by Justin Purdy
Very soon, we’re going to experience the very first (official) L5R prerelease booster draft. And if you’re new to the game, there’s a good chance you’ve never booster drafted L5R before. (Don’t worry; even experienced players probably haven’t done it much.) And while experience with constructed L5R or drafting in other games will definitely help, drafting is still kind of a unique beast.
So if you’re not sure what you’re doing, or you just want a quick refresher course, here’s a few tips for the upcoming booster draft that you’ll (hopefully!) be playing in.
A few basics
Read the draft rules. (http://rules.l5r.com/EE_Booster_Draft) If you’ve never drafted before at all and you really have no idea how it works, I’d stop reading the article right now and click the link. I promise it will only take about 5 minutes to read, and you’ll be able to help people out when they inevitably ask if Loyal still applies in draft (it does) or if you can include more than three of a non-Unique/Singular card in your deck (you can, if you drafted that many.)
Make sure you draft enough cards to fill out both of your 20 card deck; you don’t want to get to deck-building and find out that you only picked up 17 fate cards because you were too busy drafting all those cool-looking personalities. And if you’re used to old-school L5R drafting, there’s no draft packs anymore, so you aren’t going to be able to fill out your fate deck with a bunch of copies of Spearhead to make it legal.
Your stronghold makes holdings for you. In other words, don’t draft any holdings unless you see something totally amazing.
Big cards will rule the day
This isn’t unique to L5R, and it’s nothing new. There’s still a lot of player skill involved, but there was nothing quite like opening up a Tamago last arc and simply rolling over all the opposition with a huge unduelable fatty with a kill action. If you open a truly amazing card, it can easily determine what clans you’re going to be playing, and how you should be drafting from that point on.
I haven’t seen any truly amazing bruisers which will win you the draft all by themselves, but you’re definitely still off to a good start if you crack open your first pack and get Asako Izuna, Yoritomo Harumi, or some other nice unique.
Cavalry and Naval are still good (but beware)
Cavalry and Naval are good abilities in a draft format, just like they’re good in the base game. If you’re playing military in the draft, you might see all these great personalities come by with those keywords and be tempted to snatch them up… But think about the other cards in your deck first. If you’re going Unicorn, you’ll probably have enough cavalry to annoy people with, but a random military deck with a couple of 3 force cavalry guys thrown in is going to have a hard time taking advantage of it. Similarly, a big naval personality with a ranged attack on them is great, but a couple of blank naval guys and only a few mediocre performed actions on strategy cards is pointless.
You’ll run into more honor than you might think (Also, consider playing honor)
If you’ve never played an L5R draft before, you should know that honor decks are alive and well. In fact, it was so good that on August 14, it was changed to require 50 honor in draft. Part of this is because of the really excellent stronghold you’ll be playing with for the draft, The Governor’s Estate. If you lose the coin flip at the start of the game, your opponent can easily be above 15 or 20 honor before your first attack, which might just be a couple of mediocre guys with attachments and no Sneak Attack attacking into opposition. And while the honor decks get the excellent ability to gain 2 honor a turn for a negligible drawback, the military decks get the very mediocre ability to turn cards from hand into +2F.
So if you come across a card which can help you against honor (like Imprudent Misstep) strongly consider picking it up. Similarly, if you open up your first few packs and get a couple of nice Crane personalities with 4PH, you might want to play honor for this draft.
Don’t be too rigid in your clans
Just because you picked up a couple of good Scorpion Clan personalities as your first two picks, it doesn’t mean that you are locked into that clan at all. Remember, not only are you going to be able to pick two clans to play with, but it’s not the end of the world to splash in a couple of cards from other clans. So if the Scorpion well suddenly dries up and you have some good Mantis and a couple of Scorpion cards when start pack 2, and you see an amazing Crab personality, consider swapping depending on what gets passed to you. You probably aren’t going to have a very good idea of what other people are playing until you’ve gotten pretty far into the draft. (See the last point about draft conventions for more on this.)
Also, as an aside, drafts can be a great place to try out another clan for just a day. If you’re a new player who only has a Crab deck, but you’ve always wanted to give Mantis a try, then this tournament might a fun way to give it a shot.
Good generic actions are very valuable
One of the annoying things about drafting in L5R is the keyword focus. With nine clans and dozens of keywords, there’s a ton of cards you’re going to see which you’d love to include, if the darn thing didn’t say “Target your performing Berzerker”. There are a lot of very good cards in the set which just aren’t going to be able to see much play in draft, just because you’re not going to see the right magic words to make them work. You probably won’t get enough loyal people to make Bayushi Katsutoshi XP2 worthwhile, or enough cavalry followers to make Shinjo Tselu really good.
This really means that good generic actions are at a premium, and with this set in particular, it seems like there’s very few really good generic battle actions that anyone can use. So military decks should consider scooping up cards like Trusting Instinct and Avenging the Fallen, while honor decks might want to give extra value to cards like Warded Premises and Scandalous Gossip.
Attachments are king in draft formats. In an environment with so few good generic strategies, attachments really come in and save the day. They’re rarely keyword-specific, they give permanent stat bonuses, and they provide your personalities with protection.
A couple of really great attachments which will take you far are Goju Kaxt and Renyu’s Wrath. A lower-tier follower like Cavalry Flankers will still get some use picking off little weenies and providing protection. Even a bad attachment like Chiyurei’s Axe is still more use than a couple of red cards in a pack which don’t match any of your keywords.
Common draft conventions don’t always work well in L5R
If you’re used to Magic draft, some of the usual ideas you might be used to don’t really work as well in L5R. One very important example of this is sending and reading signals. In a game like Magic, where you’re drafting from only 5 colors, sometimes sending a signal in an early pack will help you on future packs. For example, if you take the only white card you see out of a pack and leave a couple of choice red cards, you send a signal to the players to your right that red is a good choice, you’ll be stealing white cards from them, so when the passing flips around, they won’t be stealing good white cards from you.
But in L5R, you’re drafting from 9 clans out of an 11 card pack… If you only see a Lion Clan card out of three packs, someone might not be sending a signal, there just might have only been one Lion card in those three packs. It definitely happens. So don’t worry too much about signals, you’re just as likely to pick up a false positive as you are to get any information.
Have fun and take it easy!
It doesn’t matter if you’re experienced or new, drafting is a format which you shouldn’t take too seriously. All the preparation in the world won’t save you from a person who got passed one good Phoenix personality after another, and there’s nothing you can do about a bad draw. No matter how you look at it, drafting in L5R is not serious business. However, drafting is a great format to get people sitting in a circle laughing at the terrible card you got stuck with, or checking out the amazing artwork on a new card. The most important piece of advice I can give is to just relax and have a good time.