The Emerald Dojo

A Legend of the Five Rings Strategy Site

Deckbuilding Introduction

By Severijn#5194

Updated 31 May, 2021.

Building your first Legend of the Five Rings deck (or even second, third and later) can be daunting, especially as you will be building two decks and a province row. This section will walk you through the basics of deck construction and provide you with advice on how to make a deck that isn’t just a technically legal pile of cards, but something more along the lines of playable.

I will cover how I approach deckbuilding too, but bear in mind that there’s more than one way to approach deckbuilding. If you already have a way that works for you? Great! Feel free to skip parts of this, and I hope you have at least been entertained by my methods.

Rules Overview

First things first, let us review the requirements for a tournament-legal deck:

  • One stronghold, which identifies how much influence you have, your fate income, clan identity and starting honour.

  • One role, either an elemental Seeker or Keeper role, or a support role (e.g. Support of the Unicorn). Your role choice grants you several benefits, including some that affect the deckbuilding aspects. Your role might provide extra influence for out-of-clan cards, allow play of a second province of your chosen element, or allow you to include role locked cards (e.g. cards with text like “Seeker role only”).

  • Five provinces, one for each element. If you have a seeker role, you can run two provinces that are of your role’s element, which means you are cutting one of the other elements from your provinces. Some provinces have multiple elements, and you can include them as your pick for either element. Each province is unique and can be included only once per deck.

  • 40 – 45 cards in the dynasty deck. You are allowed to play 3 copies of each card in this deck, unless the card specifies otherwise (check max 1).

  • 40 – 45 cards in the conflict deck. You are allowed to play 3 copies of each card in this deck, unless the card specifies otherwise (looking at you, Duty). There used to be a limit on the amount of conflict characters in the deck, but this was removed from the rules in a later rules update by FFG. Your conflict deck can include cards from one clan besides your clan identity provided by your stronghold. Each card included from a different clan must be purchased with influence (the bamboo sticks on the bottom of the card). The amount of influence you are allowed to splash is determined by your stronghold and your role choice. Note: Conflict cards from clans without bamboo on them cannot be played by a different clan.

  • You can pick up to 1 card from the restricted list and play as many copies as allowed per the above bullet points.

From left to right, Shizuka Toshi is your stronghold, which makes your main clan Crane, and it provides you with 2 bonus province strength, 11 honour, 7 fate income per turn, and 10 influence. Here we go with Dragon as our ally. Let Go is a commonly splashed card of the Dragon clan, and has two bamboo sticks on the bottom. Niten has no bamboo on the card, and cannot be played out of the Shizuka Toshi stronghold.

The Core Idea

The deckbuilding rules tell you what is required for a legal deck, but it is not where decks begin. The place where decks start is the core idea. This is the vaguest part of the guide, because your core idea starts with you being creative ("daydreaming") and thinking about something you want to try in the game. This could be as basic as “I want to build a Crane Courtier deck out of my core set”, or it could be about a card you want to build a deck around to show to your friends that it is actually playable (why hello there, The Mirror’s Gaze). It can be any aspect of the game that you want to expand from, or even just be that you want to put your own spin on a popular competitive deck.

No matter your reasoning, the most important thing is that you end up with a clear idea of what you want to build around.

The First Draft

Once you have chosen your core idea, you should think of how that core idea can help you win the game, and build towards supporting that strategy. For example, let’s say that my core idea is to build a Crane Courtier deck out of the core set: we start by inspecting the courtiers available to us.

Reviewing these Courtier informs us that they are slanted towards political conflicts, and that they like the honoured status. This, like any core idea, creates some "no duh" ramifications on what you should put in your deck:

The next step is clearly defining how we will win the game. You can do this in broad strokes first, and then go to more detail. The two most common ways to win in the legend of the five rings are:

  • Conquest: Break all of the opponent's provinces.

  • Dishonour: Reduce the opponent's honour to zero.

There are other options as well, such as honour victory and "I win the game" cards like Enlightenment. Here you need to decide which way you prefer to win most of your games. We will be putting cards in our deck to support this route to victory.

For this deck we will try to win primarily by breaking our opponents provinces. The next question to ask ourselves is how we will facilitate this. You could for instance decide that you want to bypass the defenders entirely with covert from Political Rival, in which case we can browse for cards that remove defenders from the conflict, like more Covert in Tattooed Wanderer and ways to occupy defender in other conflicts with Doji Challenger, and we can also use the Courtier-specific cards Outwit to this end. Another way to win these conflicts is with cards that bow the opponent, such as the Crane stronghold Shizuka Toshi, For Shame!, or Admit Defeat. It is also viable to lean on the card draw provided by Asahina Storyteller or the honour exchange from Kakita Asami to start denying resources. Denial of resources could lead to a position where your opponent simply doesn't have enough material to stop an assault from breaking a province for little investment. Of note here is that this pushes us more towards the Dishonour strategy. This could be our secondary way to win the game. It is best to think of decks being on a spectrum of these victory conditions. Decide which of these you want to pursue and find those that help each other out. For instance, Kakita Asami and Shizuka Toshi both want you to reduce your opponent's political stat in the conflict.

Once you have thought about how you will win the game it is time to think of what your opponent will do, and the most basic thing to do is shoring up the military weakness that we have here. We should play all the cards in Crane that give us a fair bit of military like Brash Samurai, Daidoji Nerishma and the neutral cards that achieve the same, like Banzai! and Fine Katana. This suffices when you are starting out, but as you play the game more, this comes down to learning the metagame. For example, we should be playing several cheap characters because Way of the Crab should not be allowed to hit one of our more expensive characters. We should play event cancellation like Voice of Honor to prevent Phoenix from burning our characters' fate or whenever they try to ready a big Shugenja so that they can join the next conflict, and likewise to prevent Unicorn from playing Cavalry Reserves or Captive Audience.

So now we have a pile of cards that can easily exceed the maximum number you are allowed to play. So which of these should you play? The first factor to consider is your fate economy. You receive 7 fate a turn on average, and in later turns you can gain extra fate from rings and some cards. You should decide how you plan to allocate your fate on an average turn. You could say that you want to be sure you have great odds at finding a 1 cost character so that Way of the Crab does not get you, and you want one bigger character besides that one that you can buy with a couple of extra fate. You get around 4 dynasty cards a turn, so you should include between a quarter and a third of your deck to match each of those criteria. It is here where we can also start thinking about how many holdings we should play. Remember: a dynasty card you didn't buy is a dynasty card lost. You will want a quarter of your deck to be holdings so that 1 of these dynasty cards can at least contribute in some other way even when you don't buy the card.

Note: a more scientific way to get your distribution right would be with the hypergeometric calculator and some maths on calculating odds, but don't worry too much about this when you are starting out.

On the conflict deck, you can do the hypergeometric calculations too, but for simplicity's sake, you want over half your deck to cost 0 fate. Every card in your conflict deck that costs fate will be competing with other cards demanding the same from you. Cards that cost fate/honour do have more powerful effects, so it is a matter of picking those that are the most important to your strategy. Cards that are more conditional to play are a good indicator for where to start when you decide on where you want to start cutting cards. You should also do a similar exercise for cards that cost honour to use, like Banzai! and Assassination. Again, you can do these calculations with a basic course in probabilities, but here is a summary for the number of copies:

  • 3 copies: This card is vital to your deck and you want as many copies as possible.(e.g. Voice of Honor, Court Games, Way of the Crane)

  • 2 copies: This card is still important, but it has a factor that limits the times where it is good, because of its condition or additional fate/honour/influence costs. (e.g. Political Rival, Tattooed Wanderer)

  • 1 copy: The card becomes worse in multiples because it is unique, has a prohibitive cost and/or is very situational. (e.g. Admit Defeat, Assassination)

Field Testing

Once you have gone through the above exercise, it is time to pilot the deck. Things might go well, things might go poorly, but don't do major changes right away to your list; get a feel for how your deck plays first (unless if you see that it has major mistakes in it). Whenever you play a new deck for the first time, there will be mistakes due to player inexperience as well as deck construction mistakes. It is vital that you play the list enough so that you are able to distinguish between the two types of issues. Once you have played it a couple of times, it is time to re-iterate your design and make updates to improve your list to the point where it is more competitive (or in some sad cases, scrap your list because the core idea just isn't working). You will go through this process a couple of times before the major changes are at an end.

Re-iteration, Reducing your Development Cycle and the Meta Guidelines

Building your first deck will be challenging when you are new to the game (and this is fine and expected, and in no way reflects poorly of you, dear reader. Also, you are great and breathtaking!). As you rebuild your deck you will learn what your faction is strong/weak at through experience and can build to address your weaknesses. If this is your first draft, your list will be very unrefined and it will take many re-iterations to get to a deck that can compete against a more experienced player. The bright side is that this will become easier the more you do this. The first draft of your next deck will likely need less iterations to get to an effective state. Besides the obvious benefit here, this means you will also have more opportunity to explore the breadth of the card pool and find more enjoyment that way.

As you continue re-iterations, you will learn to handle the concept of the metagame and arrive at (amongst others) the following meta guidelines:

  • I need a plan for dealing with both military and political conflicts. You can only ignore a conflict type until it loses you the game. The main ways you can address this is by either playing enough to both conflict types, racing your opponent to get the first conflict at their stronghold or by forcing conflict types with cards like Rally to the Cause.

  • I need a plan to deal with getting dishonoured/choked on resources. Dishonour decks will stifle you on cards and either bleed you for honour, or deplete your resources to the point that they can break your provinces at little cost. Ways to mitigate this include playing cards that either give you honour or that provide auxiliary card draw (like Imperial Storehouse).

  • Dealing with big character (or "towers"). Because of passing fate, there is an incentive to buy just one character and load this up with as many cards as you can, creating a stack or 'tower' of cards. The tower is built to win any conflict it participates in, so you need ways to deal with it, which could be discarding that character or bypassing it entirely.

  • I need ways to ensure my characters aren't easily bowed or bypassed by Covert. Due to the incentive to buy bigger characters, cards that ready a big character are very potent on their own to maximize your investment, but also help against one of the ways players use to deal with big characters: bowing the big character. The other solution is the Covert and kill mentioned in the above point. It pays to have ways to deal with these.

  • Can I handle a deck that is skewed to military? There are decks out there that will only focus on military and never mount a potent political presence because of cards in their faction that hack conflict types to military, as well as create extra military conflicts. These decks win in very few turns and do so by reaching your stronghold before you hit theirs. You need tools to slow down decks of this nature, like event cancellation or a card that sends home a military character so that you at least retain the province.

  • I don't want to get run over by Way of the Crab. Play enough cheap characters or ways to save a better character from being sacrificed.

  • I will remember that Assassination is a card. Don't build your deck around loading up a cheap character with tons of fate so that you aren't blown out by it.

Being aware of the meta and understanding how certain cards/match-ups play out will help you a lot with any new deck you build.

Final Thoughts

This was a lot to take in, but don't worry. We all had to begin somewhere, and nobody's first deck followed all of the guidelines and advice above. It is totally fine to just start out making a deck that focuses on parts of this guide and slowly expand from there and refine both your decks as well as your deckbuilding ability. Good luck!