The Emerald Dojo
A Legend of the Five Rings Strategy Site
Underhand of the Emperor
Updated 31 May, 2020.
When Kami Hantei became the first emperor of Rokugan the Lion and Crane clans were declared his right and left hands respectively. The Lion clan would command his armies and the Crane his courts. Each would act with honour and dignity, and each would see the will of the Jade Throne enforced throughout the land. But Hantei saw that the empire required protection not only in the open, but also in the shadows. Thus, the emperor went to Kami Bayushi and asked him to be his Underhand: the one capable of performing deeds that could not be named. Recognising that sometimes the ends must justify the means, Kami Bayushi gave his solemn vow: "I will be your villain, Hantei."
The Scorpion clan are rightly feared in Legend of the Five Rings. Capable of controlling games through their ability to cancel events, control attachments, discard characters, and relentlessly drain their opponent's honour, Scorpion players can be found regularly at the finals tables in competitive tournaments.
This primer guide looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the Scorpion clan, and their most commonly-played cards.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Cheap Personalities - Scorpion have a ton of small Courtier with very strong activations.
Dishonor - We are the best clan around when it comes to this unique win condition.
Good Attachment Control - Calling in Favors is a very strong card against attachments.
Weak Military Characters - There are very few effective military character options.
Dishonor your own Characters - Your cards have a tendency to dishonor your own charachters making them weaker in stats, and this can also make you dishonor yourself when they leave play if your not careful.
The most notorious of the core set strongholds, City of the Open Hand has been errata'd, un-errata'd, restricted, and then re-errata'd to finally reach a point where everyone seems satisfied.
No longer able to reduce the honour of other players, this stronghold now simply provides a Scorpion with one honour per turn if they are lower than their opponent. This can provide a nice buffer against dishonouring out, but also makes it difficult to play Forgery and Alabi Artist.
Ignored for a long time because the passive honour drain of City of the Open Hand was so strong, Kyuden Bayushi is now much more popular as it has a lower starting honour and useful ready effect.
Scorpion players have a myriad of ways to dishonour their own characters such as Acclaimed Geisha House and Calling in Favors, and characters such as Shosuro Sadako actively benefit from being dishonoured.
Of the two additional Scorpion strongholds, Seven Stings Keep has an interesting effect but unfortunately rarely sees play, while at the time of writing it it too early to say whether Shiro Yogo will make an impact.
A powerful Earth province (and one of the few that can replace Upholding Authority), Effective Deception provides a guaranteed cancel during a conflict at this province.
It is important to note the interrupt can cancel not just actions, but also reactions or interrupts. This means that it can, for example, cancel an opponent's Censure, Finger of Jade or Hisu Mori Toride. This powerful ability means Effective Deception can sometimes be found under the stronghold as a last line of defense against conquest opponents.
The only hard counters to its ability come from cards that can cancel or blank provinces. These include Shinjo Ambusher, Pathfinder's Blade, and Highlight the Flaws. Without these, look to bait its use with low impact plays, allowing more powerful cards to be played later.
Bizarrely unrestricted, Secret Cache remains the Air province of choice for Scorpion players. Yet another tool in the arsenal of Scorpion card draw options, this powerful province allows its owner to search the top 5 cards of their conflict deck for the most valuable card for the current game state. Often this will be an Assassination to blunt a poke attack, Forgery to counter a powerful event, or Backhanded Compliment to finish off an opponent.
If Secret Cache is not broken immediately it should usually be left alone, as to given an opponent a 5-card tutor every turn is highly undesirable.
Scorpion have some of the most powerful 1-cost characters in the game, even with the (bizarre) banning of Bayushi Liar.
Alibi Artist provides consistent card draw as soon as his owner reachers 6 or fewer honour. This is not difficult with a quick Assassination, but he generally does not enter play until Round 2. At this point, a Scorpion player is free to put a large number of fate on him as it takes a brave opponent to play Assassination against Scorpion.
Bayushi Manipulator is an excellent Round 1 play for a Scorpion player as he allows his owner to bid 6 in the draw phase, thus drawing an extra card, whilst also dropping their honour below their opponent. While at first this may seem like a bad idea (giving honour to an opponent you plan to dishonour out of the game), in the opening stage of the game it is much more important to gain card advantage, and to enable Alibi Artist and Forgery.
Sinister Peacekeeper is a solid if unspectacular card that once a turn denies an opponent an honour gain. Every little bit helps.
Not to be outdone in the 2-cost category, Scorpion also have a number of characters that play into their powerful archetypes.
In the dynasty deck, Scorpion can play Blackmail Artist, a Courtier who can also take 1 honour from his opponent when he wins a political conflict. This plays into the dishonour archetype very well, although his controller should remember to use City of the Open Hand before Blackmail Artist's ability, in case their own honour rises above their opponent's.
Vice Proprietor's action ability functions similarly to Way of the Crab in that it targets a player, who then chooses a character to be negatively impacted. Unlike Way of the Crab, however, both targeting choices (player and then character) are made before the (—) in the card text, and therefore Finger of Jade can be used to cancel the bow effect. As a dynasty character, Vice Proprietor telegraphs his ability clearly, and he can be relatively easily played around by having another low-impact character present in the conflict.
Young Rumormonger has returned from the restricted list to once again redirect honour or dishonour effects on friendly or opposing characters. This can be used to, for example, prevent a key character from being honoured to avoid an incoming I Can Swim, or to move an honoured status token from a character with no fate who is about to leave play, to one who will stay in play (thus preventing the opponent from gaining 1 honour).
While on the restricted list a similar card, Shameless Gossip, was printed which moves status tokens, rather than redirect the effect of being honoured or dishonoured. The differences between these interaction is subtle, but occasionally significant, and you can read the rules clarifications for each card on FiveRingsDB to confirm these.
Fawning Diplomat is a 3-cost character who can be used to guarantee the Imperial Favor upon leaving play. As her interrupt takes place in the fate phase, the glory count for the favor at the end of the Conflict phase has finished, leaving Fawning Diplomat free to take the favour immediately from an opponent who has just claimed it.
Governor's Spy can be used to shut down an opponent's holdings. He must be participating in the conflict to use his action, which allows him to turn all faceup dynasty cards in the province row down, and then rearrange these as desired. This can, for example, put a powerful holding (or character) onto a broken province, thereby ensuring that it will be discarded at the end of the turn.
Special mention in the 3-cost slot must to go to Heartless Intimidator and Master Whisperer, each of whom fit well into the 'mill' archetype. This playstyle attempts to drain an opponents conflict deck, resulting in a 5-honour loss when the deck must be shuffled and redrawn.
Any card which features (Unlimited) deserves attention, and the fact that Heartless Intimidator is non-unique means up to 3 can be play at once, discarding cards from the conflict deck every time an opponent loses an honour. Master Whisperer functions similarly in that he can force an opponent to draw 3 cards after they discard 3 cards from their hand. This can also be used on one's own had as tutor effect if new cards are needed to face the current board state.
Playing against mill is tricky as it adds a metaphorical Sword of the Damocles over an opponent while their conflict deck is slowly stripping away. That said, by including cards that mill, the Scorpion player is forgoing cards that allow them to interact with the game in other meaningful ways. Slovely Scavenger is also an effective defence as it can cycle a discard pile back into its original deck.
Shosuro Ibuki is another Disguised character whose reaction can significantly disrupt an unprepared opponent. As a dynasty character she will be present in the row before revealing herself, so aim to break this province to prevent Scorpion from gaining a ready on a bowed Courtier, and access to a powerful ability.
Note that Shosuro Ibuki herself does have have the Courtier trait.
And now we come to one of the more intriguing family dramas in Legend of the Five Rings.
Bayushi Aramoro was tortured by his unrequited love for his brother's wife Bayushi Kachiko, who herself is in love the Crane clan champion Doji Hotaru. Aramoro ahsettle for his own wife, Yogo Asami, who by day acted as Kachiko's body double in Otosan Uchi. Aramoro's brother, Bayushi Shoju, Scorpion Clan Champion, was a close friend of the late Emperor Hantei XXXVIII (to whom Kachiko was the official Imperial Advisor), and became regent until one of Hantei's sons (both are missing) comes of age. Kachiko was banished to Toshi Rambo because reasons, oh and Shoju opened a Black Scroll and made pact with the Shadowlands to unite the clans against him.
Got that? Good. Here's how they work in the game.
Bayushi Aramoro can be an effective character, but he never lived up to the hype surrounding his announcement. A Shinobi with decent stats, his action can remove low-military skill characters, or towers whose skill have been reduced through cards such as Sinister Soshi, Discourage Pursuit, and Fiery Madness. This requires significant set up, however, and leaves Aramoro himself as a 3/0 character until he is re-honoured, or his dishonour token is redirected or removed.
The original Bayushi Kachiko is a powerful conflict character who can dominate political conflicts. The line "Then, you may bow it" is a nice touch, but while she did see play in the original 'Drop Bear' deck, she rarely finds a place in competitive decks anymore.
A more recent dynasty version of Bayushi Kachiko made an instant splash upon arrival. The ability to play up to 3 cards in an opponent's conflict discard pile against them in any political conflict is very powerful, and the fact that these cards are removed from play means they cannot be recurred or reshuffled by their original owner. A powerful late-game character, nobody was surprised to see her added to the restricted list.
The original Bayushi Shoju still sees occasional play, but he he has been largely superseded by his more recent version. Core Shoju's ability functions in a similar way to his brother's, and although it removes only 1 skill from an opposing character, it can be used twice (and thus on different characters). The arrival of Compelling Testimony and Castigate did see a brief revival of interest in this version of Shoju, but in general he does not find a place in competitive decks.
By contrast, the Inheritance Cycle Bayushi Shoju did, until his restriction, terrorise the competitive meta. Each line of his text is significant: opponent's can no longer control the Imperial Favour (and thus loses access to Censure at a stroke), each player must lose 1 honour after the conflict phase begins (bringing opponents ever closer to defeat through Backhanded Compliment), and he offers free card draw (although his opponent also benefits from this).
He is also a fearsome 7 political skill (11 if honoured), and all-but-guarantees the Imperial Favour if it he ready at the end of the Conflict Phase. His (—) military skill means he cannot be military dueled, although he will be sent home if the conflict type is switched. Good card.
It turns out a Dispatch to Nowhere is better than an actual Dispatch, meaning the Scorpion iteration of message delivery sees far more play than its Unicorn counterpart.
Dispatch to Nowhere ensures Scorpion players have a semi-random chance to discard an opposing character during the Dynasty phase. In the best case scenario Dispatch to Nowhere is revealed when an opposing tower character had their last fate removed in the previous fate phase and the Scorpion player has the First Player token (the icing on the cake is when another copy of the target character has just been revealed in the row but there is no opportunity to perform a duplication). In the worst case scenario, it is revealed when there are no valid targets, taking up a valuable dynasty row slot.
Scorpion players like to control the Air and Fire Rings. While Phoenix splash used to offer an effective way to achieve this with the (now restricted) Display of Power, Acclaimed Geisha House offers similar control through its ability to switch the current ring with an unclaimed one. Note that the if a ring is switched during a conflict, the attacker will gain all fate on the newly-contested ring.
The holding is also useful for its ability to dishonour a friendly character who can then be readied with Kyuden Bayushi.
City of Lies allows a Scorpion player to capitalise on their strong conflict hand. The usual holding problem of clogging up a slot in the province row is not a significant issue given that Scorpion prefer not to spend big in the dynasty phase, and it can help to discount events such as Calling in Favours, Kirei-ko, and I Can Swim.
Mark of Shame is a powerful attachment that acts more like an event that cannot be interrupted. It costs a hefty two fate, but will guarantee that the attached character becomes dishonoured, and thus vulnerable to I Can Swim or Noble Sacrifice.
There is no real counter to Mark of Shame (outside of edge cases such as Doji Kuzunobu). While attachment control cards can be used to discard the attachment, the damage has already been done and only the -1 political debuff is alleviated.
Mark of Shame is now restricted, but still occasionally sees play.
Softskin occasionally sees play in Scorpion mill decks that seek to drain their opponent's conflict deck. It is particularly effective against tower decks which aim to constantly ready a key character. It is expensive, however, and vulnerable to attachment control cards.
Adept of Shadows features average stats for her cost and lacks the Courtier trait. She can, however, use her action to drop her owner's honour to enable Forgery or Alibi Artist.
Shosuro Sadako features awful stats for her 2-fate cost. That is, until she is dishonoured, at which point she becomes a fearsome 4/4 who can now be readied with Kyuden Bayushi. Shosuro Sadako synergises well with a number of cards. From the Shadows allows her to enter play for free dishonoured (although with no fate she will leave play at the end of the turn). Discourage Pursuit can be used as a reverse Banzai!, although only with an Earth role. Finally, she can be given a set of Infiltrator's Tools to grant her the Covert keyword.
Each clan has access to an in-clan Magistrate. Each of these is a dynasty character who, when either attacking or defending, nullifies the skill of opposing characters in a particular way. In the case of the Scorpion, however, Cunning Magistrate is a conflict character who can nullify opponents when both attacking and defending.
The strength of Cunning Magistrate has seen him added to the restricted list, and thus he only occasionally sees play in the current competitive meta.
Shosuro Miyako (the conflict version of the earlier dynasty version) is a valuable Disguised character who most often replaces Goblin Sneak, Keeper Initiate, or Seppun Truthseeker). She is one of the few tools Scorpion have to discard a character who is not participating in the current conflict, and offers decent stats and the Shinobi trait once in play.
When categorising these cards by cost and then alphabetically the first Scorpion event card to be discussed is Backhanded Compliment. There is a certain irony here as in most Scorpion victories this is the last card their opponent will see.
Backhanded Compliment is the ultimate 'closer' for Scorpion. Once an opponent drops to 3 honour they are at risk of being dishonoured out via sassy remarks made by Scorpion courtiers. In effect, one's starting honour can almost be thought of as 3 less than its printed value, provided Scorpion can draw all three Backhanded Compliment. Even if they do not draw all 3, bringing an opponent to 2 or 1 honour is often enough to close the deal.
The card is Keeper locked, which is cold comfort as this allows Keeper Initiate to contest the Imperial Favour, whilst also acting as an effective Disguised target for Shosuro Miyako.
There is no counter to Backhanded Compliment other than cancel effects, and it effectively ensures that an opponent's bid must be dropped from Round 2 onward. If dropped too far, however, I Can Swim can be used to discard key characters.
Finally, Scorpion players can sting themselves by using Backhanded Compliment to draw their own card. This is best done only as a last resort, and is usually a source of great relief to their opponent.
From a thematic and aesthetic standpoint Duty is a magnificent card. The Ukiyo-e art (present on all Philosophy cards) by B D Judkins is striking, and the idea of the Scorpion clan being willing to perform an act of great dishonour to fulfil Bayushi's vow is wonderfully on point.
Unfortunately, even as a Limit 1 per deck card Duty proved too powerful and has now been restricted.
Criticism of the card focuses on its interaction with the honour bid in the Draw phase. When an opponent's honour begins to approach 0 they are forced to bid 1. Keen to keep their opponent's honour low the Scorpion player will also bid 1, and then rely on their myriad of other draw mechanics to maintain card advantage. However, a 5 bid by the Scorpion player, which would drop them below 0, can be interrupted by Duty to cancel this honour loss, gain 1 honour, and then draw the 5 cards.
This 4-card swing was ultimately judged too powerful, resulting in the card's restriction and thus failure to make the cut in competitive decks.
A much more reasonable replacement for Forged Edict, Forgery, significantly, costs one fate, and also requires that the Scorpion player have less honour than their opponent. This encourages the use of cards such Bayushi Manipulator and Assassination to proactively drop honour, which actively reinforces the belief that Scorpion should never have to suffer any negative consequences for their actions.
Still, at least it costs a fate.
The sister card of Way of the Crane, Way of the Scorpion is the primary tool used by Scorpion players to dishonour opposing characters.
Unlike Court Games it can be played in a military conflict, and the Scorpion player can choose the target character. Once dishonoured, the target character's skills are reduced, they will cause a 1-honour loss when they leave play, and they become vulnerable to cards such as For Shame! and and Noble Sacrifice.
Calling in Favors is the primary tool for Scorpion attachment control. It is fairly costed at 1 fate, and features the common Scorpion requirement that a character be dishonoured.
Where it differs from other attachment control methods is that it steals, rather than discards, the target attachment (like the banned Karada District). If the attachment has unique targeting requirements (for example, Curved Blade) which prevents it from attaching to the friendly character, it is instead discarded.
Expect to see 3x Calling in Favours in all Scorpion decks. While the number of attachments being played in the meta is in constant flux, simply being able to remove a pesky Finger of Jade can be reason enough for a Scorpion player to run Calling in Favors.
Bayushi Collector is another Scorpion attachment removal card, however his high cost and tricky set up requirements mean he rarely sees play.
Kireko-ko is another tool in the Scorpion bow arsenal. It is fairly costed at 1 fate, and should gave any opponent pause when considering triggering a character's action ability. As it does not target it cannot be cancelled by Finger of Jade.
A wonderfully flavorful card, I Can Swim is the primary Scorpion in-clan kill effect. The costs and set up requires are fair: the Scorpion player must pay 2 fate and have a higher bid on their honour dial, and the target must be a dishonoured character participating in the current conflict.
Playing against I Can Swim becomes more difficult the longer a game lasts. As honour is inevitably drained away it becomes necessary for an opponent to lower their you bid, which leaves key characters vulnerable to being discarded. Keeping characters honoured (or at least neutral) is a fair defense, although Scorpion will generally have more ways to dishonour an opponent's characters than they have to honour them.
Because I Can Swim is a targeted ability Finger of Jade can be used to cancel the effect.
One of the ultimate swing cards, A Fate Worse Than Death is restricted because of the awesome amount of pain it inflicts upon a single character. While the character is not discarded (hence the name), they are effectively neutered for the current conflict, and likely the remainder of the current phase.
Note that the effects of the card occur simultaneously and that protection against one will not cancel the others. If played against a Borderlands Defender then she will not be bowed or sent home, but the blanking of her text means a subsequent A Fate Worse Than Death will have the full impact upon her.
4 fate is a lot to pay for a single event. That said, the ability to bow, send home, dishonour, remove a fate from, and bow a character, is significant. It is vulnerable to being cancelled, but then Scorpion generally have ways to cancel their opponent's cancels in return.
Scorpion have a wealth of choices on the restricted list (a backhanded compliment in itself), but A Fate Worse Than Death is still a tempting one.
Scorpion thrive in the shadows, their tools deception, deceit, and treachery. Scorpion use misdirection and trickery to appear weak, concealing their true intent behind a venomous grin. This philosophy is reflected in the cards of the Scorpion, and guides how competent Scorpion play the game.
The Scorpion are the villains of the Empire, and they thrive in the infamy.
It would be wise to remember the parting words of every Scorpion sensei:
Everyone lies. Even me.