The Emerald Dojo
A Legend of the Five Rings Strategy Site
Updated 31 May, 2020
Some of the most powerful cards in the game are those which are available to all clans. Many of these were released in the core set and continue to appear in competitive decks. Each new cycle also brings a plethora of neutral cards to shake up the meta game.
This guide focuses on the most commonly-played neutral cards on the competitive scene. It looks at the types of decks that include them, and their most common counters.
A staple in both honour and dishonour decks, Before the Throne forces an opponent seeking a conquest victory to make a difficult decision. At 5 strength it requires significant investment to break. As a reward for this investment, the attacker loses 2 honour (helping their opponent reach a dishonour victory), while the defender gains 2 honour (helping them reach an honour victory). If the attacker decides not to break the province they lose a valuable opportunity to achieve their own win condition.
The two staple economy provinces, Fertile Fields and Manicured Gardens help build card and fate advantage respectively. At 4 province strength they are relatively easy to defend, and each grows in value the more times they are attacked. While their actions may seem benign in comparison with some 'on reveal' or 'on break' province effects, neither should be underestimated.
In general, honour or dishonour decks prefer Fertile Fields which allows them to bid low and maintain card parity. Manicured Garden, by contrast, is preferred by conquest decks that need expensive characters, attachments, and events to break the opposing stronghold.
An Air Role-locked card, and the bane of tower decks, Frostbitten Crossing strips a participating character of all of their attachments. Note that the participating character does not need to be an attacker, allowing negative attachments such as Cloud the Mind to be removed from defenders.
While other Earth provinces occasionally see play, there is really only one to worry about. Upholding Authority wins games with its ability to provide total hand knowledge, and remove all copies of the most impactful card therein. The power of Upholding Authority can lead to farcical showdowns where defenders try to force attackers to break their own provinces, and attackers try to bow or send home their own attackers to avoid having key cards removed from their hand.
The only downside to Upholding Authority comes when playing an Earth role, as this makes the province more difficult to break.
A Fire-locked card, Feast or Famine has been restricted, unrestricted, and errated in its time.
The current iteration has an on-break effect that moves 1 fate from an opposing character to a friendly character. This is a powerful swing effect, leading to a key opposing character leaving play a round early, and a friendly character staying in play a round later.
While its ability is telegraphed the moment it is revealed, it can still force an attacker to make a painful choice about whether to break or not.
Popular with tower and attachment-heavy decks, Illustrious Forge allows its controller to select an attachment from the top 5 cards of their conflict deck and put it in to play for free on a character they control.
Like most on-reveal effects, this is powerful, and in a best case-scenario can put an Adorned Barcha on a friendly tower, who then swoops in using the first action in the conflict to bow an attacking character.
In a worst-case scenario, no attachment is found and Illustrious Forge becomes a blank 4-strength province that is easily farmed for the remainder of the game.
The most common Fire province, Meditations on the Tao removes 1 fate from an attacking character. As an action ability this can be repeated each round, meaning that if Meditations on the Tao is not broken immediately, subsequent attacks will be forced to endure the effect again. In these later attacks, however, the attacker can choose to declare only characters which have no fate as attackers, if the current board state allows for this.
Pilgrimage denies a victorious attacker the ability to resolve the contest ring if the province is not broken. This allows a defender to commit minimal resources to deny a break, safe in the knowledge that they will not be harmed by a damaging ring effect despite losing the conflict.
If an attacker decides to commit to the break they must be confident that they can win by 5 skill or more, as any less will bring no benefit other than a claimed ring.
Shameful Display is a swing card that is common in almost all competitive decks. It's ability to target a friendly and opposing character, and then honour one and dishonour the other, is significant, and more specific than say, Court Games, which does not target a specific opposing character, can only be used in political conflicts, and affects only one character. The action ability can also be used once per round, making it a genuine thorn in an opponent's side if not broken immediately.
The only downside to Shameful Display is the 3 province strength, which makes it vulnerable to pokes if the opponent does not have any ready characters, and cannot play or move any into the conflict.
Water provinces are generally considered the weakest in the game, with Midnight Revels arguably the best of a bad bunch. While its effect is powerful, and particularly harmful against tower decks, it can just as easily have no effect if one's one character is the most expensive in play. Once revealed, an opponent can also play around it by choosing to attack when their highest-fate character is already bowed. And, as a targeted ability, it can also be interrupted by Finger of Jade.
The other Water province to see regular play, Rally to the Cause features a one-off reaction that can significantly disrupt an attack, but then becomes a blank 4-strength province that is easily farmed for the remainder of the game. It can sometimes be found in the row of honour or dishonour decks as a way to slow down military-focused opponents, and under the stronghold of conquest decks as a last-ditch attempt to hold off politically-focused opponents.
Contested Countryside was immediately controversial upon being released to The Jade Throne podcast as a spoiler, and was quickly restricted after release.
Provided its owner is happy to play a Keeper role it has no real downsides. Its Rally keyword means it does not take up a slot in the dynasty row, and it effectively neutralises or abuses any opponent's province with an Action, Interrupt, or Reaction ability. It can be used to, for example, cancel a Scorpion player's use of Effective Deception, use a Unicorn player's Border Fortress to reveal a particular province, or reverse the effects of Shameful Display.
Such a powerful ability would usually come with a hefty set up cost or consequence, but in this case it does not require any participating characters, can be used in both political and military conflicts, and can (absurdly) be used multiple times per turn (even if only one Contested Countryside is in play).
Imperial Storehouse takes one spot in the dynasty deck and one slot in the province row to give a free card card (it also offers +1 province strength). While not as ubiquitous as in the early years of the game, it is still a common sight, especially in honour-running decks that are in need of card draw to offset their low bids.
Another common core neutral holding, Favourable Ground has many practical applications. While it suffers the same problem of all holdings in that it takes up a province slot, it can be used to withdraw from an unfavourable encounter to save forces for subsequent attacks. It can also be used to move a bowed character into an undefended attack to avoid the 1 honour loss, or to have a (possibly bowed) character use an action that will influence the conflict in a favourable way (for example, to duel an attacking character).
The decision to attack the attached province or not will depend on the current board state. The +1 province strength makes a break more difficult, however the pressure of the attack may force the opponent to use the ability, while a successful break ensures the holding is sent to the discard pile.
Released in the duel-heavy first premium set Children of the Empire, Proving Ground is a common pick for Crane dueling decks.
While it does take up a province slot, dueling decks favour tower characters (or conflict characters such as Niten Pupil) so this is not a huge concern. The limit of twice per round is important as it means Proving Ground goes on to build value the longer it stays in play. This allows its controller to bid high to win duels, and then switch to a low bid in the next draw phase to recover honour if needed.
There are a lot of anti-holding cards in the current meta (most notably A Season of War), so be prepared for your Proving Grounds to be removed, and look to do the same to an opponent who is using them.
A deck of forty dynasty cards can have 3 copies of 13 cards with one slot still to be filled. For the first few years of the game, this was often The Imperial Palace, which offers +2 province strength and all-but-guarantees the Imperial Favor.
In his justification for putting The Imperial Palace on the restricted list, lead developer Tyler Perrott stated it was this ubiquity that largely led to his decision. Like most Limit 1 per deck cards it also results in a significant swing effect on the game, but the frequency of it being flipped is largely out of a player's control.
Unlike other Limit 1 per deck cards such as Hidden Moon Dojo, Kanjo District, and Karada District which were added to the first banned list, The Imperial Palace is still an option for decks that want to make the most of the Imperial Favor, or the Imperial trait.
Slovenly Scavenger is a cheap conflict character which provides a substantial benefit when it wins a conflict. When used against an opponent, Slovenly Scavenger's ability allows it to return potential recursion cards to their dynasty or conflict deck. When, as is more commonly the case, its ability is used on one of its owner's decks, discarded cards can once more be drawn and used for the remainder of the game. This allows decks that utilises a lot of conflict cards to play with less fear of a 5-honour loss when their deck is exhausted, and with the confidence that key cards will be reusable when drawn once again.
Another Goblin Shadowlands card, Goblin Sneak frustratingly steals fate from an opponent and uses it to stay in play for another turn. Although only a 1/- character, he is frequently included in decks for his ability, which can easily disrupt an opponent's plans at an inopportune time.
Unlike its sister card, Guardian Kami, Kami Unleashed offers much more control over its use given that its owner selects the contested ring when attacking. Most often found in honour decks, this conflict character can be used to gain 2 honour for 2 fate when played into an Air conflict.
The Keeper variant of this neutral character is far more effective than his counterpart, Seeker Initiate. Keeper Initiate is commonly included in decks because he can enter play for free when his owner claims a ring that matches the element of their role. While only a 1/1, his 2 glory allows him to contribute significantly towards gaining the Imperial Favour. And, when honoured, he becomes a potent 3/3 character who remains in play for 2 turns. That said, he is just as easily turned into a potato when dishonoured.
Miya Mystic are both 2-cost neutral dynasty characters that can discard an attachment.
Their differences lie in their traits (Shugenja versus Monk), stats (2 for 1/1/1 versus 2 for 2/2/0) and, importantly when they can remove an attachment.
Miya Mystic is favoured by Phoenix for his trait, while Dragon prefer Disciple of Shinsei for his trait and his stats.
For other clans, the choice between the two will depend on the current archetype and win condition. Notably, Miya Mystic has more choice over when an attachment can be removed, providing more control in the current conflict phase.
Each member of the Imperial family brings a unique sense of flavour to the Legend of the Five Rings card game. The emperor's two sons, Daisetsu and Sotorii, occasionally see play, but it is their father who will be discussed here.
Hantei XXXVIII is tied for the most expensive character in the game and contributes no skill towards conflicts (indeed, he is unable to participate in conflicts). However, he is able to bow a character participating in a conflict regardless of whether they are attacking or defending, or whether they have fate or not. He can also redirect an ability triggered by an opponent. The latter ability allows him to, for example, select a single Battle Maiden Recruit for Cavalry Reserves, rather than the Utaku Tetsuko and Moto Nergui the owner had intended. He also all-but-guarantees the Imperial Favour, which is a good thing as he is discarded if his opponent claims this.
While he is rarely included in decks, and rarer still leaves the province row, when he does enter the play the emperor makes for a very interesting game of Legend of the Five Rings.
The ubiquitous 'fantana' can be found in many competitive decks. Highly flexible, they can be used to give a quick push during pokes, or to provide value on tower characters that are repeatedly readied and moved to conflicts over multiple turns.
Quite often a game of Legend of the Five Rings hinges a on key conflict in which opponents engage in a game of increasingly high-stakes brinkmanship. In this conflict, each player attempts to achieve their intended goal in the most efficient way possible. Fine Katana and Ornate Fan are effective 'jabs' in this contest, which allow players to increase their skill for 0 fate, while saving valuable 'haymaker' cards until they are truly needed.
Cloud the Mind is the most commonly-used method used to 'blank' an opposing character's text box. Given the influence that key characters can have on a game (especially in they remain in play for multiple turns), Cloud the Mind can be an efficient way to remove this threat to one's board.
It requires a Shugenja to play, and while this means it is most commonly found in Phoenix decks, it does show up in decks of all clans with relative frequency.
Abilities that ready a character are at a premium in Legend of the Five Rings and Elegant Tessen is a efficient way to unexpectedly ready a character who costs 2 fate or less. Such characters are also vulnerable to Assassination, but a 1-fate ready with a bonus +1/+1 is often worth the risk.
Note that Elegant Tessen is restricted and may force an existing attachment with higher skill bonuses to be discarded when it is attached.
The most reliable form of protection available to all clans, Finger of Jade provides a single-use interrupt of an ability which targets the attached character.
It provides no skill bonuses for its 1 fate cost, and may be a wasted play if an opponent was not planning to target the attached character, but safe is often better than sorry.
It only provides protection against abilities that specifically target the attached character such as Shameful Display or Hantei XXXVIII (in the case of the former, the entire effect is cancelled and thus the second targeted character is not honoured or dishonoured). Finger of Jade does not, however, interrupt the effects of card abilities that target, for example, a player (Way of the Crab) or an attachment on a character (Let Go).
A Season of War was one of the first Dynasty events to be released and it immediately impacted the meta. At a stroke it silenced any competitive potential for the newly-introduced Kaiu Wall deck, whilst also effectively neutering Those Who Serve-powered swarm decks.
Importantly, it fills discard piles very quickly, 'thinning' your deck to ensure key cards are flipped more quickly. The discarded cards are also available to be recurred as well. Of course, both of these outcomes go both ways, so it is important to recognise an opponent's strategy early, lest A Season of War play directly into their hands.
Finally, it is worth noting that this can be an expensive card, both in terms of its immediate layout (1 fate), and the potentially to give an opponent multiple passing fate if they pass first in repeated dynasty phases this round.
Assassination is a powerful card (if you don't mind the 3-honour loss) that can discard a character with printed cost 2 or lower, along with any fate, attachments, or status tokens on said character. It has single handedly ensured that the 2-fate slot for characters is the most undesirable in the game, and one must be wary of it at all times when playing and deckbuilding.
Favoured by clans who can withstand the honour loss (Scorpion, Phoenix, and Crane), and generally avoided by those who can't (Crab and Unicorn), it can, however, be used to pave the way for a devastating Way of the Crab under the right circumstances.
Note that it is maximum once per round, so once used it is safe to play cheap characters with fate until the next round.
Banzai! provides up to 4 military still for no fate, thus securing it a place in many competitive decks, even those that are not military focused.
Its use on a single character can secure breaks against undefended provinces, and it can also be used to pump characters to enable other effects such as those from Lion's Pride Brawler and Void Fist, or any of the military duels. The 1 honour for the additional pump is minimal, but should be used with caution against dishonour decks. Also note that it is limited to once per conflict (but not per round)
If planning to interrupt Banzai!, consider waiting until after it resolves for the first time, as if the second resolution is cancelled, the player initiating the action will still lose the one honour. There is also a unique quirk to the card which allows the initiating player initiating to take a second honour loss for no effect. This can be used by Scorpion players to drop their honour below their opponents to enable Alibi Artist and Forgery.
Generally favoured by clans who can best gain—and make use of—the Imperial Favour, Censure is an impactful card, especially when used against expensive, high-impact events because of its 0 cost. If an opponent is going out of their way to gain the favour, expect Censure to follow soon after.
Court Games is another common core neutral card that is popular with clans that have high-glory characters and a preference for political conflicts. Like Banzai! it is max. one per conflict, and like Banzai! it has a unique quirk in the wording that takes a moment to appreciate.
Usually the text before the (—) determines the requirements and steps to initiate an event, while the text after the (—) dictates the resolution of the effect. With respect to Court Games, however, the opponent's selection of a character occurs after the (—), and thus cannot be interrupted by cards such as Finger of Jade (the opportunity to interrupt has past and the event is now being resolved).
If this causes a certain amount of cognitive dissonance don't worry, the developers have acknowledged that Court Games uses a non-standard template. Despite this, it remains a powerful card that is common in almost all deck types.
Defend Your Honour is another neutral cancel effect that is favoured by military and/or duel-focused clans. A Keeper locked card, it can only be used during a conflict with participating characters on both sides. Note that the conflict itself can be military or political, while the duel which takes place uses military skill. Also note that characters with (—) political cannot participate in military duels.
If planning to use Defend Your Honour (or you suspect it will be played against you) it is best to attach military-boosting cards before the conflict, and to play a pump such as Banzai! early in the conflict to secure victory in the duel.
For Shame! is a staple in Courtier-focused political or dishonour decks. It can be played repeatedly (or paired with Court Games) to dishonour and bow a key opposing character, or to simply dishonour a character who will cause a 1-honour loss when leaving play.
Note the unlike Court Games this card does target an opposing character before the (—), and thus can be interrupted by protection cards such as Finger of Jade.
Hige's Sermon favours decks that either play a wide board (using lots of cheap characters), or decks that can easily ready powerful characters.
As a Limited card it can only be played once per round, and it is a rare case of an event that can only be played in the draw phase action window (it is important to remember this as by the time the conflict phase begins, it is too late).
Once played, it offers a free bow of an opponent's key character, although this opponent is then free to return the favour.
The recently-erated Those Who Serve is still an effective enabler of swarm decks, although not to the extent it was before its errata (which added the 'to a minimum of 1' clause).
It's powerful ability is offset to an extent by it being a Limited card, and the ubiquity of A Season of War in the current meta, as the 'new' dynasty phase no longer benefits from the effect of Those Who Serve. It also costs a fate to play, and effectively forgoes the benefits of passing fate for its owner (who will likely play more characters than their opponent this phase).
Despite this, Those Who Serve can still lead to an impressive number of characters entering play, especially with City of the Rich Frog and the presence of characters with the Rally keyword.
Popular in honour or dishonour decks that are vulnerable to conquest-focused opponents (particularly those that make use of cards such as Hisu Mori Toride to gain an additional conflict), Waning Hostilities is an effective way to buy time to achieve one's own win condition.
It has been ruled that the Waning Hostilities sets a hard cap of one conflict per round for each player, despite the aforementioned Hisu Mori Toride which would usually provide additional an additional opportunity to declare a conflict.
Neutral cards will commonly take up around one quarter to one third of a player's deck and it is worth being very familiar with the more commonly-played examples of these.
Many of these were printed in the core set and early cycles of the of the game and it has since become apparent that they warp the game in powerful ways. Some are now banned (Charge!), some are restricted (Keeper Initiate), and many remain ubiquitous (Assassination).
More recently, neutral cards have been added to the game as a way to enable or counter powerful archetypes. Those Who Serve led to a proliferation of swarm decks, while Stay Your Hard is an effective defence in a duel-heavy meta.
When preparing a deck, always check which neutral cards can best contribute towards achieving a desired win condition, and which can most effectively counter the more problematic matchups in the current competitive scene.