty cards just due to the inherent card draw advantage Dynasty cards get.

      For military decks, I’d be very uncomfortable running more than, say, 8 meta cards. Meta answers specific decks or problems, and these targeted actions will otherwise be worthless. Formal Apology, for example, is a lifesaver against MSC rocket dishonor but useless against t2 Lion blitz. The more meta you include, the higher the chance of clogging up your engine and losing a game.

      Accelerants, as I defined them, will likely be the majority of a deck. The US environment is very fast, with some games being effectively over in as little as 3 turns, and so decks that are faster will do better. Things might be different in a European or Oceanic environment, so there’s a caveat there. However, in the US, faster decks will beat slower ones right now.

      Engine cards will comprise somewhere between 20% and 50% of a decklist, I think. Some engines are more complex and need more cards (enlightenment!) and others need comparitively fewer (Kensai’s engine is 10-14 weapons and a Stronghold). The more complicated an engine, the fewer cards you can use for meta or accelerants, so that’s also a concern.

      I hoped this reply helped, dashed off though it may be!

  4. You should note: Foothills Keep let’s you attach weapons as a Battle/Open weapon. They can already attach weapons unopposed during battle. Glory of the Shogun just gives them card draw.

  5. I like to think of every deck as having one or more “victory stories” which is a narrative of how/why it will win games.

    So dragon Kensei might be….
    I will win battles by investing in powerful attachments. A synergy of card draw, recycling and actions on cards in play will give me significant card advantage. Action canceling and redirection will protect my investments.

    From there it is a question of how you put that together which can involve a lot of different aspects of your deck. The “engine” is what makes that happen I suppose. I often call it the “Core.”

    Most games I talk about “card advantage”
    In modern L5R I’d also talk about “action advantage”
    And in L5R Pace / Tempo is also a critical aspect of decks

    But I tend to start with a notion of either a victory story, or a very powerful card and build out from there.

  6. Interesting article. This said, and I mean no offense to the author, it would have been even more interesting and enlightening for the readers if you would have not used two examples out of the four most succesful decks in the environment. Anybody can have a strong winning record by using Crab Berserkers or Dragon Kensai. It would be more useful, imho, to analyze how to build a good deck using more mid-field themes (I wouldn’t dare asking for some Crane or Spider love, because that’s pretty much a lost cause).

  7. Interesting article as far as it goes, and the distinction between engine/accelerants/meta makes sense. However, you don’t really address deck composition – how much of your deck should be engine vs accelerants vs meta. Of course, there is no simple answer, but this is one of the most important decisions to make during deck building.

    As such, I don’t think the categorization you use above is the most useful starting point. When I build a new deck, I start by asking myself: how will this deck beat honor, military, dishonor and enlightenment decks?

    There was a request above for Crane or Spider love, so I’ll take the Shinden Asahina deck Fox and I built in the EE base set as an example. Our starting point was that we wanted to build a fast honor deck. In terms of matchups:

    vs honor, we wanted to simply be faster. We identified Rhetoric as a key card that Crane have easy access to, and built the deck to (a) have lots of cheap personalities, and (b) include plenty of courtiers (happily there are several cheap ones). Borrowing from my successful Phoenix deck idea, we wanted to buy a guy every turn including turn 1, to ensure that we were building the fastest deck possible. Already the key parts of the deck’s engine start to pick themselves.

    vs military, we wanted to achieve three things. One was to defend as little as possible. The second was to gain honor when we do defend. And the third was to kill enemy personalities, so that they don’t come back. Accidental Confession and Heavily Engaged were picked for not defending, Relentless Conviction and Dismissing the Cur for killing people (and gaining honor in Dismissing’s case), and Desperate Mediation and Unimpeachable Name gave us battle honor gain. In the context of this article, are these cards part of the engine or part of the meta? You could argue it either way. The key point is that they are strong cards for an important matchup (military will almost always be the most common deck type you face in a tournament).

    vs dishonor, we had a difficult problem. Given the need to be faster than other honor, we were already tied into running low Force personalities. So, going military vs dishonor (the design team’s stated goal for honor) wasn’t an option for us. Instead we went the dishonor route, using our honor gains to keep us afloat. Favors and Turquoise Championship were two easy choices here, that both made our honor gains faster against the field, but also gave us a dishonor option. Rhetoric, already key for the honor matchup, is also key here. And Asahina Kitiaru, a cheap 4C courtier with a great ability for this matchup, also helps. Against dishonor, we’re really helped by knowing that every dishonor deck out there runs Suspicions – so we don’t need to do much to push them down other than stay afloat (note – this was in a pre-Den environment).

    vs enlightenment, we decided that we would simply race it. I hadn’t yet invented the 4 turn Phoenix enlightenment deck so Mantis enlightenment was the only deck being seen in the environment. Winning in 5 turns and going first meant that a Mantis opponent would have trouble getting their rings out before we crossed.

    The analysis above identified a lot of the key cards that we’d be using in the deck – crossing the engine and meta parts of this article (which are two sides to the question ‘how am I going to win games’). You can certainly argue that the military analysis should be split into blitz (scouts/lion) vs big unit military (kensai/zerker/commander) vs mobile military (cav/ninja) but for an honor deck the distinction is less useful. Still, once you’ve completed the competitive analysis, you then need to fill out the rest of the deck – and at this point you’re looking for accelerants. In this example deck, we used:

    – Ring tech (String of Victories plus Void, Earth and Fire, Wisdom Gained). String/Void gives you a good chance to get Void out. String/Fire gives you additional battle kill. String/Earth is more presenceless defense – though note you need to use String as an Open if you’re not planning to be at battle!).
    – Courtesy of the Crane, to make our Fate deck smaller and draw cards faster. Because our deck was so fast, we didn’t mind giving our opponent cards. Buying a T1 guy and using Courtesy on your opponent’s first turn is totally safe – most decks cannot use Fate cards until T3 or so thus will be discarding the extra.
    – Tell the Tale for faster honor gain
    – Pearl of Embers for something to fetch with Imperial Gift and to straighten one of your guys (letting you Favors/Rhetoric again)
    – Doji’s Guidance and Jurojin’s Blessing, both of which let you recycle Accidental Confession or Rhetoric (depending on matchup)
    – One Koku, to get the Dynasty side flowing faster
    – Plenty of events, to gain honor, draw cards or slow your opponent’s attacks. is the final deck.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.