The Emerald Dojo
A Legend of the Five Rings Strategy Site
Lion Clan Meta Guide
Updated 31 January, 2021.
This guide covers the three primary archetypes of the Lion Clan, and an overview of how to build the decks.
The Tower-Lion archetype relies on individual, powerful characters to participate in as many conflicts as possible, so it's only fitting that we start the exploration of this deck type with an overview of the best characters to focus on. Of course, there are few better Commanders in the game than Kitsu Motso, who can force the opponent to commit resources to conflicts they cannot win, on top of being an excellent body for his cost. Matsu Tsuko is another strong contender, since she need only win the conflict to break, regardless of the province's strength. Additionally, her high military skill makes her a powerhouse of a character, especially while honored, and one of the clan's best recipients of Way of the Lion.
Once upon a time, these two represented the Lion Clan's best options for a tower character, but lately, there's a new character that has overshadowed them by virtue of its sheer efficiency...
Getting three extra cards' worth of value each round, the Master Tactician represents the pinacle of Lion efficiency. There are few who can contend with the barrage of additional cards that a Lion player can throw at them with this character, especially later in the game if the Lion player has been bidding low to pressure their opponent's honor. Of course, it does have a weakness in that it is non-unique. Being non-unique exposes it to a number of hostile effects, but most importantly it cannot be readied by In Service to My Lord. So if you're planning on making Master Tactician your tower of choice, be sure to pack some additional readying effects. Still, even with its drawback as a non-unique character, expect to see this card undergoing errata or restriction soon. It's the cause of much salt within the community at the moment.
Secondary choices for your tower character include Matsu Agetoki for his generous military skill, as well as the more recent Master Tactician for his powerful resource-generation. You may also find yourself outfitting Akodo Zentaro, if no better choices present themselves first.
Your conflict deck needs to provide a few specific types of cards: movement, attachment buffs, longevity, and protection.
Movement cards will allow your tower character to enter conflicts that it normally couldn't, either because it was bowed or because it was avoided with covert. The two most common contenders are, of course, Even the Odds (principally used on defense) and Adorned Barcha. Adorned Barcha has the obvious benefit of also bowing an opponent's character on the way in, but Even the Odds has the obvious benefit of not costing 2 fate. Adorned Barcha, and the necessity of taking Unicorn as your allied clan, used to be a given in Tower-Lion, but with the loss of Spyglass, it's no long the automatic default choice, even though it remains a strong contender.
In either case, you're going to need to stand your character up once you get into the conflict, and so a trio of Fan of Command is a must. And speaking of cards that ready characters, Heroic Resolve can be a great way to get additional uses out of your chosen tower. In Service to My Lord is also good here, but I don't have to tell you that; it's good everywhere. One tool that might sound obvious but isn't necessarily a good idea is Sashimono. While not bowing during half (or more) of the conflicts sounds like a stupendous idea, it's 2 fate for a card that doesn't add any modifiers, which makes it kind of a risky investment.
For attachment buffs, you're primarily looking at Blade of 10,000 Battles, Adorned Barcha, and Shori (if you are leaning on Matsu Tsuko). This doesn't sound like very many (and they're all Restricted, so you can only use two at a time), but that's in addition to the incidental buffs from other attachments, and there are several. Your Tactical Ingenuity, Heroic Resolve, and Fan of Command are all adding a little themselves, and so the bonuses really start adding up.
Longevity cards are those which allow your characters to stay in play longer, and there's one very obvious choice: Called to War. Your opponent may get to use it as well, since you're not going to be threatening an honor victory, but that doesn't matter because ideally, your tower character is bigger than any of theirs. Making your tower a unique character, and cycling through your dynasty deck as fast as possible should give you an extra turn or two with it, also. If you're not splashing unicorn for the barcha, consider Dragon for Togashi Kazue, a positively cheeky (if prohibitively expensive) way to fuel your characters. More realistically, though, if you're going to splash in a longevity card, it's going to be the crab clan's Repieve: it's cheap, it's reliable, and it doubles as a pseudo-protection card.
And lastly, protection cards prevent the opponent from doing things to your important tower character that would upset your plans. For many players, this category starts and ends with Finger of Jade, but if you're concerned about more interference, an Above Question lasts longer (though it only protects against events, of course). Other protection cards are the natural include of Defend Your Honor, allowing you to use your character's might to cancel events.
The Honor-Lion deck archetype is one of the most unorthodox play styles in the game, and if you haven't seen it yet, you're in for a ride. The mental state you need to be in to play this deck well is entirely foreign to the rest of L5R.
To begin with, there's only one really viable stronghold for Honor-Lion: Kyuden Ikoma. The high starting honor total and the battlefield control that it offers simply can't be beaten by other options. In a deck where the primary goal is to stall out the game long enough to finish the race to 25, getting the biggest head start and an ability to slow down the opponent is pretty much ideal.
Roles are a far less simple matter, these days. In the early days of Honor-Lion, Seeker of Air was the obvious choice, turning on such options as Soul Beyond Reproach and Forebear's Echoes, both of which are powerful and versatile tools for an Honor-Lion deck. Now, there are some genuinely compelling reasons to take an Earth role, such as Divine Ancestry. Ultimately, while it is still my opinion that Seeker of Air is the superior choice over an Earth role, don't let that hold you back from making the role choice that best suits your style.
To make the role selection process even murkier, the new Renowned Singer character makes a compelling argument for abandoning Seeker of Air, rewarding what you're already doing with additional benefits. In particular, free card draw is exactly the kind of thing that an honor deck needs, because you're more or less relegated to low-bidding in order to pursue your win-condition.
With the recent restriction of Contested Countryside, the appeal of Before the Throne as your strongest Air province option has returned. A quick-and-easy 2 honor gained when the province is broken is enough to push your win condition over the edge more often than not. If your environment threatens Contested Countryside too often, or if you're running Seeker of Air, you should also consider Kenson no Gakka for a second Air province choice. It can serve as an easy source of honor when defended by small characters, as well as a repeatable one if the opponent fails to break it. In fact, with temporary characters such as those called by a Kitsu Spiritcaller or Forebear's Echoes, you can get that honor immediately instead of waiting for the Fate Phase.
The rest of the provinces in your lineup should all be ones which push your win condition further. The Art of War allows you to draw valuable cards without needing to bid higher. Spectral Visitation allows you to grab a character from your discard pile; ideally one which can generate honor. You might be tempted to run Dishonorable Assault as your stronghold province, as it's a reasonably strong province with a decent ability for defending itself. However, in practice you're very rarely going to have the cards in your hand to throw away on that ability. I prefer to put Spectral Visitation under the stronghold, in the hope that the one extra free character is enough to generate the game-winning point of honor.
Now, the part you're really interested in: the character lineup. Honor-Lion is looking for only two things in characters - how much honor they can generate, and how easily. Let's get some obvious choices out of the way.
Hero of Three Trees and Ikoma Prodigy are both absolutely auto-include in the honor deck. Do not consider cutting them. I think it's safe to say that if you are playing Honor-Lion without three of both of these, you're doing it wrong. Bushido Adherent pulls double-duty as both honor generation and hand-size fixing, which is important for a lot of the Lion Clan's effects. Do not mindlessly use his ability, of course, as giving your opponent a free card can situationally wreck you, but more often than not, it's worth trying to use his ability every round.
Kitsu Spiritcaller is every bit as good in this deck as in the Tower Lion deck, but for a different reason. Instead of just trying to get board-presence value by calling in your biggest character, the Spiritcaller allows you to recycle characters that generate honor, as well as to put additional characters into defense on Kenson no Gakka. One of the best plays you can make with this combo is to use Kitsu Spiritcaller to call in two more Kitsu Spiritcallers, and then call in a Hero of Three Trees, who gains 1 honor, and then after you lose, all those character (now honored) leave play, generating absolutely obscene amounts of honor. Of greater value than in Tower, however, is the Spiritcaller Prodigy, since most of your honor generation comes from characters of cost 3 or less.
The core version of Akodo Toturi is a decent card for Honor-Lion, but isn't as indispensable as he used to be. Honor-Lion spends a lot of time losing conflicts, and Toturi only works when you can win. Still, he's a huge body that benefits from Way of the Lion more than any other character, and his ability to double-up on the Air ring makes him too strong to ignore. He's not irreplaceable, but don't discount him out of hand, especially if you're running Forebear's Echoes.
There is a sub-theme in the modern version of Honor-Lion, which is battlefields. There are a lot of good battlefields in the game, now, and having enough of them means that Chronicler of Conquests is functionally a cheaper version of Hero of Three Trees. This is now standard in honor-play, and going without the Chronicler is the exception, but eschewing battlefield does free up a considerable amount of space in the deck.
It's worth noting that there are some cards which become infinitely better in Honor-Lion than they are in any other archetype. These are the cards which optionally allow your opponent to give you honor in order to gain a benefit, or to avoid an effect. Naturally, if you are pursuing an honor victory, then your opponent cannot afford to give you honor, and so these card do not have the drawback they normally would. Procedural Interference and Called to War both function this way, effectively giving you a benefit at no cost. On the off-chance that your opponent chooses to give you honor, I recommend that you ask "Are you sure?" before proceeding with the game. It's only sporting to allow them to reconsider.
One last card worth mentioning that really makes Honor-Lion click is Command Respect. If your opponent is about to wreck your day by playing a bunch of cards during a conflict, head him off with this, and you will come out ahead no matter what. In the honor archetype, it functionally shuts down the opponent's ability to play events, because almost none are worth giving you honor to play. This card is incredibly powerful.
If you wish to build an honor deck, I can recommend the Good Kitty deck, above, as a place to start. However, I would also recommend you experiment with it and adjust it to suit your particular play style.
The Swarm-Lion deck is a forgotten archetype, pushed from the cradle to the gutter before it ever had a chance to prove itself. However, with the new Hayaken no Shiro, Swarm-Lion is finding new life as a fun, aggressive deck that, while it may not be winning tournaments, will definitely put your friends on the back foot.
Many of the classic staples of Lion from the core set days are here: Matsu Berserker, Lion's Pride Brawler, Akodo Gunso... They're all excellent additions to your army. In addition to these, there are several newer members of the Lion family that lie in this 2-cost space. Most notably are the Battle Aspirant and Samurai of Integrity. While the former has a powerful ability to control the opponent's defense choices (mitigating their ability to retaliate), the latter is simply a very cost-efficient character.
Of course, while our favorite diplomat's daughter, Ikoma Tsanuri, can find a place in nearly any Lion deck, she's never more at home than in the swarm archetype. Her low cost, Rally keyword, and ability to shut down potentially dangerous province abilities all plays into Swarm-Lion's penchant for speed and agression. Being a Commander on top of it all really makes her shine. Although she's restricted, she's worth considering as your restricted slot for a swarm deck.
And efficiency is what this deck is all about. Trading small investments against your opponent's larger investments. Your characters are small, but can go toe-to-toe with many larger foes after a single A Legion of One. And should your attack fail, it's of no concern. Not only do you have more characters than most opponents, but you have many ways to re-use them.
In addition to your stronghold, you can use Elegant Tessen and Take Up Command to recycle your small characters, while the likes of Matsu Gohei doesn't even bow at all if given the right circumstances.
Cards which benefit from a "wide" board state are also useful here. Borrowing Ujik Tactics from the Unicorn Clan can be very beneficial, and the Lion's own For Greater Glory permits you to cheaply maintain that board state. Makeshift War Camp, meanwhile, is one of the largest military buffs available to this deck type. Make no mistake: this card will win you games.
On the whole, your conflict deck should be mostly buffs. Your characters don't have especially large numbers to begin with, so you'll need to supplement them with your conflict cards. A Legion of One and Banzai! are excellent, as always, since they are flat increases that aren't dependent on your character's starting values. Conversely, Way of the Lion isn't great here, as it will rarely be as good as your other options. Perhaps counter-intuitively, Court Games is just as good as it is in other lion decks, since your glory values aren't significantly smaller than in other archetypes. It's especially good with Ikoma Kiyono.
Naturally, your province row should reflect your deck's needs. A City of the Rich Frog will give you greater ability to flood the battlefield (especially if you've played Those Who Serve), and Midnight Revels is basically always online if your most expensive character only costs 3.
Your most difficult matchup is, and likely always will be, Crab. They're the only clan that has the defensive military might to blunt our attacks, and their sheer efficiency and brutality is unlikely anything seen elsewhere in the game. Beyond that, only a few fringe archetypes of Phoenix and Dragon are able to consistently shutdown Honor-Lion, and Dueling-Cran might be able to match Tower-Lion's big numbers in a one-on-one.
There is no more versatile or rewarding clan in Legend of the Five Rings than the Lion Clan. Go forth and win honor and glory for your family, for the clan, and for your emperor!
If you consider yourself an expert on any of these archetypes, feel free to message me on Discord and let me know. I love talking about Lion decks!