I'm continuing to publish a backlog of stuff I've accumulated over the past few weeks. By next week I should have an empty queue, ready for your Fire and Shadow articles. See the bottom of this article for more information.
Some people have skeletons in their closets. This week, Oliver Stacey tells us about the contents of the Goju's basement.
Welcome to my first column for Superior Tactics, or, indeed, anywhere. I'll be running through some tricks and hints relating to that most confused of creatures, the Shadow Beast.
The most common reaction from people upon first encountering the Shadow Beast is "Huh?". And I don't blame them. He's the first ever personality with both Ninja and Shadowlands traits. He gets a bonus from Shadowlands personalities, but he won't join a Shadowlands player. But he is a useful, if combo intensive, personality. [It would perhaps be a more appropriate pronoun, but the masculine is kept as a matter of English convention. -- ed.]
He won't join a Shadowlands player, but there are plenty of other decks that he does fit into. If you're a Ninja player, he's in clan, and you don't even have to worry about his honor cost, because you're immune to honor losses from Ninja cards. For a Unicorn player with the new Dark Moto Sensei, he comes in off of your stronghold. And just about any other clan can hire him; the Shadowlands trait can be a problem for some, but you can deal with the five honor loss via the standard means; Imperial Favor, Wind's Truth.
So what is he useful for? Well, he's a four chi Shadowlands personality, so you can use For The Empire to start an unrefusable duel between him and any Samurai in play, and you have a fair chance of winning. You can even use an Evil Portents or two to boost your chances; each one you play increases your lead in chi by two. His Fear 2 ability is quite a nice bonus too [and often overlooked due to the amount of space his main ability takes up on the card --ed]. He's a creature, so he's an acceptable target for Way of the Zokujin. But the main reason that you play with this fellow is going to be his special ability.
There are two sides to this: the Shadow Beast gets extra force, and other Shadowlands personalities get less chi. Let's look at them separately. Remember that the ability is an open action, so you can use it before/outside of battle.
To get the most out of the force boosting ability, you need to have Shadowlands personalities in play. As many as you can. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to do this. Probably the simplest is to play with lots of Shadowlands personalities yourself. Hey, you didn't need me to tell you that. But most Shadowlands personalities require a pretty hefty honor loss, so this could be a big problem for you. The Kitsu Tombs stronghold is one good solution. Not only do you have a mechanism for reducing the honor cost of any Oni you bring into play, but all of your shugenja have the Shadowlands trait too! Plus you have plenty of quality in-clan Shadowlands personalities like Matsu Daoquan and Ikoma Ryoso to keep the Shadow Beast company. If you are playing the Shadow Beast in his home clan, Know the Evil is a nifty little kiho in Fire And Shadow which allows you to give all Ninja personalities the Shadowlands trait and vice versa. I'm sure I don't have to connect the dots here.
Drawing out The Darkness is a kiho which permanently gives the Shadowlands taint to one of your personalities and one of your opponent's. An extra two force for each of your Beasts for one card isn't too bad. The region Black Finger River permanently gives the Shadowlands trait to all personalities coming into play from it; could be useful. The Sacred Temples of the Phoenix stronghold has a built in way for the Phoenix to taint their own shugenja. And finally, if you're playing an Open format deck, Stale Wind is a zero cost spell which allows you to bow your shugenja and give the Shadowlands taint to all personalities with a Personal Honor less than two. Build your deck correctly, and the Beast will gain at least as much force as a clan sword. The best part is that it doesn't even destroy the spell! [And let's not forget A Terrible Oath! -- ed.]
The second half of the ability, the one which reduces the chi of other Shadowlands personalities, is a little harder to see a use for. The "minimum 1" means that nobody is actually going to die from your use of the ability, and the most traditional way of getting rid of low chi personalities, Evil Portents, is sadly incompatible. Still, there are a number of ways you can make this ability work for you.
Firstly, consider that the Shadow Beast's home clan, the Ninja, traditionally have a problem with the Shadowlands. The Shadowlands Horde can produce a lot of height personalities very early in the game, especially with the Spawning Ground stronghold, reducing the usefulness of the Ninja stronghold's defensive ability, and eventually crushing them like a bug. With a Shadow Beast or two in play, this situation becomes a lot easier to manage. If you have enough Shadow Beasts on the table, the Horde player will need ten personalities to attack you, at which point the Beasts are gaining at least 10 force each before combat starts. One or two copies of Wounded In Battle can make this even more efficient. [Awakening Shakoki Dogu is another way to perform mass chi reduction, especially if you can bow some personalities or otherwise prevent them from leaving the battle. -- ed.]
Secondly, consider Jama Suru. The methods we discussed above for spreading the Taint work well, but when it comes to bringing one person at a time over to the Dark Side, nobody beats our bloodspeaker friend. When teamed up with our Shadow Beast, one could almost consider the pair to have the ability "Limited: reduce the chi of target personality by 1, minimum 1". Start to get the picture? With enough Beasts (or Ninja Shapeshifters copying their ability), the possibilities are endless: reduce the chi of your opponent's personality before issuing an Iaijutsu Challenge, or before sending Matsu Hiroru in to assassinate; remove that extra point or two of chi which prevented you from playing a Kolat Master or Kolat Assassin on your foe's nastiest personality; or ensure that your Wasting Disease or Dripping Poison token is enough to kill a personality outright. One warning: remember that Jama Suru's ability works only during your Limited phase, so this combo isn't going to help you much with battle actions such as Iaijutsu Duel and Wounded in Battle, as a smart opponent just won't let the weakened personality get into battle.
As a final note, the Night Medallion is a wonderful card when attached to the Beast. Increasing all the numbers on the card brings the minimum chi for the reduction to three, which makes the chi reduction side of things mostly useless. [Due to the odd definition of "numeral," a Night Medallion makes the Shadow Beast give all Shadowlands personalities +1C to a minimum of 3. If used after your other Beasts, your Oni won't be feeling weak before battle. -- ed.] On the other hand, the Beast will gain 3 force for every Shadowlands [personality] in play. If you have a Ninja Shapeshifter or two in play, they can copy the modified version of the ability, and gain excessive amounts of force too. With a Stale Wind, you might find yourself with more Force than you know what to do with.
 The friendly folks at Save the Ogres would like me to remind you that Ogres are also Shadowlands personalities, that they don't actually have an honor cost, and that their four chi means that they probably won't miss losing one to give the Shadow Beast a bit more force. Play with one today.
[Additional: Shadow Beast seems a natural compatriot of Maho-Tsukai. The only problem with the latter comes in its high cost. As a workaround, I suggest you build your deck relatively free of taint, and then drop A Terrible Oath or Stale Wind after setting up your evil friends. Another way around the dilemma is to use Cloak of Night. Furthermore, as long as you're tainting your opponent's Personalities, why not use an Ashalan Sandsmith?
An alert player may consider possible uses of the Shadow Beast's large force potential to achieve some goal outside of province crushing. Consider Threat and honor loss redirection. Or perhaps Imperial Levying and The Time Is Now suits your style. The Power of Incompleteness can create a dueling machine for Come One at a Time. Just watch out for Hoshi Eisai and Shosuro Technique. -- ed.]
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