I apologize for the drought in articles, I've discovered that spare time is at a premium, even during summer. I will, however, try to maintain a quick turnaround time in articles I receive between now and August 5th. You opened your cards on Monday and have built a few decks, so roll with the frenzy and share your insights.
Much as sake and closing time conspire to elevate the attractiveness of an otherwise unremarkable geisha, the Strict Gold format's restrictions are forcing a second look at cards that no rational person would have touched in Open or even Strict Jade. One such card is The Endless Well.
Compare this card to the Kiho Banish All Shadows. Inferior on just about every count: it is restricted both by caster's Chi and card's Focus value, your opponent knows what you are getting, it even has a lower Focus value. About the only potential edge comes if you have a monster caster with 8 Chi or up and nothing better to do than fetch cards. Also, Well lets you replace the cards in order so you know what's coming up in your deck. (More on this later.) However -- Banish is gone from Gold and what you get for a card manipulation kiho is this little wonder.
At this point it's tempting to throw up your hands and do the easy thing, putting in Walking the Way for Fate deck massage. Walking the Way does cost you gold, but its effect is hugely more useful. Besides, in the current Gold environment, kiho have lost most of their support cards. Monks are few and low-Chi, and there are no monk followers who can cast kiho, so that's one advantage over spells that's gone. About all that's left for kiho help is the Shiba stronghold and the outcome of winning the Test of the Jade Champion.
But on the bright side, shugenja in Gold tend to have higher Chi than the standard 2-3 Chi shugenja in Jade and Open. Ironically, Phoenix shugenja are all 3 Chi or less except for their Hero of Rokugan and the preposterous Soul of Asako Yasu [Asako Ryoma]. But Crane and Crab both have first turn 4 Chi shugenja, and without too much trouble a honorable Scorpion can bring out a 5 (Angai), and Dragon, a 4 (Chosai). Kuni Utagu is a good low-honor rent-a-shug for any clan, and Chosai is first turn for Shiba Phoenix and Kosaten Shiro Crane. Gold will not have anything like the blanket Chi bonuses of the Fox or Monkey stronghold, but Fortress of the Dragonfly is always available for a general +1C. Incense of Concentration might be a good buy to boost Chi for shugenja decks relying on other Chi-dependent effects such as Facing Your Devils, Asahina's Breath, or The Wind's Truth.
So you've got your 4 or 5 Chi Shugenja looking through your deck. Now, the best way to set them up is to give them low-focus cards to go for. Most all terrains are 1 Focus, and your 4 Chi shugenja has 3 chances to get one. Dueling decks, paradoxically, will rely on a lot of 1 Focus cards in Gold -- the Double Chi kiho, the best single duel helper (it beats Poisoned Weapon); Iaijutsu Art; Facing Your Devils; Come One at a Time. Even better, there are some special cards with a 0 Focus in Gold. Dedicated duelers won't usually want Another Time or Kharmic Strike, but Let Your Spirit Guide You is decent in Crane, excellent in Lion tactician and outstanding with Utaku Yu-Pan. (The other 0 Focus card, Ratling Bushi, is right out.) Of course, if the card you really need is on top of your deck, there's nothing to stop you from pulling it, but identifying key low-focus targets in your deck can help you identify whether The Endless Well is worth it or not.
Because the Well's pull is one by one, it will take some nerves of steel to resist early higher-focus cards and hold out for what you want. Then again, you may want to go for anything useful that shows up early, because there's always the chance you could strike out, having blown a kiho to little good effect. Unfortunately, there are no other ways in Gold to look at the bunch of cards on top of your Fate deck ... except Well itself.
Could there be possible side benefits from Well's deck intelligence? Yes, but they are dubious except in the general strategic sense. Knowing the order of your deck is directly useful when you run effects that require a Fate pull, like Ryokan's Sword and Gambling House. But for these, you want high Focus values, not the low ones that Well requires. A possible use of Well, though -- one that doesn't require high casting Chi -- is to get a low focus top card into your hand just so your Gambling House or Ryokan pulls come with the best advantage. But I wouldn't build a deck around this.
In summary, the kinds of decks that can best use The Endless Well in Gold are shugenja-heavy duelers who already pack strong Chi and can use it easily to get the combo card they need, be it Double Chi, Iaijutsu Art, defensive terrains, Biting Steel, or Facing Your Devils. It's especially indicated for the Shiba stronghold, which can recycle it, and quite powerful if your shugenja with the Celestial Sword wins the Test of the Jade Champion. While the well is not quite endless, it can sometimes go deep enough to get you what you need.
[Additional: Information about your deck is most useful when you can draw extra cards. Gold is noticeably lacking in such cards, limited to Look into the Void, Toturi Sezaru, and Endless Well itself. The strategic value of holding onto the favor has significantly declined with the Four Winds; there aren't many reasons not to draw a card with Toturi Sezaru. This strategy is more effective in Open, although the Well is not. -- ed.]
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