Review – Gates of Chaos (L5R CCG)

Gates of Chaos is the latest expansion for the Legend of the Five Rings CCG, previewed at GenCon 2013 and now tournament-legal. It is only available in booster packs (starter decks outside of the base sets now being a thing of the past), and uses the standard (for now) model of 48 booster packs per “box” and 11 cards per pack (I say “box” because Gates is sold in a metal tin, similar to the Coils of Madness complete set tin, and contrasted with Coils of Madness booster packs, which came in a more normal sort of box).

Continuing the transition from Emperor Edition to Ivory Edition (and, thankfully, a transition to a new legality rotation system that means we won’t ever have to talk about a transition from one Edition to the next again), Gates of Chaos is in an awkward position. What is a signal about things to come, and what is just a red herring? With a return to sanity after the power levels were pushed for Emperor Edition, how much of Gates will be tournament-level for the rest of 2013?

The Tin

So, before we get to the actual set, what about that tin instead of the box? It’s kind of odd – if L5R was normally packaged in normal, throwaway CCG boxes, then the tin would be a clear upgrade. But L5R has spent Emperor Edition being released in these really sturdy, really pretty boxes that are great for storage or carrying cards around. The tin is even prettier, but doesn’t serve much function beyond that – it comes with interior dividers that make it OK for storage, but since there’s no way to lay the cards down you can’t flick through them while they’re still in the box. There also seems to be some feedback from retailers that they’re hard to display on shelves, and (because the tins are like the Coils of Madness tins, which were complete sets and not booster boxes) there have been scattered reports of retailer confusion about what the product is. My guess is that, regardless of the merits of the tin, L5R is going to end up back in boxes, if only because that’s what people expect out of, well, a booster box.

The Emperor-Only Stuff

While the lion’s share of Gates of Chaos bears the purple “Ivory” bug, there are a select few cards in the set that are only Emperor-legal. Unsurprisingly, these have a much higher power level than the rest, and seem more likely to make a difference in tournament play for the rest of the year. Highlights include:

A New Perspective: 2G to add a 1F Follower to every single one of your Personalities at the battle. That’s huge. Followers still provide a lot of protection, and things like Natural Aviary still get played. A New Perspective doesn’t work unopposed (thankfully) and can’t be played before the battle, but that’s still an awful lot to get for 2 gold.

Glassworks: In the right deck, Glassworks will provide almost everyone in your army the +1F bonus, because they’re all going to be sporting Weapons. And at Personality + Weapon levels of Force, one Force can have a real impact because it can mean the difference between cracking a province or not. On the other hand, “all of your guys” may not be that many, and its unclear whether an Item-focused deck like that will still be tournament viable.

Tournament Impact From Ivory Cards

That doesn’t mean that the Ivory-legal cards are entirely without tournament implications, however. In particular, it is easier for Clan-aligned Personality cards to maintain Emperor-relevance because they effectively cost 2 loss in Emperor.

Asahina Kitiaru: Ring recursion is very handy. And with 4 Personal Honor and Courtier and 5 Chi for Rhetoric, he’s right at home in a Crane honor deck. Just keep bringing back that Ring of Fire (even in Emperor Edition, nuking entire units is good).

Daidoji Soken/Ide Hinobu: With the 2-gold in-Clan discount, these Personalities can provide big gold acceleration, effectively only costing 1G on the turn they come out, while providing long-term economy growth.

Exquisite Silk Works: A two-for-two Holding that will, in the appropriate deck, generate an honor loss every single turn without any loss of economy? There’s some real potential there, and Scorpion and Yasuki can both rock dishonor decks in the Gates of Chaos environment.

M’rika: Her impact in the Emperor environment may be somewhat blunted by the availability of Open straighten and move-in that straightens, but “Open: Bow my guy to bow your guy” is a stupendous ability. She will be a big player in Ivory Edition, but could also be used to add a control element to current Spider builds.

Moshi Rukia: Rukia xp’s ability seems almost ludicrously good by Ivory standards, and she’s Naval, so she may have a role to play in Thunder decks (well, to the extent that Thunder decks actually show up at tournaments these days, anyway).

Divining the Future

Coils of Madness, the first set with Ivory-legal cards, saw a lot of improvements introduced to be compatible with Ivory Edition when that set releases next year. Gates of Chaos does not deliver the same saturation level of revelations, but it does have some tidbits.

– Invest: One of the new Keywords introduced in Gates of Chaos is Invest, which lets you pay extra Gold when you buy a card, and get some extra effect. Much like Kicker in Magic: the Gathering, Invest cards will typically be less powerful at a particular price point than their counterparts, but make up for it with flexibility. Invest cards should get substantially better once Ivory Edition hits. Under Emperor rules, because the Invest cost is distinct, it introduces more opportunities to “lose” gold due to Gold splitting. But with Gold splitting going away in Ivory Edition, awkward Invest costs will be a thing of the past.

– Destined: Coils of Madness saw the introduction of the Expendable keyword, letting you draw a card when the Expendable card leaves play. Gates of Chaos brings along its counterpart, Destined, which lets you draw a card when the Destined card enters play. A great improvement on Overconfident/Brash (because people don’t like random drawbacks on their cards, and those were not small drawbacks), and should be fun to play with. Destined even gets paired with Expendable more than once, on a couple of cheap, blank Personalities who one images will come into play and then die in fairly quick succession.

– The Return of Fortifications: Ivory Edition is seeing the removal of a couple of card types (Celestials, Regions) and the return of at least one (Sensei). It’s also seeing the return of a particular variety of Holding, the Fortification. Fortifications are Holdings that attach to the Province they’re purchased out of, instead of entering play at home. They also enter play unbowed. Fortifications not only have historical L5R flavor, but can also do almost anything that Regions could do, and without requiring completely different entering play rules.

– Focus Effects: Dueling seems to change basically every edition, and I suspect Ivory Edition will be no different. We haven’t had any direct information on this, but we do know that Duelist is coming back and that there’s already been a +2 Chi Weapon. Gates of Chaos adds to that info drip with Boiling Point, which lets us know that Focus Effects will still be around.

Kitsu Ririko and Kitsune Yuko: In Emperor Edition, both the Mantis (Kitsune) and Lion (Kitsu) had created-card (forest sprits and ancestral spirits, respectively) themes. In Gates of Chaos, we do see a Spell that targets a created Spirit Personality (Gates of Chikushudo), but the representative Personalities of those themes don’t related to the created cards. I’m guessing that, while created cards will still be around (there were several in Coils of Madness), they will be more limited effects, and we won’t be seeing whole table-fulls of created Spirits. Gates of Chikushudo would then become a relic once Ivory Edition hits.

Other Highlights

There are a few other highlights that might be of interest to casual fans:

– Clan Champions: They’re costed for Ivory Edition, but it’s been a while since we saw new versions of any of the current Clan Champions, and Gates of Chaos brings us two – Akodo Dairuko (with fantastic art) and Yoritomo Hiromi.

– Madness Guys: Did you like P’an Ku? Well, he’s going away, so this is your last chance to get Fallen Personalities in any real quantity. For me, the presence of the cards at all is a downside. Yeah, I want to see the “bad guys” represented in card form. But when I know before the set comes out that these bad guys aren’t going to last another two weeks? Makes it kind of lame for them to be taking up those scarce Clan-aligned Personality slots. But if you really liked P’an Ku, get ’em while the getting’s good.

– Yodotai: On the other hand, the Yodotai (well, the legion of guys that are led by Legulus, a rogue former lieutenant of Kali-Ma who happened to be Yodotai – it seems like this group no longer has any official connection to the Yodotai Empire). I’m not sure how much longer they’re going to be around before the Lion and Unicorn ROFLstomp them out in the desert, but it’s nice for them to finally show up.

– Other Plot Points: The flavor text in Gates of Chaos provides some hints about upcoming storyline (some of them mentioned above). The low-level conflict between the Crab and Spider appears to have grown into a hot war, drawing the Scorpion and Dragon in as full-scale combatants. On the flipside, the conflict between the Phoenix and Lion seems to have drained away, without every really having much of an impact. It appears that Ikoma Ayumu, the one-armed slayer of the last Obsidian Champion, Daigotsu Hotaku, will be mounting his last defense of the regalia of the Obsidian Champion soon – although it remains to be seen what the outcome of that conflict will be. Gates of Chaos in general also heavily depicts the discoveries made throughout the Colonies during the 2012 Kotei season.

All told, Gates of Chaos finds itself in a strange position, as large swathes of the set are manifestly pointless for Emperor-legal tournament play. But, really, that’s a good thing, because they can’t be very Emperor-viable without messing up the upcoming Ivory environment.

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

3 thoughts on “Review – Gates of Chaos (L5R CCG)

  1. So, I’m largely happy with a lot of what is in Gates, the Crab Destined personality Iabuchi is a scout which helps lessen the blow of losing our staple card: Duty of the Crab.

    I’m not sure how many of the actions they’ve packed will be viable but I’m testing a few, Welcome Reprieve for starters to give some breathing room for my personalities and Ivinda Village for purchasing Calvary.

    I admit, I am very curious about Ivory Edition as it is hinted by Gates.

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