In general I have avoided writing articles which deal with specific cards. I recently had a few experiences however which have led me to put that preference aside temporarily and write a brief article about the five rings.
“You will never know how sharp a sword is unless it’s drawn from its sheath”
I recently shared a deck list which contained four of the five rings and one of the first questions I was asked was “were you consistently able to get the rings into play” which somewhat baffled me. About two weeks prior to this a local player asked me for advice with his deck and I suggested he add Ring of Fire but he assured me it was unlikely he would be destroying armies or provinces in resolution as he was building a defensive political deck, I was puzzled by this statement. While it is true that all of the rings have abilities which allow them to enter play via various conditions having been met, they also all have the ability to be discarded and played just like any other strategy. The question of putting a ring into play isn’t something I consider when I put them in my deck or suggest them to others as potential additions to their decks. As far as I am concerned they are just unique strategies with the possibility of being put into play and special rules if I happen to be playing with or against a deck which tries to get all five into play. Sure, I often manage to get one or two rings into play over the course of several games, but that isn’t the point of including them in my decks. Each of the rings have a very useful ability on them even if they are only used one time. If Game of Dice had some ridiculously difficult condition to put it into play like drawing 25 or more cards on an opponent’s turn, would that make the limited action to draw two cards on your end phase any less viable? Of course it wouldn’t. Why then should any of the five rings be rejected from any particular deck simply because it cannot be put into play in most cases?
Ring of Air
This is the least likely card to be put into a deck that is not an enlightenment deck. In fact, there are clans with little to no access to Shugenja or Monks which makes it unlikely to be played at all by some factions. This is something that I have a hard time understanding. I am constantly seeing deck lists loaded with followers or items which include three copies of Yojimbo’s Duty but do not include Ring of Air. Sure, the additional action granted by Yojimbo’s Duty adds some utility to that particular card over Ring of Air, but the ability to ready the unit is something that Yojimbo’s Duty will not do. When a large chunk of your actions come from attachments, it seems like it would be a good idea to have several ways to ready those attachments included in your deck. Kensai and Commanders are generally Samurai which makes it unlikely that Ring of Air would enter play, but it is something I think those decks should consider, although I do not see it in many decks for those particular themes.
Ring of Earth
This is probably the most difficult ring to put into play outside of specific tricks like Ambush and taking the first battle action, but it may be the most useful of them for the discard ability. In the Emperor environment, there are very few cards which can be played unopposed for +3F, and many of those which are available have fairly specific costs or requirements. In a military deck, giving a province -3PS unopposed is every bit as good as giving a personality +3F, in some cases it is even better. On the defensive side being able to add +3PS is an incredibly useful ability, especially since it can be done without presence. Outer Walls was in a lot of decks during the Celestial arc, in part because it can make it difficult for a military deck to take provinces. This becomes especially true as the game gets toward the mid to late game and a military player is forced to split for multiple provinces or when an opponent drops a Retribution in a military versus military game. Ring of Earth will often be enough to make a difference at a province in at least one battle. There is also the possibility of putting it into play even if you had no plans to do so when including it in the deck. Unexpected things often happen in the course of a game, that’s what keeps the game interesting!
Ring of Fire
This should be easy to put into play for any military deck where the entire point is to destroy provinces. It would obviously be difficult or even impossible to put into play for some defensive decks, but that doesn’t make it any less viable for those builds. Ring of Fire is probably one of the best kill actions in the Emperor format. The recent change to expand targeting to equal or lower chi makes it easier for a wider range of decks to play it. The ability to kill regardless of attachments is not something that is found frequently in this format, and Ring of Fire does so quite effectively. Most lethal actions in the environment require an unbowed performer, not so with Ring of Fire. The cost of destroying your own personality is quite a bargain considering you get to choose targets and can turn a bowed personality into the difference between victory and defeat. Why then is it not in more decks, because people do not think they can get it into play. Even defensive decks will occasionally win a battle here and there, Heart of Darkness is a very popular card and if an attacker does not have an answer for the terrain, it is very likely Ring of Fire can be played after resolution.
Ring of Water
Probably the easiest to put into play for most decks, which is why the ability on it is not as powerful as many of the other rings and why it is included in more deck lists than any other ring with the possible exception of Ring of Void. In Emperor Edition it is far less common to see a deck that can survive without fighting at least one battle. With enlightenment and dishonor being changed to no longer be immediate victories, it is likely this trend will continue as these decks will be required to defend at least on of their provinces after achieving its victory condition. This means the inclusion of more battle actions in decks which previously could afford to ignore the combat phase entirely. As more battle actions go into a deck, it becomes increasingly easier to play Ring of Water. Regardless of this card being in hand or in play, its value is still fairly high. Being able to move back into a battle you were sent home from is equally valuable to an aggressive or a defensive deck. If you wanted presence at a battle and were denied that presence, the ability to regain presence is obviously important. It also allows movement to battles you may not have had presence at previously, to oppose cavalry or get in front of unopposed movement for example, or to cause damage to units who assigned just to avoid No Hiding Place. I think this is one of the more obviously useful rings and certainly it is one of the more commonly played rings.
Ring of The Void
This is the most commonly played ring in decks which cannot reliably put it into play. Anyone who knows even basic statistics will tell you that having fewer cards in the deck makes it more likely that the most desired cards will be drawn. This is why most competitive decks run no more than forty cards and why many decks will include Ring of The Void to effectively further reduce that number to thirty-nine. At worst it is a card which can usually replace itself, and at best it is significant card advantage over the course of any game in which it is put into play. Ring of The Void is a great example of the message of this article. It is a ring that many decks cannot reliably put into play, but which most players will still include in their decks simply for the discard ability.
I believe that as Emperor Edition develops it will be increasingly more common to see deck builders include rings they have no intention of putting into play when choosing to include them in the deck. Next time you are building a deck, take a second look at those rings, especially if you are unlikely to put them into play.