Pardon the lateness of the article! We were ambushed by the Crane!
The Lion Clan is traditionally one of the most martially focused clans of the Great Clans of Rokugan, and stand as the Right Hand of the Emperor and lead his armies into war. Where the Crane Clan prefer to settle their disputes through diplomacy, and their military arm is focused on sabotaging an enemy to stall them while the courtiers find a solution, the Lion revel in the glory of battle, and prize sheer ferocity over more subtle methods.
Admirers of the Lion Clan would describe them as honorable and courageous, and put forward the Akodo generals as masterful strategists. Their detractors would cite them as brash, prideful, and arrogant. Whichever view you take of the Lion, it’s important not to underestimate their prowess on the field of battle.
In the Legend of the Five Rings Living Card Game, the Lion take on the role of the aggressive aggro based faction. They boast many cards that allow them to build a wide board, including cards that help their characters stay on the board longer so that they carry over into the next turn. They also show the first real examples of recursion in their Kitsu shugenja based ancestor theme. When examining the Lion cards individually, it will be important to consider the cards both from the perspective of a low-cost, wide board aggro deck, and a more stable, slower mid-range deck. With the limited cardpool available, it’s difficult to tell which deck will emerge as the dominant deck in the meta.
STRONGHOLD, PROVINCE, and HOLDING
Yojin no Shiro – The Lion Clan stronghold sets the stage for their military conflict dominance. The ability gives a blanket skill bonus to military which gets better as your board gets wider. With a narrow board the bonus could still be valuable if it takes you from a tie to claiming a ring or from claiming a ring to breaking a province. It’s worth noting that the stronghold doesn’t technically care if you are in a military or political conflict to be used, so there might be times that you choose to use it during a political conflict or when you don’t strictly need to extra skill to win (for example, to boost Lion’s Pride Brawler so she can target a character who is currently out of her range).
The Art of War – Never anger a Lion. The Art of War is not a nightmare province for your opponent like The Art of Peace is, but the card draw that the Lion get from this province breaking will certainly be a boon, especially if you are attempting to push both Honor and Military victories simultaneously.
Staging Ground – Extra dynasty flips are generally good; they were strong in the former incarnation of the game, and likely will be again. With that said, Staging Ground will be a card whose mileage varies greatly depending on the specific deck, and will likely get better as the card pool grows. Specifically, Staging Ground will play an important role in decks who field low-cost wide boards and want to overwhelm their opponents with numbers. With the flat economy of the LCG, a case by case decision will need to be made based on the goals of the deck.
Obstinate Recruit – Obstinate Recruit is a free character that is great for the wide board swarm strategy. Free characters are always worth looking at, even those with a drawback or condition. Against high honor opponents or in the mirror, it is highly possible that Obstinate Recruit will either be discarded immediately, or won’t even be playable. Be aware of the drawback any time you play Obstinate Recruit, and never add too many attachments or buffs on it if you think there is any chance that your opponent might be able to flip the tables on you with honor. With Lion’s high starting honor and the gains from honoring characters, it’s unlikely to matter most of the time.
Ikoma Prodigy – The full text for this card isn’t completely known. From the partially revealed text it seems that the Prodigy will gain the player one honor when she comes into play with any amount of fate placed on her. This would make her one of the few ways to gain honor directly on demand. Her courtier trait is also worth noting if you decide to play action that key off that trait.
Matsu Berserker – This is one of the cornerstones of Lion’s aggressive wide board, but as with many characters with a high skill to cost ratio. The Berserker shines when you can channel her raw strength into a military attack, and because she will only be involved in military conflicts, this frees up other characters to potentially take part in opportunistic political conflicts.
Steadfast Samurai – This card is the first example of a sub-theme within Lion involving maintaining board state by preserving or adding fate onto their characters. Steadfast Samurai, as with many other cards that compare your honor with an opponent’s, becomes weaker in some matches. With its low statline it primarily exists to widen the board and benefit from blanket effects such as the stronghold, or to activate abilities that check the number of characters or traits on the table such as Matsu Beiona.
Akodo Gunso – Additional dynasty flips gives Lion the ability to digger deeper into their dynasty deck, searching for more bodies or extra copies for uniques to add fate to them. The Akodo Gunso provides a cost efficient body thanks to its Pride keyword, meaning that it will often be a 4 military 3 political character on the second turn he’s out, and you’ll gain an honor when he leaves play. As with some of the other Lion cards we’ve seen, Pride can be a double-edged sword. Put the Gunso into battles you know that you’ll win to keep his honored status active.
Deathseeker – Most Lion cards so far have been focused on winning battles or widening the board. Deathseeker shows an entirely new facet of the Lion: punishing opponents for defending battles against them. If timed well, the Deathseeker can discard a character waiting in the wings to counterattack, or at the very least it can act like an additional void ring activation. The general idea is to make your opponent make tough decisions, and Deathseeker does that. When combined with some of the recursion effects seen later in the roster, Deathseeker might be able to provide a continual source of fate denial.
Venerable Historian – The Lion Clan as a whole is much weaker in politics than military, but the Venerable Historian is the exception to the rule. As such, the Venerable Historian might be difficult to justify in decks focused on getting as much military strength on the table as possible, but could potentially fill a niche later in the cycle. The dash military skill is problematic, but the high glory stat and ability to honor herself could find a home in a midrange deck looking to shore up its political deficiencies.
Kitsu Spiritcaller – This is the first card we’ve seen that showcases the traditional connection that the Lion Clan, and the Kitsu family shugenja in particular, have with communion with their ancestors. The Spiritcaller’s action recurs the strongest character you’ve seen that game for a conflict without having to pay their base cost. Kitsu Spiritcaller will be a card to keep an eye out for as the card pool gets deeper. Notice that she doesn’t check to see if the character she is returning from the discard is Lion Clan, so powerful neutral characters are able to be brought back as well. If we see more recursion for Lion, Spiritcaller could be at the center of strange and unintended deck types. Recursion is a mechanic with potential to be abused; it will be worth reevaluating this card as more targets are printed.
Lion’s Pride Brawler – The third Lion clan courtier takes a different approach to politics than the Ikoma Prodigy or Venerable Historian. Lion’s Pride Brawler is an aggressively themed courtier bushi who can be thrown into either a military or a political conflict as the situation dictates. Because she can target an opponent’s character who isn’t currently in the conflict, she fills an important role in the Lion lineup as control to stymie an opponent’s next attack.
Matsu Beiona – The first unique in the Lion Clan’s roster supports the wide board style Lion decks that want to have as many bodies on the table as possible. Beiona is a card that shines specifically on turn two. During the first dynasty phase it’s unlikely that you will be able to field enough bushi and have enough fate remaining for Beiona, and after turn two, while you’ll have the board for Beiona, the additional fate will be much less relevant. On turn two you can both have a wide board and will appreciate her ability to stay around for additional turns.
Honored General – This is another extremely cost efficient character for Lion. Barring an opponent’s dishonor effects, Honored General comes in as a 5 military 3 political with a constantly active ability that helps your wide board become even more fearsome, and even makes a more narrow board with large characters larger.. Provided the Lion don’t decide to drop to an extreme low curve version of their aggro blitz, it’s safe to say that Honored General has a home in whichever version of Lion becomes more common.
Ikoma Eiji – The last courtier in Lion’s Core Set lineup shows both another example of recursion and punishing an opponent for their victories against you. Eiji plays to the fact that Lion will be less able to defend political attacks, and gaining a bit of economy for it. Eiji himself can be used to put pressure on an opponent. If you attack with Eiji in a political conflict, your opponent needs to decide whether to defend (generally meaning they are using a character who could have declared a political attack) and give you a free bushi, or if they want to risk that Eiji might become honored giving him a very respectable 6 political skill. If you can add fate to a character when the come into play (like Matsu Beonia), Eiji can potentially add a lot of value to the table.
Akodo Toturi – The Lion Clan Champion is the military counterpart to his former comrade-in-arms, Doji Hotaru. The ability to resolve two rings after winning on attack, or even one when winning on defense is strong whichever clan it is in. With a base 6 military Toturi becomes the highest we’ve seen in that category, especially when he is honored and becomes a 9. Although the two champions mirror each other in stats and abilities, the context for each is also worth considering. Toturi can benefit from Way of the Lion (seen later) and climb to a gargantuan 12 skill (or 15 while honored!). As with other expensive characters, be very careful overinvesting fate into him. Once he hits the table he will become a priority target for opponents’ control effects, but even then you are likely to see Toturi make a cameo in battles via Kitsu Spiritcaller.
Vengeful Oathkeeper – The Oathkeeper is the final card in the Lion Clan arsenal which punishes opponents who dare to win conflicts against the Lion. It will be important to time Vengeful Oathkeeper correctly whether you are playing it offensively or defensively, because characters put into play via an action’s text cannot have additional fate placed onto them. There are a few key scenarios in which Oathkeeper can be useful: If your opponent successfully attacks in a military conflict and you have either conflict type remaining Oathkeeper can be an easy way to change the board unexpectedly so that you can get an easy ring in either conflict type. Alternatively, if your own military conflict is unsuccessful against an opponent who defended heavily, you can use the Oathkeeper as a pinch defender against their counterattack. Finally, it should be noted that you still have the option to play Vengeful Oathkeeper as a standard conflict character and add additional fate to him (it is confirmed that characters entering play via an action cannot have pate placed on them).
Master of the Spear – The second conflict character for the Lion is a bit more controversial. Playing Master of the Spear from hand and then using its action will cost tempo compared to simply playing an event card with similar effects. The character who is sent home is chosen by the opponent, which means that it will always be the weakest possible choice. The action also send home opponents in the ready state, so they can attack or defend the next conflict. Generally, tempo is most important at the beginning of a battle when both players have the most potential options and targets for actions. By playing Master of the Spear early in the conflict, your opponent will have an opportunity to respond to Master of the Spear directly, and have the most available opportunities to change their plans for the conflict. If you play Master of the Spear late in the conflict, the power of its ability is weaker, as it will likely hit a bowed character or one with an action that has been used or can be used from home. That isn’t to say that Master of the Spear isn’t without uses, but it’s a card that rewards careful play.
Guidance of the Ancestors – Another card in the theme of Lion’s ancestor recursion, Guidance of the Ancestors is basically always available after the first time you see it. If cards are printed that require a discard as a cost, this card could become a staple, otherwise it is a decent attachment with two stat points for one cost.
Honored Blade – The first Lion attachment carries on in the footsteps of Ikoma Prodigy by giving Lion access to direct honor gain with a fairly easily achievable condition. When coupled with the fact that this attachment can be dropped into a conflict you are already winning, this card bears consideration for any deck that wants to attempt an honor victory and is considering a Lion splash.
Sashimono – Lion’s second attachment is easy to underestimate. The ability to not bow during a conflict means that a character can potentially both attack and defend military conflicts, and then be available to either defend or attack in a political conflict.
Ready for Battle – Another card worth considering when splashing Lion, Ready for Battle is particularly strong against control decks that try to remove threats by bowing them. It is a card that will be required to be accounted for, even if there are decks that don’t include it, simply because it can be extremely impactful if played at the right time.
Stand Your Ground – Continuing along with Lion’s alternative economy, Stand Your Ground essentially converts the honored status into an extra fate. Depending on how much self-honoring Lion gains access to, this card’s mileage can vary considerably. It has a good synergy with self honoring cards like Honored General or a Gunso that has won a battle.
Way of the Lion – Way of the Lion has a strong effect that fits nicely into decks with high average printed military skill. Be sure to spread your skill modifiers around since Way of the Lion doesn’t apply to any bonuses the character might have, and stacking too many bonuses on one character makes them easier targets for control.
For Greater Glory – One of the cornerstones of Lion’s wide board deck economy, For Greater Glory can be absolutely devastating if played on a key turn to prevent your board from turning over when your opponent’s does. Do note the restriction that it only affects bushi, so decks running combinations of courtiers and shugenja might have fewer opportunities to play an impactful For Great Glory.
Strength in Numbers – The final conflict card in the Lion lineup, Strength in Numbers has a targeted effect similar to that of Master of the Spear, but with fewer restrictions and drawbacks. Lion should get good mileage against any clan fielding low or mid range glory characters, but even high glory characters are valid targets if your board is wide enough.
This concludes our overview of the cards of the Lion Clan. Check back soon to see our thoughts on the enigmatic Dragon Clan.