The Emerald Dojo
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Crane Clan Meta Guide
Updated 25 October, 2020
Welcome the the Crane Clan Meta Guide! Here I will keep you up-to-date about the current Crane builds, and give some advice about how to play them. As the page is still a work in progress, I only have one archetype to show for now. My intention is to add sections about more aggressive builds featuring Take Up Command or Niten Pupil and about honor running decks with Seven Fold Palace. Check back later for those!
The most commonly-encountered Crane deck in competitive play, dueling decks will generally buy a 3 or 4 cost character with around 3 fate on it every turn, seeking to turn some or all of them into attachment-heavy conflict winning machines. Although the "towers" fielded by the Crane do not tend to get as large as a Togashi Mitsu or a Lion tower in a more dedicated tower deck, they can get up to speed quickly by using free attachments as well as the honored status that is more easily gained by Crane characters than others.
What sets the Crane deck apart is its repeatable bow effect in Duelist Training, powerful holdings like Kakita Dojo and Esteemed Tea House, and somewhat reliable cancel effects - Voice of Honor and Defend Your Honor. When things go according to plan, these allow you to control conflicts and the flow of the game. Eventually this will lead to a better board position, and the ability to close the game by breaking the opponent's stronghold.
The first two provinces are the two Eminent ones available to Crane: Tsuma and City of the Rich Frog. Although their text gives nice benefits, the main reason to play these is to enable The Wealth of the Crane. Don't be afraid to let one of them break when the time has come, and try to keep holdings around when you can, even when they landed on either of the Eminent provinces. Getting more honor tokens off Tsuma is just not that important in most matchups, and refilling City of the Rich Frog every turn puts you at risk of decking out.
Magistrate Station is truly the powerhouse of our province line. The ability to ready a character every turn is not to be underestimated. One thing you can do is put Magistrate Station under your stronghold; then wait until all four provinces in your row are revealed - your opponent will probably prefer to attack the Eminent ones for a good while, but you can still reveal the other two yourself with Talisman of the Sun or Doji Diplomat - and then play another Doji Diplomat. This leaves your opponent no choice but to reveal your stronghold province, hopefully giving you a Magistrate Station that is unassailable for at least a few turns!
The downside of this strategy is that your Station will typically not be revealed until later in the game. If you put it in the row, on the other hand, a Talisman or Diplomat can reveal it as early as turn 1.
I recommend to put your Station in the row in most cases, but to change it up sometimes to avoid being predictable. There are some matchups where it is stronger than usual to put it under the stronghold: in the mirror match against another Crane you might both be playing and triggering Doji Diplomats, revealing both players stronghold provinces sooner rather than later. Against Scorpion, you might have some trouble keeping an honored status token around, so maybe you prefer to have The Pursuit of Justice in your row.
In games where you put Station in the row, it should always be The Pursuit of Justice under the stronghold. Its ready effect is a strong defensive ability when combined with the many move-in effects the deck has.
Finally, Shameful Display is in the row just to move conflicts to with Talisman of the Sun (your opponent will probably never choose to attack it on purpose). There are many alternatives for Shameful Display, since you can also pick an Earth province and use City of the Rich Frog as Void: Pilgrimage, Pledge of Loyalty, Upholding Authority, Courteous Greeting, Weight of Duty. Of all these options, I found Shameful Display to be the most valuable in the end.
First of all we have a number of 3 cost characters: 3x Doji Challenger, 3x Kakita Kaezin, and 3x Veteran of Toshi Ranbo. They are good targets to play a bunch of attachments on. It is important that their fate cost is exactly 3: they are expensive enough to be protected from Assassination and at the same time cheap enough to comfortably buy with 3 additional fate on turn 1. This way you can go into the turn 1 conflict phase with 1 fate available, or 2 if you also got the passing fate. A 4 or 5 cost character is much less desirable turn 1, because you would have to compromise on either the additional fate played on it or on the remaining fate going into conflicts turn 1.
Daidoji Kageyu is another 3 cost character, but his role is quite different from the others because he is not a good buy in the turn 1 dynasty phase. You want to play him using the disguised keyword in order to get a “free ready” on a character with some attachments.
Then there is the 9 cheap characters: 3x Doji Diplomat, 3x Doji Whisperer, and 3x Daidoji Netsu. We need some number of cheap characters in the deck to stand a chance against Way of the Crab. Luckily, the new Doji Diplomat fills this role exceptionally well due to its cost of 0. On top of that you can reveal your own provinces (for The Wealth of the Crane and Veteran of Toshi Ranbo) as well as scout out and defuse opponent’s provinces.
Daidoji Netsu fills a role blocking a lot of Crab sacrifice effects, as well as the new Void province Weight of Duty. He also disables Hisu Mori Toride, and can be good against honor Lion builds (to stop Kami Unleashed and Spiritcaller Prodigy) and Phoenix Fushicho builds (to keep Fushicho in play until the fate phase). Occasionally his effect can also be useful against Scorpions or Cranes trying to use Noble Sacrifice. But watch out for Assassination, Netsu is a big target for it! Against Crab you can try to save your cancels for it, against Scorpion you are probably better of not buying him unless they are on very low honor or played 2-3 copies of Assassination already.
Here you might notice some conspicuous absentees: there are no Brash Samurai or Dazzling Duelist in this deck. Although their self-honoring abilities make them very efficient 2 drops, they are less good at fulfilling the primary purpose that this deck has for low cost characters: to shield from Way of the Crab. In other matchups, we are not that interested in buying a 1 or 2 cost character on most turns anyway, since we want to build bigger characters with attachments and readies.
Next, a few slots are taken by more expensive characters: 3x Cunning Negotiator and 3x Doji Hotaru. The former has the powerful Rally keyword, which makes including it so free that I consider it a clear mistake not to play 3 copies. Even if you end up rallying into another Rally card on top of Cunning Negotiator (or vice versa), this will never result in a flop where you have nothing to buy, because you have a serviceable 4 drop ready to go. Meanwhile, Doji Hotaru is a powerful mid/late game threat with her considerable political skill and ability to resolve a ring twice. Her purpose in the deck is to make sure you can break strongholds.
Then there is the 14 holdings: 2x Favorable Ground and 3x each of Esteemed Tea House, Imperial Storehouse, Kakita Dojo, and Proving Ground. They make sure that you are generating value by revealing dynasty cards, since on most turns you are only looking to buy 1 character from among them. Imperial Storehouse can be replaced in case you want to fit in some other card, but you will lose some efficiency overall.
Most of the cards in the conflict deck are not surprising. First let’s talk about the Unicorn splash and a Dominion cycle card: Hunting Falcon. Giving a +1 military for no fate cost, the Falcon is an excellent enabler of Gaijin Customs, while simultaneously boosting our size for duels such as Duelist Training and Kakita Dojo, and on top of that its reaction that lets you peek at a province can make it much safer to attack (especially on turn 1). This all comes at the low price of 1 influence, making it the linchpin of the splash. We fill out the rest by 2x Favored Mount, 2x Talisman of the Sun, 2x Gaijin Customs, and 1x Steed of the Steppes. These cards fit excellently with the plan of building big characters and having them participate (ready or not) in multiple conflicts. Talisman also lets us reveal Magistrate Station when it is safe, and move conflicts away from it when it is about to be broken.
The event suite is straightforward. 2x Banzai!, 3x Court Games, 2x Way of the Crane boost our stats. I have chosen not to include Assassination because it does not work well with Daidoji Netsu, but you can easily slot 1x if you want. The 3 copies of Defend your Honor and Voice of Honor provide a lot of control, with the former triggering Kyuden Kakita and Proving Ground while the latter is usable outside conflicts. Finally 3x Return the Offense allow our characters to stay ready, which is valuable because they tend to have high military as well as high political skill.
The Wealth of the Crane is the payoff for playing the eminent provinces, which would not be that impressive otherwise. After revealing one or two more of your own provinces with Doji Diplomat or Talisman of the Sun, the effect of Wealth is worth its cost by a wide margin. Most of the time it is used to find holdings or duplicates, and maybe one character to buy. Because of the existence of A Season of War, it is normally best to play Wealth in the dynasty phase – after you see your opponent does not have a Season to discard all your holdings – or in the draw phase, to set up your holdings for that turn.
Of these cards, the most flexible slots are the 2x Formal Invitation and 1x Gossip. Those are the cards I would consider removing in case there is something you want to bring in.
Mulligans - Dynasty
Unless we are playing against Crab, we are looking for 1 good character to buy on turn 1. In general I would rank them Doji Challenger > Kakita Kaezin > Cunning Negotiator > Veteran of Toshi Ranbo.
The cost of keeping a Cunning Negotiator is very low, since you will get the next card anyway through Rally; the only cost is that you will have fewer Cunning Negotiators in your deck for later. For this reason I would always keep the first Cunning Negotiator you see, and if you see more than one feel free to keep several.
If you see any of the 3 cost characters (except Kageyu), keep exactly one of them and mulligan everything else that is not a holding, Rally card, or Doji Diplomat. This is because you need one to buy turn 1, but beyond that you are better off looking for holdings. Kageyu should only be kept if you also have a Cunning Negotiator, or A New Name already in hand.
In the case that you have no 3 or 4 cost character at all, I recommend to mulligan everything. This is a point where you should not get greedy and try to keep 1 or 2 holdings, because lacking a good buy on turn 1 will set you back severely and might even lose you the game.
Mulligans - Conflict
My main philosophy for conflict mulligans is to get as many cards as possible that are playable turn 1.
Keep in mind that 15 out of 40 conflict cards cost fate, so when you draw 9 cards their expected total cost is about 3. Since you will rarely have 3 fate to spend on turn 1, it is advisable to prefer keeping free cards rather than non-free cards. That being said, keeping one card that costs fate is fine if you know you want to play that card turn 1. Keeping two is only advisable if you are buying a 3 cost character, are first player so you can likely pass to 2 fate, and you have a very specific plan for both of them.
A universally good card to keep is Hunting Falcon. Scouting out a province turn 1 is strong, and it also ensures your Gaijin Customs are not dead draws. In fact, having a Falcon is so good that I mulligan most cards for it. If your initial 4 cards do not have a Falcon, replace at least two of them and preferably more. When you have at least one Doji Diplomat in your dynasty cards and expect to play it turn 1 (you should not give up passing fate for it), the Hunting Falcons are not as important.
Honorable mentions for cards that are also worth considering to keep go to Fine Katana, Voice of Honor, and Return the Offense. When you have an Esteemed Tea House, keep A New Name unless you are buying a courtier. When you already have a Hunting Falcon, you can consider keeping Gaijin Customs.
Advanced Mulligans per Matchup
Against Crane, the main thing to consider is that your opponent is almost certainly also playing Kyuden Kakita. This reduces the value of cards like Kakita Kaezin and Cunning Negotiator significantly, because your opponent will be able to honor their character off the duel just like you. This also applies to Kakita Dojo to a lesser extent, because it lets you pick their character who is being dueled. Hence Doji Challenger is much preferred.
Against Crab, the existence of Way of the Crab means we have to have a different plan turn 1. The ideal opening is a Doji Diplomat with 1 fate and a 3 drop with 2-3 fate. As a rule of thumb, I would mulligan everything for a Diplomat. Even though Daidoji Netsu is amazing in this matchup, it is better to buy him on turn 2 than on turn 1, because at the start he will be too vulnerable to Assassination and Way of the Crab (outside the conflict phase).
Against Dragon, an especially important card is Kakita Dojo. They have a lot of potent actions on characters, such as Togashi Mitsu (either version) and Kitsuki Investigator. Their military stat also tends to increase during the conflict through cards like Hurricane Punch and Togashi Acolyte. Therefore it is strong to disable their abilities and hopefully bow them early on in a conflict with Kakita Dojo. An Esteemed Tea House can also help a lot against Togashi Acolyte.
Against Lion, our holdings can be all-stars. If you can target a Tactical Ingenuity with Esteemed Tea House before it gets used, they can’t play it again and will miss the draw with selection for that turn. Just like against Dragon, Kakita Dojo is essential in turning off powerful abilities like those on Akodo Zentaro, Ikoma Ujiaki, and others. Against an honor focused Lion deck, you will both be bidding 1 and you will be buried in the card advantage generated by Master Tactician and Tactical Ingenuity unless you can stick a Proving Ground. So in this matchup, you need to focus on flipping and keeping holdings even more than usual.
Against Phoenix, Consumed by Five Fires is the name of the game. We have no direct counter play to it, so we have to try to apply enough pressure with our board while it lasts. Daidoji Kageyu is better in this matchup than in most, because you really need the turn 1 pressure that playing him with disguised can provide. For more info on how to deal with Phoenix, I highly recommend this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bBToBP-68s
Against Scorpion, it is a little dangerous to pile attachments on a character because they might be killed by Noble Sacrifice. At the same time, 1 or 2 cost characters are nearly useless because they will just play Assassination and be happy about it. A good compromise is looking for a 3 coster to play with 2-3 fate depending on whether you think you can protect it. This is another matchup where Daidoji Kageyu shines, as Scorpions usually want to play some cards in political conflicts, especially with Bayushi Kachiko.
Against Unicorn, military stats matter and political stats do not. Doji Challenger or Kakita Kaezin are the best openers, with Cunning Negotiator being worse. Consider putting only 2 fate on them, especially when you are second player, because they might get more anyway from Way of the Open Hand and many of the conflict cards that cost fate are important turn 1. The other thing to look for actively is Favorable Ground. Nothing will ruin your game faster than getting coverted by Shinjo Yasamura and being forced to stand by while they break three of your provinces.
A good alternative to the Unicorn splash described above is to swap the role to Seeker of Void and import some Crab cards instead. Most of the text above still applies, I will mainly note some differences. First of all, a Seeker role means you can get extra fate during the dynasty phase from Doji Diplomat - having 8 fate to spend so early in turn 1 can be a great boon.
You can also play two Void provinces (for example Weight of Duty and Pilgrimage) as well as City of the Rich Frog (which takes the Earth slot, but is still considered a Void province during play). That means the action on Weight of Duty can be used at 3 of your 4 row provinces. We try to amplify this advantage by playing some more cheap characters, as well as 2 cost unique ones. It might seem that Daidoji Netsu would work poorly here; the idea is to sacrifice him to Weight of Duty or Common Cause whenever it suits you.
From the splash we get Common Cause, a ready effect that is extremely efficient at 0 fate cost, as long as you have a character to sacrifice. Here the Doji Diplomat comes in handy. With only 3 influence left after picking up 3 copies of Common Cause, a likely way to fill out the splash is with 3x Reprieve. Saving expensive characters with some attachments is easily worth a card and a fate, and Reprieve has bonus applications protecting against discard effects such as Assassination and Noble Sacrifice.
Note that swapping the splash created some space for cheap cards like Ornate Fan; combined with the "free" ready from Common Cause, that makes this deck a bit faster than the Unicorn splash one. It should be easier to apply early pressure with this build. Weight of Duty can also be used offensively when you attack a Void province, further boosting an aggressive game plan.