The Emerald Dojo
A Legend of the Five Rings Strategy Site
Updated 30 January 2021.
Phoenix is often interested in a slightly longer game, so most of the time the provinces are chosen based on how much they will delay the opponent from breaking them. Down below are the most common options:
The Phoenix in-clan province Henshin Mysteries is unfortunately not a great start. The ring goes unclaimed, but the effect is still resolved as per usual. This could be okay if you really need to start conflicts on one particular ring, but that just means your opponent would assault some other province. In general, the most common provinces to see out of Phoenix for the Air element are the core set's Manicured Garden and Fertile Fields in that order. It is hard to argue with actions that will always benefit you. Each of these provinces are found in the row.
More recently, I am quite the fan of Driven by Courage as it allows me to win conflicts I wasn't winning before without spending cards, plus it also works well against eminent provinces that share the Air element.
The Earth province in Phoenix, Teachings of the Elements, is pretty poor as the core set Earth provinces (Ancestral Lands and Entrenched Position) are superior in their respective conflict type, and you usually excel at the other type of conflict already. If you want a resilient earth province for the stronghold, Entrenched Position will help you more often than Phoenix's own version of it.
Now, usually the Earth province of Phoenix is found in the row, and this will be Upholding Authority. Its effect to discard a key card from the opponent's hand works well with cards like Isawa Tadaka, and even on its own it is an amazing deal for the information and disruption it provides. The other Earth province that you can see is City of the Rich Frog for the extra consistency it provides in the dynasty draw. When you see City of the Rich Frog, you can expect that Student of the Tao will be in the deck as a defensive boost, and often there will also be Secluded Shrine and Solemn Scholar to further hinder the opponent's conflicts.
With the advent of more ways to reveal stronghold provinces early, I have become quite the fan of putting Courteous Greeting there. It is great against City of the Rich Frog which you commonly see against Crane, and as a stronghold province it is pretty decent against some of the current top clans.
The setting for the excellent novella The Sword and the Spirits, Sanpuku Seido is an excellent province for the Phoenix lists using Isawa Mori Seido. When using that stronghold to buff a character's glory, this province is almost impossible to break. That said, if no characters are available to defend, only one attacking character with a single glory point is needed to secure a break, unless the Phoenix player has a holding in play which provides a defensive boost.
Notably, Sanpuku Seido becomes a problem whenever Phoenix plays the mirror if you have less or equal glory to field. When you expect to face many Isawa Mori Seido decks, you may want to include another Fire province when playing Phoenix yourself (for example, Honor's Reward if you are really cheeky). The common alternative for Fire would be Meditations on the Tao. Not only does it have a generally useful effect, it also plays well with the Phoenix game plan of removing the opposing side's characters from the table.
The original in all its glory
The current version
Restricted, unrestricted, and now errata'd, Kuroi Mori no longer has the stranglehold on stronghold defence it once did. That said, it is once again seeing regular play, only this time in the province row. Here it will still cause groans when revealed as no amount of Fine Katana or Banzai! will help secure a break when the conflict is set to political, or when the reverse plays out during a powerful political assault. Kuroi Mori remains the high-water mark when it comes to defence against any faction with a skew to military or political.
One nasty play that gets made with Kuroi Mori is switching the conflict type against a character that has a dash in the other conflict type. This will eject that character from the conflict bowed. Be very wary of attacking into a facedown row province with a dashed character or when your Phoenix opponent plays Pacifism on your character first.
While conflict type switching is the most common use of Kuroi Mori's ability, it can also be used to switch the contested ring to a more favourable one (perhaps to enable Solemn Scholar with a Display of Power, or to play Feral Ningyo or obtain the Water ring for Prodigy of the Waves).
The most common role Phoenix plays is Seeker of Void. This is because Void provinces are the strongest in the game for Phoenix to defend on because of their powerful effects and the existence of Student of the Tao which improves them further. Phoenix characters have a lot of glory on average, so the most common province is Shameful Display. Pilgrimage has also been making a bit of a resurgence ever since the printing of Contested Countryside, though that's gone away a fair bit with the latter card getting restricted.
Despite all the praises for Kuroi Mori, whenever your Phoenix opponent has one Void province, it is a safe bet to assume Shameful Display is lurking in the row.
The most recent addition to the roster, Retire to the Brotherhood gained a lot of traction in the famous bird deck. This is exclusively a stronghold province for any deck that has lots of small and large characters and little in-between. As a stronghold province, this is commonly used to remove the opponent's tower thanks to a pre-conflict Consumed by Five Fires to strip away the fate. It works against any swarm strategy just as well. It is key to remember that the new characters entering play will do so at home rather than in the conflict, and that this happens before Phoenix decides which defenders it will commit, but after the attacker has declared their attackers. In practice, this means the attacker's new characters are stranded at home, buying time for Phoenix.
If the Phoenix player wants a different stronghold province and/or they are not playing a Seeker role, other water provinces will be played. The second most likely stronghold province is Rally to the Cause, because it can buy Phoenix another conflict worth of time.
In recent times, a popular choice is Smuggler's Cove. With Unicorn and Crane both having a way to flip the stronghold province, and Scorpion not really caring all that much whatever your stronghold province is, Retire to the Brotherhood and other on-reveal provinces have become a liability in the current environment.
Concluding thoughts and further reading
A couple of defensive powerhouses and a selection of provinces that give you an economical windfall over the game. The above are the usual suspects, but nothing stays the same forever. Now that the stronghold province can get revealed early on by Crane or Unicorn, I have favoured playing one of the aggressive provinces like Driven By Courage instead of a Water province as the stronghold province. Getting the +2 bonus is an okay defensive ability, and you get to use it offensively too against Crane in particular.
Even so, I am also hoping for new Water provinces. The current offerings aren't bad, but there's a lack of one with a truly great ability in a Keeper role list that does not require a big commitment like The Pursuit of Justice (for movement cards) or Midnight Revels (few big characters).
For further reading on other Phoenix cards, check out the following pages: