The Emerald Dojo
A Legend of the Five Rings Strategy Site
Updated 30 January 2021.
The Stronghold is the most consistent card in any deck, available and active for the entire duration of the game. This makes it very important to consider which to pick. For Phoenix however, there are only two choices right now, and one of them is very pigeonholed. Let's start by delving in the original Phoenix stronghold:
The Core Phoenix stronghold, Isawa Mori Seido is the most common of the Phoenix strongholds in modern days. This is not because it has a game-winning ability, but more because of its general utility and usefulness, and the lack of other generally useful stronghold. Do not mistake that the ability to add glory is weak though, as it does the following items:
First a clarification: It adds glory, and it does so for the entire phase.
Adding glory can grab the Imperial Favour, which is useful just by itself, but especially to enable any card that needs it.
Any honoured character becomes much more powerful with the glory boost translating in +2/+2 stats, and this is arguably its best use, because Phoenix is known to ready characters and commit them a second time. Remember, this ability lasts until the end of the Conflict Phase, not just a conflict. Presenting 4 extra strength over two conflicts can swing a turn immensely.
When you are on the Courtier path or leaning on fire rings and dishonour your opponent's characters, the stronghold can neutralize most characters. (Shosuro Sadako not included)
Several Phoenix cards rely on glory for their ability, such as Fearsome Mystic, Sanpuku Seido, Radiant Orator, Asako Maezawa or Haughty Magistrate. These cards receive a power spike from glory, either increasing their potency or making them easier to use.
Sounds pretty good right? Well, there is one major drawback: most of this does not do anything if you cannot honour or dishonour the right character. It is also exploitable by anyone that has tools to switch an honour token with a dishonour token at the right moment. Add to this that Phoenix is very bad at honouring its own characters and you have an ability that is often not doing anything.
Asides from its ability, it has pretty decent numbers with 2 strength on the stronghold, a slightly above-average 11 starting honour and the normal 10 influence.
This stronghold does not need to be built around. It can very easily be used just to grab the Imperial Favour so that you can get Censure online, with any extra use being gravy. A common line of play on turn one is to just sit back and grab the favour this way. Honour and dishonour are baked into the game that you will easily find some use for the stronghold ability otherwise.
That said, most decks that play this stronghold will at least lean a little on it, usually in the shape of Sanpuku Seido, some cards to honour their own characters and nothing else. If you want to go further you start adding more and more cards that hand out honour/dishonour tokens like Shameful Display or Celebrated Renown. Honoured/dishonoured characters enable the Phoenix player to generate a card of virtual value in conflicts. That extra glory can be just enough to make the difference between winning or breaking a province, which would cost your opponent resources to keep up.
It is often correct to wait with this stronghold ability until the last moment when you are the attacker, because that way your opponent has a harder time figuring out whether you will use the boost in that conflict or not. On other occasions, it might be important to use the ability before a conflict occurs, in particular to stop the card Mirumoto's Fury, or so that you are strong enough to stand your ground in a duel.
Because of how this stronghold is about utility most of all, it is very important to check the role of your opponent as well as the dynasty flop so that you correctly identify what your opponent is bringing to the table. Phoenix can win through conquest, dishonour, honour and even enlightenment. When you see big Shugenja or Bushi, it is likely a deck that will try to break your provinces. When you see Courtiers, you are likely facing a deck with a dishonour twist to it.
Overall, this stronghold is not especially remarkable asides from its general utility and very light restrictions that it puts on you. With the high glory on Phoenix characters, you were already honouring your own characters as part of the plan anyway, and that is good enough for this stronghold.
The first stronghold to be printed after the core set, Kyuden Isawa was a powerhouse. It was so good that it was eventually nerfed to the above version. Unlike the original stronghold, this one is not as flexible as you would think with its ability. Before we continue, some basics:
One less strength than the original, but otherwise good numbers.
To use its ability, you need to discard a Spell event, not just a spell card. You can only bring back any Spell event in your discard pile. This limitation means you need to play a lot of Spell events, commonly half your conflict deck, to get good mileage out of the stronghold.
The Spell event that you are bringing back can only be an action. Any reaction or interrupt event cannot be brought back because you will not meet its trigger at the same time as Kyuden Isawa's ability.
The ability requires you to be in a conflict, which means you cannot use this with any spell that is played outside of the conflict. A common case for this is Against The Waves, which you often play outside of a conflict to ready your big honoured Shugenja. The second use of Against The Waves cannot do this.
Even with these heavy restrictions, Kyuden Isawa remains a very playable stronghold. Its power increases the longer a game lasts as a larger discard pile means more available Spell events to recur. Common targets include Supernatural Storm, Against the Waves, and Clarity of Purpose to maintain tempo, and Consumed by Five Fires or Forebearer's Echoes to establish board control or swing key conflicts.
Kyuden Isawa is forced to play a lot of spell events to utilize its ability. As mentioned earlier, you can expect over half the deck to be spell events, and so a marquee card for Kyuden Isawa is Shrine Maiden. Cards that need spells to fuel them have great synergy with Kyuden Isawa, but the most common card of this type, Master of Gisei Toshi, was banned. There still remain Shiba Tetsu and Fire Elemental Guard, but these are rare sights even with this stronghold.
Due to its heavy restrictions, there is only one common deck archetype seen out of Kyuden Isawa and this is the famous 'bird deck', which builds to explosive events to break provinces with big Supernatural Storms (expect many small Shugenja) and Forebearer's Echoes played on Fushicho.