The Emerald Dojo
A Legend of the Five Rings Strategy Site
Unicorn Clan Meta Guide
Updated 25 October, 2020.
During the core and first cycle metas Unicorn was really struggling due to significantly worse cards than all the other clans. However, with the release of the stronghold Hisu Mori Toride in cycle two and subsequent support, Unicorn has risen to a reasonable mid-tier level. Unicorn is currently the only clan with no in-clan card on the restricted list, and is thus free to pick any neutral or splash option. The by far most common competitive builds all center around Hisu Mori Toride, using the extra military conflict and a highly focused conflict and dynasty deck to overwhelm the opponent with big red numbers. The splash for this type of aggressive deck often does not heavily impact its strength or play style. However, Lion, Crab, and Dragon splash have consistently proven useful. Unicorn decks that must care about political conflicts are currently lacking in support, for this and other reasons Golden Plains Outpost and Shiro Shinjo-based decks tend to see relatively little play. We study a Unicorn aggro example deck with Crab splash below.
The most competitive Unicorn builds all rely on the stronghold Hisu Mori Toride (HMT). These all tend to buy one or two low-cost characters each turn and then rely on the conflict deck to push for a win. What sets Unicorn apart from other clans are its haymakers such as Cavalry Reserves that, unless cancelled, will supply an impressive amount of stats for a military conflict. This is an aggro deck that pushes hard for a stronghold break early, especially turn 1 to 3. However, if the opponent can weather this initial onslaught it struggles with the long game.
Khan's Ordu is the stronghold province. It is used to ensure that at least the first time your opponent attacks it it will be on the correct conflict type. Unless you have expended it early using Border Fortress, of course. The deck struggles to put up anything but a token political skill and thus enforcing a military conflict can save you to be able to counter attack and break your opponent's stronghold first. In the mirror matchup it tends to be near useless; you both will likely be stronger in military.
These are the row provinces. Their job is to either give you resources (Appealing to the Fortunes and Border Fortress) or tax your opponent's resources (Endless Plains and Upholding Authority).
Appealing to the Fortunes can be a really big swing and tempo generator if it lets you put a big 5-coster in play such as Moto Chagatai. But sometimes even a Hiruma Skirmisher or just a Border Rider can really help. If the opponent plays around it by attacking Water you at least have the chance to ready the character you put into play with Common Cause. Another solid option is the new Weight of Duty.
Border Fortress either lets you reveal an opponent's province to find dangerous provinces you want to avoid or safe ones to attack. However, another option is to reveal your own Khan's Ordu if you can leverage the extra military conflicts that turn.
Upholding Authority is one of the strongest provinces in the game: its effect lets you remove the biggest threat from their hand to your game plan. This can often be a cancel, ready effects or just a couple of Banzai! to prevent the opponent from matching skill.
Endless Plains tends to go in and out of Unicorn decks. A good player will often be able to play around it by buying a cheap character to attack with, limiting the impact. However, even this drains the opponent of resources which can be advantageous for the Unicorn player.
The low cost characters are crucial to serve as cheap investments in the dynasty phase and good to round out your Cavalry Reserves. The strongest by far is Shinjo Yasamura who for only 2 fate can prevent one of your opponent's characters from defending for the entire turn. Shinjo Gunso fulfills several roles: she can find Shinjo Yasamura, she gives you a character to sacrifice to the stronghold, and it fills up your discard for Cavalry Reserves. Border Rider is another solid value character for the Unicorn aggro deck, despite that its ability can be replicated using Elegant Tessen.
Keeper Initiate is the restricted list choice for the deck. Keeper Initiate lets you gain more characters for free that either initiate conflicts, can be used as sacrifice targets for Common Cause, or just standing for glory to ensure that you obtain the Imperial Favor.
Moto Youth is the only 1 cost Cavalry character worth including. It provides ok stats and can be sacrificed to the stronghold. The deck also includes the newly released Wordly Shiotome, this is definitely a flex slot and requires some suboptimal choices in the conflict deck to ensure her ability can be reliably triggered.
Except for perhaps Utaku Tetsuko, the high cost characters are rarely (if ever) bought during the dynasty phase. Their main purpose is to be cheated into play using cards such as Join the Fray, Cavalry Reserves or Appealing to the Fortunes.
Utaku Tetsuko is one of the best characters in the game and can shut down the opponent from playing cards during important conflicts. Moto Chagatai is an early big threat that can threaten to break several provinces with very limited extra cards committed. Shinjo Altansarnai and Minami Kaze Regulars are both decent targets to put into play; Altansarnai can find more skill or Keeper Initiates and the Regulars give you a rebate on the card you used to put it into play.
Because of the heavy reliance on the put characters into play effects Unicorn runs very character heavy with only about 12 non-character dynasty cards. Shiotome Encampment is a very strong holding that lets you ready a cavalry character if you have a military ring claimed. A common line of play is to buy Utaku Tetsuko with a couple of fate as first player and have Encampment to ready her for a second attack.
Because of the limited amount of defending and lots of cards costing honor Unicorn needs honor gain effects, Windswept Yurt fulfills this need and gives a kind of pseudo-Rally effect. Ride at Dawn and A Season of War are two good events with Rally that can help with card advantage or getting rid of dangerous holdings, events or characters on the opponent's side.
Curved Blade and Fine Katana are great cards to add military numbers. Curved also has the Gaijin trait for Wordly Shiotome and should be used sparingly (remember to play around Assassination by not investing more than what's needed to threaten breaks).
Elegant Tessen provides another non cancellable stand and skill boost for your 1-2 cost characters, usually to go for a second attack but also occasionally useful to snag the Imperial Favor by readying a Keeper Initiate. Talisman of the Sun lets you force the opponent to break provinces such as Upholding Authority or can give you another chance at the opponent's stronghold by forcing them to have to break all 4 of your row provinces before they can break your stronghold.
Shinjo Ambusher is an amazing card for Unicorn aggro. It has 2 military stats, the Cavalry trait and a great ability that lets you prevent the opponent from triggering the province abilities. Most often it will be used to deny abilities that trigger on break, as the opponent can just use the first action window to trigger their province before you get to play Ambusher.
Hiruma Skirmisher is another great card that supplies Covert for the phase. It is even better in Unicorn than Crab because you have access to declaring two military conflicts each turn which means you can use an Elegant Tessen to ready and attack again.
The bread and butter of the Unicorn aggro deck are Cavalry Reserves and Bad Charge! (a.k.a. Join the Fray). These lets you put into play key characters for the conflict that can give large skill boosts and/or important effects. It can be crucial to ensure that these resolve as getting one or several cancelled means you are down a lot on resources (trading a 2-3 fate card vs a 0 fate card). So be wary of cards like Defend your Honor and other cancels.
Shinjo Gunso helps fill out your discard pile early for better Cavalry Reserves options, and try to ensure you have at least one good target, usually a 5 coster, for Join the Fray at all times.
Banzai! provides a lot of military skill for the low cost of just one card and an honor, remember to be vary of Assassination or other ways this investment can be negated. Ujik Tactics provides some military skill but is mainly there for the Gaijin keyword. Unleash the Djinn is a powerful card that can deny all other skill modifiers for a conflict, which can be very useful to combat towers or Way of the Lion spam. Way of the Open Hand is a great send home card that lets you break row provinces for very low investment, and when used on characters that already have fate there is essentially no downside as those characters where going to stick around for the length of the game anyway.
Some toolbox cards for Unicorn. Captive Audience has a very strong effect that lets you turn your political conflict (or the opponent's) into a military conflict instead. This can be useful to trigger Hisu Mori Toride during a conflict you initiated as a political conflict, or just to make all three conflicts military for a turn. Spoils of War lets you draw 3 new cards and get rid of your worst card in hand, and the requirements are low as you'll mostly be attacking and all military anyway. Common Cause is a great ready-ability and Keeper Initiates are good sacrifice fodder, usually saved to re-ready a bowed Chagatai, Tetsuko or Altansarnai. Assassination is another strong card that can let you kill a defender for an easier break, or prevent one of your own provinces from breaking and denying the ring effect.
Turn 1 you really want to see characters. An ideal start usually includes a Shinjo Gunso and a 5-coster for Join the Fray (ideally Moto Chagatai). Other 1-2 costers such as Moto Youth and Shinjo Yasumura are also reasonable to play turn 1. If you are first player consider saving Ride at Dawn which is especially strong turn 1 because of mulligan. Another strong opening as first player is Utaku Tetsuko with Shiotome Encampment.
Only keep Encampment if you have a good character to use them on also or if you want to use it as bait for the opponent to attack. Almost never keep A Season of War turn 1 as you mainly want to use it for its ability which is less useful turn 1. Windswept Yurt is another card to mulligan away unless you don't expect to get passing fate and you're in a matchup that can benefit from extra honor/fate turn 1. Only keep Keeper Initiates if you are also keeping characters you want to buy and put into play with Join the Fray.
Join the Fray is a good card to keep, unless you didn't get any reasonable targets for it. Elegant Tessen is another good card, especially if you're planning on buying a Shinjo Gunso. Way of the Open Hand is another I want turn 1 to ensure Hisu Mori Toride trigger and an easy break. If you see these before mulligan strongly consider keeping them.
Shinjo Ambusher, Banzai!, Curved Blade and sometimes Spoils of War (but make sure you're going to be able to play it) are also solid turn 1. Usually you do not want to keep multiples of a card so mulligan away any 2nd or 3rd copies of a card. If you go against a clan that struggles to answer Covert (such as Phoenix, honor Lion, Crab) consider saving a Hiruma Skirmisher. Cavalry Reserves is better for mid-late game plays so mulligan those away.