Gempukku Series: An Introduction to Deck Building

Gempukku Series

Article Submitted by Tony Clayton

Before we start, I will first link to a few articles from Strange Assembly’s Newbie Corner series.  These articles all deal with significant parts of the game and are worth a read for any new players as they cover key topics and strategic concepts that will be helpful in any effort to build a deck.  In particular, Gold Schemes is a worthwhile read as I will not be covering gold schemes in this article.

Gold Schemes:

When to Flush:

The Attack Series:

I have helped a few new players recently build decks and have found some common principles that I felt I could provide as a general resource for all new players. This article will focus on some basic deck-building concepts for new players that already know the basics of how to play. It will not likely allow you to immediately build a kotei winning deck or a more difficult “switch” deck, but you should be more competitive and thus have the tools at your disposal to learn more quickly and find a play-style that fits you. I will also focus on the “strict” format, which only includes cards from the Ivory Edition base set forward (Ivory Edition and The Coming Storm are strict legal at the time of writing) so as to focus on a smaller card pool and thus focusing on cards more generally available to new players. I will both go over basic concepts and also look at how they were applied in a deck that I built. There are 4 different win conditions in L5R (Military, Honor, Dishonor, Enlightenment), and you will generally choose one as your main goal, though there are switch decks. Once you have done that, you should choose what the core aspect of how you intend to achieve that goal will be. There are Blitz decks, control decks, combo decks and more, but once you choose a main strategy you should find a way to focus on that strategy and support it.

The Basics: Mass or Pass

One of the most common mistakes players make early on (and even veteran players when they are trying to make more complex decks) is that they try to make a deck that does too many things. They try to build a deck that is a “jack of all trades, master of none” or a deck that just packs a lot of strong cards. While this is understandable, it rarely leads to a strong deck. In L5R decks tend to have a core of cards that make them strong that all support and play off each other. So rather than just playing the most powerful cards you can find, often you have to play cards that are not amazing in a vacuum, but can be great in the right deck. This has led to a concept called “mass or pass” for simple deck building. What it means is, for the most part, if you are not going strongly support a theme, ranged attacks for example, it is generally advisable to pass on that strategy all together. In other words, if you want to build a ranged attack deck, you probably won’t also put in a personality who does fear, another who plays off of the imperial favor, and another who does dishonor. While you may still put in cards that don’t directly support the main theme, it is often to round out the deck and deal with specific situations and issues the deck may run into. But initially, you should focus on the core of your strategy. To give an example, I will use my strict Mantis Ranged attack deck.

The Core Strategy

The Mantis Ranged attack deck is a military deck that is based around attrition. It seeks to kill off as many things on the board as possible to slowly gain an advantage through superior numbers and superior battle actions. It does not generally have much force compared to many other military decks, but it packs a ton of kill actions to allow the player to pick off key enemy units throughout the game and gain an advantage. First we will look at the core of this deck which is the personality base. Bolded are all the personalities with ranged attacks of one sort or another.

# Personality (22)

3 Sasada
3 Tsuruchi Gosho
3 Tsuruchi Hikari
3 Tsuruchi Kaito
3 Tsuruchi Rin
1 Tsuruchi Yashiro, Defender of the Obsidian Blades – exp
3 Yoritomo Teihiko

As you can see, 13 of my 22 personalities have ranged attacks of some sort. What this personality base almost guarantees is that I will see a personality with a ranged attack early on, which is important to my overall strategy. A local player in Richmond by the name of Sean Smith has put the “mass or pass” concept in a different way for personalities: The Rule of Nine. Basically, in a 40 card dynasty deck if you want to see a certain keyword or ability type consistently, you should have at least 9 cards with that keyword/ability type. The reason is that this gives you roughly a 90% chance of seeing 1 or more cards with that particular trait in your first 8 dynasty cards. Thus, in the case of my deck built around ranged attacks, I actually have above a 90% chance of seeing such a card early on, meaning the deck will be able to consistently carry out the main strategy it is built upon. Next, I will bold all the cards in my fate deck that are directly related to ranged attacks.

# Follower (9)

3 Ashigaru Spearmen
3 Expert Archers
3 Spearmen

# Strategy (3)

3 Way of the Mantis

As you can see, the fate deck is running 12 cards directly supporting the ranged attack theme that is the basis of the deck. 9 are followers with ranged attacks, which gives more board presence for your ranged attacks. Way of the Mantis does not directly create a ranged attack, but it does allow me to both straighten a personality and reuse a ranged attack in the same turn, something that is not otherwise possible. This creates synergy between my two decks that has them both working towards a common core strategy of using ranged attacks to kill off enemy units over time to gain a dominant position in the game.

Supporting the Main Strategy

As I noted before, Ranged attack decks are all about attrition, but in order to gain access to all of those kill actions it gives up a lot in terms of force and keywords to play off of. This is most obviously shown by the fact that personalities with ranged attacks almost always have 2 force and have to bow to use the action, meaning even if they have force, they will not contribute it while bowed. Thus the non-ranged attack cards in the deck need find ways to support and help with the main weaknesses of the core strategy. So we will look at two other aspects of the personality base that help support the deck. First up, we know that personalities with ranged attacks tend to sacrifice Force. This means you are spending more gold per extra point of force than many other personalities. This also means that your deck will be slower than most other military decks in terms of taking provinces as it will have a harder time getting to the point where it has enough force to actually take a province. So to help with this, I added in personalities that have good force to gold ratios.

3 Sasada
3 Tsuruchi Gosho
3 Tsuruchi Hikari
3 Tsuruchi Kaito
3 Tsuruchi Rin
1 Tsuruchi Yashiro, Defender of the Obsidian Blades – exp
3 Yoritomo Shotsuo
3 Yoritomo Teihiko

There are 9 personalities with strong force/gold ratios which will help us crack provinces a little easier and be able to push the advantage we create with our ranged attacks. Fate side we also pack a few things to help us with our low force.

# Item (3)

3 Kaiu Axe

# Strategy (7)

3 Advance Warning
2 Contentious Terrain
2 Scout Training

These cards allow the player to boost either their force, or reduce the province strength, thus making it easier to take provinces. It is worth nothing that followers also provide force themselves, but since we chose followers that have ranged attacks, they suffer from the same force/gold ratio issue that the personalities do. Next, we want to make sure that we can start killing off things in battle as quickly as possible. Mantis has access to personalities with the keyword “naval” and at a fairly low price since it is one of their main attributes as a clan. Naval works by allowing personalities with the naval keyword to take an action within their unit first even when attacking. This can be a powerful advantage, especially when paired with our followers with ranged attacks. I will bold all the personalities with naval.

3 Sasada
3 Tsuruchi Gosho
3 Tsuruchi Hikari
3 Tsuruchi Kaito
3 Tsuruchi Rin
1 Tsuruchi Yashiro, Defender of the Obsidian Blades – exp
3 Yoritomo Shotsuo
3 Yoritomo Teihiko

12 personalities with naval, all of whom fit into either being a ranged personality or a force efficient one. This illustrates how certain themes are heavily supported in non-obvious ways within the clans themselves. There are many unaligned personalities that are worth a look, but in the case of this deck I felt these were my best options. These naval personalities act as “platforms” which you attach items and followers to in order to insure that you get first action while attacking. This advantage is a key way to take tempo in battle and allow you to take away a key defending enemy personality and deprive your opponent of their best options. There are other things built into the personality base, such as Scout and Reserve, that add further options and tricks to the deck, but they are smaller aspects of the overall strategy and how it plays out. Ranged attacks are the main aspect of the strategy and are most significantly supported by more force efficient personalities and naval to allow more effective use of the advantages created by ranged attacks. On the fate side is where we have a number of things to round out the overall strategy to provide answers to common issues. Following is the deck in its entirety with notes for each card.

1 The Fruitful Port of the Mantis

# Sensei (1)
1 Gidayu Sensei (Allows you to combine ranged attacks from different units, very powerful)

# Dynasty (40)

# Holding (18)

3 Bountiful Fields (efficient gold)
1 Counting House (card draw)
2 Deeds and Words (helps mitigate the honor loss from Ambush, important against dishonor)
2 Expansive Range (boosts ranged attacks)
3 Famous Bazaar (cycles the dynasty deck faster, helping get more personalities when you need them)
3 Kobune Port (clan holding, super force efficient)
2 Shrine to Hachiman (can be used to straighten bowed followers after you used their ranged attacks, thus allowing them to still provide force)
2 Temple of the Heavenly Crab (Very gold efficient, use its invest if at all possible)

# Personality (22)

3 Sasada (Force Efficient, Scout, Naval)
3 Tsuruchi Gosho (Ranged Attack, Scout, Naval)
3 Tsuruchi Hikari (Ranged Attack, Reserve)
3 Tsuruchi Kaito (Ranged Attack, Movement)
3 Tsuruchi Rin (Ranged Attack)
1 Tsuruchi Yashiro, Defender of the Obsidian Blades – exp (Ranged Attack, Scout)
3 Yoritomo Shotsuo (Force Efficient, Scout, Naval, Invest Conqueror)
3 Yoritomo Teihiko (Force Efficient, Naval)

# Follower (9)

3 Ashigaru Spearmen (ranged)
3 Expert Archers (ranged)
3 Spearmen (ranged)

# Item (3)

3 Kaiu Axe (force reduction to help ranged attacks, extra force)

# Ring (2)

1 Ring of Air (straighten)
1 Ring of Earth (Movement negation)

# Strategy (26)

3 Advance Warning (province strength manipulation, movement, potential straighten)
2 Ambush (limited kill, helpful against super units, especially if they are already bowed from attacking you on your opponents lasts turn)
3 Back to the Front (move in, combos well with Advance Warning, helps against honor/dishonor)
2 Contentious Terrain (force buff, terrain destruction)
3 Coward! (can either pull in an enemy you want to kill or gain you extra cards, can also be used defensively to either bring a unit in or draw 2 cards at relatively low cost)
2 Fall Back! (move home, straighten) 3 Iron and Stone (protects against common types of battle actions)
2 Scout Training (force buff, can negate engages from strategies)
3 Strike as the Earth (force reduction)
3 Way of the Mantis (straighten that also allows reuse of ranged attacks, also discipline. Invaluable in this deck)


Obviously, this only scratches the surface of deck-building and strategy in L5R. Blitz decks will often focus on being force efficient, movement decks will focus on outmaneuvering their opponent, dishonor will look to control the board while causing honor loss and so on. But the core point is one that remains relevant in almost any deck: Once you choose your win condition, you must choose a core way you intend to achieve that goal and support it strongly. The main core of almost any strategy will reside in the dynasty deck, as it is generally the faster and more consistent deck of the two, thus your personality base will almost always form the center of your strategy. The concepts of “Mass or Pass” and the Rule of Nine are good rules of thumb to keep in mind in your early deck building to get a strong foundation to build off of and tweak as you get more experience with the deck and L5R in general. Also, never be scared to ask local players for help. We are a friendly community and most are more than happy to provide their opinion to help you improve your deck.

Yoritomo Arashi

A member of the Mantis Clan, Yoritomo Arashi has been masterful at gathering information for the Silken Sect. The master of information founded The Kolat Informant blog in March of 2011 and The Oni's Eye Podcast in October 2013.