The Emerald Dojo
A Legend of the Five Rings Strategy Site
Updated 31 May, 2021.
Legend of the Five Rings explores the unique concept of mono no aware, which loosely translates as 'transience' or 'impermanence'. Much like the fragile cherry blossom which blooms spectacularly, only to be carried away shortly after by the wind, characters in Legend of the Five Rings exist only as long as their fate dictates. After they strut and fret their hour upon the stage they are heard no more. That is, until they are played once again or recurred from their owner's discard pile.
Because of the unique mechanic of placing fate on characters to determine their lifespan there are relatively few cards in Legend of the Five Rings that directly remove characters. That said, when a card does cause a character to be discarded this tends to be very impactful.
Knowing which cards and board states allow for character removal is important. This guide covers the mechanics of character removal, the more common methods used by players to achieve this, and ways to protect characters from being discarded.
Character Removal Mechanics
Agasha Swordsmith is a Dragon shugenja who helps a player find their attachments quickly.
Assassination is a common neutral event that—for the not-insignificant cost of 3 honour—will discard a character with printed cost of 2 or lower.
Suppose a Dragon player hopes to gain repeated value from Swordsmith and so places 2 fate on him. At the beginning of the conflict phase his action is used to search for an attachment, revealing an Ornate Fan. This is attached to the Swordsmith, bringing him to 4 political skill.
The Dragon player initiates a political conflict and declares the Swordsmith as an attacker. For their first action, the defender plays Assassination. As a two-cost character the Swordsmith is a valid target, and is subsequently removed, despite the two fate that has been invested in them. The fan is also discarded.
Each player has lost resources in this interaction: for the Dragon player, 4 fate and an (admittedly bonus) attachment, for their opponent, 3 honour and 1 conflict card.
Like any other interaction in Legend of the Five Rings, then, character removal is a trade. While it is a tempting strategy to pursue, character removal generally involves specific deck construction requirements and a number of plays that clearly telegraph one's intentions to an experienced player. That said, the ability to remove a key character at a critical moment is not to be underestimated.
Common Character Removal Cards
Assassination is a card that cannot be ignored. For the cost of 3 honour it can discard any 1 or 2-cost character from the board during any conflict: an outcome which can have a significant swing effect on a game.
Assassination's frequent use has led to the 2 fate character slot becoming the most undesirable in the game. While the loss of a 1 fate character is generally painful but acceptable (1 fate and one character versus 1 card and 3 honour), this quickly becomes unpalatable for 2-cost characters, not to mention those with fate and/or attachments.
A skilled opponent will know which characters to target. There are a number of low-cost characters that can generate significant value for their owners which are frequent targets for Assassination. These include Border Rider, Agasha Swordsmith, Shrewd Yasuki, Brash Samurai, and Alibi Artist.
It is worth discussing the last of these.
Alibi Artist is a powerful character who can reliably draw cards for a Scorpion player. What makes him particularly useful, however, is that he is a Scorpion character. Scorpion excel at making their opponent's lose honour. Thus, to play Assassination against Scorpion is to court disaster. Good Scorpion players know this, and will place multiple fate on their Alibi Artist, safe in the knowledge that he will not be assassinated (or hopeful that he will).
A powerful but costly card, Assassination must be respected, both when constructing a deck, and facing your opponent.
The existence of Way of the Crab ensures that Crab must always be faced in a unique way. During any action window in the game a Crab player can sacrifice one of their own low-value characters to force their opponent to sacrifice a character of their own. There is nothing worse than playing a powerful character in the Dynasty phase, only for a Crab player to gleefully announce that they are sacrificing their Kaiu Envoy to Way of the Crab.
This is a mistake that should only be made once, but is inevitably repeated, leading to bigger groans each time. In general, though, it is manageable.
Playing around Way of the Crab means having a low-value character on the table at all times (preferably two, in case the first is assassinated). This is much the same approach as when revealing a Unicorn province: an opponent may not be running Endless Plains, but it is best to be safe.
As a final note, It is worth paying attention to which characters will be removed from the board during the fate phase. Try to keep at least one cheap character in play to protect key characters from Way of the Crab.
As a Unicorn player I am not bitter at all that both my clan and Scorpion have a card with 'Dispatch' in the title, and yet our version merely moves a character in or out of the conflict (and is Limited, let's not forget), while the Scorpion version has the ability to remove a character from the board.
Dispatch is a powerful dynasty event from the Dominion cycle that can discard a character with no fate. It requires that anyone playing against Scorpion protect a key character who loses their final fate in the Fate phase before the following Dynasty phase (particularly if they will not have a the First Player token and cannot put duplicate fate on them).
Not bitter at all.
Noble Sacrifice trades a low-value honoured character for a high-value dishonoured character. It is most at home in an Air-role deck with either Crane or Scorpion splash. This gives access to both Soul Beyond Reproach and possibly Mark of Shame. If playing Crane or Scorpion, this also allows Way of the Crane or Way of the Scorpion.
Noble Sacrifice telegraphs its intentions relatively clearly. If an opponent with an Air role, goes out of their way to dishonour a key character, while at the same time honouring an insignificant character of their own, it is time to prepare for the 'bridge throw'. This means honouring the dishonoured character, or vice versa. Failing this, attach a Finger of Jade or have a cancel ready.
It is worth noting that Noble Sacrifice can be played during any action window in any phase, and thus does not need to target characters participating in a conflict.
Duel to the Death was the cause of much consternation when announced, but it's impact on the game has been minimal.
To begin with, because of its significant effect, Duel to the Death costs 1 fate. In addition, as a duel it can only be initiated during a conflict with a participating character on each side. An opponent can also elect to dishonour their character to avoid the duel.
In practice, this means that players will almost always dishonour a target character (or play Steward of Law) before initiating Duel to the Death. The initiating player will also inevitably bid 5 (or whatever is needed to bully duel the opponent) since they want to get maximum return on their outlay. This in turn means that the player being targeted will almost always bid 1 since they know what is coming. Duel to the Death can also be cancelled by Finger of Jade, Stay Your Hand, Shiba Yojimbo, and the usual cancel events.
This is quite the laundry list of requirements to meet before successful 'kill duel' can be completed. That is not to say that Duel to the Death does not see play, but it is generally only found in very specific Crane decks.
While not strictly a character-removal card, Consumed by Five Fires nonetheless has the ability to remove a large number of characters from play.
A restricted card, it requires a friendly Shugenja and a Seeker role. It has the equal-highest fate cost of any event in the game. However, if played at the right moment it can cost an opponent far more.
Consumed by Five Fires works best when an opponent has invested heavily in key characters. It can be used to remove up to five fate from a single tower, or from multiple characters (or possibly both). While its effect is not fully realised until the fate phase (Isawa Ujina aside), it has the potential to sweep aside an opponent's entire board, effectively granting the power of five Void rings.
While Consumed by Five Fires is a powerful card, the prevalence of cards which allow a character with no fate to remain in play means it is no longer the terror that it once was.
While he is not always present in Dragon meta decks (which tend to focus on the Monk trait, Mirumoto Raitugu is always waiting in the wings, ready to strike and strip the fate off unsuspecting characters. If this character has not fate they are then discarded, giving Raitsugu a deserved reputation for killing towers or, with help from Way of the Dragon (which allows him to initiate a second duel), clearing away hordes of lesser minions.
Things have become more interesting recently with 2 cards from the Temptations cycle: Togashi Kazue and By By Onatangu's Light. The former allows Raitsugu to initiate another duel, while the latter means that the loser of Raitsugu's duel will always be discarded. While not particularly common, it is something to be aware of.
Endless Plains causes even the most experienced player to wince when revealing a Unicorn province. That said, it is relatively easy to play around.
The first important point to note is that the attacker chooses which character is discarded. The alternative would be far too overpowered, and this ensures that the attacker can always discard their least-valuable character.
The second point to note is that the effect does break the province. This is significant, although it is slightly less so for aggressive Unicorn players who are usually happy to trade a province for a powerful character. If there is only one attacking character (who is discarded), and no defenders are assigned, then the conflict is unresolved and no ring is claimed. If the attacker wants to claim the ring another character must be played or moved in. Also note that because the province is broken, cards such as For Greater Glory and Moto Chagatai do work.
A final point to note is that the reaction does not have to be triggered. If it is more beneficial to defend the province (which is admittedly difficult given its 2 province strength), this can be done.
Much of the power of Endless Plains lies in its potential. Even if it is not included in a deck experienced opponents will still take pains to either attack with an extra low-value character or attach a Finger of Jade, thus utilising resources that could have been deployed elsewhere. And, occasionally, it will still catch an experienced player out, removing a powerful character and leading to a painful groan.
I Can Swim is a wonderfully flavourful Philosophy that can be used to discard a key character. That said, it is not a straightforward card to use.
The 2-fate cost, while high, is not insurmountable for Scorpion. It can only be played during a conflict and can only target a dishonoured character. It also requires the Scorpion player to have a higher honour dial bid than their opponent.
In practice, I Can Swim usually plays out as follows. A Scorpion player running City of the Open Hand forces their opponent to repeatedly lose honour. Once the opponent's honour is sufficiently low they are forced to bid 1 to avoid falling into range of Backhanded Compliment. The Scorpion player can now bid 2, and use I Can Swim to remove key characters.
Playing against I Can Swim is difficult. One can attempt to keep characters neutral or honoured, but this is usually a losing battle in the face of Way of the Scorpion, Court Games, Shosuro Miyoko, and possibly A Fate Worse than Death or Mark of Shame. One can also bid low earlier in the game, but this leads to card disadvantage, which is compounded by Alibi Artist, Bayushi Manipulator, and Secret Cache. Finally, one can attempt to cancel the effects of I Can Swim with Finger of Jade or cancel events, but Scorpion regularly run Calling in Favors, Forged Edict, and/or Censure.
Like any battle against Scorpion, then, it is a race to stay afloat and close out the game before one's card disadvantage becomes too great, and one's honour becomes too low.
Isawa Ujina, the Elemental Master of Void, is a powerful Shugenja who can remove multiple characters per turn if used effectively.
Ordinarily, a character targeted by the void ring loses one fate, and, if this is their last fate, leaves play in the Fate Phase. If Isawa Ujina is in play, however, his ability forces a character without fate to be removed from the game (which is different to being discarded) after any player claims the void ring.
There are a couple of points to note here.
Firstly, Ujina himself does not need to be present in a conflict to use his ability. Secondly, as a forced reaction this ability cannot be avoided. If there is a character in play with no fate when the Void ring is resolved it must be removed. If ill-timed, this can occasionally mean a Phoenix player must discard their own character, or even Isawa Ujina himself.
Lastly, Ujina's ability is (unlimited), meaning it must be used every time the void ring is claimed. There are a number of ways a Phoenix play can ensure that the Void ring can be claimed multiple times a turn such as Ancestral Shrine, Isawa Kaede, and Know the World.
Isawa Ujina can be a tricky card to play around. Blanking his text, attaching a Finger of Jade, and fating up characters are the only real defences. That said, he is a big investment, and if dishonoured he at least is reduced to being a 0/2 character.
There is a lot going on with Justicar's Approach. To begin with, it can only be attached to a Courtier and provides only a minimal stat boost for its 1-fate cost. It can be initiated during any type of conflict and, depending on the target's status, will either dishonour, bow, or discard them.
To use Justicar's Approach effectively requires building a deck entirely around it. This involves a significant number of Courtier (or A New Name with Crane splash). It also requires military pumps to ensure that duels can be regularly won.
Things get interesting with Way of the Dragon.
As with cards such as Duelist Training, Justicar's Approach gives the attached character an action (as opposed to the attachment itself initiating the action). This can then be repeated if Way of the Dragon is also attached, thus helping to move down the dishonour -> bow -> discard line more quickly.
While two Way of the Dragons cannot be attached to one character, Justicar's Approach to be stacked, and each of these can be triggered an additional time (thus 1 Way of the Dragon and 3 Justicar's Approach would allow six duels to be initiated.
This can be done, but it requires significant time and fate. Again, an entire deck needs to be built around surviving to a point where a tower character can initiate multiple duels and remove multiple dishonoured characters.
The most ubiquitous and reliable protection available, the humble Finger of Jade will protect the attached character from most removal effects. Note that, as mentioned, it will not protect against effects which do not target the attached character (such as Court Games).
The other downside is that for one fate it provides no stat boosts. If an opponent has no interest in targeting the attached character then 1 fate and 1 card have effectively been wasted. That said, this is a small price to pay to keep a valuable character on the board. Even if an opponent discards Finger of Jade through attachment control, or its owner sacrifices it to save the attached character from a non-lethal action, the opponent has had to expend more resources than they were otherwise hoping to: a satisfactory outcome in a game that is so much about value trading.
Now married to Akodo Toturi, Akodo Kaede is a powerful Shugenja who can reach into the void to prevent a character's soul being taken from them. This is a wonderfully flavourful ability and it is worth reading the backstory for it in Falling Stars.
There a number of factors which make Akodo Kaede a strong pick for Lion players. Firstly, while she is a tempting target for the Void and Fire rings, she is immune to these, something that is easy to forget in the heat of battle. She also cannot be targeted by Assassination. Lastly, and importantly, she can remove one of her own fate to prevent another character from leaving play.
There is a unique quirk here that takes a moment to appreciate.
During the Fate Phase, in player order each player discards each character they control with no fate on it. These characters are discarded one at a time. Then, Simultaneously remove 1 fate from each character in play. In practice, this means that if Akodo Kaede has one fate she is not affected by the framework step in which characters without fate are removed. However, she can use her last fate to prevent another character from leaving play. The next framework step (removing fate from characters still in play) also does not affect her, since she now has no fate to remove.
There is a certain level of cognitive dissonance here, but it has been confirmed that if Akodo Kaede goes into the fate phase with one fate, she can prevent a character with no fate from leaving play, whilst also remaining in play herself.
Crab characters are like cockroaches, and the (once again) restricted card Iron Mine is one of the many methods Crab have available to keep their key characters in play. That said, its power is much diminished now that it can no longer be played alongside the also-restricted Rebuild.
Reprieve is similar to Iron Mine in that it prevents a character from leaving play. If there is no direct threat to a key character it can be saved for the final action window in the conflict phase. This keeps an opponent guessing as to whether or not the owner has it in hand, and it also allows the 1 fate cost to be saved if the Reprieve is not needed. Hopefully, the opponent has also expended all of their attachment control by this time as well.
Shiba Yojimbo's effect is similar to Finger of Jade in that she protects a friendly character from a triggered ability that targets it. Unlike Finger of Jade, however, Shiba Yojimbo is not discarded as a result of this interaction, although her ability can only be used once per turn.
Pledge of Loyalty sees occasional play and prevents an honoured character from leaving play at the cost of its honoured status token. It's 3 province strength is very low, and it's ability does not help to defend the province when attacked so it is vulnerable to both poke attacks and determined assaults.
Stand Your Ground is a 0-fate event that prevents an honoured character from leaving play. This is a very cheap save, and it is worth trying to keep powerful Lion characters from becoming honoured to prevent its use.
Like all of the Ancestral swords, Chikara has a powerful ability, but is expensive and said ability can only be used on a Champion character. For the Crab this presently only includes Hida Kisada, but if the Great Bear does find himself wielding this blade then an opponent is going to have a hard time keeping their most important characters on the board.
As Kisada is not in most Crab meta decks do not expect to see Chikara too often, but be very careful when you do.
One cannot fully appreciate the beauty of life unless it ends, and characters in Legend of the Five are not meant to stay in play forever, despite the Crab clans best efforts to the contrary.
Things become interesting, of course, when one player attempts to speed up this process with character removal effects.
Thankfully, there are no cards in Legend of the Five Rings with an action that simply reads: "Discard an opponent's character". All character removal cards have specific conditions that must be met before they can be played, and require significant costs to do so.
Part of the process of becoming a more skilled player is being able to recognise these requirements and weigh up their costs. Not all clans prefer (or are capable of) character removal strategies. As always, check an opponent's role, stronghold, and board state constantly, and, when in doubt, have a Finger of Jade handy.