The Emerald Dojo
A Legend of the Five Rings Strategy Site
Defenders of Rokugan
Originally by Enegon#8434
Updated 31 May, 2021
Like their founder Hida, the Crab clan protect the Emerald Empire from the horrors of the Shadowlands. With little time for the complexities of courtly life, the Crab prefer to focus their attention on fortifying the defences of the Kaiu Wall and purifying 'the taint'.
Crab players have access to a number of cards which both boost, and reward, success while defending in conflicts. They can also keep characters in play long after their initial fate investment fate would allow, reflecting the unending endurance of the defenders of the wall. Finally, heroic sacrifices bring both tactical and strategic advantages to cunning Crab players.
This primer guide looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the Crab clan, and their most commonly-played cards.
Strengths and Weakness
Character save abilities: Crab players can save key characters from leaving play through various holdings, attachments and events. This means that a large amount of fate does not have to be immediately placed on characters entering play, freeing up valuable resources to spend elsewhere. These characters are also protected from most kill effects within the game.
Defense is rewarded: Provinces such as Defend the Wall reward allow a claimed ring to be resolved upon a successful defense. This allows careful Crab players to defend and outlast their opponents in longer games.
Huge military skill: In order to defend the empire from the Shadowlands the Crab have a vast army of powerful bushi who can overwhelm opponents in military conflicts.
Economic synergy: The crab possess a powerful economic engine which rewards sacrificing weak characters to generate resources. Once up and running, this engine allows Crab players to effectively outspend their opponents.
Way the of Crab: Crab decks can effectively threaten the board with Way of the Crab and Assassination. This forces opponents to spend resources to keep at least one low-cost character in play at all times to counter the threat of powerful characters being sacrificed.
Low political skill: The price to be paid for ceaselessly defending the wall is the forgoing of courtly refinement. Crab players have access to very few characters with high political skill. And, unlike the similarly military-focused Unicorn clan, only one way to flip conflicts to military with Castle of the Forgotten.
Low glory characters: The Crab clan's 'all guts, no glory' mentality means they have few characters with high glory. This can be both a positive and a negative: dishonored status tokens do not lower friendly skills too badly, but there is little point honoring characters to increase their skills.
Vulnerable to dishonor: With few ways to gain honor (or to honor characters), Crab decks have a tendency to bleed honor over time. This makes them especially vulnerable to dishonor-focused opponents. In addition, Crab decks have the potential to deck out very easily.
No cancels or attachment control: Since the banning of Karada District Crab players have no effective cancels or attachment control. That said, once in play Hida Kisada can frustrate an opponent's plans, and Defend Your Honor can usually be played with confidence.
Shiro Nishiyama, the Crab core stronghold, was the Crab box of choice for the first two years of the LCG (indeed, it was the only choice with Crab being the final clan to receive more than one stronghold). Mirroring Yojin no Shiro, it provides a free +1/+1 boost on defense, and its +3 province strength is the highest in the game.
While it has been, for the most part, replaced by Kyuden Hida or Castle of the Forgotten in competitive decks, it still sees semi-regular play in decks which support a large number of cheap characters. It only starts with 10 honor which as mentioned before can make us run out of honor faster. The only reason you might prefer this stronghold is if you don't want key holdings or characters to end up in your discard pile with no way of returning them to the game.
Kyūden Hida arrived with the Crab clan pack, Defenders of Rokugan, and synergises nicely with the Crab propensity for playing many powerful holdings.
It's power lies in its ability to provide up to 3 additional choices when purchasing characters in the Dynasty Phase. This allows more holdings to be included in decks without fear of blocking the province rown, and for holdings to be potentially discarded, and then recurred, through Rebuild.
It offers 1 less province strength than Shiro Nishiyama, but does offer 1 honor.
The final Crab stronghold, Castle of the Forgotten finally gives Crab players an in-clan way to flip conflicts to military. This requires them to break an opponent's province, so expect a far more aggressive playstyle than many traditional Crab decks. That said, if an opponent can deny the Crab player this break the stronghold has no impact this round. However, if the reaction does take effect, all subsequent conflicts declared that round are military, which can have a powerful effect on politically-focused opponents.
Defend the Wall synergises well with Crab defensive decks to both deny, and then resolve, elemental ring effects upon a successful win.
Running a Unicorn splash gives access to the powerful Talisman of the Sun which can be used to force attackers onto this province. That said, as an Earth province it does mean giving up the powerful Upholding Authority.
Kuni Wasteland prevents attacking characters from using their triggered abilities or keywords during conflicts at this province. Any ability that might affect the conflict, such as those printed on Shinjo Shono or Lion's Pride Brawler cannot be used and abilities gained on characters such us Duelist Training or True Strike Kenjutsu. However, passive abilities such as those printed on Ichiro or Doji Kuzunobu will still work. Lastly, keywords such as Pride or Courtesy cannot be used. The one exception to this is Covert which can be used on the conflict in which the province is first revealed.
Kuni Wasteland is commonly found on the stronghold where it will almost always provide value in the final line of defense.
Shinsei's Last Hope allows a character to enter play at a 2-fate discount, although they become dishonoured upon doing so.
Given the low glory of Crab characters this is of little concern and it is a simple matter to used the discounted resources to add fate to the character. This ensures that they stay in play for longer, whilst also delaying the 1-honour penalty incurred when they leave play.
As an Eminent province with only 3 strength, however, it will likely be an easy target for opportunistic opponents.
A recent addition to the Crab province line up, The Eternal Watch gives a repeatable action that forces a hard choice on an opponent. A bowed character helps with the Crab defense, while giving one honor prevents a Crab player from dishonoring out, or assists a Crab player in achieving a dishonor victory. While this choice is ultimately given to the opponent, it is not a choice will want to make each time they attack a province over multiple turns.
Crab players are spoilt for choice when it comes to 1-cost characters that provide excellent value.
Kaiu Envoy and Gallant Quartermaster both provide excellent economic benefits. Each costs one fate and each provides a benefit upon leaving play (although Quartermaster needs to be intentionally sacrificed for her interrupt to take effect). Both are also easy choices for Way of the Crab.
Hida Guardian can also provide excellent value. The most important word in his card text is "each". Because Crab have access to a large number of powerful holdings, and ways to find and put these holdings into play, Hida Guardian's potential can quickly build up. With just two holdings in play he can provide another character with an impressive 5 military and political for just one fate.
Vanguard Warrior is a 2-fate character who can be sacrificed to keep a key character in play for another turn. This should be done after the Void ring has been claimed (to make sure an opponent does not immediately remove the fate put on the key character). It should also be done after Vanguard Warrior has contributed his full potential to conflicts, which usually means using his ability in the final action window of the conflict phase. If he is not used in this window, the framework moves to the first step of the fate phase, which discards any characters without fate. Lastly, Vanguard Warrior can also be used to prevent a character with no fate from being bowed by the Water ring.
Shrewd Yasuki is a very effective source of card draw. As Crab decks almost always have a holding in play, he can be used to repeatedly draw the most impactful card from the top two cards of the conflict deck when participating in a conflict.
Student of Anatomies provides a powerful 'blanking' effect (much like Cloud the Mind) which can neutralise key opposing characters. The requirement of this effect is that a friendly character is sacrificed. This is best used on characters that are already bowed, and who provide an economic benefit when leaving such as Kaiu Envoy or Gallant Quartermaster.
Finally, Pious Guardian provides a useful buffer against being dishonored out, and also offers excellent stats and the always-valuable Rally keyword.
Crisis Breaker and Steadfast Witch Hunter share similar characteristics in that they can both easily participate in more than one conflict per turn.
The Keeper-locked Crisis Breaker works best with the first player token, which allows him participate in the first military conflict of the turn as an attacker, and then ready as a defender when the opponent declares a military conflict. This can be done in reverse order, but is inelegant as it requires that other Crab characters be declared as attackers, and that the opponent defend with greater military skill than said attackers.
Steadfast Witch Hunter can be used to either ready herself, or another more powerful character, by sacrificing a character. As with similar effects, this is best used to sacrifice characters that will provide a benefit upon leaving play. Notably, she is also a Shugenja which can enable Cloud the Mind.
Like the Lion and Unicorn Hisu Mori Toride strongholds, Hida O-Ushi allows a player to declare an additional military conflict. The requirement for this is to win a conflict (military or political) on the defensive, a relatively simple task for the Crab. Hida O-Ushi herself does not need to be present in the conflict to trigger her ability.
If Hida O-Ushi is in play beware of 'poking' Crab provinces. Unless you are prepared to commit to victory your opponent can easily turn the tables and declare 3 attacks this turn.
In addition to having the valuable Rally keyword, Butcher of the Fallen features a powerful Covert-like ability that allows him to shut defending characters out of conflicts.
Recently errata'd, Butcher of the Fallen's (much more reasonable) text now reads:
While this character is attacking, characters with less military skill than the number of unbroken provinces you control cannot be declared as defenders.
This is far more reasonable than the previously-printed text, and as such Butcher of the Fallen sees far less play. Still, as a 6-military for 4-fate Berserker there are always decks waiting for him.
Yasuki Broker has terrible stats and high glory, but her ability can allow a Crab player to overwhelm an opponent's economy. Crab have many ways to discard their own characters, usually through some type of sacrifice. Yasuki's passive ability means that any character who leaves play during a conflict in which she is participating will provide one card and one fate. Using abilities from cards such as Vanguard Warrior, Steadfast Witch Hunter, or Funeral Pyre will now provide an additional economic boost.
Hida Etsuji ties into the Crab theme while providing a powerful effect. The first part of his effects protects him from getting Coverted and ignoring Shinjo Yamura-like effects. His other ability requires a bit of deckbuilding around it; his obvious favorite synergy is Talisman of the Sun. Hida Etsuji is a great character that can be towered and also provides a way to fight enemy towers with his effect when provinces like Shameful Display and Meditations on the Tao can be activated on opponents characters twice. His Commander trait also enables us to possibly play Lion cards like Tactical Ingenuity or Prepare for War. Let them come!
One can't help but Tyler designed this card late in the evening when facing a tight deadline and thinking "fuck it, let's see what happens".
9 military skill for 5 fate is an insane stat line, with the (—) political a bonus that means they can't be military dueled. The 'No attachments except Weapon means no Watch Commander or Reprieve, but there is plenty of room for Fine Katana and an array of tetsubo with which to thump opponents. Vanguard Warrior and Iron Mine will happily keep them in play in a pinch as well.
This care obviously synergises with Castle of the Forgotten and allows more cards to be playable in the dynasty phase next turn. A true 'high roll or lose' card, Repentant Legion feels a little as though balance was a mere afterthought in the late stages of the game.
Kaiu Shihobu, the Kaiu family Daimyo, is a powerful Engineer who can provide a reserve of holdings under her owner's stronghold.
One of these can be brought into play each turn, providing a steady supply of Kuni Laboratory, Funeral Pyre, and Iron Mine as needed.
Note that this card received an errata which confirms that the holding enters play face up.
Hida Kisada (the Great Bear) is not only excellent military value, he also frustrates his opponents during every conflict in which he his owner is undefeated. To play around Kisada an opponent must 'waste' an action before they can do anything useful in the conflict. Note that this only affects action abilities, and not reactions, interrupts, or passive abilities. This action can, however, come from any card type.
If an opponent does not have an action available to 'waste', they will need to either sacrifice a useful ability, or effectively surrender the conflict and try again later in the phase under more favourable conditions. Both of these outcomes are desirable to the Crab, meaning Kisada helps keep pressure on an opponent simply by being on the board (and undefeated). In addition, on mid game when you want to really push and win a certain conflict Hida Kisada can provide his military stat and force an opponent to play many cards to try and win that certain conflict or just let you win unopposed.
There is also the possibility that an opponent will forget Hida Kisada is on the board and use a powerful action, only for The Great Bear to cancel it (we've all done it).
Before discussing individual holdings it is worth noting that the Crab clan, more than any other, benefits from the presence of holdings, whether they are actively used or not. This thematically fits with the Crab's focus on fortifications and the Kaiu Wall, and is represented in game by cards such as Hida Guardian and Shrewd Yasuki, each of whom require holdings to be in play to maximise their abilities.
When deck building with Crab, it follows that holdings should be a key consideration.
Cards win card games, and Funeral Pyre allows a character that has expended its usefulness to be sacrificed to draw a card.
This effect is amplified when the character leaving play also provides an inherent economic benefit (such as Kaiu Envoy or Gallant Quartermaster), and, in comparison to the neutral Imperial Storehouse, it can provide the same effect repeatedly.
Iron Mine was a primary tool for Crab players to keep their characters on the board after their last fate is gone (or they are discarded). That said, it is (once again) on the restricted list, but does occasionally see play.
The most common of the Kaiu Wall cards to see play, Kaiu Forges allows a Crab player to pick a holding of choice from the top ten cards of the dynasty deck and switch it with a Kaiu Wall holding in the row. In practice, this usually means replacing Kaiu Forges with an Iron Mine, Kuni Laboratory, Favorable Ground or other holding depending on the current board state.
Thankfully (or regrettably for Crab players), Kaiu Forges cannotbe used to search for the now-banned Karada District.
Abilities which affect multiple cards in play are known as "anthem" effects (named after a card from Magic: The Gathering). The power of such abilities increase the more cards that are affected, and thus (the now restricted) Kuni Laboratory is normally seen in decks with a larger number of cheaper characters. While not as ubiquitous as at the height of the 'Crabbits' deck, it is still a strong restricted pick for decks with the Rebuild-like Apprentice Engineer.
Kuni Laboratory is based on the fiction Gaze Into Darkness: a story well worth reading.
What an amazing art and effect that is very in theme with what Crab do. This is a one-sided Fire Ring effect with a small cost that allows us to remove stats from opponents and enable cards like For Shame and Warden of the Damned. The most important part of the effect is that you can activate this effect even if a character is not attacking the province with Fire and Oil on it. Let them burn!!!!
One of the first cards to be added to the restricted list, Pathfinder's Blade effectively blanks an opponent's province when the attached character is attacking. This is a potent ability, and at 0 cost it is extremely unbalanced (combined with a tidy +1 military). It is somewhat limited by being a Seeker only ability, but nonetheless it is occasional restricted pick for Crab players, or for other clans splashing Crab (particularly Dragon for Niten Master).
Keep in mind though that when choosing Pathfinder's Blade you are looked on a Seeker role which forces you to forgo powerful Keeper-only cards, such as Defend Your Honor and Talisman of the Sun.
Potent and reliable, Reprieve remains a common pick for Crab players or splashers. For 1 fate it can prevent a character with no fate from being discarded in the fate phase, or through card effects. It is best played when most needed, which usually means in the action window after the last conflict in the conflict phase. This increases the chances that an opponent has already used their attachment removal, although it requires that one fate be kept throughout the conflict phase. It should also be used if a key character is dishonoured when facing Crane or Scorpion, as this provides protection from cards such as Noble Sacrifice and I Can Swim.
Watch Commander features the dreaded (unlimited) parenthesis at the end of its card text, meaning that it can, repeatedly, cause an opponent to lose honour during a key conflict. While dishonour as a win condition is more favoured by the Scorpion, Watch Commander does allow a Crab player to put pressure on an opponent in a significant way. While it is limited to one per character, there is nothing to stop multiple Watch Commanders being put on multiple characters in a conflict, a prospect which can quickly drain an opponent's honour pool.
When playing against Watch Commander it is worth pre-playing cards, removing it promptly, avoiding this character in key conflicts, or being prepared to reduce one's bid in future draw phases.
While the Lion prefer the slice of the katana and the Crane the flick of a fan, Crab are less subtle and prefer the dull thwack of a club. Fittingly, they have an array of heavy tetsubo to chose from, each of which can find its way into a suitable deck.
Born of the same late-night madness that clearly led to Repentant Legion, Tetsubo of Blood offers a ridiculous stat line (even with the Maho requirements for payment) and little addition cost from the inability to honour the attached character. Good card.
At 2 fate Jade Tetsubo is expensive, but it does provide an impressive 3 military skill and a powerful swing ability. If the attached character is participating in a conflict with an opposing character with lower military skill, Jade Tetsubo can be used to return all fate on said character to its owner's fate pool. This is best used on a tower character with multiple attachments, as these will be lost when the character leaves play in the fate phase. Note, however, that since the introduction of Jade Tetsubo the number of cards which can add fate to a character, or save them from leaving play, has increased, to the point where Jade Tetsubo now rarely sees play.
Sturdy Tetsubo is a recent arrival to the array of Crab clubbing devices and features the powerful ability to discard a card from an opponent's hand. Importantly, this is not a random discard (which is a much more powerful ability), however, it can be used twice per round if the attached character wins a second conflict (something that is more than achievable given the number of Crab cards which can ready key characters).
The most limited of the Crab clubbing devices, Wicked Tetsubo does at least offers some lols if you go out of your way to attach it to Bayushi Aramoro.
Hiruma Skirmisher is a popular conflict card not only for Crab players, but also for players splashing Crab. For just 1 fate she can potentially prevent an opponent’s powerful character from defending a key conflict. Just be sure to play her in the Conflict phase (rather than the earlier Draw phase action window), and to declare her reaction when she enters play.
Nezumi Infiltrator is a handy little character to help you get over the line in key conflicts, or to provide a body to assign or sacrifice where needed. Nothing special, but useful in a pinch.
Apprentice Engineer is the new, appropriately-balanced Rebuild card that is seeing regular play. It might cost 2 instead of 0, but it provides stats, a character we can sacrifice with our effects and it's effect that can not be canceled. Finally, we need to give emphasis on discarding each other card in that province, part of the text which is important in comparison to Rebuild because you cannot stack holdings in one province.
Now restricted, Common Cause provides an effective ready for 0 fate. It requires a friendly card be sacrificed, and is best used against a bowed character, or one that will provide an economic benefit upon leaving play.
Now largely superseded by Apprentice Engineer, the restricted Rebuild does still occasionally play as it allows key holdings to be recurred for zero fate. It is most common in swarm decks where it can be used to pull another Kuni Laboratory for late game shutdowns.
Fight On and The Mountain Does Not Fall are two of the Crab's signature defence cards. In the more traditional Crab archetype, where a tower character is loaded with powerful attachments, these two cards are used to ensure said character can participate in as many conflicts as possible.
Fight On requires a Water role and works best with the first player token. This allows a tower character to hit hard as an attacker, and then ready as a defender. Note the chosen character does not need to be participating in the current conflict: If they are at home, they ready and join as a defender; if they are already participating (but are bowed), they ready once again to contribute their skill to the conflict.
The Mountain Does Not Fall works best without the first player token. This allows a player to defend against a powerful attack, and then not bow at the resolution of the conflict. This character should generally not be declared as a attacker for the next conflict, allowing them to once again defend the follow up conflict, and then attack in the final conflict of the turn. Participating in three conflicts for only 1 fate is excellent value, and thus the card is limited to once per round.
If combined, these cards allow a character to participate in all four conflicts for just 2 cards and 2 fate.
Another variation of this card type, The Strength of the Mountain, has proven too expensive to see play.
In Defense of Rokugan fits well with Crab's theme of sacrifice and heroic defence and allows a Crab player to sacrifice a cheap character to reduce a powerful character's skill to zero for the current conflict. It is one of the few cards in the game that 'set' a character's skill to a certain amount (in this case, zero). Once set, a skill value cannot be increased or decreased (eg. Banzai!), multiplied (Way of the Lion), or switched (Along the River of Gold). Only another card that sets a skill value can alter this (eg. Unleash the Djinn).
The fiction that inspired this card, Dark Hands of Heaven, is also well worth reading.
The threat of Way of the Crab ensures that care must be taken at all times when facing a Crab opponent.
Consider the following:
A Crab player has the first player token and begins the dynasty phase by playing a Gallant Quartermaster with 0 fate. Their opponent begins their tower strategy by playing Matsuo Agetoki with 3 fate. As their second action of the dynasty phase, the Crab player plays Way of the Crab. Both characters leave play, and Gallant Quartermaster refunds 2 fate, resulting in zero net fate loss for the Crab player, but a 6-fate loss for their opponent.
This is a huge swing, and all Legend of the Five Rings players have been on the receiving end of it at least once.
The counter to Way of the Crab is to also keep an expendable character in play at all times. However, this forces an opponent to expend resources in response to the mere threat it poses. Even if there are 0 copies in their deck, it is almost always correct for a Crab player to present the threat of it.
Once the Conflict phase begins Assassination can also be played upon an opponent's smaller characters, which allows Way of the Crab to threaten important characters once again. The opponent may have conflict characters to drop here, but again this forces them to expend resources on suboptimal plays, lowering their tempo.
Way of the Crab can also be used in the Fate Phase during the action window after characters without fate leave play. If a Crab player bought a cheap character with 1 fate during the Dynasty phase and their opponent did not, Way of the Crab can now be played to discard an opponent's key character. The Crab player can also drop a conflict character here to enable Way of the Crab, assuming their opponent cannot do the same.
If the opponent did save a character to die during the fate phase, the Crab player will take the first player token, and thus have the first action in the next Dynasty phase, allowing Way of the Crab to again threaten key characters.
This can be a lot to take in, but the take-home lesson is that Crab players should always threaten (and use) Way of the Crab, and their opponents should always keep at least one cheap character in play to absorb its effects.
A card that gives as a reward for doing what we do best, defend! The problem I see with this card is that it gives 0 benefit in the actual defense and can feel like a win more card. I would not call this card a must in all Crab decks but it sure a card that can see use if we struggle against opponents that do poke attacks.
Like their founder and their philosophy, Crab players are resilient and resourceful. Powerful holdings are plentiful and strong characters refuse to die whilst weaker ones willingly sacrifice themselves for their clan and their empire.
Just remember that defense alone will not ensure victory; the day must still be won, whether through honourable—or merely pragmatic—methods.
Thank you to WhackedMaki#0078 for feedback, clarification, and content for Way of the Crab.