The Emerald Dojo
A Legend of the Five Rings Strategy Site
Deckbuilding for Skirmish
Updated 31 May, 2021.
In early 2020, Tyler, lead designer for Legend of the Five Rings, came with the announcement of a new way to play the game. This new game mode is called Skirmish, and it is characterised by being a shorter and more tense way to play the game. In this article, we will be providing the rules from the format (which can be found here too), as well as talking about how these affect deckbuilding.
The rules of skirmish (and how the number three is the best number)
Winning the game
The objective of the game has changed slightly to what we had before. There are three ways that the game is won/lost in the core mechanics:
Breaking provinces. Just as before, most games are won by breaking provinces from the opponent. Unlike what we had before though, there are only three provinces in total, and all are in the row. Once all three are broken, the owner of those provinces loses the game.
Honour victory. You can still win by having enough honour. The number to aim for has gone down though. You will win at 12 honour.
Dishonourable defeat. As before, a player loses the game once they are at 0 honour.
Another thing I need to mention here is that Skirmish is suggested to be played in a best of three format. Three is the magic number after all, and this is in part to offset the change in the game's duration for competitive play.
We still have our two decks from before, but there have been some big changes.
No more stronghold! That's right, the most consistent card of your deck is gone. The impact this has is immense, because strongholds would lead to very unique effects or they would radically warp how the game is played. This is no longer the case, making the mental burden to keep up with all ongoing or on-table effects lighter. Unfortunately, there are a number of cards that rely on a stronghold to shine (e.g. Radiant Orator without Isawa Mori Seidō is fairly easy to play around). Cards that fall in that category lose a lot of their lustre in the skirmish mode.
No more province cards. This is another way the game is simplified. There are no more defensive bonuses for your provinces. Each province you have is a blank card with 3 total strength. This removes a significant advantage that the defender had. This was very apparent for my style of decks, as I tend to lean heavily on my provinces to help mount a solid defence. It also means that all cards that care about face-up or face-down provinces don't work in this format, nor do any cards that care about the element of a province. Sad times.
No more role cards. Another simplification, and this one hurts a lot. There are no roles in skirmish, which means a bunch of cards do not exist in this format because you cannot play any card that says "X role only" on them. This one is a painful pill to swallow because a lot of good and fun cards are hidden behind the roles.
Decks are 30 cards minimum and 40 maximum. The deck size dropped to a mere 30, but it's not at all less diverse, because:
No more than 2 copies of a single card. This is a big change to before, and it means that you are playing a more diverse deck than you did with 40 cards and three copies of every card (also this confused me because it broke the rule of three!). With only two copies of a card, you would run at a minimum 15 different cards in a deck. If you try the same exercise with 40 cards and three copies, you are running 13 triplets and a single 14th card.
Each clan can splash 6 influence from a single other clan. Another way that the game is standardized is by making everyone able to splash just as much as any other clan, and six is the amount of influence you have to spend across your decks. Wait, decks? Isn't there only one deck? Well,...
There is a third deck: The sideboard of 10 cards. We must try to stick to the rule of three after all. The sideboard is a deck of 10 cards that can be switched between games in your best of three. This can contain dynasty and conflict cards, and as mentioned above can contain cards from other clans, but you are still limited to 6 influence of cards from one other clan across all of your decks. This is a game-changer, because now you can slot in more narrow cards for the match-ups where you need them (but that aren't great in the most common games). A good example for what to put here are cards that gain honour so that you can combat dishonour strategies.
Changes to the overall game
It's not only deckbuilding and the main objective that have changed, but there are tweaks throughout to the rules of the game. I'll go over them one by one, and provide some thoughts on how this changes the game for the player.
3 cards in hand. With a smaller deck comes a smaller starting hand size. The mulligan rule is still the same though.
Honour dials go from one to 3. This is a really big deal, as it reduces the card flow in this game mode. A recurring theme in this game is that resources are much more scarce. Together with the previous rule, cards are much less plentiful (going to 9 cards to just 6 on turn 1). It is highly recommended that you give cards that draw more cards an extra look in this mode.
Everyone starts at 6 honour. Another big change is that honour is in lower supply. Cards like Assassination take on a new meaning once it costs half your starting honour to play. This also means that some cards that need you at a certain honour total receive a big upgrade. Tyler did however consider this and banned Alibi Artist right away, but some others are still allowed like Shadow Stalker. This starting total also affects duels, but we'll get back to that later.
Each player receives 6 fate. A lower fate income make all characters that cost a lot of fate much less desirable to play. This is a format where characters that cost 2 are massively improved because you will have trouble buying more than one character if you want to buy 4s and 5s with fate. For 2 drops, they still need to be worth the 2 fate investment, but at least getting them assassinated will be much less common.
No Passing fate. This is one mini-game I am not sad to see go away. You aren't punished for making multiple buys in the dynasty phase. This means that unlike in stronghold where you want to make efficient purchases, in skirmish you want to utilize your full dynasty flip each turn.
No actions from Hand. Another simplification is that there's no actions from hand during the dynasty phase. No longer will you get hit by way of the Crab during dynasty which is a win in my book.
One conflict. You only get one conflict per player. The effect this has is pretty big. If I now hold back a character from an attack, my opponent can opt to just fully defend and waste my character at home for the turn because there's only one other conflict that can be declared, and my opponent decides when and if to do that. It also means that effects that ready a character are less in demand, because there's just fewer conflicts that you need to ready characters for. As a minor note, this also improves Shiba Tsukune a lot because you'll have two good rings to resolve always.
Imperial favor is +1 strength to each conflict with a participant. This is another simplification, and a fairly convenient one at that. Not much else to add, let's move on.
No unopposed honour loss. Dishonour strategies have received a major blow because of this addition. If you wish to dishonour your opponent, you will do so by burning every honour they have through card effects because the game doesn't lead to players losing honour as easily as before.
No fate on unclaimed rings. A consequence of having just two conflicts but 5 rings. This has a very significant effect because it means for most decks, the only fate you get is the 6 fate during the dynasty phase. This makes it much more important to have ways to gain fate throughout the game if those options are available to you.
Cards are not discarded from broken provinces. Another simplification is just throwing away the rule that dynasty cards must be discarded if they're on a broken province. In practice this hasn't come up that much, but technically this means that you don't reshuffle your dynasty deck if you do not want to.
Air takes 1 honour from the opponent only. The rings were rebalanced, and the most obvious one was the Air ring. Having 6 starting honour and gaining two per turn would be a bit much, so now you don't get to choose; It's always taking one honour from the opponent.
Earth draws a card or discards a random card from your opponent's hand. The Earth ring was cut in half because card resources are much less common.
Water bows or readies characters with 1 fate or fewer on them. Because there's fewer conflicts in general, the water ring needed a buff to make it worthwhile. The new effect means characters with 1 fate on them aren't immune to the water ring, which makes this ring feel similar to the void ring in that you are taking away the bowed character for the current turn, whilst the void ring takes away the character for the future turn. Of note, this means you cannot ready a character with 2 fate or more on them either.
Dueling is radically different. As before, players still do the bid, but do so with the smaller bid dial. The outcome is then altered by the relative strength of the two characters in the duel. The character with more skill will increase the player's duel value by 1. This means that when Hida Kisada duels a Solemn Scholar, that he's adding +1 to the duel over the solemn scholar rather than the +6 in the old system. The effect this has on duels is immense, because this means Solemn Scholar can tie with Hida Kisada in a military duel if her player bids 3 and the Crab player bids 2. The Kisada player can still win the duel if they bid 3 on their dial, but that might mean they're giving the opponent one or two honour. The bidding game and bluffing game therefore is much more interesting here than before because no duel is a guarantee unless if the player with the better duel wants to pay honour for the effect. I like this change because it makes duels more of a mini-game than under the old system where they were just events with an extra condition to meet.
Reshuffling costs 3 honour. Three is the best number.
A new banlist. With the above rules, some cards were immediately (or less immediately) addressed for warping the game, like the aforementioned Alibi Artist.
Some take-away items for deckbuilding
Fate is very limited. You will want to lower the curve of cards in your dynasty deck further, and buy cards that cost 3 or less fate much more frequently than before. Still, big characters can still do things that cheaper characters cannot. I would certainly play Shiba Tsukune in this format because she attacks resources like no other. In general, any card that generates fate or discounts other cards should receive a closer look in this format because fate is in such short supply.
Trying to bank fate? Gotcha!
Even better here than in stronghold
Cards are very limited. Similar to fate, cards are much less common, and because you don't draw as many cards as before, bid 1 strategies are much more valid because the difference isn't 5 cards to 9 anymore, but 4 versus 6, which is easier to overcome. I would highly recommend to play as many ways to draw extra cards as you can in this format. Similarly, you should take a look at effects that discard cards from the opponent, because those are much stronger when this resource is much more easily exhausted.
Much more potent than before
This card can get some spotlight because provinces break easily and draw is in short supply
Duels are much worse, but not unplayable. Because you're paying a premium to force a duel your way in skirmish, these cards aren't auto-includes as they are in your tower deck in stronghold. They are still playable though, but you must be interested in trading the duel's outcome for an honour transfer if you want to go deep on duels. Generally, I would recommend to only play a duel if it is important to your game plan, and consider looking at it like you are always paying honour on top of the basic effect.
Provinces must be defended and break easily. With only three strength and no defensive ability, provinces are very fragile and break to most attacks that are uncontested. This is in a format where Banzai! still exists, so any way to supplement your ability to hold a province is valued highly.
In a format with just one conflict per player, this card is much better than it ever was because you don't get bowed in political conflicts first.
With fewer cards, there's fewer restricted attachments floating around anyway. This card sticks much more frequently.
Honour victory is easier to achieve. With only 6 honour that you need to climb and an abundance of cards that gain honour, it's much easier to attain a honour victory especially because there's no unopposed conflict to drag you down.
On the flip-side, dishonour still exists, but lost both Backhanded Compliment and unopposed honour loss. When you want to dishonour an opponent, it is recommended to use cards that dishonour characters.
I don't exist in this format!
The card that was previewed by being pre-banned from skirmish.
Readying characters is much less important, but it's still important. As mentioned earlier, there's only one conflict per player, so there is much less of a need to have a way to ready a character. It is however still good because it's so easy to snipe a province.
Movement is also something to keep in mind, because you may want to move out of a conflict if your opponent decides to trade provinces and hope to win next turn when they have the first conflict. I would go as far as saying that it is more important than ever to have ways to move characters because you can just get sent home and sit there while your opponent attacks your resources. There's no second conflict to participate in unless if the other player so desires.
A format staple between low province strength and a bias to cheaper characters
Even better than in stronghold
Niche strategies get punished by the sideboard. The sideboard really makes the narrow strategies that focus on one aspect of the game worse than before. For example, if I am still building around one character, your opponent brings in Cloud the Mind to throw a wrench in those plans. Going full military might be met with Shiba Peacemakers or their blades from your opponent. The presence of a sideboard balances the playing field a bit because you must build a deck that can win a post-board game too.
The skirmish format shakes up a lot of rules, and the end result is an elegant ruleset with its own nuances on what is good and not. It is also a much more even game because everyone starts with the same set-up, honour and influence. I have found it an enjoyable experience, but lament that I haven't been able to play this as this was released just as the pandemic started.
Finally, it's a pity that many cards don't work in skirmish because of its rules, but I also really like the ruleset and wish some aspects of it made it into stronghold. I know we will never see an expansion centred on skirmish now, but it had more than enough potential to lead to a great product.
Still, I hope you try out this format once you're given the opportunity, because it is a really solid experience all on its own.