The Emerald Dojo
A Legend of the Five Rings Strategy Site
The Emperor's Legion
Updated 31 May, 2021.
Welcome, young lion. I am Akodo Saibrock, but you can call me Sensei. I am here at the behest of our great Clan Champion to instruct you in our ways, and I intend to ensure that you pass your gempuku. Learn the Way of the Lion, and you shall surely bring honor to our great clan!
Why should you serve the Lion Clan? Well, simply put, we are the heart of the Emerald Empire! We are the Right Hand of the Emperor, and it is we who best exemplify the bushido tenant of honor. We are warriors, first and foremost, and it is in battle that we show our quality.
The Lion Clan is known for two major play styles: military aggression, and high-honor play. Many of our mechanics function only while attacking, or only during military conflict, or interact directly with honor totals. Unlike the Crane Clan, whose mechanics are concerned specifically with having honored characters, the honor of the Lion Clan is shared by us all, so it is the honor totals that we care most about. Although, make no mistake, our characters are a force to be reckoned with once they have been honored; our glory values tend to be on the high side.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The Right Hand of the Emperor is the military arm of Rokugan, but more importantly, we are the example to all the clans of how to conduct one's self honorably. Never forget this! A lion with no honor is nothing. Beyond having some of the strongest characters, we have every tool you could ask for when it comes to winning conflicts, and moreover, our armies are arguably the most versatile in the empire. If you enjoy a complex and deep tactical puzzle, you've joined the right clan!
Where the Lion Clan is less concerned, is with defense. In the zeal of combat, a wily opponent may often find opportunities to exploit our provinces. This is of little concern, as you'll soon find out, because not only are we fully capable of winning the race to break the stronghold, but breaking our provinces tends to be part of our plan all along!
Additionally, while the Lion Clan is not the weakest when it comes to the courts, we are not the strongest there, either. Sure, the Crab and the Unicorn can offer little resistance to our stronger Courtiers, but our honest ways often leave us little defense against the likes of the Crane and the Scorpion.
Let's go over some of the strongholds that our clan favors.
Yojin no Shiro - The quintessential stronghold for swarming the enemy and crushing them beneath sheer numbers. It's a "free" military boost every round, so it's quite attractive if you're looking solely to win military conflicts. If your plan is to race the opponent, or if you have ways to change a political conflict to a military one (see: Captive Audience), then consider Yojin no Shiro. As a bonus, it has one of the highest starting honor totals in the game, as befits our noble clan.
Hisu Mori Toride - A troubled stronghold with a troubled history. The ability to gain an additional conflict each round should not be undervalued, however, we are not often in the best position to take advantage of this ability; often our resources are spent by the time the fifth conflict in the round would occur. Additionally, the requirements of this stronghold are not easy to fulfill more than a few times in a game. Best leave this one alone until you have more battlefield experience.
Kyuden Ikoma - The prestigious and honorable Ikoma family's ancestral palace, Kyuden Ikoma is a strong contender for our "best" stronghold, for two reasons. Firstly, it has the highest starting honor total in the game, meaning that if you are pursuing an honor victory, you start as close as possible to your win condition. Secondly, it can give the opponent a no-win scenario, where they either let you win the conflict, or they allow you to bow their strongest (non-Champion) character. The amount of battlefield control this stronghold affords is truly staggering, ensuring that you will gain something out of the conflict, win or lose.
Hayaken no Shiro - The newest addition to the Lion Clan's stronghold selection, and perhaps the most straightforward. Hayaken no Shiro is explicitly and directly designed to support and emphasize our large selection of 2-cost characters. This continues a mechanical theme previously shown in Take Up Command, as well as playing off of our newest, strongest 2-cost characters, such as Ikoma Tsanuri. With the freedom to ready a character at any time, you can be more aggressive early in a round, confident that you'll still have characters left over for later conflicts, even during an All Out Assault.
With the focus on offense that is prevalent throughout the Lion clan, you may well ask yourself what we do for defense. Well, to answer that, we need only look to our very provinces themselves, as they embody the very Art of War that we espouse. Sacrifice for the good of the clan is such a deep part of our culture; an honorable defeat is better than too costly a victory. In fact, at the castle of Kenson no Gakka, we honor our warriors for committing to the defense, even if they should fail. In general, Lion provinces are meant to be broken, punishing the enemy for each such trespass, and vaulting our own position into one of ultimate victory.
The Art of War is an excellent source of card draw that can benefit all archetypes. Like other 'on break' provinces it is usually desirable to allow an opponent to break it, although it can be worth making them play cards to do so. It is particularly helpful for honor decks, which rely on card draw outside of their low honour bids to retain card parity.
Spectral Visitation can be a monumental swing in your favor, either by fetching the biggest, strongest character in your discard pile to unexpectedly defend (or better, unexpectedly attack) or in an honor-focused deck it can reliably fetch a character that can generate more honor while also avoiding unopposed penalties (a net gain of 2 if you otherwise could not defend).
Kenson no Gakka is pretty explicitly for honor decks, as it has explosive potential for honor-gain. The best way to utilize this province is by using Kitsu Spiritcaller (or an equivalent effect) to summon all the Kitsu Spiritcallers in your discard pile into the conflict, then use the last one to summon an honor-generating character such as Hero of Three Trees or Chronicler of Conquests. You lose the conflict (even if the province breaks), and gain an absolutely ridiculous amount of honor as all of your honored characters disappear at the end of the conflict.
Dishonourable Assault is a solid province that can be found under the stronghold in most Lion decks. It is most effective against clans with high-glory characters, but the requirement to discard a card for each affected character is high, and means that it is best used only as a last resort (as stronghold defences usually are).
Because it is expected in most decks it can also be played around to a certain extent. If an opponent knows that most (or all) of their attacking characters will be dishonoured they can take this into account when preparing an attack.
Lastly, it is worth noting that a single Finger of Jade will cancel the entire effect, meaning no characters will be dishonoured if such a character is targeted. Take care that your opponent does not spoil the huge swing in momentum that this province can provide.
We've recently received a new province to protect, known as the Roar of the Lioness and it's one that I am personally of two minds about. On the one hand, I hate that it's a province that (a) does not punish the opponent for hitting it, and (b) does not in any way advance your win-condition. All it is, is a big stong province the opponent can farm, and even then it's only impressively large if you're playing an honor deck and you've almost won. On top of this, it being a water-element province makes it compete directly with The Art of War, which has been a staple of a Lion's province row since the beginning.
On the other hand, given the new attention to water roles that Lion is giving, it's not unreasonable that you could use the Seeker of Water role to have both The Art of War and Roar of the Lioness, with the former in your row and the latter under your Stronghold. It's an aragement I am trying out myself, lest I disparage a province without giving it a fair try.
Before we go over some of the key cards and strategies of the Lion Clan, I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce you to our esteemed Clan Champion, Akodo Toturi.
Toturi-sama is a consummate swordsman, and one of the most powerful military forces in Rokugan. Not only is he one of the best recipient of a Way of the Lion, his ability to resolve additional ring effects during military conflicts makes him invaluable for honor-focused decks. Toturi-sama is currently serving the empire as the Emerald Champion, a most prestigious position for which one of his pristine character is inimitably qualified (Not anymore he's not! - Editor). You are fortunate to serve the Lion Clan, for ours is objectively the best clan champion in the game.
But the Lion Clan is not only a place for the powerful and the elite. No, in this clan, every soldier contributes and is recognized. Why, just look at the humble Matsu Berserker. One of the cheapest characters in the game, and yet so ubiquitous as to be a staple in every Lion army. Sure, she has no printed ability, but few other clans boast the sheer efficiency of the berserker. If your intent is to crush your enemy's stronghold, including a trio of the Matsu family's renowned shock troops is easier done than said.
No overview of Lion characters would be complete without mentioning the Kitsu Spiritcaller. This powerful shugenja is able to call up the spirit of any of your discarded characters for immediate use in a conflict. The extreme versatility of this character will ensure that it will remain one of the most powerful characters available to a Lion player for the foreseeable future.
One of the most recent characters to join the ranks of the Lion Clan is the Lion's Pride Paragon, which I am confident will prove to be just as influential as its courtier cousin, the Lion's Pride Brawler. Each of these has a powerful effect on the state of battle, and synergizes well with Lion's existing conflict cards. In particular, the Paragon only functions while it has no fate, but after all the conflicts are over, you can use Called to War to keep it around for another turn at no cost. Sure, your opponent may choose to also keep one of their characters for another turn, but few will be as influential as the Paragon itself, especially when you consider that at 3 glory, the Paragon also contributes more than its fair share toward getting you the Imperial Favor each round. While the Brawler (though still powerful) has been finding itself slowly pushed out of some archetypes of Lion decks in the face of a growing environment of strong "tower" characters, the Paragon is happy to take its place.
Of all the characters to see regular play in Lion, none are as divisive as the Master Tactician. Even as one who doesn't include this character in his own decks, I must admit that it seems to be one of the most potentially game-breaking cards available to Lion these days. Not only is it a Commander, which turns on a lot of our best support cards, it also gives you access to several additional cards each round, the strength of which cannot be overstated. In a card game, the player than plays more cards usually wins. The requirement to have a Battlefield in play is hardly a requirement at all, since Battlefields are now so prevalent that his ability is active more often than it isn't.
If you don't have any specific reasons to do otherwise, I recommend you use Master Tactician whenever possible, especially as the target of our "cheat-in" effects, such as that of a Spiritcaller.
Honored Veterans is Lion's first dynasty event (which also features the valuable Rally keyword). It (potentially) provides benefit to both players, but an opponent will only gain value if they have a Bushi on the board, and even then it will likely have less glory than a Lion counterpart. Thus, it is a safe include in most decks and will provide value over time, albeit at the possible loss of passing fate. Honoring your characters becomes especially important when pursuing an honor victory, but even apart from that, Lion's high glory values make this a reliable card to have and to use.
Hall of Victories will also benefit the opponent (who will likely win more conflicts in the game), but is nonetheless an important tool to help Lion honour decks reach 25. Because a low bid is essential to the strategy, Hall of Victories is a way to gain extra honour without the need to play conflict cards.
Staging Ground synergises well with Those Who Serve in swarm decks to put extra bodies on the board with a 1 fate discount. Staging Ground potentially allows 4 characters be played using 3 provinces, while Those Who Serve discounts each of those characters by 1 (to a minimum of 0).
Of course, no discussion of Lion holdings would be complete without mention of the Exposed Courtyard, a subject of some contention amongst the clans these days. It really is the perfect holding for the modern Lion general, and it doubles-down on what makes the Master Tactician so irritating to play against. Not only does it activate the Tactician, but it also grants you access to additional cards! There is really no reason not to include this holding in all Lion decks.
A sleeper hit, Sharpen the Mind has become a key component of competitive Lion decks in recent months. To begin with, political pumps are rare, making +3 skill a handy boost. Lion can also gain advantage from having lower hand size than their opponent so Sharpen the Mind can also aid in this. The cards true power, however, comes from its synergy with In Service to My Lord.
Given that In Service to My Lord can be played from the discard pile, there is no penalty to discarding it with Sharpen the Mind. Thus playing Sharpen, using Sharpen, and then playing In Service will provide a +3/3 boost and a ready for zero fate.
This interaction will leave In Service to My Lord on the bottom of the conflict deck, but with sufficient game length, high card draw, and the shuffle provided by Tactical Ingenuity, this is not a significant problem.
Tactical Ingenuity can only be attached to a Commander character, and for 0 fate it provides +1 military and the ability to search the top 4 cards of the conflict deck for an event once per turn. It is not unique or Restricted (as in, it does not count towards the two Restricted attachments a character can carry), and thus can be stacked to provide multiple searches per turn.
This is an incredibly powerful effect which allows a Lion player to select the best event for the job depending on the current board state.
Now restricted, this leaves Lion with the difficult choice between Tactical Ingenuity and Ikoma Tsanuri, though that choice is becoming much easier given how strong Master Tactician has proven to be. Enhancing the Tactician with Tactical Ingenuity is the classic play, and will win you more games than not.
Take Up Command synergises well with a deck that focuses on powerful low-cost characters. It can be used to bring Ikoma Tsanuri into additional conflicts as attacker, or to provide another body to a military or political conflict as needed.
Lastly, it grants the attached character the Commander trait, providing synergy with a range of other Lion attachments and events.
Fan of Command offers powerful synergy with movement effects in tower decks. The blunt-force synergy of repeated move in and straighten actions is hard to counter, leading to a numbing inevitability once Voltron is assembled. Combined with additional straightens from In Service to My Lord, Fan of Command, this allows a powerful character to participate in multiple conflicts per round.
Blade of 10,000 Battles provides powerful recursion for Lion decks and, while somewhat risky at 2 fate, is generally a safe play in the late game for tower decks as an opponent's attachment removal is likely to be exhausted.
Assuming the Lion player is more honourable than their opponent, the blade allows them to tutor their entire discard pile for a card of their choice: a powerful effect that then can be repeated each round.
Sashimono provides no stats for its expensive cost, but, if an opponent cannot remove it, the attached character will not bow after any military conflicts. They can still be bowed by the usual card effects, however.
Lion have recently received a number of conflict cards that attached to a province to provide impressive benefits. These Battlefields also synergise well with characters such as Chronicler of Conquest and Master Tactician.
Prepared Ambush can be used on attack or defence to play a character from the province row into the current battle. This allows a Lion player to pass early in the Dynasty Phase to save fate, and to wait until a particular character is needed for the current game state.
Makeshift War Camp works best in swarm decks that play a larger number of cheap characters. While it is tempting to match this card with Yojin no Shiro, this stronghold has generally fallen out of favor because it can only be used in one conflict per turn. Nevertheless, being able to provide +2 military on the offensive or defensive is powerful, particularly during stronghold conflicts.
Each of these cards can also be moved by the excellent Logistics when their benefit at the current conflict has expired.
A recent addition to the Battlefield attachment line-up is Under Amaterasu's Gaze, which is probably best suited for honor decks. It severely limits the ability of your opponent to beat you by playing lots of cards, which reduces the benefit they may have from bidding higher than you in the draw phase. I would recommend this card for anyone building an honor deck, but probably not anyone else, since it would also affect yourself.
In Service to My Lord is seeing regular play in Lion decks and has also made Lion a popular splash given its ability to provide a free stand if a ready non-unique character is available.
As mentioned, what truly sets it apart is the fact that it can be played from the discard pile. This means it is an easy choice when tutoring one's hand with cards such as Sharpen the Mind or Spoils of War, and it is always a nice feeling to see it discarded by the Ring of Earth.
Way of the Lion is unique among cards that boost military skill as it multiplies with each use. Rather than add to a character's existing skill (eg. Banzai!), Way of the Lion doubles the character's base skill (eg. from 4 skill to 8). If played again on the same character in the same conflict, this doubling effect continues (8, becomes 16, 16 becomes 32). Taken to the extreme, this can result in a Matsu Seventh Legion becoming an awesome 64 force. Of course, this relies upon the character being ready and in the conflict, so be careful of bow, send home, or discard mechanics.
Be tactical when deciding when to play Way of the Lion. It's greatest value comes in its multiplier, so avoid using them in separate conflicts wherever possible.
For Greater Glory is a powerful core card that can have a significant swing effect on the game. It is generally easy to spot (a Lion player buys out their row, stockpiles one fate, and attacks with a large number of characters), but it can also be used to keep a tower in play for another turn, or to retain other key characters.
Note that the card requires the Lion play to not just win the conflict, but also break the attached province. Cancels are also effective against it as For Greater Glory is maximum 1 per conflict.
Called to War and Stand Your Ground provide similar effects that allow a character to stay in play beyond their use-by date. The former is the more commonly played as it does not require the target character to be honoured, although they must be a Bushi and each opponent can pay 1 honor to also gain the effect. Called to War is especially potent in honor decks, where the opponent cannot afford to give you honor, and when you are using it to keep a character with a Dire effect in play, such as Lion's Pride Paragon.
A Commander character who is dishonoured and affected by Cloud the Mind can quickly become honoured and remarkably clear-headed through Prepare for War. This can have a powerful swing effect, particularly on a high-glory character (as many Lion Commander are). Other detrimental attachments that can be removed include Peacemaker's Blade, Pacifism, and Stolen Breath.
My Ancestor's Strength and Forebearer's Echoes draw upon the Kitsu family tradition of communing with one's ancestors to gain their wisdom and, quite literally, their strength.
The former changes the base skills of a participating shugenja to that of a character in the discard pile (ideally a high-value character such as Akodo Toturi), while the latter moves a character from the discard pile to the conflict until the end of said conflict.
While these cards do see some play in Lion, in the competitive scene they are more commonly found in Phoenix decks where they synergise with Kyuden Isawa, and can take advantage of the unique wording of Fushicho to powerful effect.
Lion have a number of playable Courtier and Regal Bearing uses these to good effect. In most games, players bid 5 in the draw phase unless they have a particular reason not to. Regal Bearing allows a Lion player to thus use 1 card and 1 fate to draw 4 cards - effectively a 3 card increase.
Strength in Numbers is the primary Lion send home tool. While it is naturally suited to swarm decks, the requirement to match an opposing character's glory with a number of attacking characters is generally not difficult.
Expect to see this played in key conflicts, and particularly stronghold attacks. Finger of Jade will stop it, as will the usual interrupts. Move in effects such as Favorable Ground are also a solid counter.
At long last, the Lion Clan is getting good conflict characters, and the first among them is the Spiritcaller Prodigy, a less reusable version of the Kitsu Spiritcaller, but in some ways even better. Because it doesn't need to bow to summon a character, it can actually contribute to a conflict before using its ability before the next conflict, meaning you actually can be involved in two conflicts with this one play. This is particularly nice for honor decks, because the Prodigy can be honored, then generate honor as it summons another character, that can itself generate honor. It's just great! Its relatively high fate cost for a conflict card means you should probably not run three of them, but I think two is a comfortable number to have.
Finally, the Renowned Singer is proving to be an incredibly potent addition, effectively granting you an extra card draw for each fate you invest in the character. This on top of being a 1-cost conflict character with 2 glory, which is practically unheard of! It's a great card, and would absolutely be in every Lion deck if it weren't for the fact that its locked to the Water role. That said, it's strong enough that you should consider trying a Water role if you haven't already.
The Right Hand of the Emperor stands ready to face the adversaries that stand against them, to fight honorably, and to earn their place as the proudest clan in Rokugan. When you play a Lion deck, you are committing yourself to being the very best that you can possibly be, win or lose. Lion clan cards are tools in your toolbox; the only question is if you have the skill to use them well enough?