The sage must find his own way to enlightenment. There are many paths that can be tread in many ways, but you must find for yourself just the path you want. However, even the sage must be shown the land by a guide. This guide will give tips (for Brotherhood players and others) on how to bring the five Elemental Rings into play.
I edit this document in bursts. Now that the first part of the Hidden Emperor story arc is over, I'll make another update soon.
Fire, the ever changing element, has the power to destroy or to heal. Our mastery of fire sets us apart from other species, yet we who know fire best can be hurt the most by it. One who has mastered the energy of fire can move and adapt quickly, like a flame. They don't need to think about how to move, they their body moves by instinct, and the mind is clear.
Fire is one of the harder rings to get into play, because it either requires your opponent to challenge your personality to a duel (which she often won't if she thinks you can get a ring), or it requires a card to prevent your higher-chi opponent from striking first. There are three basic ways to play the Ring of Fire. The first is to start a duel in a stat which is not chi. Test of Might with Hida Amoro as your challenger can be an almost certain Ring of Fire. With Show Me Your Stance the duel becomes a contest of personal honor.
The second primary way to master the way of Fire is to be able to play the first focus in the duel. The simplest way to do this is to use a Tetsubo, Takao, or Isawa Tsuke. This allows you to start up some large chi focuses, perhaps with Strike of Silent Waters or double chi. A craftier way to allow you to focus first is by convincing your opponent to challenge you. One way to do this is Kolat Instigator, though in multi-player, the instigated will likely challenge a player who isn't trying to get the Ring of Fire into play. A second way is to make your personality a big and easy dueling target through A Soul of Thunder.
Of course, if your opponent is forced to focus (Iaijitsu Art or Stress), then you can just worry about outfocusing your opponent, rather than going first. Note that Iaijitsu Art doesn't let you do things "instead of focusing" (like Smoke and Mirrors), nor does it allow an Oracle of Fire or Yoshi exp. bonus, but you can still use Let Your Spirit Guide You, Toshimoko Sensei, or Touch of Ameterasu to increase your focus value or Legacy of the Dark One to lower your opponent's focus value.
The third main way to win the Ring of Fire is to boost your chi as a reaction to the beginning of the duel. Togashi Yoshi, Void Strike, Oracle of Fire, and A Moment of Clarity all do this specific task, while cards like Nemesis and The Obsidian Hand and personalities like Shiba Tsukune, Hiruma Kage, and Hiruma Osuno boost a personality's chi by dueling in certain circumstances, while the Ratling Thief can boost chi and start a duel at the same time, as can Matsu Hiroru. If you head up against a personality with an item, you can often lower their chi below yours with Essence of Fire, Jiujutsu Duel, or Hirariko. And then you can always use Shosuro Hametsu and Sympathetic Energies to create a keg o' poison.
Once a player set up a favorable duel, he becomes faced with the challenge of winning it. The simplest way to take on this task is simply to have better foci than the opponent, though an enlightenment deck often needs to hang on to as many cards as it can. A more elegant way to win the duel is to take advantage of foci and strikes. Double Chi is one way to go about this and Strike of Flowing Water can produce a similar effect, while Chi Strike (especially when combined with a Bo Stick) can drastically swing the duel in your favor. You can also take advantage of the strike by playing Bend Like a Reed, Strike Without Thought, or experienced Yoshi.
One vital thing to consider when building your deck is what ways you want to start your duels. Using dynasty cards to start duels can help your fate deck work effectively; Isawa Tsuke and Matsu Hiroru can both have a decent chance to master Fire, especially with a Strike With No Thought. If you've got several personalities with high force and low chi, Test of Might is the best way to go, while the general favorite Fire duel is Iaijitsu Art. Since your opponent must focus once, you've got a chance to get your double chi focus in, to add chi as well as a focus, or focus once and Bend Like A Reed. Further, it's unrefusable, and the opposing personality is only dishonored, so the player isn't too intent on saving his life. And Iaijitsu Art can allow Doji Reju with a Kharmic Strike to be a sure fire way to get the ring (well, save Another Time).
Fire's helper item, Mantle of Fire, can make things much easier on you. All you need to do is win a duel, and you're set. A Tetsubo and any unrefusable duel like that provided by Kolat Bodyguard can be an easy way to Fire.
Once out, Ring of Fire is a great help in the rest of your duels, since you know exactly what your opponent has focused, so that the only guesswork involved in dueling is what she's got in her hand. However, most dueling decks prefer to start with higher chi than the opponent, so if non-enlightenment decks include the Ring, it tends not to come out too frequently, though Crab and Dragon can often play and benefit from the ring.
Water is formless, supple, and soft. It follows the best path on its own, if you push it, it moves away. She who masters water can move without effort and respond with passive force. Following the way of water allows one to act without effort, to be in the right pace at the right time. It is better to use water than to fight fire with fire.
Water is probably the hardest ring to get into play, for you must win a battle on top of playing a 3+ card combo. The proper terrain to use depends on your deck style. If you've got lots of units with high force, Encircled Terrain (especially combined with a Musubi) can be a nice choice. If you have lots of small units, Narrow Ground can often give you the battle. And Contentious Terrain and A Samurai Never Stands Alone are both diversely solid terrains. If you're winning the battle and your opponent can't destroy a terrain, Deadly Ground can give you the ring easy. And if you're going to have corrupt shugenja, A Good Day to Die can be an almost certain Ring of Water (remember you just have to destroy the opposing army, a win is not required). Make sure to put enough terrains in your deck, because most of the time you'll need two.
The next stratagem involved in this ring is what method to use in destroying the terrain. The most simple is Diversionary Tactics, though the added versatility and higher focus of Superior Tactics often makes it a better choice, while the Akodo Lion stronghold allows you to avoid using fate cards to destroy the terrain. However, these options allow your opponent an action in which he can play a terrain, forcing you destroy yet another one. Instead, the sage often uses a card like Go Master, Suana, Oracle of Earth, or Armor of Sun Tao to replace and destroy in one fell swoop. The last two share the advantage that your terrain can't be destroyed, though your terrain does not have to resolve in order for you to play the Ring.
One reason that Water is so hard to master is the fact that you must destroy an opposing army or province. In an enlightenment deck, where your diversity of purposes often leaves little room for cards which do not directly help a ring, cards to help you win battles can often be hard to fit. Thus, concentrate on a few cards which can swing the battle in your favor. Musubi is one such card, especially in tandem with Encircled Terrain, while dueling, bowing, or sending home key personalities has caused the destruction of many armies. Also of note is Ambush, which allows you to keep the battle between two personalities, one of which (whether bowed or weak) you can be sure of destroying. Make sure you have a way to avoid being sent home, though.
The helper item for the Ring of Water, Drum of Water, allows you merely play a terrain and destroy the army, eliminating the requirement of extra terrains and destruction cards. Unfortunately, it requires the destruction of an army, so you cannot bang the drum after destroying an opposing province.
Once in play, mastering the Ring of Water gives your personalities "pseudo-cavalry." Your infantry may assign after your opponent's infantry, though only on your turn, taking away one big advantage of cavalry, your position as an influential ally. Thus, considering the difficulty of playing the ring, the only decks that tend to benefit from the Ring of Water are those which already have a heavy terrain focus (e.g. Akodo Lion).
Earth is the great giver. She gives us life, strength, food, and shelter. Yet we must tend the earth, lest carelessness would have her destroyed. From the earth we get the vital energy of chi, which we can use to protect ourselves and our homes or make our life better.
If you cannot get the Ring of Earth into play, chances are you'll have a hard time winning the game. To get this ring into play you must save a province from destruction. This task has two aspects: being attacked, and staving off that attack. For the first, you have a few options. The first is to make yourself a target. Perhaps the best way to do this is to gain lots of honor, but another way is to either play annoying cards or have something dangerous show up in a province. You can also use cards to force someone to attack you. Brash Hero and Shosuro Tage can both force a low-chi personality to attack you, but these personalities often don't have enough force to take a province on their own, and can also bypass attacking by lobbying for the favor. Today We Die is a better choice, but requires a samurai. Lions Attack the Crane is also a good way to force an attack, though the opponent can chose to lose the honor rather than give you a ring.
Once the attack is on the way, your options for stopping are endless. One way is to increase your province strength above the force of the attacking army, using Castle of Water, Hitoshi, Isawa Tadaka, and Agasha Koishi (who can also reduce a province's strength to be a viable target for playing the ring of Earth). Another method of getting the ring is using Entrapping Terrain, Torrential Rain, or Bridged Pass to end the battle before the province can be destroyed. You might also be able to save a province by forcing the opponent to move to another battle with Oni no Mizu, Isawa Tomo, or his Portal.
However, the most common way to save a province is just to deal with enough attackers to lower their force to an acceptable level. This can be in one fell blow (such as Encircled Terrain with a Musubi or Dispersive Terrain) or bit by bit with cards like Block Supply Lines, Fist of the Earth, and Iaijitsu Duel.
Certain clans can get the Ring of Earth into play easier than others. Crane is the expert on getting people to attack (and has a 5 province strength to boot). Crab has more defensive force than anyone else, though need a unit of 8 force to get higher than their base strength (though the Kaiu Utsu can lower YOUR province strength if you want). Scorpion can (with a little effort) reduce their province strength to 0, making any attack a valid target for the ring, while building A Hidden Fortress can give you a nice easy target to draw a weak attack onto.
Since the Ring of Earth requires action by your opponent, it has two items which make it easier to play. The first is Hammer of Earth, which can give you the Ring without having to go through all the dirty business of having enough defense to save the province. The Hammer also allows you to play the Ring as an ally, though you may need to use Tides of Battle to get in there. Earth's other helper item, Armor of Osano-wo, allows you to play the ring by attacking, though you must guard against the bearer getting sent home or destroyed.
Once in play, the Ring of Earth is useful for any deck. It can make a Crane province that much harder to knock off, give Dragon's last province a strength of 14, or require attacks to have to have just THAT much more force to be worth launching.
Without thinking, we do not notice the air. In its natural state at rest it is invisible, inaudible, tasteless, odorless, and cannot be felt. Yet if the sage attunes herself, she can learn much from the air. From the air one can learn the ways of secrets, of free motion, and of destruction. Air will form to any shape, and after long study, shugenja have learned to shape the air to fit their ways. Or rather, the shugenja have learned to shape their ways to work with air.
Air is almost certainly the easiest ring to get into play. All you need to do is cast three spells, three kiho, or use the innate abilities of three shugenja, or perform some combination. There are spells, abilities, and kiho that help virtually every deck. If you're looking for force you can have Strength of My Ancestors or Biting Steel. If you're looking for protection you've got Benevolent Protection of Shinsei, Castle of Water, Evil Ward, Earthquake, Torrential Rains, etc. If you want card advantage (to get some more rings into your hand, perhaps), you've got Look Into the Void, The Endless Well, and Wisdom the Wind Brings. If you don't have anything better to do, Walking the Way for Walking the Way for the ring can be most of the way there. In short, find some spells that work well with your deck, add a cheap shugenja or two, and wait for the right draw.
Innate abilities (actions a shugenja can perform) are often preferable to spell effects as you only have to draw the shugenja and leave your hand for other things. The best abilities to use are either Open or Limited, as you've often got better things to do during battle than try for the Ring of Air. To this end there are some nice choices for shugenja: Agasha Heizo and the Naga Shugenja can move towards Air while producing force, Isawa Uona, Kuni Yori, and Ratling Conjurer can all work towards both air and void simultaneously, while Isawa Tsuke can take you towards Fire. You should adapt Ring of Air to your deck, most clans have an aligned personality with an innate ability, and there's bound to be a spell to help you. If your deck is in need of followers, you might want to consider Minor Shugenja or a kiho-casting follower like Monk Advisors or Monk Warriors.
Kiho actions can also be an easy way to get the Ring of Air out, as they have no gold cost and are played when your opponent may not expect it. The main bonus is that Monks can play Kiho actions, meaning that a player of the Brotherhood does not need to devote space to shugenja and spells just for the purposes of Air. Again, the Open or Limited actions (Strength of My Ancestors, Wisdom the Wind Brings, Touch of Ameratsu, etc.) that help you in other areas are best, as they give you the flexibility of playing Air at almost any time.
The helper item for the Ring of Air, the Tapestry of Air, is perhaps the least useful. To use it, you must participate in a ritual with at least three shugenja (Benevolent Protection of Shinsei is one easy example). Most decks which are capable of pulling that off, though, shouldn't need a 6G item to get three separate spell effects/innate abilities out in a single turn.
Once out, the usefulness of this ring depends on what sort of decks you are facing. Against a spell-less deck the Ring of Air is useless aside from attaining Enlightenment, but against a deck with even some spells it can be a nice card to have. You can, for instance, redirect force bonuses such as Biting Steel, nasty battle actions like Earthquake, or personality-killers like Touch of Death or The Wasting Disease. Be careful not to redirect everything you come across, because a crafty player may use a spell on you to get you to use your single ring-use for the turn and then bring out a nastier spell to cast. Seriously shugenja intensive decks (Phoenix, Dragon, etc.) are virtually the only non-enlightenment decks which will want the Ring of Air, however.
Absent from most Western thought, Void takes a prominent place in Eastern philosophy. Void is nothingness, yet he who understands Void can understand everything. If one has nothing, she has everything to gain and nothing to lose. Void is adaptable, if you have nothing you can fill it with whatever you need. "Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful... profit comes from what is there; Usefulness from what is not there." -- Tao Te Ching.
Void is the simplest to play: you must empty your hand. You may do this in any way, and is often accomplished along with another task. Yet all too often, the hand (like the mind) becomes cluttered with cards that can't be played, even one useless card prevents true understanding of the void. To this end, the sage should consider playing with cards which discard a card as a side effect. If you wish to discard your whole hand, consider Acolyte Kaede or Toturi is Drugged. Merchant Caravan is perhaps the most popular way to rid yourself of fate cards, as it is free, speeds the rate at which you bring cards into play, and can be used at any time to discard any fate card. Shugenja that discard a card as part of an innate ability can garner understanding of Air and Void simultaneously, to wit, Isawa Uona, Isawa Tsuke, Isawa Tadaka, Ratling Conjurer, Goblin Shaman, Kuni Yori, Togashi Yokuni (exp), Kitsu Toju, and Asahina Tamako. Several non-shugenja allow you to discard a card as well, Koichi, Oracle of the Void, and any tactician are two of note. You might also be able to play the ring by discarding cards you can't play to draw cards that may prove more useful. Look Into The Void, Contemplate the Void, and Mempo of the Void are three ways to do this, but note that even if the cards you discard empty your hand, you may not play the Ring of Void until the full action (discarding and drawing) have occurred.
The helpful item for the understanding of Void, Candle of the Void, allows you to get the ring into play without having to agonize about losing useful cards from your hand, though you still don't get to use the ring until your hand is empty. If you can allow any personality to stare at a candle for three turns (Toku presents a fine choice), Void is yours.