Kage Sensei: Understanding Metagaming in L5R


With Kotei season about to begin, I though this would be a good lesson to talk about for those players wanting to move up from casual level to competitive level.

L5R is a complex game but understanding metagaming is a lesson on its own.

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Let’s start with a definition of metagame.  In competitive gaming, the metagame is a breakdown of an environment.

The L5R metagame can be broken down by win condition, by clan, and by specific deck design (occasionally).  Even by doing so, predicting the metagame can be difficult for competitive L5R players.

Meta Cards

Meta Cards tend to fall into one of two categories, cards that are used for specific match ups and those for more broad applications.

Narrow Meta tends to be used against a particular win condition, archetype, or even a specific strategy.  Let’s look at some examples of narrow meta.

Marriage of the Emerald Champion


Marriage of the Emerald Champion is a non-Unique Event which was designed to hurt dishonor decks by not allowing them to dishonor or cause honor losses to a target personality for 3 turns.

A Time for Action


Another example of a narrow meta card would be A Time for Action.  This event was designed to slow down honor decks by having them lose 5 honor if they have 21 or more honor.

A Fever in the Blood


A Fever in the Blood is a great event against Military based decks as it reduces Personalities and Followers force by 1 until your next turn begins.

Resist Magic

Resist Magic

Resist Magic is perfect example of a narrow meta card.  It is designed to be used in a heavy Monk, Shugenja, and Spell environment.

The Turtle’s Shell

The Turtle's Shell

The Turtle’s Shell is another narrow meta but an important one in this format.

Tea House

Tea House

Tea House is a holding that is designed to negate Chi penalties until end of turn.

Narrow meta are much better when you have a better idea of what players are playing in a particular area.  This can be no easy task without the proper information.

Broad meta tends to be more useful.  These type cards are generally better against multiple different archetypes, win conditions, or strategies.

A New Alliance

A New Alliance

Spirited Dispute

Spirited Dispute

Victory Through Deference

Cards like these are more than just normal meta cards.  These cards have multiple applications.  These are what you would call broad meta cards.

Ritual Preparation

Ritual Preparation

Yes, even a card as simple as this can be meta cards.

Bandwagon vs. Clan Loyalty

One reason it can be difficult to metagame is because of the number of players that choose to win by switching to a clan that is winning (called bandwagon) and the number of players that chose to play their clan regardless (called clan loyalty) can be hard to predict.

Some areas of the country are known for their clan loyalty.  For example, the Chicago area is known for its high density of Crab and Unicorn players.  This gives you a better idea of what to focus your metagame against knowing that you will see decks from those clans.

Even with clan loyalty being a thing in L5R, there are still many players who will band wagon and play a clan that is better suited to winning in an environment.

North American Style vs. Euro Style

Another thing to consider is the fact that there is really two unique styles of deck building and play.

The North American Style is “play to win.”  We typically play a more aggressive game and most players take more risks.

The meta choices that we make in deck construction are usually made to help our deck’s matchup against decks that we expect to see at an event.  With the North American Style, this tends to be against our weakest matchup for a particular event.

The Euro Style is much more defensive in nature.  They typically play a more patient game.  Most of the time the Euro Style is “play not to lose.”

With the Euro Style, they tend to play meta cards for every matchup.

An Example of Metagaming

During last year’s Kotei season, the players from Midwest part of the US got to a point where Ranged / Melee attacks had been so meta’d against that players had to find another way to win battles other than by shooting things.

Honor players who had been hit hard by the power of military and dishonor so far in the arc so most players were not even attempting to play the deck style.

James Matthews, after speaking to some friends before the St. Louis area Kotei, put together a deck for that event, went with a strategy most other players weren’t even trying.

He won the Kotei with the following deck (with tournament report here):

The Eternal Temple of the Phoenix

# Dynasty (40)

Dark Audience

Bamboo Harvesters – exp
3 Bountiful Fields
2 Carpenter Shrine
3 Famous Bazaar
3 Nexus of Lies
Oracle of the Void – exp
3 Productive Mine
3 Temple of Serenity

Asako Kaitoko – exp
3 Isawa Amihiko
3 Isawa Genma
3 Isawa Kamiko
Isawa Kaname, Advisor to the Ruby Champion – exp
3 Isawa Kido
2 Isawa Kosea
Isawa Shunryu, the Infinite Eye
3 Shiba Kakei

# Fate (40)

3 Sparrow Clan Aide

Ring of Earth

3 Fear the Thunder
3 In Awe of the Earth
3 Kiyoshi’s Wrath
2 Seeking the Way
3 Suitengu’s Embrace
3 Trembling Earth
3 Ward of Air
2 Yojimbo of Earth

A Game of Dice
2 Breaking the Rhythm
2 Defending the City
3 Final Sacrifice
2 Pack Tactics
2 Versatile Army
2 Way of the Phoenix

James had put together this list with the help of Bob “The Wave” & Kenneth Martin and Daniel Briscoe that defied the logic up to this point in the season.

First off, this is a purely defensive honor deck.  This deck style works out great in Military heavy fields but is terrible against other honor and dishonor decks.  James was betting the house on him not playing against an honor or dishonor deck since he ran no Meta cards for either matchup.  Lucky for him, he only played 1 honor deck (Luke Gregory in Top 4) and played against no dishonor decks.

The second major design change that he made was that he went to an overload strategy.  The overload strategy is designed to overload your opponent with the same kind of action so that the few cards that he normally has to fight such a strategy.  In James case, he used bowing as his overload strategy.  His attempt was to bow as many of his opponent’s attacking cards as he could, win the battle, and gain a ton of honor.  Most decks could not deal with that type of strategy.

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.