Playing Without Limits

There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there.  You must go beyond them.
-Bruce Lee

I often see players put artificial limitations on themselves during deck construction which hinders their ability to win games.  Players will often avoid what may be considered “cheesy”, “cheap”, “broken”, or whatever label you may wish to apply to legal but not necessarily popular decks, cards, or strategies.  Who the opponent is will sometimes factor into this as well, a male player going easy on a female opponent, or playing less than your best against a younger opponent are two examples.  These decisions are not always bad, particularly when teaching the game to a new player or when playing for fun rather than playing competitively.  Winning isn’t always the most important objective, but if you are looking to improve your game and become a better competitive player, you need to purge these bad habits from your routine.

I have talked to people who will not put cards in their decks which are drawn by a certain artist, which do not have specific keywords, characters that have a particular family name, or characters who are not aligned to the clan they are playing.  I have also personally seen players not include cards in their deck because they do not have the most recent printing of that card, or play only two copies of a card they would like to play three of because they do not have three copies from the same set or foiled or in some other way do not match.  I have traveled with people who spent hundreds of dollars to travel to an event but refused to spend ten dollars to buy a single card which they know would improve their deck because they do not buy singles.  I have personally offered to loan cards to people for a tournament when we could not reach an agreement in a trade prior to an event but they refused to borrow cards because they wanted to “win with their own cards”.  Some players when choosing between two cards will chose the rare over the common solely because in their opinion rares are always more powerful than commons.  I know it sounds silly when reading it here, but how often have these types decisions impacted how you build a deck or why you will or will not play certain decks, themes, or clans?  Do you know people in your play group who build decks with these artificial limitations on themselves?

I believe the most common self-imposed limitation in L5R is clan loyalty.  I would wager that the vast majority of players would identify themselves as being loyal to one or two clans.  While I am sure it is the goal of design to perfectly balance all playable factions and themes, the truth is that it is not really possible to do so with nine clans each with four themes.  At any given point in an arc, one deck is likely to be stronger than the others and one faction is likely to have the fewest competitive decks.  This is why clan loyalty can be such a handicap to performing well at a competitive level.  When your clan is strong winning comes easier, when your clan is struggling, it will be hard to rise above the shortcomings of your clan and perform well.  The most competitive players in the world may identify with a specific clan and may even choose to play that clan if it is a close second to the strongest clan, or if there is a significant story prize for the clan of the winner.  You often see this at very large events such as jewel level events or world championship level tournaments.  If a particular clan is truly struggling however or if there is no meaningful story prize for the winner’s clan the most competitive players will often abandon any faction loyalty they may have and play something which performs better or more consistently for competitive purposes.  This is frequently seen at kotei level events or in grinder style events both of which the most meaningful prize is often the ability to play in bigger events later.

The second most common limitation I have seen players burden themselves with is the presence or absence of specific keywords.  Just because AEG has made a design decision to give each clan four themes, that doesn’t mean that when you are building a Courtier based dishonor deck you should automatically disregard a character just because it has the Magistrate keyword and lacks the Courtier keyword.  Certainly you want to be sure you have enough of the right keywords to make use of cards in your deck which may require those specific keywords, but if a card supports the overall goal of your deck it should be considered regardless of having or not having specific keywords.  Lion had a very successful run during the 2010 Kotei season by simply choosing the best characters available without regard to theme or keywords. This particular limitation is one that Mantis and Unicorn players especially struggle with because those factions have specific keywords (Naval and Cavalry respectively) which are central to how those factions generally play.  Still, most Mantis Magistrate decks include Yoritomo Eihiko experienced even though he lacks the Naval keyword and Ide Kin was quite popular for a time even without the Cavalry keyword.  Samurai and Courtier are keywords that become much more valuable when dishonor is strong due to the access to the rulebook effect to seppuku.  Even when dishonor is the top competitive deck which is most likely to be played in a tournament, the absence of Samurai or Courtier should not automatically exclude a personality from being included in any particular deck as in game decisions such as just not bringing a personality into play can mitigate the inability to seppuku.

Finally, there is the matter of the “cheesy”, “cheap”, or “broken” deck.  Many players will refuse to play or play against a deck they consider to fall into any of these categories or any other label which may be placed on an unpopular deck or strategy.  The trouble is what one player or group may consider worthy of one of these labels, another player or group may find perfectly acceptable.  The truth is these decks will represent a disproportionate number of the seats at any top tables, so you better get used to accepting that they exist and that you will be facing them if you want to be a competitive player.  I usually play Mantis decks and it is amusing to me how often I hear people gripe about Naval being an unfair mechanic, often even after an opponent defeats me.  I imagine Unicorn players have similar experiences with the Cavalry trait.  These labels are not just reserved for specific keywords of course.  Some players consider any victory condition other than military to be unfair.  Then of course there are those who say military is OK, as long as you aren’t blitzing with a swarm of boxable personalities or undead tokens.  All of these notions are in my opinion silly.  So long as a player is not breaking any rules during deck construction or while playing, any deck is viable and perfectly fair.  If you find yourself thinking any particular deck is over the top, I would suggest you build it and play it yourself, you may just find that it isn’t as scary as you may have thought.  You see, L5R has become something of a rock / paper / scissors game.  If you always play rock, of course you are going to think paper is far too powerful.  Then again, that poor scissor player is likely of the mind that your beloved rock needs to be toned down a bit.

Ultimately deck construction is a matter of weighing pros against cons and making educated decisions based on analysis of all available options.  Sometimes the inclusion or exclusion of a card is the right decision, sometimes it is not.  Sometimes a particular deck may be the best in the field, but if enough people believe that to be true, it may be best to play another deck to avoid the meta.  The latest “broken” deck may be quite popular at your next event, but if you are prepared for it, there should be no trouble dealing with it.  A good deck builder should consider all options without placing limitations on himself which his opponent is not also bound by.  For the most part this means “anything goes” and provided you stay within the rules of the game, this is how you should approach what you will play at your next competitive event.

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3 Responses to Playing Without Limits

  1. PJ says:


    Great insight. I too have noticed people doing these things. It is frustrating to me because as a competitive player, I feel that often I’m denied the opportunity of learning and facing competitive deck types and tactics. It’s difficult to grow when the community around you offers no new challenges.

    Thanks for the article!

  2. Tanjen says:

    Being mentally slow it took me a while to get my ass here to read the latest. I think everyone finds themselves doing most of these things. Although I don’t look at clan loyalty being a con, I think that is one of the most enjoyable things about the game for me, most people like playing their clan, they’ll stick by it through thick and thin, even when things ARE bad. I think for the rest it is just the inability for a lot of us to look outside the box (literally and figuratively) when building decks regarding key words, although keeping taint out of decks is kinda in the lines of being clan loyal, it’s another flavor of the game, and even though it doesn’t matter like it once did for prize effects, there are a lot of people who still have that feeling still. Another wonderful flavor of the game.

    I’ve talked to a few players about the rock/paper/scissors effect of the way the game works, and as easy as a concept as it “seems” it is a lot harder for people to actually wrap their heads around. Keywords are keywords, if you’re weak against one, try to figure something out to make you less so. We’ve seen that sometimes only a single book of a card will take an auto loss to a damn good fight.

    In Final thoughts I have a question directed to those that complain about Mantis and Unicorn for Naval and Cavalry respectively. If that is broken what do you have to say about Phoenix that have both keywords?

    • DDreischmeyer says:

      This article is written strictly about having the best chance of winning. I agree that clan loyalty and the desire to keep taint out of decks are part of the flavor of the game. That said, these things can and do hinder winning in some situations and as such they are limitations. I would not advocate that all players abandon all clan loyalty, but if winning is important to a player, then that player should consider placing as few limitations on themselves as possible, including clan loyalty, taint, or any other self-imposed limitations.

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