Superior Strategist – Crane Clan Analysis

The Crane Clan stand as the gatekeepers of culture and civilization in the lore of Legend of the Five Rings.  In the Collectible Card Game, they were most well known for being Left Hand of the Emperor, for hosting some of the premier duelists of the Empire, and as the quintessential high honor clan around which the honor victory archetype was centered.

Rokugan, the fictional empire in which the game and setting takes place, has changed a great deal under Fantasy Flight’s direction, but is still recognizable to fans and veterans of the old game.  The Crane Clan is the subject of the first in-depth spotlight preview from FFG, and as the first clan to be nearly fully spoiled, they get to be the clan all other clans will be measured against, which is appropriate considering the importance that the Crane place on being trendsetters in style and fashion and striving for excellence in all things.

Looking at a single clan can be a challenge when we have little context for their place in the overall meta, but we can look at some of their cards in a vacuum and see how they will interact with other known cards.

OVERVIEW

This new incarnation of the Crane Clan looks vastly different than the stereotypical low force courtier decks of the old game.  This Crane Clan has teeth, and with political conflicts being mechanically similar to military conflicts, you never want to underestimate a Crane who declares an attack.

Crane has several strengths and mechanical themes.  The first is their aforementioned political dominance.  Not only do their cards tend to have above average political strength, they also have many printed actions that key off the political stat or activate during political conflicts.  They seem to be a control oriented clan with many actions that punish players who under commit to battles against them, while at the same time often causing opponents to over commit to avoid getting hit by the worst control effects.  Finally, the Crane excel at honoring their characters, and giving bonuses for honored status in addition to the standard glory bonus which is added to their stats.

STRONGHOLD, PROVINCE, and HOLDING

Shizuka Toshi, the Crane Clan stronghold, sets the general tone for the entire Clan.  The stronghold gives you built in strength during political conflicts by letting you effectively remove a weaker character on your opponent’s board.  Bowed characters don’t contribute their strength to a conflict, and although bowed characters can still use abilities, there might be worthwhile targets who require bowing as a cost to use abilities, and bowing them beforehand allows Crane to gain tempo in the battle.

With only one other example of a stronghold, it’s difficult to judge just yet where its power level sits.  

The Art of Peace, the Crane Clan province, provides the first avenue we’ve seen to honor or dishonor multiple characters at once.  The Art of Peace requires the province to break to activate, so it’ll be put as one of the four lower provinces rather than on the stronghold.  If your opponent suspects you are running it, they will know this as well.   It has potential to create big swings in both skill and honor totals.  This isn’t a province your opponent is happy to flip, and there might be cases where letting the province go intentionally is worth it in order to dishonor a large number of opposing characters, to honor a few of your own, or both.

Artisan Academy, the Crane Clan holding, is designed to be a pseudo-card draw so that Crane can bid low on their honor dial in the draw phase to try to preserve more honor.  While it does provide more options, it also has drawbacks.  

First, you are giving deck information to your opponent, whether you end up using the card or not.  This means that your opponent can brace themselves for that card before it’s played, and try to save a counter for it if revealed during the action window before a conflict.  If you save the action for during the conflict, you risk losing tempo, especially if the revealed card isn’t relevant to the current battle.  Finally, the revealed card is susceptible to shuffle effects, so be careful not to use The Perfect Gift or similar effects that force a shuffle unless you don’t want the revealed card anymore.

Mileage on Artisan Academy could improve if we end up seeing some effects that put a particular card on top of the deck, or in certain matchups if preserving honor from card draws becomes important.

CHARACTERS

1 Fate

Asahina Artisan is a fairly generic vanilla character whose purpose is to make your other characters better without putting herself in harm’s way.  While her ability isn’t particularly complex, her shugenja trait is significant as it gives you the ability to add spells, and the only spell revealed so far, Cloud the Mind, gives access to the text blanking ability that could prove to be extremely handy.  Her presence on the board has potential to change an opponent’s assignment, which is the sign of a solid card.

Doji Whisperer is a standard vanilla courtier.  Her 3 political is not negligible, and the fact that she has at least a 0 military makes her worth considering as a gap filler anytime a cheap body is needed.

2 Fate

Brash Samurai is deceptively strong.  For two fate you get access to 4 political and 3 military and one point of honor gain.  It’s probably worth investing in Brash Samurai to keep him around longer.  You’ll probably have to decide if any conflict past his first will be solo or not based on your match up.  If he gets reverted to neutral status, he can always use his action to bump back up, but only if he is solo.

Daidoji Nerishma is the first unique in the Crane lineup.  He has a good, but not amazing, statline.  His real value is in his ability though.  Extra dynasty flips in a turn help you dig towards better cards, including, importantly, hunting for more copies of any uniques in play to gain your current characters an additional fate.  This extra fate becomes more valuable the more expensive the printed cost of the character.  

Doji Gift Giver gives a really interesting contrast to the style of the Crane Clan of old.  At first glance Doji Gift Giver looks like a fairly standard defensive character designed to let Crane control an attack against them.  She really shines though, when seen through the lens of an offensive character.  She forces opponents to assign an extra character on defense, and combined with other conflict control cards she can really affect the psychology of assignment.  The biggest argument against her is that her action not only cost a fate, but gives one to your opponent.  There will probably be some divide with players who think the downside is worth it, and others who don’t.  She will likely see play until there are options that are objectively better.  In the meantime, she’s extremely effective against a narrow board, while she is weaker against a wide board.

Savvy Politician is another fairly vanilla character, but her reaction is good vanilla.  If her ability triggers, she’s effectively one strength higher than printed, and gives an honor when she leaves play which translates into a card later or an inch closer to winning.

3 Fate

Doji Challenger is a strong, well rounded character that will likely see play for a while.  Harpoon (the ability to drag a character into battle involuntarily) is something that was abusable in the past game, and it could be the case again.  Dragging a character into battle who doesn’t want to be there opens them up to be targets of any actions that require an opposing target.  She also has the potential to pump up to 5/5, and any control cards in hand make her extremely good.  For an example, imagine what happens when you drag a high military character with a low political skill who was waiting in the wings for a military attack.  Doji Challenger can drag them into a conflict, and they can be bowed by Shizuka Toshi or Doji Gift Giver.  If the target had a dash skill in the conflict at hand, they would be immediately bowed and sent home without even the need to expend more cards.

Kakita Asami is the second unique in the Crane roster, and is the first character who seems to be built explicitly to help move towards an honor victory.  It is worth noting that because she takes the honor from your opponent, you can consider that she might be reducing a future draw of theirs by one.  She’ll also be a character worth revisiting if an honor/dishonor decktype becomes viable for Crane.  It’s worth noting that although her baseline skills feel a bit low, being honored brings her up significantly because of her two glory.

Kakita Kaezin is the next Crane unique, and the first printed duel initiator we’ve seen.  While his ability is highly conditional, it might be viable in the right situation.  The dueling mechanic is a departure from how it was in the CCG, but it’s likely that you generally won’t initiate a duel unless you can control the outcome to a degree (whether it’s winning the duel, or snagging some honor), but if you miscalculate what your opponent’s priorities are, it could backfire.

4 Fate

Four fate marks the line between less expensive and more expensive characters.  If you have two four fate characters showing, you can only purchase one of them with your base production, and additional fate will need to come from rings, passing first, or other sources.  

Asahina Storyteller is Crane’s first four fate character, and boasts a fantastic stat line, a strong new keyword, and the ability to spread his sincerity keyword around.  When combined with a few less expensive characters and easy ways to honor them, he can realistically draw you several cards before he fizzles out.  You’ll probably want him to stick around for more than a turn, so he’s a good choice for some extra fate.

Guest of Honor is Crane’s other four cost character in the core set, and the first card to give us a glimpse of Crane’s event control and negation theme.  While her statline isn’t as good as the Storyteller by a small margin, her ability to effectively negate a large selection of your opponent’s options more than offsets that.  It’s possible that there will be matches where she is more important than others, so the overall meta will determine just how much mileage you can get from her.

5 Fate

Doji Hotaru is the Crane Clan champion.  Before anything else is considered, she is head and shoulders above other characters we’ve seen in just stats.  She is a base 3/6 and can buff up to 6/9 very easily.  Her high glory does mean that she can drop to 0/3 if you aren’t careful, so keep an eye on what your opponent is doing to keep that from happening.  In a vacuum we can’t say where her statline will put her in relation to other champions, but we can use her stats to hazard guesses at the rough power level where they’ll sit.  

Her ability is deceptively strong as well because it can be triggered offensively and defensively.  The obvious choice is to trigger her ability when you are attacking in an air conflict to gain four honor towards the honor victory.  If dishonor becomes a viable option for Crane you could choose to take two honor and gain two with air instead.  Another great choice is to win fire for twice the number of honored characters which will net you two honor, a bundle of stats, as well as anything that triggers off of the honored stat.  Doubling up on Earth means two cards for you and two discarded from your opponent, while Water either adds to the bowing suite already found on some Crane cards or readies two of your own to prepare a stronger attack or defense.  Finally, void will let you remove a fate from two characters (or two from one character) and helps accelerate getting scary characters off the board.   

CONFLICT CARDS

Steward of Law is a Crane conflict character, giving it an element of surprise when you play it from your hand.  The Steward is worth considering if you know you have a weakness to the dishonor status, for Crane or for anyone splashing Crane.  One important thing to note is that the effect applies to both players, so it will also block your ability to play your own actions which have dishonoring as part of the cost.

ATTACHMENTS

Above Question continues in the vein of Crane’s event control subtheme.  From what we know, apart from giving your best characters immunity to your opponent’s actions, you could theoretically attach Above Question to one of your opponent’s characters and prevent them from choosing that target for Banzai! or something similar.

 

Duelist Training is an attachment that confers an ability which initiates duels to its attached character.  Remember that while your character is initiating a military duel, it does not require a military conflict to be initiated.  The duel itself presents an interesting dynamic, and plays into the theme of limiting the options available in your opponent’s hand.

Height of Fashion is a fairly standard political strength attachment.  The above average amount of skill it grants is offset by the fact that it must be played outside of a conflict.  

EVENTS

Admit Defeat is an event that is stronger in practice than it looks at first glance.  Its very existence causes opponents to assign differently against Crane than they would if it didn’t exist.  Any time you attack, your opponent will need to think long and hard about assigning only one defender.  When combined with effects like Shizuka Toshi and Doji Gift Giver, there will be a lot to consider when assigning to defend against Crane.

Noble Sacrifice is a lopsided mutual discard effect that could become stronger or weaker as we see more of the card pool.  So far, it seems that Crane has tools to honor their characters fairly easily, and high glory characters in any Clan will be worth at least considering for dishonor targets.  Another synergy that we know of is with Blackmail which gives you an opportunity to “borrow” an honored character and then discard them to discard another dishonored character on the opponent’s side.  With the restriction on Blackmail, this will probably work best in a Scorpion deck with Noble Sacrifice splashed as an additional card with the influence mechanic.

The Perfect Gift is another example of an asymmetrical, mutually beneficial card.  Strictly speaking, it’s both card and tempo disadvantage, but because you get to choose both cards, you can set it up so that you get an immediately useful card without giving one as relevant to your opponent.  The Perfect Gift will shine when played by control decks against more straight forward decks by giving the control player access to cards that synergize with each other to complete combos.  The long term viability of The Perfect Gift will rest on how easy it is to deny your opponent their choice while optimizing your own, and also by how much objectively better card draw the Crane Clan gets access to in the future.  

Another interesting interaction is to play it in the mirror match after your opponent has used Artisan Academy to shuffle his revealed card back into his deck and waste his activation of the Academy.

Voice of Honor is the final piece of the event control puzzle.  Cancelling an event is a very strong effect typically, and players opposing a Crane deck will need to assume that their events won’t stick until all three copies have been accounted for.   It’s important to remember that you must have more honored characters, so that makes this less valuable to splash if you are in a clan that isn’t as efficient at honoring characters as Crane.

Way of the Crane is the only conflict card in Crane colors we’ve seen that can’t be splashed.  Its action is simple, but powerful, and completes the Crane’s emphasis on the honored status.    

 The Crane Clan is shaping up to be a force in the Legend of the Five Rings LCG.  Between their raw strength in political conflicts to their event control effects, it wouldn’t be wise to underestimate a Crane deck regardless of whether they are advancing victory by breaking provinces, or climbing towards an honor victory.

Special thanks to Robert “Bayushi” Croy with The Table is Yours Podcast for the in depth editing and suggestions.

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