The Royal Decree
Developer Tyler Parrott on the New Imperial Law and Rules Reference Update
“We remember the things we learned on our travels, and those lessons make us valuable to the Emperor.”
As the seven Great Clans of Rokugan settle into their new Autumn Roles, preparations are made for the intrigues and powerplays to be made at the Winter Court. As such, the noble Emperor has decreed a new Imperial Law that should help guide the clans as they pursue their paths to glory. Furthermore, a new Rules Reference for Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game has been issued with notable changes to the Restricted List and FAQ sections. This update will be formally going into effect on October 7. Now, join developer Tyler Parrott as he details the new Imperial Law document and goes over the changes in the Rules Reference.
Tyler Parrott on the Rules Reference Update
I may be a humble messenger of the Miya, but I have a wealth of news from the Imperial Capital. A new law has been issued that will affect the Great Clans of Rokugan, but especially Crab, Crane, Phoenix, and Scorpion.
This rules update contains adjustments to a lot of rules entries, but it’s largely language improvement for clarity—no rules are actually changing. What is changing in this update is the FAQ section, which has been overhauled, and the Restricted List, which goes into effect on October 7. I’ll get into everything of note that was updated in this quarter, but first, let’s discuss what documents are available with this update.
A New Law
In addition to the Rules Reference, this update includes a new file type intended as a player reference for Organized Play events. The Imperial Law is a summary of important balance changes to the game: specifically, the card errata that changes card function and the most up-to-date restricted list. All information contained in the Imperial Law document is also contained at the end of the Rules Reference, and the Rules Reference takes precedence should there ever be inconsistencies between the two. It is my hope that such a player aid helps support online discussion and smooths out Organized Play events by making it easier for everyone to stay up-to-date on the most current balance changes to the game.
Most of the adjustments to the rules in this RRG update are clarifications of existing rulings. The changes encompass the following topics:
- Additional costs are defined
- Constant abilities (you can’t save Hotaru and Kuwanan)
- Copying characters (they gain clan affiliations)
- The covert keyword (it resolves before revealing the attacked province, if facedown)
- Triggered ability effects resolve simultaneously unless they use the word “then” or “if you do”
- “Cannot be increased/decreased” language in card abilities is clarified
- “Resolve an ability” is defined
- The word “to” is defined
- Discarding characters in the fate phase is clarified
- Disguised (the game action of “playing” a disguised character includes all of the steps of moving cards/tokens and discarding the non-unique character)
While the Frequently Asked Questions appendix at the end of the Rules Reference is valuable for a small number of specific card interactions, any amount of expansion of the FAQ can make it difficult to navigate. In order to help players and judges find the answers to common card interactions, it has been overhauled and replaced by a Card Clarifications appendix. The information contained within is all the same (and some new answers have been added), but rather than being sorted by date, all clarifications are now sorted by which card they are most applicable to.
Additionally, because there are several different cards that generate additional conflicts, those clarifications have been rolled into a rules entry that is in the main Rules Reference body, rather than repeating the same clarification for all relevant cards, like Hisu Mori Toride, Hida O-Ushi, Courteous Scheming, etc.
While the increased clarity of the rules is nice, I expect most players are here for the changes to card text and the Restricted List. In approaching this balance update right before the 2019 World Championship, I considered two major questions: which clans are too powerful at the highest levels of play, and which cards are creating the least fun game experiences?
If you look at which clans have been doing well, it’s hard not to see the continued success of Scorpion (most Kotei top placements), Crab (most Kotei wins), and Phoenix (whose Kotei victories are often overwhelming). Importantly, Crane also stands out as consistently cresting the top cut, but never quite overcoming their foes in the final rounds. Lion, Unicorn, and Dragon have been notably weaker over the past several months, though that is expected to change when the Lion clan pack rolls around and provides a boost to Lion and, to a lesser extent, Unicorn. Dragon struggles because their primary playstyle of creating large attachment towers has struggled to keep pace with Crane and Crab, both of whom employ a similar playstyle but do it better. When looking at the data, it seemed clear that the metagame would be improved by bolstering Dragon and weakening the four dominant clans, with the expectation that the Lion pack will reinvigorate Lion and support Unicorn.
To do this, five cards are now added to the Restricted List and one card has been removed. (A second card is also removed, but we’ll get to that at the end.) Two restricted cards, Miya Satoshi (Meditations on the Ephemeral, 112) and Gateway to Meido (For the Empire, 3) are neutral but primarily affect Crab decks, while the other three restricted cards, Daidoji Uji (Masters of the Court, 11), Consumed by Five Fires (Fate Has No Secrets, 96), and Cunning Magistrate (Fate Has No Secrets, 97) belong to the other three dominant clans. Niten Master (Core Set, 64) has been removed from the list for Dragon, as playtesting determined that a boost to Dragon’s top-level competitiveness will bring them close to in-line with the other clans, not to the same level of overwhelming dominance that Dragon saw when Niten Master was first restricted. These specific cards were chosen because of their propensity to singlehandedly warp the game in their controller's favor while providing minimal counterplay.
Shaking the Heavens
Restricting Miya Satoshi was a clear way to address multiple top-tier deck strategies, as they all revolve around a trio of cards that draw from the dynasty discard pile: Kitsu Spiritcaller (Core Set, 74), Gateway to Meido, and Forebearer’s Echoes (Bonds of Blood, 39). In the hands of a Crab, Lion, or Phoenix player, these cards can put powerful characters into play in great volume or at great discount.
This isn’t inherently a problem—there’s nothing wrong with decks having powerful cards—but the presence of Miya Satoshi gives those decks the flexibility and consistency to put them over the top. When chaining together Charge! (Core Set, 210), Miya Satoshi, Forebearer’s Echoes, Fushichō (Disciples of the Void, 11), and any other discarded Phoenix character, for example, a Phoenix deck could overwhelm the opponent with resource advantage on the first round for just three fate. Similar game states can be described for Gateway to Meido, which normally needs setup time during which the opponent can break it—setup time that is invalidated by Miya Satoshi—and for Kitsu Spiritcaller, which is able to chain with other Kitsu Spiritcallers once the dynasty deck becomes empty to always have only the best characters in play, at minimal cost.
Playing decks that attempt to generate value or card combos out of a discard pile can be very fun, but it can also be demoralizing when they dominate a metagame. Restricting Miya Satoshi allows such decks to continue to exist but at the cost of removing the additional fate advantage engine of Charge! which allows Satoshi to fill the discard pile for only one fate and to set up the same action in the next round.
Stealing the Game
There is a place for haymakers in a game, but having counterplay is an important part of making sure that such cards still lead to fun game states. In searching for which cards to restrict to help balance the clans, it was also important that the most frustrating-to-face cards be looked at to increase the overall fun of the game. It turned out that each of the powerful clans had one such card that, when made scarcer in the metagame, made Legend of the Five Rings a more challenging and dynamic game, exactly as we would want with an upcoming World Championship!
The key is that, while some clans have tools to stop each of these cards, most of them take over a game very quickly if left unchecked. If unbroken on the first attack, Gateway to Meido allows cheap characters to quickly flood the board from nowhere, and then often get sacrificed for even more value (in some cases creating a near-infinite combo that allows a Crab player to draw their entire deck and fill their board or fate pool with fate). If the honored status of Daidoji Uji is not kept in check, he ignores the dynasty phase and, more importantly, reduces the cost of each of a Crane player’s characters by one for the next several rounds. If Consumed by Five Fires is not canceled, it completely dismantles an opponent’s board, and importantly, attachment-based protection does not work against it. If a player fighting against Scorpion cannot keep dishonored status tokens off of their characters, Cunning Magistrate prevents that player from winning one or more key conflicts in a round.
In each of these cases, the tools to stop the cards’ big blowout effects exist… but they are unavailable to enough clans that these cards can often take over the game on their own. This has made the metagame more strategic and matchup-based, rather than promoting in-game tactical skill and resource management. Adding a deckbuilding cost (of being on the Restricted List) should make these cards harder to use and allow for more tactical counterplay during games of Legend of the Five Rings.
Fire Role Famine
In the most recent role rotation, every clan chose an Air or an Earth role. That’s not because those two roles are the best—there are still reasons to choose Water or Void—but the clans that would want a Water or Void role had either already selected it in the previous role choice and thus already had it available, or currently had the role and were unable to select it again. In this discussion, only one element was not really desired by any clan: the Fire role. Currently, there are no clans that are either Keeper or Seeker of Fire, though I expect that to change when the roles are drafted by the top players at Winter Court in November.
Last year, Feast or Famine (Into the Forbidden City, 41) was restricted to make the Fire roles less obviously the best roles because of how game-warping that neutral card could be. In an attempt to make the Fire role more appealing, I have unrestricted Feast or Famine to return a powerful tool to that role. However, because of how game-warping it often was—Feast or Famine often won games by triggering its Interrupt and decimating the opponent’s best character at a critical moment—it has been issued errata, to fall more in line with the power level of other provinces in the game.
Autumn’s Color Fades
This rules and balance update will be one of a few changes that will affect the game before Winter Court begins, with only a few product releases remaining to go. Defenders of Rokugan and Shoju’s Duty (the sixth Inheritance cycle pack) will not be legal for the World Championship, but that doesn’t mean the coming cycle packs and The Emperor’s Legion won’t contain game-changers that competitors will have to prepare for!
The Imperial Heralds will return with new changes and updates in January, making this the final rules update for 2019. I look forward to seeing what people come up with for the World Championship and at local events in the winter!