By the Emperor's Command
Developer Tyler Parrott on the New Imperial Law Update
“In every trade, someone must give first.”
The Imperial Law document has been updated and is now available to download! These new changes will formally go into effect on January 6th. As always, you may access it anytime under the Support section on the Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game page.
This rules update follows up on the dual update of the Learn to Play and Rules Reference documents, as highlighted in a recent article. With the Imperial Law document now being the sole home of the Restricted List, a significant portion of this article addresses what's new with this important list. Join developer Tyler Parrott as he delves into why these changes were necessary for the game, as well as the topic of rotation!
Tyler Parrott on the Imperial Law Update
Earlier this week, the new Rules Reference was updated for the coming year. It contained a large number of changes, so if you have not read it, I highly recommend you do so now!
However, the changes in that document only represent half of the changes coming to the tournament metagame in Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game. The other half is contained within a new Imperial Law document, now available. These changes will formally go into effect on January 6 alongside the changes to the Rules Reference.
On Decks, Clans, and Rotation
Before I get into the discussion of what's changed and why, there is a different topic that I would like to discuss, which has major relevance to this update: rotation.
When originally announced, the rotation schedule for tournament play was planned to occur when the first pack of Cycle 5 released. The goal was to push the concept of “mono no aware” around which the game was designed, by having cards remain legal only for a couple of years before they rotated out of the tournament scene and became casual-only. However, during the development of Cycle 5 (which is complete), it became increasingly clear that three to four cycles were not enough for the card pool that Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game draws from.
Due to the way deckbuilding works, with seven clans that barely share cards (typically no more than three to eight cards are splashed from an outside clan), each clan builds decks largely in a vacuum. Combine that with the fact that those decks are each 87 cards or more, with three different card backs, there is a limited amount of room for unique decks within a single clan when each clan only ever has, for example, 75 or fewer unique dynasty cards to draw from. Neutral cards of course help with this, but there are separate issues that arise when relying on neutral cards to add diversity to a metagame. Cycle 5 was playtested with Cycles 1 and 2 out of the card pool, and it was found that the card pool was too small to allow players to build multiple personalized decks within a single clan, or to allow multiple themes for a clan to flourish.
To address the issue represented by a relatively small card pool, rotation will be pushed back to the release of the first pack of Cycle 7. This should allow Cycles 5 and 6 to help support new themes for the clans, or to flesh out existing underdeveloped themes so that multiple players playing the same clan are not forced into playing the same (or similar) styles of deck in tournament play. For some, this is a blessing, as they will be able to play with their favorite cards for an additional year. For others, this likely represents a cause for some concern, as cards they dislike are going to also stay in the tournament card pool a year longer. Fortunately for those players, there exists a tool that can allow cards to rotate out of the tournament game before rotation—and in some cases, that can occur as soon as today.
Nine Cards Are Banned
For tournament gameplay, nine cards have been banned. They fall into five categories, which will be covered below. The Banned List contains the following cards, none of which can be included in tournament decks going forward:
- Guest of Honor (Core Set, 51)
- Charge! (Core Set, 210)
- Isawa Tadaka (Disciples of the Void, 10)
- Karada District (Tears of Amaterasu, 4)
- Master of Gisei Toshi (Fate Has No Secrets, 88)
- Kanjo District (Meditations on the Ephemeral, 108)
- Jurōjin’s Curse (The Fires Within, 55)
- Hidden Moon Dōjō (The Ebb and Flow, 68)
- Mirumoto Daishō (Children of the Empire, 58)
The Fun of Playing Cards
Three cards on the Banned List (Guest of Honor, Isawa Tadaka, and Master of Gisei Toshi) prevent the opponent from playing cards under certain conditions. While this is a standard mechanic in other games, it has proven to be problematic in Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game, which is a game that revolves around player agency and leveraging a large swath of card/ability options during conflicts. Because these cards have consistently proven to be problematic for the overall fun of the game, they have been banned from tournament play.
Holdings represent a powerful tool in a player’s dynasty deck, as they provide utility without any direct cost. (There is still the opportunity cost of not refilling the province.) Due to this, powerful holdings sometimes exist on a razor-thin edge of being powerful and fun vs being overpowered and un-fun. Additionally, “limit 1 per deck” cards can provide a lot of variety and dynamism to games because their presence is less consistent than the other cards in a player’s deck.
Unfortunately, when a holding is overpowered and also “limit 1 per deck,” it takes the un-fun element of an overpowered card and makes its inconsistency frustrating rather than exciting. This has caused Karada District, Kanjo District, and Hidden Moon Dojo to unduly warp the games in which they appear. Tools exist to deal with powerful holdings (and more are coming in the Dominion cycle), but those tools are far less effective against unique holdings than against non-unique holdings because of how difficult it can be to line up the "answer" with the “threat.” As I believe the game will be more fun without them in it, these three holdings have all been banned from tournament play.
Since the end of the Imperial cycle, it has been clear that Charge! was a card that warped gameplay. It was intended to provide a powerful discount for an expensive character at the cost of being unable to place fate on that character. However, because Charge! was also one of the best ways to win a conflict, it quickly surfaced that the effect of the card (win a military conflict with a large body) counteracted the cost (the character leaves play) by shortening game rounds and thus decreasing the importance of putting fate on characters. Not to mention the card interactions such as Reprieve (Core Set, 132) and For Greater Glory (Core Set, 168), which directly mitigate the cost of Charge!. For these reasons, Charge! has been banned from tournament play.
While merging the fate and regroup phases will effectively streamline the game in the long term, it has the unfortunate side effect of making Jurōjin’s Curse very weird and very strong. As this has always been a fringe marginal card in the metagame, and because a metagame defined primarily by Jurōjin’s Curse would not overall be a fun one, it is banned alongside the rules change. Continual testing will be done, and if such testing illustrates that Jurōjin’s Curse would not unduly warp the way the game is played, it will be removed from the list.
Mirumoto Daishō was a card that was designed to give Dragon Clan duelists an advantage in the dueling game. It was always a powerful card and has been watched since release to see if it would require restriction in some capacity. Having now watched it for almost a year, it is clear that its ability to siphon honor by chaining (often irrelevant) duels together is too efficient at ending the game, and the counterplay too limited—largely thanks to the existence of Defend Your Honor (Children of the Empire, 79). Therefore, it has been banned from tournament play.
Reassessing What’s Restricted
In addition to reassessing what rules could be improved, I also took this opportunity to reassess what deserved to be on the Restricted List, especially in the wake of the rule changes and the additions to the Banned List. When I did so, I found there were several cards that no longer needed to be restricted.
Addressing Clan Balance and New Rules
Steward of Law (Core Set, 139) and Young Rumormonger (Core Set, 101) were added to the Restricted List in the middle of last year as a means of subtly weakening overperforming clans, and because their interaction with the rules often caused confusion. But how those cards’ restrictions weakened their clans has proven to be too minimal to warrant their continuing presence on the Restricted List, and the changes to the rules have resolved the main source of confusion these cards caused. Because their original reasons for being restricted are no longer justified, those cards have been removed.
Additionally, Daidoji Uji (Masters of the Court, 11) has been removed from the Restricted List as he has received a functional erratum that reduces his power level to an acceptable standard.
Problematic Interactions With Banned Cards
With Charge! and Isawa Tadaka now banned, the cards that were restricted due to their interactions with those two cards have also been removed. For Greater Glory (Core Set, 168) was only ever on the Restricted List due to its interaction with Charge!, as that combination allowed a player to easily break a province and then get free fate on not only the Charged character but also every other Bushi that was attacking. With Charge! no longer in the tournament metagame, For Greater Glory does not need to be on the Restricted List. Secluded Shrine (Disciples of the Void, 12) was only ever on the Restricted List due to its interaction with the errata version of Isawa Tadaka. As that erratum has been rolled back, Secluded Shrine no longer needs to be on the Restricted List.
Miya Satoshi (Meditations on the Ephemeral, 112) has been removed from the Restricted List. This is because his powerful ability was used in combination with two cards to create overly problematic interactions with Charge! and Kanjo District (or Karada District), both of which are now banned.
There are many decks that I expect to use Miya Satoshi, and if those decks prove to be a problem then he will be returned to the Restricted List. Kyūden Isawa decks that want to resurrect Fushicho (Disciples of the Void, 11) can use Satoshi to put the phoenix into their discard pile to use with Forebearer’s Echoes (Bonds of Blood, 39), but the stronghold is now weaker thanks to errata and the deck’s method of protecting the combo (Master of Gisei Toshi) is banned.
Decks that want to effectively control the Imperial Favor by selecting the Imperial Palace (The Chrysanthemum Throne, 72) as their restricted card (see below) can utilize Miya Satoshi as a means of more consistently getting the Palace into play. And decks that wish to utilize Gateway to Meido (For the Empire, 3) during the early parts of the game before it is broken can use Miya Satoshi to fill their discard pile during the first couple of turns, but those decks cannot run other powerful discard pile-recursion tools such as Rebuild (Core Set, 136).
Forcing Difficult Choices
This balance update was not just meant to ban cards and subsequently unrestrict cards, because the Restricted List continues to be a potent tool when balancing a tournament metagame. Six cards have been removed because they no longer needed to be restricted, while six others have been added to minimize their role in shaping the current metagame. These cards can still be included in players’ decks, but they come at an additional opportunity cost and players must choose carefully whether they want to include a restricted card in their decks or not.
Three Powerful Provinces
Three clans have proven to be consistently powerful in the tournament metagame and were instrumental in contesting the Favor and Glory races of the Kunshu Kotei series. Those three clans are Scorpion, Crane, and Phoenix, and all three have provinces that make them dangerous to attack. All three of those provinces: Kuroi Mori (Core Set, 12), Secret Cache (Core Set, 13), and Magistrate Station (Elements Unbound, 102) have been restricted. By forcing players to forgo powerful cards in their decks to use these provinces, it should minimize their presence in the competitive metagame and make these powerful control clans less dangerous to attack.
The Imperial Palace
While three overpowered unique holdings are banned (Karada District, Kanjo District, and the Hidden Moon Dōjō), the Imperial Palace is not. This is for two reasons. One, because the Imperial Palace is neutral—any deck can run it—and two, because it serves an important role in the standard Imperial Favor contest. Censure (Into the Forbidden City, 60) is a critical mainstay in the metagame, and the Imperial Palace holding helps enable decks that run that event to ensure that they can control the Imperial Favor.
For decks that want to build around the Imperial Favor, the Palace is available to help them claim it (perhaps with the help of Miya Satoshi in finding it), while other decks cannot include it. Decks that rely heavily on the Imperial Favor to use their powerful abilities—such as Crane's Kakita Yoshi (Into the Forbidden City, 43) or Dragon's Agasha Sumiko (The Chrysanthemum Throne, 65)—are more likely to want the Imperial Palace, while others who don't make use of the Favor (Crab and Unicorn) are less likely to select it, unless they are relying heavily on Censure as a means to cancel enemy events. Fortunately, this should improve the power of this holding, as it is no longer a staple in every deck as it has been and thus it is less likely to be cancelled out by an opponent’s Palace.
Mark of Shame
With Soul Beyond Reproach (The Ebb and Flow, 74) and Mark of Shame (All and Nothing, 97) being mirrors of each other, it is perhaps surprising that only Mark of Shame is restricted. However, it has become clear as the metagame has grown that dishonoring expensive enemy characters is more effective than honoring expensive friendly characters, even when Mark of Shame costs twice as much fate. The two main reasons are:
1) Honoring an expensive friendly character requires that such an expensive character be invested in, meaning that to maximize Soul Beyond Reproach, a player must also heavily invest in an expensive Champion or Daimyō. Dishonoring an enemy character only ever costs two fate with Mark of Shame, and heavily punishes the opponent for investing in such an expensive character.
2) Because Mark of Shame is an attachment and not an event, there is almost no ability to stop it from resolving. That the attachment remains on the character after it enters play is largely irrelevant.
Because of how effective Mark of Shame has proven to be at controlling the game and weakening expensive characters, it is now restricted. For clans that wish to take an Air role and play this card, the opportunity still exists, but now at a higher opportunity cost.
The ability of Kakita Toshimoko (Children of the Empire, 14) to control conflicts has always been strong, and the addition of new cards like Kyūden Kakita (Masters of the Court, 1) to honor him and Esteemed Tea House (For the Empire, 7) to keep enemy attachments away have made building a deck around Toshimoko a potent strategy. When optimized, a deck featuring Toshimoko can be very difficult to defeat as he often wins and/or mitigates multiple conflicts per turn. Such decks can continue to exist, but for a card as powerful as Toshimoko, such decks will need to be built around him as other cards on the Restricted List cannot be used.
When Rotation Comes Early
A large portion of these changes are intentionally operating in conjunction with the postponement of rotation. Cards may be banned because they are too strong, and cards may be restricted to break up powerful combinations of cards, but that is not the only reason that a card may end up on one of these lists. With these tools now available, cards can be rotated out of the card pool early if they prove to be problematically strong or ubiquitous. Don’t expect format staples to suddenly start being banned left and right, but this represents a new perspective for the Restricted and Banned Lists that will be considered going forward.
A hobby game such as Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game is at its best when it is consistently evolving and new strategies are constantly being discovered. Ideally, this occurs when new cards are released, but often it takes the addition and removal of cards from a metagame to see it grow and flourish. This was previously done with rotating clan roles but now that roles are available to all the clans, the Restricted and Banned Lists can fulfill that task. Should it become clear that a metagame is stagnating, overly-ubiquitous cards may be banned or restricted, even if they are not inherently too strong.
As always, I will continue to keep an eye on the tournament season and on social media to monitor the health of this great game that we all love. I hope that these changes improve the experience of playing Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game dramatically (as I suspect it will), and I am super excited for Clan War and the Dominion cycle to begin releasing in early 2020!