The Emerald Dojo
A Legend of the Five Rings Strategy Site
Updated 14 February 2021.
Rally cards are some of the newest additions to the game, and one of the most important ones to discuss when we look at the dynasty deck. Cards with Rally draw another dynasty card when they are revealed. Note that the extra card is added to your province faceup. This distinction is important, because it effectively prevents the newly added card from triggering another instance of Rally.
In practice, a Rally card does not cost you a dynasty draw most of the time. This is a really big deal, because this lets you play these Rally cards to thin your deck and make it more likely to see the same non-Rally cards between your games.
Now that we have defined how amazing a Rally card is, we can sweeten the deal because Rally cards are not blank at all either. There are three rally cards in Phoenix, and the most notable of the bunch is Celebrated Renown. Phoenix characters have traditionally a lot of glory, so any effect that honours the character is potent. Its restriction of the character with the most fate in play is not difficult to achieve, the harder payment is that you would often lose out on passing fate when you go for Celebrated Renown. It costs 1 fate itself, and if you give your opponent a fate to do so, then you are looking at a pretty bad deal if fate is tight. Generally, you play this when you have a fate spare and your opponent passed first. This is the most common Phoenix Rally card you will see, though not the most common Rally card period; That would be A Season Of War for its utility to reset dynasty draws and discard holdings.
The other two Rally cards in Phoenix are characters. This has a very important effect: You can add these cards without the fear of running in the bad dynasty flop where you do not have a character that you can buy. These also help support pay-off cards that need their respective traits to function. The most common of the two is Student of the Tao. This character enhances the traditionally strongest role of the Phoenix: Seeker of Void. You get to run up to 4 Void provinces, though in practice it will be just 2 or sometimes 3 if you like City of The Rich Frog. Her ability to send a character home is a cut above her analogues within Phoenix because she does not need to participate. This flexibility allows her to effectively defend your provinces twice. Its restriction of requiring Void Provinces is a factor that limits how often you can trigger this on offence. Commonly, Phoenix players will have 2 Void provinces and Sanpuku Seido to leverage the glory on this outstanding character.
The second Phoenix Rally character is Shiba Pureheart. He has an ability that punishes players from declaring a second conflict against you which goes well with any of the effects that need players to pass conflicts. But even without those, this is an excellent ability in any game where you are trying to break two provinces a turn so that you can put your opponent for the dilemma to either fall behind in the race to the stronghold or let you honour a Phoenix character.
Phoenix has some of the best holdings in the game. It is common for a Phoenix deck to have between a Fourth and Third holdings in its list. Phoenix holdings are themed to not interact with the board, but just supply resources to its owner. The most famous Phoenix holding for instance, is:
Free cards are nice. Forgotten Library offers no strength bonus and will clog up a province row, but unlike Imperial Storehouse, it will provide a free card every turn that it stays in play. This a powerful effect which ensures that Forgotten Library is an easy 3x in Phoenix decks. When facing a Phoenix player, look to knock these out early as their value only increases the longer the game goes on.
If you are the Phoenix player, you will see opponents try to knock this out, so keep the appropriate defenders at the ready. Also, a word of warning: Phoenix often has over a quarter of their dynasty deck as holdings as stated on top. Do not keep this holding around when the game is in the developing stages where you need to buy a good character every turn, because holding flood will lose you games. The way you can mitigate this is by playing conflict characters that can help out when you would get flooded, or by playing rally characters so that you have lower odds of flooding without the option to buy a character.
The second most common Phoenix holding is Ancestral Shrine, which provides an excellent cushion against dishonour decks. First thing to know is that you can use this action in the Fate phase's action window (after framework step 4.4). This is often ideal because the rings still count towards the glory count for the Imperial Favour in the Conflict Phase. Note that this is after fate is placed on unclaimed rings, so any rings returned by Ancestral Shrine will not have fate on them for the next turn.
You can also return the ring during the conflict phase, for instance when you are certain to lose the Imperial Favour, or when you don't need the rings to win it. The benefit here is that fate will be put on the rings which could be collected on the next turn.
The final way how you can use this is when you need the rings in the unclaimed ring pool so that you can enable another card. As an example, Shiba Tsukune from the core set requires unclaimed rings for her ability. Your opponent will now not only need to attack you on rings they do not want you to resolve, but they also need to win that conflict or you can just put back the ring and resolve it after all. Another great example would be to use this together with Isawa Ujina, whose ability fires every Void conflict.
Bustling Academy was once found too hard to work with for not enough gain. How times have changed! This holding is a mainstay in modern Legend of the five rings games because of the prevalence strong holdings for each faction. Games against Crane and Crab become a lot easier once you can just knock out that Fire and Oil or Kakita Dōjō. On top of that, you can use this to improve your dynasty flop should your opponent not have a good card to hit with the academy. Discard that Keeper Initiate to get another bite at the apple. You can also of course use this against particular nasty characters or dynasty events that you do not want to deal with.
Part of why this is now a decent card is because there are now enough good Scholars to activate this reliably. Now that we are here, this card is a welcome sight in today's holding-heavy meta.
The above three holdings are commonly seen in competitive settings. The next most common holdings are the classic neutral holdings found in the core set, Favorable Ground and Imperial Storehouse. Favorable Ground is in particular a very common holding because Phoenix is very poor at moving its own characters with in-clan cards.
While the next three are seldom seen, they do have merit which I would like to shine some light on. These are:
Rings hold power, and especially when you are
Sauron Phoenix. The once-restricted Secluded Shrine is not to be underestimated. To begin with, the claimed ring does count towards the glory count for the Imperial Favour at the end of the Conflict Phase. Within Phoenix, it also turns on Solemn Scholar to provide a cheap bow against an attacking character, or Prodigy of the Waves to gain an extra ready. A notable thing here is that this ring is virtual, which means it cannot be moved to any other zone like a physical ring could. Also, it says that you are considered to have a ring of an element in your claimed ring pool. This virtual ring does not have a conflict type, and it only exists as long as you do not have its physical counterpart (at which point you are still considered to have the ring because you physically have it in your ring pool. All these rulings asides, this card is the beating heart of decks that aim for an Enlightenment victory. Because decks that play this card are fairly reliant on it, you should expect to see this in decks with City of the Rich Frog.
One of the last remaining limit 1 per deck holdings, Starry Heaven Sanctuary is a holding that has a powerful pay-off of 2 fate. The issue with it is that you get this *after* you kept the holding in play on your province for the entire turn, and we need 4 characters that lose fate in the fate phase. This limits its use to turn 2 or even 3 and later, and you need to be able to defend the province. While this is not impossible to achieve, it does make this into a high-risk high-reward type of card. You will not see it often, but there is one place where this holding merits inclusion, and that is in a list sporting Keeper Initiates to make the harder of the two requirements easier to establish early.
A staple of decks that limit players to 1 card drawn per turn, Magnificent Lighthouse is a card that has just the right combination of effects to make it worthwhile in those decks. It provides scouting information, crucial to any deck that needs to make sure its cards get as much value as possible. It limits the opponent's card selection to the worst out of the top three. This package also comes with +2 province strength, which might be the difference that keeps your province in play and slows the game's pace. It is just good enough in those decks. On top of this, this card can potentially lead to your opponent shuffling their deck earlier than they intended, leading to the 5 honour loss before this happens to you.
All three of these holdings have merit. Even some of the other Phoenix holdings can find their niche where they are worthwhile. The truth is that these compete with slots reserved for all-stars like Forgotten Library, which is the reason why these are rare sights.
Phoenix characters are on the whole balanced in military (average 2.1) and political (average 2.4), with a slight edge in political. They also have the highest average glory of all the clans at 1.7 glory on average, which makes their characters have the highest ceiling and lowest floor depending on the character's honoured/dishonoured state.
About half of the Phoenix roster has the Shugenja trait, with the next common trait being Courtier and then Bushi. Phoenix also has a couple of Monk and Creature characters. Unlike the former three, these do not have any cards that key of their trait inside of Phoenix. A common trait also seen on Phoenix characters is Scholar, which is the auxiliary trait supported by the clan.
One cost characters fulfil a couple of important roles in Phoenix:
Improve Supernatural Storm.
Avoid Way of the Crab getting your good characters.
Grab the imperial Favour with Isawa Mori Seido.
Get value by being disposable characters at the low price of 1 fate.
Let's look at the three frontrunners of Phoenix through this lens!
The ability to bow an opposing character is one of the more powerful effects in Legend of the Five Rings and Solemn Scholar can provide an effective way to achieve this once the Earth ring is claimed (or considered claimed). The easiest way to enable this is with Secluded Shrine, and this can be sped up with City of the Rich Frog and cards with the Rally keyword. Even without either of those cards however, this is the most commonly played Shugenja in Phoenix period. Its ability does not mess around, and this is a first example of a sub-theme you will see more of in Phoenix: The ability to increase the potency of a ring.
Ethereal Dreamer is the aggressive 1 drop of choice. It is both expendable and 3/3 stats during any conflict with the chosen ring element, and has 0 glory so that it can shrug off any dishonour effects. Given how you need to track this ability, it is heartily recommended to use your spare rings from extra copies of the core set to mark which ring each dreamer is set to. Generally, you should buy Ethereal Dreamer when you are the first player with 0 fate on it, or as second player with one fate if you are not throwing away the passing fate doing so. She leads the pack on the pint-sized powerhouses. Phoenix has several character like her that have a lot of power for their cost, though none quite as powerful as Ethereal Dreamer.
A Courtier rather than a Shugenja, Naive Student provides excellent value when contesting the favour with his 2 glory, and when leaving play as he draws his controller a card. He is immune to military duels, but will be sent home if a conflict is flipped to Military. He is also notably a Scholar and our first instance of the Phoenix potato, i.e. a character that has 0 ability when it is dishonoured. Even so, this is a very formidable character that makes it into any list that wants the conflict card, the glory and/or Scholar at that price point.
These three are fairly common 1 cost characters in Phoenix, though on occasion you will see others. One that is on the rise is Inspired Visionary from the new set. Her ability is less potent than that of the Solemn Scholar, but it has its uses. She is ideally a character contributing to the Imperial Favour, and thereafter using her ability to recycle an attachment like Elegant Tessen or Mark of Shame, or some really annoying attachment your opponent played. A more recent Courtier that is making waves is Expert Interpreter, whose ability to block characters from entering during a chosen ring is fairly disruptive against anyone relying on Keeper Initiates or any of the events that put characters in play during the conflict like Cavalry Reserves.
Characters at 2 fate start in a bad place. Double the cost of their smaller brethren and still in range of Assassination means that you better be worth the risk and extra cost. In Phoenix, the most common 2 drop that you pay for is Miya Mystic for its utility against attachments. From the clan itself, you might see:
Isawa Uona's ability is nothing to sniff at. Bowing a character without participation is very potent. This comes with a deckbuilding restriction regarding Air cards. You can see Uona played with as few as 3 Air cards in the conflict deck, though more often it will be in the 9 to 11 cards range. Most commonly, you see Uona in decks that cheat Fushichō in play with Forebearer's Echoes, Walking the Way and Cloud the Mind as the Air cards.
Asako Tsuki is the core of the Scholar theme. She is one of few Phoenix characters that let you honour your own characters, even if in her case she will generally only honour herself. She does this whenever the Water ring is claimed by either player. Note that she is also a Courtier, so you can play any pay-off card for that trait with her too while maintaining a healthy number of both Courtier and Shugenja.
Continuing the earlier theme of Solemn Scholar, Asako Diplomat is the poster child of making a conflict really important. The last thing people want to see is a fire ring awarded to Phoenix, yet that is exactly what Asako Diplomat provides when she wins a conflict. This upside is enough to make her the most popular non-Shugenja played at this cost.
The Phoenix clan's staunch pacifism is represented in game through characters such as Meddling Mediator, Mediator of Hostilities, and Pacifist Philosopher. While considered a novelty for much of the games early years, these "pass" cards have recently reached a critical mass, bringing them to tournament-competitive levels. None of these are individually super strong, but they do address one of the issues with 2 drops: Assassination. The first two that we will discuss work really well in decks aiming to dishonour the opponent. If these get assassinated, you got what you paid for. If your opponent lets them stick around, they will buy you time and give you extra resources.
Meddling Mediator punishes an opponent for repeated attacks. Firing this ability once makes you feel like you got away with something. Of course, it does require your opponent to make a second attack into you which they can refuse. But if they do, you profit with the other two shown above. Beyond her pretty great ability, Meddling Mediator has terrible military that you will need to address some other way. Fortunately her political is about as good as it gets at this investment.
At first, Mediator of Hostilities and Pacifist Philosopher may read as if they rely on an opponent passing a conflict. However, "a player" can also refer to the Phoenix player, and thus by passing two conflicts a turn, said player can draw multiple cards and gain multiple fate depending on how many of each character is on the board. This is a potent resource generation tool and it finds its home in decks that will choke the opponent on cards, fate and ultimately honour. The drawback is the unremarkable stats on these characters especially in any military conflict.
Phoenix has a love/hate relationship with 3 fate characters. For the longest time, there were no great Shugenja at 3 fate (Sorry, Masahiro) and most players skipped 3 fate almost entirely. While Shugenja were underwhelming at 3 fate, the 3 cost slot provides a lot of powerful characters with other traits, though interestingly most of the notable ones are entirely support characters. Chief among them is:
Shiba Yōjimbō is the most common 3 cost character after Student of the Tao, and commonly the only non-Shugenja in decks that maximize on Shugenja for Supernatural Storm. Her ability provides a bubble shield to all Shugenja you have, and protects them against triggered abilities. This has a couple import clarifications:
A triggered ability is any text on a card that starts with a boldface timing command followed by a colon ("Action:", "Reaction:", "Interrupt:"). Two notable items Shiba Yōjimbō does not protect against are Ring effects and Keyword abilities like Covert.
The triggered ability must contain "choose" in the section before the dash ("—)"), and at least one of its targets has to be one of your Shugenja. Any effect that only chooses its target after the dash cannot be stopped by Shiba Yōjimbō (e.g. Court Games's dishonour mode).
Shiba Yōjimbō cancels the full effect. For example, Shameful Display's action would be cancelled on both ends, even though only one of the targets is one of your Shugenja.
All payments that went into the cancelled effect are lost upon the cancellation.
On balance, Shiba Yōjimbō is a very thematic card that blocks many bad things that could happen to your powerful Shugenja and if you were wondering: It is worth a full turn of fate for many players.
Like all Magistrate cards, Haughty Magistrate disrupts an opponent by ignoring the skill value of characters of a particular type. In this case, characters with a lower glory than Haughty Magistrate do not contribute their skill toward the resolution of the conflict. At only 1 glory this does not appear threatening, but with the buff from Isawa Mori Seido this quickly becomes 3 (for the entire phase), and suddenly all defenders with 2 or lower glory are rendered useless at the end of a conflict.
While Haughty Magistrate is not a Shugenja, and thus cannot be readied with Against the Waves, Clarity of Purpose will still work to allow participation in multiple attacks. He is usually seen in a deck that focuses on defending as one of its only attackers, or in a dedicated Bushi list because those can often have 3 or more glory on their own.
Beyond the above Bushi, at 3 cost there are also a bunch of powerful Courtiers. These are not seen all that often as most Phoenix favour Shugenja, but the courtiers available are by no means weak cards. Phoenix has Asako Maezawa, an inquisitor that leverages the Isawa Mori Seido stronghold for his ability to double the political prowess of a participant, usually himself. At 6 political, he is at the pinnacle of political strength at this cost. Joining him in the highly-statted 3 cost camp is Righteous Delegate, whose ability can quickly go out of control with some small bodies. She is notable for being a courtier that can actually hang out in military conflicts and give any Bushi a run for his money. While she can win battles by pure numbers, the other way for courtiers to contribute is by removing threats by sending them home like Student of the Tao. The core set provides Radiant Orator (Pointy for friends), which has an easy to achieve send-home ability and poor stats to compensate. Sage of Gisei Toshi is better on the stats front, but his ability is harder to maintain. On the bright side, he is able to send home the military-slanted character and himself so that he can defend a second time, but this time be favoured out of the gates to win it.
Recently, a Shugenja that has been making decks has been Inquisitive Ishika, shown below. This character has been generally unpopular because of its mediocre 2/2/2 statline and an ability that helps both players. The reason why she has been included more often now has to do with the discount being especially great with the Mahō cards like Sanguine Mastery from the Temptations cycle. She needs a density of cards to discount, and nowadays it is easier to do so. Generally I would expect to see Spell attachments when she is being included like Katana of Fire or Invocation of Ash, because those are cards to dump easily in one conflict because they persist until after the conflict. While she is still mediocre from a statline perspective, you can expect her to be disguised by elemental master of drag Isawa Tadaka, which she also discounts!
This is the power spot on the fate curve for Phoenix. There is no short supply of powerful characters of any trait at 4 fate. Most Phoenix lists will focus on this cost slot and a common play pattern out of Phoenix is to buy one of these with 3 fate on a turn and pass. Even amongst the excellent selection, there are still some that are especially favoured:
Relatively recent, but undisputed leader of the 4 cost slot is Inferno Guard Invoker. This potato-statted character offers the military that Phoenix stand their ground in military. But it is much more than this. First, his glory is not a downside at all as he can by himself defend against multiple characters at Sanpuku Seido. He honours himself, mitigating the downside of such high glory. He can also be used on anyone, such as a character that was going to fade at the end of turn anyway. Especially at the stronghold siege he is at his best because the downside with his ability no longer matters.
The second most common non-unique Shugenja at 4 is Prodigy of the Waves. This character is famous for being one of the most chronically dishonoured character in the game, and for good reason. Producing 3 strength in two conflicts is already alright. Once we are talking about 5 or 7 strength in two conflicts just by being honoured is however another thing entirely. Prodigy of the Waves has an amazing potential for greatness, and has ran over many players whenever they failed to keep him normal.
These two are solid characters in their own right, and another I personally prefer to play is Fearsome Mystic in Isawa Mori Seido. All three of these are baseline good to great characters. Key to their identity nowadays is that these are non-unique, which makes them eligible for the Disguise of Isawa Tadaka. Inferno Guard Invoker is in particular great with him. A common play pattern is where Inferno Guard Invoker's ability is activated, and now your opponent will throw everything they can to break the province if they are the attacker, or make sure their own province breaks so that at least Inferno Guard Invoker is discarded with it. The trick here is that Isawa Tadaka can disguise over the invoker, which means he takes over the honoured token and all the fate, but not the effect that would discard him at the end of the conflict.
Void is an element unique to the Isawa family, and it forms a pillar in many Phoenix strategies to rely on that ring, aided by Isawa Ujina, and less commonly Isawa Atsuko.
Ujina is the Elemental Master of Void, and he does not mess around. Reasonable stats aside, it is his ability that makes him core to many Phoenix lists. Blasting fate off characters is a common ability in Phoenix, and Ujina's ability can then remove the body left behind, preventing a counter-attack. He is also very useful against any strategy relying on Reprieve-like effects by overloading them or against Keeper Initiates. Be aware that his ability is mandatory, so take care that he has something to work with or he might leave to meet his beloved Ninube courtesy of his own ability.
Evil granny, Isawa Atsuko, is a steamroller known for cheaply breaking provinces. With an opponent in a Void conflict, she is by herself 5/5 worth of stats (including the -1/-1 on the opponent). It get only better as you include more participants. She brings a lot of muscle and basically decides the conflict her way. Like the earlier Inferno Guard Invoker, she excels in the late-game where you have spare bodies, and the Fortunes help your opponent if you can assault their stronghold with this ability.
Whilst the Shugenja superstars are seen frequently, none of the other traits has truly lacklustre 4 drops. Asako Togama is the sole Courtier at this cost, and while his ability is hard to use, with 5 political and Scholar he is a house in any political conflict. If you are looking for Bushi, there is Chikai Order protector (or YōboCOP), the counterpart to Prodigy of the Waves for your reactive deck and Garanto Guardian, a recent addition with a pile of stats that is not all that hard to get honoured. Finally, if you are really worried about characters with ridiculously high strength, there is still Kaito Temple Protector who can stonewall any tower of that type.
With so many good 4 drops, the 5 cost characters in Phoenix are more of a rarity, though there are at least a couple that warrant a second look:
Isawa Tsuke, an old fan-favourite, is not quite as bloodthirsty and ruthless as before, but he is still very much the Master of Fire. This second version comes with an outstanding stat line which makes honouring with Pride all the more easy. Beyond that, Fire is (like for most Phoenix characters) the one element he would not prefer to see used against him as it disables his ability. Should you be first player, or have another way to make fire unclaimed, he can ping fate off the opponent's participating characters which helps with the overall game plan of many Phoenix lists to just make sure the Phoenix will outlast and take over.
Due to her high cost, high glory and lack of the Shugenja trait Shiba Tsukune, Champion of the Phoenix clan and protagonist of The Sword and the Spirits, did not see much play until recently, when she was found to slot nicely into the Phoenix Forebearer's Echoes deck.
When recurred with Forebearer's Echoes, Fushichō will leave play at the end of the current conflict, allowing another character in the discard pile to be returned with one fate. If Shiba Tsukune is returned in this way her 4 glory can be used to all-but-guarantee the favour, her ability can be used to resolve up to two unclaimed rings, and she remains in play for another turn (as an 8/8 if the Fire ring is used to honour her). This is a tidy package, provided all the pieces come together.
She also makes an appearance in any list featuring a bunch of Bushi as she becomes a powerhouse once you support her with Purity of Spirit. She also fits in any pacifist build, because her ability wants you to do up to one conflict a turn (a water conflict) so that you can leech off two rings for her ability. She also works well with Ancestral Shrine to ensure the right rings are still available if you had to claim them during conflicts.
Like similar 6-cost Spirit, characters, Fushichō offers a solid 6/6 body with no attachments allowed. And, like its contemporaries, Fushichō is almost never played in the Dynasty Phase, but rather is cheated into play by other means (read: Through Forebearer's Echoes).
The terror of Gencon 2019, this deck was hit by the banning of Charge! and nerfs to Kyuden Isawa. It remains powerful, however, being able to also make use of My Ancestor's Strength to set the stats of a participating Shugenja to 6/6 until the end of the conflict for just 1 fate.
As mentioned, when leaving play Fushichō allows a Phoenix character in the discard pile to be returned with 1 fate. The effectiveness of this ability increases the larger the discard pile is, as this allows more flexibility in choosing the right character for the current board state.
Concluding thoughts and further reading
One of the big strengths of Phoenix in my eyes is the excellent dynasty they can field. Versatile, singularly powerful characters at each point of the curve (especially at 4 fate) and some of the best holdings in the game. There are several drastically different dynasty builds that you can run to great success. I think each of the three basic traits (Bushi, Courtier, Shugenja) have good options available and provide their own flavor on how you want to win the game.
Bushi have the best statline from all of these and are great both in military and political, with commonly more defence-oriented abilities.
Courtiers are the best at political, as is expected, and provide a lot of utility and economy to the faction with the mediators in particular.
Shugenja are in the middle between the previous two being slightly smaller than Bushi and less great at political than pure Courtiers. Since Inferno Guard Invoker, they have at least gained ground on the Bushi, too. The trade-off here is that the best conflict cards in Phoenix all require Shugenja to use them.
The best stand-alone is the Shugenja trait, as expected from the primary Shugenja clan, but I think hybrids of any combination of these are also viable (the ones with Shugenja moreso). Asides from the traits, Phoenix has plenty of options to theme your deck around a certain effect like removing fate (Fearsome Mystic, Isawa Ujina, Isawa Tsuke's second card), sending people home (Radiant Orator, Sage of Gisei Toshi, Student of the Tao) and many others. For a deckbuilder, this is a really good selection of cards to work with.
For further reading on other Phoenix cards, be sure to check: