An Imperial Decree

A New Rules Update for Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game


Every three months, developer Tyler Parrott takes a close look at the competitive metagame for Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game and makes a number of tweaks to ensure the ongoing health of the game. You can download the new version of the Imperial Law (3 MB) and the Rules Reference (4.2 MB) today, and read on to hear Tyler’s own thoughts! (These rules documents will go into effect on July 6.)

Developer Tyler Parrott on the Upcoming Rules Update

Rokugan finds itself in an age of uncertainty as a global pandemic has delayed product releases and major events around the world. Yet even now, the Dominion cycle has resumed its release schedule after a few months delay, with In Pursuit of Truth scheduled to release on July 3, and players can still enjoy Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game through video technology and with housemates or family members. In the interest of continuing to support the online community for the game despite the lack of tournaments, I have continued to monitor the decks that players have been building over the past three months and how fun those decks have been.

To encourage players to diversify their deckbuilding and improve the Stronghold format’s game experience, I have added three cards to the banned list and six cards to the restricted list.

However, that’s not all I’ve been up to! Legend of the Five Rings is much more than just a single game and alternate formats such as Skirmish, Enlightenment, and Team Conquest allow players to enjoy the cards they have collected in a variety of fun ways. In order to better support those formats, I have updated the Rules Reference and Imperial Law documents with the appropriate content to make those two documents valuable to players regardless of game format. No rules have changed with this update. Additionally, the banned lists for each format—as well as the Stronghold format restricted list and the card errata which apply to all formats—can be found in a single, newly updated Imperial Law document.

For a brief discussion of the changes to the Stronghold format banned and restricted lists, read below.

On Attacking and Defending

A game like Legend of the Five Rings is most fun when it encourages players to attack and defend against one another’s provinces, actively pitting their resources against one another in a contest of strategy. It is important that aggressive strategies be fun and powerful and that defensive strategies be fun and powerful, especially for the clans (like Crab) for whom defending is a major theme. However, if the risk of attacking is ever so great that a player can consistently win the game without ever attacking, then the fun of the game has the potential to quickly disappear as players refuse to engage with the game’s primary mechanic of trying to win conflicts. In order to discourage players from building decks that attempt to win without attacking or defending, Gateway to Meido (For the Empire, 3) has been banned and Display of Power (Core Set, 179) and Bayushi Shoju (Shoju’s Duty, 121) have been restricted.

Decks built around Gateway to Meido have now reached a point of consistency, bolstered by the new City of the Rich Frog (Rokugan at War, 6) and the rally mechanic, that they can consistently run their opponent out of honor without needing to attack or even win a conflict. As this play pattern does not result in a fun game experience when it is easy to achieve, the province has been banned so that players are encouraged to pursue a different means of victory.

Bayushi Shoju presents a powerful win condition for Scorpion dishonor decks, as he consistently drains honor from both players each round. However, the combination of Bayushi Shoju and City of the Open Hand (Core Set, 7) has proven to be very effective at running the opponent out of honor without needing to attack, so long as the Scorpion player can continue to spend their own honor on cards like Assassination (Core Set, 203) which actively disrupt the opponent’s attempts to race for victory. Shoju has thus been added to the restricted list so that dishonor-based Scorpion players can play with either City of the Open Hand or Bayushi Shoju as their win condition—but not both.

Display of Power is a powerful tool for defensive deck strategies. However, as its play requirement discourages the game’s primary pattern of attacking and defending conflicts, it has allowed attrition-based decks to ignore attacks too easily at too low of a cost. Therefore, it has been restricted so that it cannot be played alongside other powerful attrition cards such as City of the Open Hand, Bayushi Shoju, or Consumed by Five Fires (Fate Has No Secrets, 96).

Policy Debate

For the past two years, Policy Debate (For Honor and Glory, 40) has been a cornerstone of the restricted list. However, since its inclusion it has proven to not only be a foundation for the restricted list, but also one of its most prized tools. Despite being included in the list alongside powerful metagame threats such as Kakita Toshimoko (Children of the Empire, 14), Consumed by Five Fires, and multiple Scorpion cards, Policy Debate has proven to be powerful enough to be regularly selected over those cards in Crane, Dragon, Phoenix, and even sometimes Scorpion decks. The power level of this neutral conflict card is high enough that it has limited what cards could be included on the restricted list in the same way that Charge! (Core Set, 210) did before it. Policy Debate has been moved to the banned list so that the restricted list can instead focus on providing fun deckbuilding decisions instead of being a list of cards that cannot be played because of the existence of Policy Debate.

Rebuild, Iron Mine, and Kuni Laboratory

The strategies available to the Crab Clan have become far more diverse and powerful with the beginning of the Dominion cycle. However, many of these new strategies have been bolstered by the efficiency of three cards from the first year of the game: Rebuild (Core Set, 136), Iron Mine (Meditations on the Ephemeral, 103), and Kuni Laboratory (All and Nothing, 84). Iron Mine and Kuni Laboratory were both designed to be powerful tools for the Crab’s themes of survivability and “dishonorable power,” but that power was intended to come at a cost: Iron Mine requires it survive a round in a province before it can be used (where it can be attacked or discarded by card effects) and Kuni Laboratory costs an honor each round it is in play. Both of these costs are mitigated by Rebuild, which allows them to be put into play from the Crab player’s discard pile at no cost during the conflict phase. In order to weaken the Crab Clan’s access to cheap resources that other clans do not have, Iron Mine and Kuni Laboratory have both been added to the restricted list so that they cannot be rebuilt for free.

Tactical Ingenuity and the Commander Package

In the wake of the release of The Emperor’s Legion, the Lion Clan has seen a resurgence of strength. Much of this success has come from the power of Tactical Ingenuity (The Emperor’s Legion, 21), an attachment that allows a Commander to find the right event for the situation each round. While Tactical Ingenuity was intended to provide a payoff for the Commander trait—and it has succeeded at encouraging players to experiment with Commanders in other clans—it has proven to be a bit too efficient at what it does. The “commander package” of a clan’s Commanders backed up by Tactical Ingenuity and Prepare for War (The Emperor’s Legion, 25) is powerful enough as a group of synergistic cards that Tactical Ingenuity has been added to the restricted list.

Keeper Initiate and Costs

A few cards in recent expansions have drawn a great deal of attention for how efficient and powerful they are at readying key characters: specifically, Common Cause (Clan War, 65) and In Service to My Lord (Shoju’s Duty, 127). While these cards are undoubtedly powerful, they carry an important cost: Common Cause requires a player to have a character with no fate they wish to sacrifice while In Service to My Lord requires a player to bow a non-unique character to ready their unique character. While these cards are strong, they are not free.

Unlike those cards, Keeper Initiate (Core Set, 124) is free. The ability for a player to get one or more free characters out of their discard pile—even a one-skill character like Keeper Initiate—has proven from as early as the release of the Core Set to be very valuable. This value has now become more effective, as a single Keeper Initiate can either attack or defend unexpectedly, or win the Imperial Favor, or mitigate the costs of Common Cause and In Service to My Lord. Each of these individual uses is appropriate, in total the effectiveness of Keeper Initiate has grown high enough that it needs an additional cost to stay balanced with the rest of the card pool. Its addition to the restricted list is that additional cost that should return it to parity with the other neutral cards in the game.

Bayushi Liar

Finally, Bayushi Liar (Core Set, 95) has been added to the banned list. This is because it is so much better than its competition in the other clans. While Crane has Doji Whisperer (Core Set, 41) and Lion has Matsu Berserker (Core Set, 69) at the same price-to-skill ratio, Bayushi Liar has two advantages over those cards: it has zero glory, which is an advantage for a clan that wants to dishonor its characters, and it has the sincerity keyword. In contrast, Phoenix’s Naïve Student (Core Set, 81) lacks a critical third point of political skill for the same advantages, and its high glory is less valuable because Phoenix cannot honor its characters with the same efficiency that Scorpion dishonors its characters.

Because Bayushi Liar’s skill-to-cost ratio can meaningfully compete with its equivalents in every other clan, while mitigating the cost of a dishonor token and drawing a card at practically the lowest possible price point, it has been banned to open up greater deckbuilding diversity in the Scorpion Clan’s dynasty decks. The Scorpion Clan’s primary strength is meant to be in its conflict deck, so also giving that clan one of the most powerful one-cost dynasty character in the game has allowed Scorpion decks to be more overtly powerful than their competitors. This banning should decrease the power of the Scorpion Clan’s dynasty deck so that their powerful conflict cards can be highlighted instead.

Building and Brewing

While there will be no official events to allow players to test their mettle against one another in the near future, my hope is that this update to the Stronghold banned and restricted lists encourages players to experiment with new strategies, find value from new cards, and experience a more fun game experience overall.

The next balance update is scheduled for early October. I shall continue to keep an eye on online discourse, deckbuilding trends, and game reports from players who are able to continue playing through the help of the internet and implement any changes I feel would improve the game at that time. Until then, happy brewing!

~Tyler Parrott

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