The Emerald Dojo
A Legend of the Five Rings Strategy Site
Updated 31 May, 2021
Part of the appeal of Legend of the Fives Rings comes from building a collection of the beautifully-crafted cards and components that make up the hobby. While the many expansions and cycles of this living card game may seem overwhelming at first, this guide will take you through the simple ways to build a collection for casual or competitive play.
Living Card Games
Before beginning a Legend of the Fives Rings collection it is important to note the difference between a 'collectible' card game (CCG) and a 'living' card game (LCG). Iterations of the former began in the 1990's with games such as Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon, while the latter began in 2008 when FFG launched Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game and A Game of Thrones: The Card Game (first edition).
The distinguishing feature of a Collectible Card Game is the randomisation of cards in each pack. These packs are usually 'starters' (which include enough cards to begin playing at an introductory level) or 'boosters' (which expand one's collection with which to build decks). Cards are generally denoted as 'common', 'uncommon', or 'rare', and trading or purchasing cards is a key aspect of the hobby.
The original incarnation of Legend of the Five Rings was a collectible card game published by AEG from 1995 - 2015. While never reaching the dizzying heights of more mainstream CCG's, it maintained a dedicated fan base of players who were drawn to the ever-evolving story and engaging tournament scene. Many of these players also enjoy Legend of the Five Rings: The Roleplaying Game, and continued to follow the card game after FFG rebooted the franchise in 2017.
A 'living' card game, by contrast, does not feature randomised packs or the need to trade or purchase cards on the secondary market. Packs are designated as 'core' (which allow 2 people to start playing) or 'expansion' (which grow the card pool in specific way). The contents of each pack are exactly the same for each player who purchases them, and these are listed online at release.
What this means in practice is that the decision to begin a Legend of the Five Rings collection comes with the assurance that there is no 'pay to win' side to the game: you will not face players in tournaments who have spent vast amounts of money to amass the rarest and most powerful cards. This is not to say that collecting Legend of the Five Rings is inexpensive, but that each player has control over the purchases they make to access the cards they require.
With the end of the retail version of the game it is now possible to buy a large collection relatively cheaply on secondary markets. In addition to eBay, the most common of these are the L5R LCG Trade Group and L5R Marketplace (LCG) on Facebook. Members of these groups are keen to buy and sell the retails releases of the game, promotional cards and components, and the beautiful fan-crafted additions to the game. Finally, for those of you still trying to chase down the Ancestral Sword of the Unicorn Clan from the Imperial Edition of the AEG game, there is also a group for L5R CCC completionists.
The Core Set
Any collection of Legend of the Five Rings begins with a Core Set. Originally published in 2017 and containing enough cards to build a deck for any of the seven clans (although not all at once), the core set contains many cards which have become staples in competitive tournament decks. Core Sets can be purchased through the FFG website, local game stores (provided stock is available) and online retailers such as Amazon.
It is entirely possible for one Core Set to be the beginning and end of your Legend of the Five Rings collection. Full lists are included for playable Lion and Crane decks, along with instructions on how to build decks for any of the other clans. If you only intend to play with friends or housemates on a semi-regular basis then a single core purchase is all that is required.
If you wish to begin playing competitively, however, it is worth noting that a single Core Set does not contain 3 copies all all cards contained therein. Rather, the breakdown of core cards is as follows:
While the single copy of each neutral province is not an issue when building a competitive deck, the 2x neutral card and 1x clan-specific card limit is a concern as cards such as Banzai!, Court Games, Shrewd Yasuki, and Doomed Shugenja remain competitive staples.
To alleviate this, many players purchase 3 Core Sets to ensure they have access to a 'playset' collection of cards. Fortunately, it is possible to purchase 3 copies of the Core Set through secondary markets relatively cheaply as players enter and leave the game.
The LCG business model relies upon players making regular purchases of expansion packs to grow their card collection and construct new decks. As with the Core Set, expansion packs can be purchased through the FFG website (many packs are now discounted) along with local and online retailers, or secondary markets.
Not to be confused with the dynasty deck, Dynasty Packs are monthly releases that grow the Legend of the Five Rings card pool.
Released in 6-pack cycles, each dynasty pack contains 60 new cards for players to experiment with. Each new cycle loosely aligns with the current story arc in the world of Rokugan, and also focuses on a particular trait or introduces a new keyword to encourage fresh deck-building strategies.
Five dynasty cycles were released for Legend of the Five Rings: Imperial, Elemental, Inheritance, Dominion, and Temptations.
Clan Packs contain 78 cards which focus on a specific clan within the empire.
At launch, each clan had one effective path to follow to achieve victory (dishonour for Scorpion, movement for Unicorn, etc.). Clan Packs generally introduced a new archetype for players to experiment with when deckbuilding (Shinobi tactics for Scorpion, swarm for Unicorn etc.), along with a general increase in the number of cards available for the chosen clan.
In addition, each Clan Pack includes 3 copies of a card for each of the other clans, and these usually offer an efficient counter to the featured clan.
Premium Expansions are yearly 234-card releases that reflect key changes in the Legend of the Five Rings story, and focus on particular aspects of gameplay.
Released in early 2019, Children of the Empire reflected the tragedy within the imperial family as Hantei Satori, eldest son of Hantei XXXVIII, commits regicide rather than follow his father into obscurity in a life of meditation and asceticism in the mountains of the Dragon lands.
From a gameplay perspective, this expansion vastly expanded the range of duel-focused cards in the game, whilst also clarifying the rules for dueling within conflicts.
Released in early 2020, Clan War reflected the growing tensions between, and within, the great clans of the empire in the fallout of the assassination of Hantei XXXVIII.
Clan War and the cards therein focus primarily on multiplayer formats of the game. These include the Enlightenment format, which sees three or more players compete to claim all five rings, and the Team Conquest format, in which four players form pairs to defeat their opponents.
While not all of the cards in Clan War are for multiplayer games, most are, so you need only purchase it for Stronghold games (the traditional 1v1 format) if there are very particular cards you require.
The final premium (and retail) release for Legend of the Five Rings, Under Fu Leng's Shadow introduced both the Shadowlands faction and two new ways to play the game. The 'Shadowlands Box' was also timed to coincide with the final fiction of the game, the multi-part Battle for Cherry Blossom Snow which saw the assembled might of the clans unite under Shiba Tsukune, Champion of the Phoenix clan, to defeat the hordes of the oni lord Akuma no Oni.
Under Fu Leng's Shadow remains a bittersweet release for many Legend of the Five Rings players. A climatic resolution to the many narrative threads which had been planted in the years before, the box also featured striking and dramatic card art and two enticing ways to play the game.
This should have been a celebration of what had been and the beginning of a exciting new way to collect and interact with the game: solo play. Instead, the announcement was overshadowed by the simultaneous declaration of the end of Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game. Thus, while the pack remains an excellent release in its own right, it will be forever tainted by the news it was associated with.
Both CCGs and LCGs employ some form of 'rotation' so that new players are not overwhelmed by an ever-increasing card pool. This also ensures that deckbuilding remains fresh and engaging as existing cards are removed, forcing players to consider new strategies and combinations.
In his original announcement lead designer Tyler Perrott explained the justification and roadmap for rotation in Legend of the Five Rings. This called for rotation to occur at the beginning of the fifth cycle of Dynasty Packs. At this time, the oldest two Dynasty Pack cycles in the current card pool would rotate out and their cards would no longer be available for competitive play. Core Sets would not rotate, nor would the most recent release of each specific Clan Pack. Premium Expansions would only rotate when specifically designated.
This roadmap was later altered so that rotation would occur not at the beginning of the fifth cycle of Dynasty Packs, but the seventh. This would ensure that the card pool remains large enough to support effective deckbuilding. No changes to Core Set, Clan Pack, or Premium Expansion rotation were announced.
However, as the game was discontinued after the end of the fifth dynasty cycle, this rotation never took place and so any card you can purchase is legal for any tournament you enter, provided it follows the restricted or banned lists.
Planning a Collection
Legend of the Five Rings can be enjoyed at any level of commitment. Your own involvement will be dictated by your time, budget, and and enthusiasm for the game, all of which can fluctuate over time. That said, for most players there are generally three levels of engagement: casual, enthusiast, and competitive.
For the casual player it may be enough to simply pick up the core set and perhaps a number of expansion packs with which to play games with friends or family. There is enough flexibility in the core set to create decks for each of the seven clans, and to mix and match cards depending on the household 'meta'. Each casual game offers an upon opportunity to reflect upon your current deck and playstyle, and to see how you can improve in subsequent games.
Enthusiasts players generally like keep up to date with news about the game and its releases, and will work towards a complete collection over time (possibly shared with friends). Local game nights provide a regular community with which to test decks and share ideas, and nearby tournaments are an opportunity to test deckbuilding and playing skills. Enthusiasts may also look to collect promotional cards (either in tournaments or by trading), and purchase third-party tokens or playmats to enhance their gameplay experience.
Enthusiasts make up the majority of the Legend of the Five Rings community: they enjoy the game and the people who play it, and they help to help to keep the scene alive and healthy.
Competitive players make a commitment to follow the Legend of the Five Rings global meta closely and to achieve the best results they can in the tournament scene. They have access to a full playset of cards and will often pre-order new releases. They will travel (overseas if required) to compete at tournaments and will also play online to participate in online leagues and improve their skills.
Regardless of your level of commitment there is an effective way to plan your Legend of the Five Rings collection: clan loyalty. While the current card pool now includes hundreds of cards, by aligning yourself with a particularly clan you can make more efficient purchases to build a competitive deck.
When deciding upon a clan to follow it is worth learning about their history and philosophy, and their prefered playstyles (The Last Province podcast does excellent deep dives on clan lore). Much of the fun of Legend of the Five Rings comes with following the fortunes of your chosen clan, both within the official fictions and the tournament scene. That said, the fortunes of each clan do fluctuate over time so be prepared for some hardship along the way!
If you do chose to follow a particular clan you can easily start a collection by purchasing 2-3 Core Sets and your Clan Pack. The Children of the Empire or Under Fu Leng's Shadow expansions will increase your card pool healthily, although Clan War is only really needed if you intend to play multiplayer formats. As for dynasty packs, it is worth checking which decks are popular for your clan on the deckbuilding websites Bushi Builder or FiveRingsDB, and then only purchase packs which include these cards. While the meta will shift with time (as is the nature of competitive card games), this will give you a healthy card collection with which to build decks for your chosen clan.
Legend of the Five Rings rewards participation at any level of commitment. From siblings who pull out their Core Set for a game every few month, to the competitive player who spends weeks crafting the perfect deck to take to large tournaments, there is something in the world of Rokugan for everyone to enjoy. The important thing is to chose your own level of involvement, and to enjoy your time in the exotic world of Legend of the Five Rings.