This week, Justin Walsh, winner of GenCon US and GenCon UK, presents some insights about why his deck worked so well. You may understand the following article better if you check out his deck list at Deathseeker.com.
For the purposes of this article, I'd like to concentrate on the dynasty deck. This, almost exclusively, is where resource development takes place, and there are four general areas of development that I'd like to examine: gold, personalities, honour and provinces.
Firstly, there are what could really be considered the "primary" areas of development, which are Gold Production and Personalities. A secondary area is that of honour-production (almost exclusively developed through the dynasty deck), while a tertiary area (dependent heavily on the fate side of your deck, and therefore perhaps more properly identified as a bridge between development and denial strategies) is that of province protection.
Gold Production is perhaps the most singly vital area of resource development. While not necessarily the case in all decks, especially military blitz archetypes, honour decks and denial decks of any kind depend very much on their gold, and a poor start in these areas spells almost inevitable defeat. By and large, most clans are stuck with a very similar gold curve, having access to a broadly similar range of holdings. However, a few clans, most notably the Horde and the Phoenix (in particular, although any 5 gold producing stronghold has access to the same curve-breaking possibilities) have unusual characteristics which warrant a more careful investigation. The Horde's power comes from the fact that their gold is free (in the main), but the power of the Phoenix in gold production comes from two personalities, those being Seppun Kossori and Isawa Taeruko, the Master of Earth.
Seppun Kossori is really only playable from the Sacred Temples nowadays, being an unaligned 5G Shugenja. Her strength lies in the fact that she can be bowed for gold as soon as she comes out. This ability essentially allows you to bring in two holdings (assuming you have another affordable one) or another cheap personality in one turn. Obviously, getting this on the first turn can be a huge benefit, and considering that the Phoenix frequently go first, this can rapidly multiply into a game-winning advantage. During the time when the Shiba Halls was running rampant, Seppun Kossori was possibly the single most important personality in the deck, the one you always wanted to see first turn. With the arrival of Empty Crevasse, however, she's been relegated to second place.
Isawa Taeruko used to be little more than a handy Earth action for Master of Five. Her ability to fetch fortifications was little-used outside of this, and to occasionally fetch a Bridged Pass. When Empty Crevasse was released, however, she quickly became the most essential personality for the Phoenix to play, and for one simple reason: she utterly breaks the gold curve. With Taeruko in play from turn one you are practically guaranteed at least two free three gold-producing holdings, usually three, over the following few turns. [And she can get the first one on your opponent's turn, giving you 3 extra gold on your turn. -- ed.] When one considers that most decks run about 14 gold producers, you can see that she gets just under 25% of the gold-producers of a standard deck into play by the end of turn three, all for free. And Taeruko has further advantages. The deck I played for GenCon had three Silver Mines, three Empty Crevasses, three Merchant Caravans, and two Small Farms as its holdings. A total of eleven. Added to this was Three Seppun Kossoris, one Golden Sun Plain, and an Inheritance, for a total of 16(ish) gold producers. Quite a lot. However, when Taeruko is taken into consideration, the number of cards that directly lead to gold production is actually 19, practically half the deck. It's unusual to get gold-screwed with that number, and six of those cards can be considered accelerators (Kossori and Taeruko) which, if gotten early, quickly lead to a truly overwhelming production advantage. Furthermore, by removing holdings from the deck, the ratio of personalities to holdings increases, ensuring better draws for the remainder of the game. Even when Taeruko has finished her job of fetching the Crevasses, she is still around to do the more "menial" tasks like lobbying for the favour, casting spells and so forth. She is the ultimate in utility, and the best Phoenix personality in the game at the moment. Speaking of which...
Personalities are another form of resource (but only in the game mechanics sense. The day I look at Hochiu and think "Hmmm. What a good resource this card is" is the day I go back to playing Magic). Whether they are to be used to smack your opponent down or to valiantly defend your provinces, personalities can be roughly divided into to two classes: Active and Disruptive. Active personalities are those personalities who directly further your path towards your ultimate victory condition, whatever that may be. Disruptive personalities are those who directly interfere with your opponent's path to victory. To a certain degree, all personalities are both Active and Disruptive, particularly in the case of an honour-runner, where personalities are vital in both areas, but by and large it is obvious enough in which camp each personality stands. There are, of course, unusual personalities who fit roughly into both categories (e.g. Void Dragon) and personalities who could be either, depending on the circumstances (e.g. Kakita Yogoso). Moreover one player's "Active" personality smashing provinces is, to his or her opponent, a "Disruptive" personality (and how does one classify a personality that interferes with an opponent's attempts to defend?), but on the whole, and ignoring these inconsistencies which sadly cannot be dealt with in more depth here, the classification holds true enough to be useful in this discussion.
When one takes a look at the majority of Phoenix personalities, however, there might at first be some puzzled looks. While it should be quite obvious that Isawa Hochiu is a Disruptive personality, how does one classify Agasha Gennai exp? or Isawa Osugi? or even Asako Hosigeru? For me, Gennai and Osugi are active personalities, largely because of the unusual and specialised relationship that the Phoenix clan has with its Fate deck, while Hosigeru is a Disruptive personality, posing a potential obstacle to be overcome. But there is a good argument to be made for Gennai and Osugi being an accessory to the main disruptive elements of a deck (the fate side) and therefore being more Disruptive elements. In fact, a large number of Phoenix personalities possess this strong Active/Disruptive ambiguity (Shiba Gensui, Shiba Kyo, Gennai exp, Norikazu exp2 to name but a very few) and this is what enhances the "toolbox" nature of many Phoenix decks: the personality base exists to encourage and enhance this approach. In the main, it is only necessary to choose the degree of Active or Disruptive elements, and try to weld them together. I say weld them together because of one other very notable characteristic of Phoenix personalities: they are not inherently geared towards any of the basic victory conditions (I'm not considering Master of Five a basic condition here) in sufficient numbers. Phoenix personalities are almost all under 3 force (frequently 1 or 0) but some have interesting, if not easy, military abilities. Very few have personal honour over 2 (although many are quite cheap, but that leads to other problems). Their infamous proficiency at Enlightenment victories comes really more from Finding the Harmony than any inherent and dependable personality abilities (and I think we're all looking forward to seeing that particular card going out in its current form). But ultimately, it is this flexibility, coupled with the Phoenix's by now established tradition of, er, borrowing the best Shugenja of other clans, that lends the Phoenix their strength. As has been commented in many other places, it is nigh impossible to tell what you will be facing when you sit down opposite a Phoenix. One thing is almost certain though: unless you're facing Mo5/Finding, you will be facing a deck packed with denial in one shape or another. If the Phoenix can't be best at any one thing, they'll try and make sure everybody else is going to have a hard time of it too, and Phoenix personalities are geared towards making life difficult.
Honour is a resource, much like your provinces, and, for certain clans, an absolutely vital one. The Phoenix really are one of those clans. With an inability to seppuku, honour requirements for all but two personalities (one of whom is really bad, the other unique) and a penchant for bowing at inopportune times to perform actions, thus leaving themselves open to dishonour that the favour can't deal with, honour for the Phoenix can be a real problem. Set against this is an ability to gain honour in rapid bursts from cheap personalities, and their own disruptive abilities. Against a Dishonour deck I firmly believe that the best thing a Phoenix deck can do is absolutely nothing. Don't bow for the Favour (no Unrequited Love or Command of the Kami), in fact, don't bow period (except for Taeruko, during you opponent's action phase). Build up honour until you can establish your threat, then use it as a buffer while you get the job done. Of course, your opponent isn't going to make life that easy for you, but that's only to be expected. Dishonour is, to my mind, the single greatest weakness of the Phoenix at the moment, and family honour is a resource that should be jealously guarded.
Having provinces is good, this we all know. However, it has particular relevance to the Phoenix with Taeruko and Crevasse, and so warrants a small bit of further discussion.
Phoenix have crap province strength, and keeping them can be a problem. In terms of keeping provinces in the vital early game, one personality shines out above all others: Isawa Hochiu. With Hochiu on the table facing one unit, unless you have a Sneak in hand, you are almost certainly going to lose that unit, rarely a good exchange. Hosigeru performs much the same function (although really only against the Fox), but is exceptional in attack against clans like the Crane. The fate deck is normally where you'll find all the stuff that keeps provinces alive, but the Phoenix are blessed with a couple of personalities that can help out, as well as a host of options in manipulating the fate deck to get what is needed when it's needed. Taken in the greater context of the Phoenix's exceptional gold-production, however, province defense is rarely a problem. Given the number of personalities in the deck, and the speed of their development, it is not incredibly unusual to out-force a dedicated military deck after the first couple of turns. Again, the famed Phoenix habit of killing things helps a lot here, and once some kind of equilibrium is established, the Phoenix will rarely lose it as the control elements start to kick in. Militarily, the Phoenix have to be beaten up quickly.
This is where I'm going to bring this, unfortunately brief, overview of Phoenix clan development to a close. There's a whole lot more to be written on this subject (and that's just for one clan!) and each clan will have different takes on this, given the main archetypes of each clan will strongly differ. I'm hoping to do an article on denial in the Phoenix Clan some time (stop sniggering), and perhaps take a closer look at some of the aspects covered in this one. Thanks for reading.
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