The Emerald Dojo
A Legend of the Five Rings Strategy Site
Warriors of the Wind
Updated 31 May, 2021.
Like their founder Shinjo Kami, the Unicorn clan use speed and swiftness to overwhelm their opponents. By far the least competitive clan at launch, the Unicorn have steadily improved over the years, to a point where they now a competitive mid-tier clan.
The Unicorn are a clan that poses questions for an opponent rather than give answers. They have no in-clan cancel, limited attachment control and no targeted character removal. They do, however, have multiple ways to switch conflicts to military, allowing them to use their cheap military pumps to overwhelm defenders. They are also masters of movement, with many ways to move characters in and out of conflicts, and several ways to ready characters when needed. Unicorn players like to pressure opponents to make increasingly uncomfortable decisions about where to commit resources in the face of repeated attacks. There is a danger, however, that if an opponent can weather these early attacks, stabilise, and then counter attack, they can wear down an exhausted Unicorn player.
This primer guide looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the Unicorn clan, and their most commonly-played cards.
Strengths and Weakness
Military: One of Unicorn's key strengths is their ability to focus solely on military conflicts using cards such as Hisu Mori Toride, Captive Audience, and Khan's Ordu. This allows Unicorn players to field more military skill boosts than a normal deck, and thus potentially overwhelm their opponent.
Aggression: Unicorn has access to several effects such as Shinjo Gunso, Cavalry Reserves and Join the Fray that allow them to put characters into play temporarily for a discount. Furthermore, several Unicorn cards get an extra boost when used offensively. This allows for a potentially very strong early game pressure.
Resources: Unicorn have the potential to discount their own cards with Khanbulak Benefactor and tax their opponent's cards with Utaku Tetsuko. They can also call upon fate or honor as needed with Windswept Yurt, although this will gift the same resources to their opponent.
Cancels: Unicorn often relies on expensive events such as Cavalry Reserves and Join the Fray with very limited options to ensure that these resolve. This means that cancels such as Censure, Defend your Honor, Forgery, Voice of Honor etc. are very strong answers that trade up massively in resources when used to cancel one of these key Unicorn events.
Conflict card reliance: Unicorn relies heavily on conflict cards to further their win condition, and the main tool to draw new cards is the draw phase. If the opponent can weather the first storm, force lower bids and use earth ring or other similar effects to pressure the Unicorn player's hand it might mean they're in for a rough ride.
Late game: While Unicorn's early game can be quite strong, they often lack the tools to sustain that pressure for long. Due to their ephemeral nature, most Unicorn cards focus on adding skill for a single conflict, whereas the repeated value of an opponent's characters participating in several conflicts each turn (and in subsequent turns) with a couple of attachments will eventually be a problem.
Of the three Unicorn strongholds, only Hisu Mori Toride has proven consistently competitive. Much simpler to activate than its Lion counterpart, it allows a Unicorn player to declare an extra military conflict each round. This can lead to a cascade effect that overwhelms defenders, often leading to multiple province breaks per round.
The key to playing Hisu Mori Toride is to make sure you can trigger its action every turn if possible. If you cannot win a military conflict with more characters than you opponent, you are left with only a weak political attack. To ensure you can tigger your stronghold, make use of cards which flip conflicts to military, catching your opponent off guard as much as possible while doing so.
Shiro Shinjo, for the most part, remains a stronghold of potential. Since the initial hype following its announcement, it has struggled to find a consistent archetype to compete at tournaments (the Scouted Terrain deck is a notable exception). That said, it does have its fans, and many have found ways to play through a difficult turn one and two to make use of the economic dividends that follow.
The problem with Shiro Shinjo is that it needs to quickly reveal an opponent's provinces, whilst also protecting itself from the opponent's advances. If two provinces are revealed in round 1 then 8 fate is generated in round 2. This is merely breaking even, however, and the stronghold has not provided any additional benefit. By round 3 it should be generating profit, but by this time an opponent has had two full rounds to make use of their own stronghold to gain a strong board and hand. Once its economic engine is running it can become powerful, but it remains vulnerable in its infancy.
There is no getting around the fact that Golden Plains Outpost has very weak stats and a mediocre ability. It provides no bonus to province strength and has only 10 starting honour. In addition, its ability can only be used in a military conflict, and it only moves a Cavalry unit to a conflict, rather than to or from. This can be used to get around covert (although only in a military conflict), and to reinforce defences if needed. Other than that, it cannot be used to withdraw from a losing situation, leaving this core stronghold ability in all respects a much weaker version of Favorable Ground, which is available to all decks as a 3x.
Golden Plains Outpost was relegated to the binder as soon as Hisu Mori Toride arrived, and while it did see a brief resurgence with a tower deck that focused on Fan of Command and Favored Mount, the threat of Curse of Misfortune has effectively sidelined this archetype.
While Unicorn do have some political clout in the form of Speak to the Heart and Iuchi Shahai, most competitive decks prefer to capitalise on military muscle. Khan's Ordu allows Unicorn to do this in spades for one turn, but timing is important. Ideally for the Unicorn player it will trigger early in a turn (possibly aided by Talisman of the Sun or Border Fortress) to maximise subsequent military attacks. If triggered later in a turn, however, with no ready characters available to make use of it, Khan's Ordu becomes a dead province that is easily farmed for the remainder of the game.
Almost always put on the Stronghold, Khan's Ordu is, however, vulnerable to being prematurely flipped in the Dynasty phase by Doji Diplomat which effectively negates its ability. Given this, it can pay to put Khan's Ordu in the row when facing a Crane opponent.
Endless Plains is an interesting one. Sixty per cent of the time it works every time, leading to a cheeky smile and a painful groan when revealed at the right/wrong moment. Every seasoned player has attacked into it with a lone tower at least once, an experience that leaves an indelible mark. Despite its awesome potential, however, it doesn't always see play due to its inconsistency, and the fact that most players have learned to play around it. That said, the mere threat of Endless Plains is enough to ensure that many players will never attack into an unrevealed Unicorn province without a second cheap character or a Finger of Jade. This alone means that the Unicorn row is posing a question that an opponent must answer, and this gives the province value, whether present in a deck or not.
Border Fortress is a Unicorn province that focuses on exploration and scouting. It provides the Unicorn player with the option to reveal a province when it is attacked. One immediate use it to reveal one of the opponent's facedown provinces, either to prepare for a future attack or sometimes also to force difficult choices for opponents playing powerful reveal effects such as Phoenix's Retire to the Brotherhood. Another option is to reveal one of your own provinces to leverage its reveal effect at an opportune time, such as Khan's Ordu.
Border Fortress also synergises well with Shiro Shinjo and The Wealth of the Crane.
The Unicorn eminent province was much maligned upon its release but has recently found play as synergies have been discovered. When using Lion splash, Wind's Path allows a key character to be placed in the province with Logistics, while the "as if it were in your hand" clause in the text means that any characters which enter play receive the discount provided by Khanbulak Benefactor. Finally, the Eminent keyword offers an immediate discount for Wealth of the Crane.
At 2 fate for 1/1 Shinjo Gunso is very under-statted (lower military and political skill than others with the same cost), however, her powerful ability makes her a common pick in Unicorn decks. Unicorn have a number of powerful 1 or 2 cost characters such as Shinjo Yasamura and Border Rider which can enter play for free with Shinjo Gunso. Note that if this character and another unique character are both in the row, it pays to play Shinjo Gunso first as this may put the unique character into into play, who can then be duped from the row.
Importantly, any cards not put into play with Gunso are discarded, not shuffled back into the dynasty deck. This means Shinjo Gunso can quickly fuel Cavalry Reserves..
Shinjo Yasamura is the Unicorn variant of the Crane's Tengu Sensei. At 2 fate (potentially free with Shinjo Gunso) he is a cheap buy for a very powerful effect, and with the first player token his reaction can be used before an opponent has the chance to discard him with Assassination. Counters to Yasamura include Cloud the Mind, Finger of Jade, Tattooed Wanderer, Favorable Ground, and any other card that allows a character to be moved to a conflict.
Border Rider represents excellent value. Despite her average stats, her powerful ability allows her to participate in two conflicts a turn, and she can still contribute 1 military skill when dishonored. She is all-but-guaranteed to be assassinated when a Curved Blade is attached to her, but such is the life of a powerful 2-drop.
Utaku Tetsuko's passive ability means that, while attacking, an opponent must pay one extra fate for each card played from hand. This quickly adds up, to the point where an opponent cannot play any cards at all once their last fate has been spent. If a defender hopes to protect a key province (or Stronghold) from Utaku Tetusko they best be able to blank her text box, send her home, discard her, or be prepared to spend big to stop the assault.
Most Unicorn players consider Utaku Tetsuko a game winning card. Her ability to shut down an opponent's hand enables her to counter one of the great weakness of the Unicorn clan: the inability to deal with an opponent who plays powerful conflict cards to resist critical Unicorn attacks.
Shinjo Shono represents a lot of potential military skill, but only if things go his way. He synergises well with the Unicorn archetype of outnumbering and overwhelming opponents, and can be used to swing key conflicts or enable stronghold breaks. He works well with Cavalry Reserves (both when put into play through its ability, or when already in play before the event), and his Pride keyword means he can effectively follow up a successful attack if readied with Shiotome Encampment. However, if things do not go his way, Shono is an expensive buy that ends up costing his owner 1 honour when leaving play dishonoured.
Khanbulak Benefactor is a resources powerhouse. While four fate is an expensive outlay (she can be cheated into play with Forebearer's Echoes, but not Join the Fray or Cavalry Reserves), she immediately provides two conflict cards, and any subsequent card played cost one fate less (provided she is Dire). Reserve Tents allows her to participate in multiple conflicts, and she can be readied for no fate with Shadow Steed.
Khanbulak Benefactor provides more value the more cards are played in a conflict in which she is participating. With Cavalry Reserves now costing only 2 fate, Join the Fray and Forebearer's Echoes costing 1, and Bonds of Blood being free, she allows very powerful attacks to be made to win key conflicts (particularly on the stronghold).
Nimble Noyan provides an effective counter to one of the great threats to Unicorn decks: having one's characters bowed. No longer do For Shame!, Duelist Training, and Kakita Dojo mean a complete loss of military skill for key characters. Even the mighty Void Fist offers no threat provided a Reserve Tents is in play. In addition, Nimble Noyan can be searched for with Shinjo Altansarnai, and offers excellent military stats for her 3 cost.
Iuchi Shahai is a powerful character who does not quite synergise with competitive Unicorn archetypes due to her lack of the Cavalry trait (although this can be amended with cards such as Shadow Steed or Favored Mount). She is a rare politically-focused Unicorn character, and Covert is always a useful keyword.
Where things get interesting is her passive ability. Unicorn now have quite a number of Meishodo cards, the most commonly-played of which include Talisman of the Sun, Invocation of Ash, Force of the River, and Ring of Binding. These can be efficiently stacked on Shahai to create a powerful tower character who, with a large amount of fate, can be repeatedly straightened through e.g. I am Ready or Steed of the Steppes. That said, tower-focused decks have recently fallen out of favour with the arrival of Curse of Misfortune.
A newer version of Iuchi Shahai arrived with the Temptations cycle, but despite her thematic synergy with the cycle, this version does not see competitive play.
Moto Chagatai is the quintessential 'win more' card. He offers nothing to help his owner win a conflict (other than his admittedly-impressive 6 military skill), but if he breaks a province he is then free to break another two more if HMT triggers.
Most players have had this done to them at least once, but there a number of effective counters to Chagatai's march. If the Water Ring is unclaimed (and he has no fate after being brought into play with Join the Fray or Cavalry Reserves) he can easily be bowed by a political counterattack. His high glory also makes him vulnerable to the Fire Ring. In addition, Chagatai only works if he breaks provinces. As a defender, it can pay to throw excessive resources into defence, such that even if the Unicorn player still wins the conflict, the attacked province is unbroken, leaving Chagatai bowed and ineffective (unless readied through other means). If the Unicorn player throws everything into their first attack with Chagatai, it can also pay to make the second attack the focus for defending; while the first province is sacrificed, at least a potential two more are saved.
While the Core Set Shinjo Altansarnai did have her fans, she rarely saw regular play in competitive decks. Her more recent iteration, however, has some nice synergies which continue to be exploited. Her ability allows for situational tutoring of the Dynasty deck to find key characters. Often this will be a Nimble Noyan, but Border Rider and even Swift Magistrate can be brought into play when needed (sadly, no Khanbulak Benefactor).
The cheated character will have no fate, but if needed can be kept in play with cards such as Command the Tributary.
Ride at Dawn is cool. It has the excellent Rally keyword, and for 0 fate it will force an opponent to randomly discard a card from their hand. This randomisation is important as it can, like the Earth ring, catch haymaker cards before they can be played. While this can never be guaranteed, it is always good to hold card advantage over an opponent. It can be especially good turn 1 when the opponent has only 4 cards in hand that are likely to be more important for the current matchup because of initial mulligan.
The art is also so cool that it was chosen for the 2019 World Champion playmat, won by Shogun Jose Luis Saenz.
Unicorn love to see Shiotome Encampment flop, especially if they have the first player token. This powerful holding allows a key Cavalry character to be readied if its owner has claimed a military ring. In practice, this forces a defender to make difficult decisions about what to commit to a defence, as even a drawn conflict will allow the Unicorn player to attack again with a key character, possibly in another military attack through a Hisu Mori Toride or Captive Audience.
The province in which Encampment is in is a popular target to attack if the opponent has the first player token, and it is also vulnerable to cards such as Display of Power or Kakita Toshimoko which deny the necessary military ring.
Shinjo Kami was known for her compassion, and several Unicorn cards embody this trait by offering benefits not only to themselves, but also their opponents. Windswept Yurt is one such card which allows a Unicorn player to buffer against the inevitable honour loss from repeated Banzai! and Captive Audience (and possibly Unleash the Djinn), plus the continual drain from dishonour decks.
Note that Windswept Yurt refills its province faceup, meaning another card can be played in the dynasty phase, albeit with the probable loss of passing fate. Also note that every now and then a player will attempt the 'Turbo Yurt' deck which runs Windswept Yurt, Rebuild, Way of the Chrysanthemum, and Contingency Plan to very quickly push to 25 honour.
Reserve Tents features the rare "Limit twice per round" clause which be very useful for ensuring key characters are present in multiple conflicts per turn. Popular choices include Utaku Tetusko on attack to shutdown an opponent's hand, Nimble Noyan to provide consistent military numbers, and the ever-reliable Khanbulack Benefactor to discount key cards.
As a 0-fate weapon that gives +3 military on attack, Curved Blade fits perfectly with the Unicorn aggressive play style. It can be used as a once off almost-Banzai!, or it can add value over multiple conflicts or turns when attached to a tower character. Curved Blade can also be used as attachment removal bait. At +3 military it is difficult for an opponent to ignore, but by discarding it they may be enabling subsequent, more-impactful attachments, to stay in play.
With the arrival of the Dire keyword it has become more important than ever to keep characters with no fate in play for another turn. A subtle but effective card, the free Command the Tributary allows a character with fate to move one of their tokens to another character without fate. This can be particularly effective when used on a Keeper Initiate who was brought into play for free to keep a critical card such as Khanbulak Benefactor or Nimble Noyan around for another turn.
Another Unicorn card Ring of Binding offers a similar ability, but requires Way of the Unicorn to work to full effect, which means a big outlay in Conflict cards that could have been spent on other critical cards.
Shadow Steed has a number of things going for it. It is Ancestral, meaning it can be played early on characters who will inevitably be discarded with the knowledge that it is not wasted. The attached character also gains Cavalry which allows it to be readied by Shitome Encampment, or even to be discarded to Hisu Mori Toride (which returns Shadow Steed to hand).
The real benefit of the card, however, comes with Khanbulak Benefactor. Free when played on this character in a conflict, it allows this 2/4 character (while Dire) to be readied and returned to another conflict. The loss of one honour stings, but Unicorn players are used to this and will always have 3x Windswept Yurt in their deck. The attached Khanbulak Benefactor can be kept in play with Command the Tributary, allow this free bow to be used over multiple rounds. Good card.
Talisman of the Sun works well with both aggressive or defensive play styles. For aggressive decks that have little intention of defending, it can steer opposing attackers into dangerous on-break provinces such as Upholding Authority, Appealing to the Fortunes, or Feast or Famine. It also allows a conflict at the stronghold to be moved to the fourth, unbroken province on the row. For more defensive decks, it can be used to steer attackers into more easily defended provinces such as Pilgrimage or Shameful Display, or provinces that offer repeated value such as Border Fortress or Manicured Garden. Note that Talisman is unique so only one copy can be played by each character. Also note that if it is stolen by an opponent, it is still 'owned' (oddly enough) by whoever originally played it so they cannot play another.
Steed of the Steppes requires you to explore your opponent's provinces before enabling the main use of the card. While its early-game +1 military is expensive, but occasionally useful, it is the late-game ready that is the real star. While this is not repeatable, and is vulnerable to attachment control, it can be used to ready Utaku Tetsuko or Shinjo Yasumura for a follow up attack if Shiotome Encampment is unavailable. Since it also gives the Cavalry trait it can allow for any character lacking this trait to take advantage of e.g. Shiotome Encampment.
If an Adorned Barcha enters play one player is going to be miserable. If it is immediately removed, the Unicorn player has lost two fate, and cannot play another copy of this Limited attachment until next turn. If it cannot be removed, or a key character protected with some form of anti-bow protection, an opponent is going to have a Unicorn character with +3 military enter a conflict, while one of their own characters is bowed.
Barcha is the perfect embodiment of a swing attachment. It is expensive, but has a significant impact on key conflicts when its action resolves. It is best played when it has been confirmed that the opponent has no available attachment removal. If this cannot be confirmed, hopefully Curved Blades or other attachments have been tempting enough bait.
A 1-fate conflict character, Shinjo Ambusher allows a Unicorn player to turn off the possibility of triggering an ability on the attached province. This can be used to prevent on-break effects such as Upholding Authority or Restoration of Balance from triggering, or to deny action abilities such as those on Shameful Display or Manicured Garden unless the opponent uses these first. Look for a cheeky Child of the Plains reaction that allows a Unicorn player to do this in the first action in the conflict as well.
Captive Audience is another core staple card in military-focused Unicorn decks. A card that would probably not be printed today, Captive Audience can, for the loss of 1 honour, switch the current conflict from political to military.
This has many useful applications.
If a Unicorn players fails to win their first military conflict while outnumbering their opponent (thus failing to trigger Hisu Mori Toride), Captive Audience allows the follow up political conflict to still potentially trigger a third military conflict. Alternatively, the Unicorn player can launch a tentative political poke for their first conflict, only to switch this to military, potentially leading to an early stronghold proc.
Captive Audience also works equally well on defence to switch a determined political attack in the Unicorn's favour, or to send home a (—) military character on a political poke.
With its 1-fate cost and place on the banned list, Spyglass has been replaced by Spoils of War as the primary enabler of Unicorn card draw. While it initially reads as giving 3 free cards, in practice it only yields one more card after it resolves as the event itself, and one other card, are discarded. That said, it does allow a hand to be tutored by removing unneeded cards for the current match up. It also allows the Unicorn player to over commit in their attack, having some reassurance that spent cards will be replenished to retain card parity. Of course, this assumes that victory is achieved.
Never Yield provides cheap protection against the many bow or move home effects that are frequently used to defend against a Unicorn attack. Importantly, the ability only affects your characters in play at the time the card is played: any characters that subsequently enter play remain vulnerable as usual. Another important thing to remember is that unless you are attacking the stronghold the opponent can just save their bow abilities for the next conflict.
Unleash the Djinn impacts the game in a unique way. It is one of the few cards to 'set' characters' skills to a certain amount. Once set, these cannot be modified, whether by adding (Banzai!), multiplying (Way of the Lion), or switching (Along the River of Gold). Unless another card sets their skill to a different amount, characters participating in a conflict that are affected by Way of the Djinn will stay at 3/3 until the end of the conflict. It is worth noting, however, that the honour bid during duels will add to this amount, as this occurs after other calculations. Lastly, any characters that are played or moved into the conflict after Djinn has been played can still be modified as usual.
3 honour is a high price to pay, but the results of a well-timed Djinn can be spectacular. A character whose military skill has been doubled three times by Way of the Lion will still be reduced to 3 if it successfully resolves, and it allows swarm decks to effectively bring towers down to their level. As with Assassination, it still leaves a 3-honour bill if cancelled, so it pays to hold it as a last resort for key conflicts.
While Unicorn have few ways to bow an opponent's characters, they have an impressive array of send-home options.
For swarm decks, Challenge on the Field is a strong option. It is free, and can be used on the opponent's stronghold. It also synergises with many Unicorn staple cards: Cavalry Reserves, Shinjo Gunso, Shinjo Altansarnai, and Keeper Initiate. Importantly, unlike many other powerful duels it does not allow the opponent to choose who will accept the duel, allowing opposing characters to be sent home with some certainty.
With surprisingly few restrictions (except for non-stronghold province), Way of the Open Hand allows a Unicorn player to send home an opposing participating characters and place a fate on it. This may seem like a high price to pay, but if used carefully on a character who already has plenty of fate, or a cheap character that has been temporarily buffed, it is often worth paying. Also, it allows an attacking character to be sent home when a key province is threatened.
Bonds of Blood might need to be read a few times to be understood, but it's ability should not be underestimated, particularly when it is discounted by Khanbulak Benefactor. It requires only that a cheap friendly character be dishonored and sent home to also send home a key opposing character, and critically can be used during a final attack on an opponent's stronghold.
Join the Fray, while not nearly as effective as the now-banned Charge!, fulfills a similar role. The most value is obtained by putting into play 5 cost characters such as Moto Chagatai or Shinjo Altansarnai, but occasionally it can also be useful with some of the Unicorn player's cheaper characters depending on the situation.
The defining Unicorn card, Cavalry Reserves has been a staple in competitive decks since core. This haymaker event allows a Unicorn player to recur cavalry characters for effectively half price, although they will (without intervention) leave play at the end of the turn.
On the positive side, Cavalry Reserves can find the right characters for the job, whether this be Utaku Tetsuko against a low-fate opponent, Shinjo Shono if there are a large number of friendly characters in the conflict, or multiple Border Riders who can return for later conflicts. On the negative side, it is expensive and vulnerable to being interrupted (experienced opponents will always keep cancels in hand in anticipation of Cavalry Reserves). In addition, it requires a healthy discard pile to maximise its value (Shinjo Gunso helps considerably with this).
Ideally, Cavalry Reserves will recur exactly 6-fate worth of characters into the conflict, so it pays to consider the different possible permutations of this when deck building.
Always restless, Unicorn players like to keep their opponents unsettled and unnerved. They are capable of impressive burst damage, but are also vulnerable to opponents who can weather these repeated attacks, and counterattack against their fragile provinces and strongholds. When attacking with the sun at their back and the endless plains before them, however, there is no stopping the Children of the Wind.