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Superior Tactics #1: Iuchi Karasu

Welcome to the first issue of Superior Tactics, a weekly Legend of the Five Rings strategy column. This column will focus primarily upon single card strategies, but look for occasional articles on a wide range of strategic elements. I hope for Superior Tactics to be a group effort -- I doubt I can produce quality articles every week, nor can I represent all points of view or spot all of the cards which deserve consideration. If you would like to write an article for Superior Tactics, contact me with a subject proposal by email at or peruse the submission guidelines at .

To start things off with a bang, I've written about one of the Unicorn Clan's most interesting Personalities. I urge people interested in submitting articles not to be daunted by the length of this piece, I just had a lot to say.

Iuchi Karasu - Uncommon Personality (IE, EE, OE) - 2F - 3C - 4HR - 7G - 3PH Unicorn Clan Shugenja Open: Bow to move a Follower from one Personality you control and attach it to another Personality you control.
Iuchi Karasu - Uncommon Personality (TotV) - 3F - 3C - 4HR - 8G - 3PH Unicorn Clan Shugenja * Experienced * Unique Battle: Switch the locations (between Provinces and/or unassigned at your fief) of any two of your units. You may target bowed Personalities with this action. You may perform this action once per turn.
Iuchi Karasu - Uncommon Personality (HE5) - 4F - 3C - 3HR - 11G - 3PH Unicorn Clan Doomseeker * Shugenja * Experienced 2 * Unique Open: Once per turn, target a Personality in play. That Personality may not assign or move into a battle this turn.

While the Unicorn attract fame for their horse-based attack philosophy of "go where the enemy ain't," Iuchi Karasu, a shugenja on foot, uses different methods to ensure the stones find the right place on the board. The enigmatic doomseeker's trinity of versions present a triad of methods for controlling the movement of troops.

When Imperial Edition came unto the world, Iuchi Karasu joined three other Unicorn shugenja to form the second most powerful clan of Spell-slingers. At the time, however, even the Phoenix magic masters were hard pressed to construct a winning strategy and little of the Unicorn magic potential became kinetic. As time went on, Unicorn continued to receive shugenja, but their magic has largely gone untapped, pony players preferring province popping practice.

The original Karasu comes out cheap from either Unicorn stronghold and sports a three personal honor. Why, then, should a Unicorn player use him instead of the Unicorn's famous high-force first-turn furies (Kamoko and Goshi) or numerous Personalities of purity (the aforementioned pair, Otaku Tetsuko, Otaku Xien-Chi) who all at least have cavalry? First, Karasu allows Spell casting. With many Kiho currently in frequent use, Karasu allows Unicorn access to Chasing Osano-wo, Flee the Darkness, Banish All Shadows, Walking the Way, and a host of other Kiho and Spells for which Karasu's inability to ride with his clansmen presents no obstacle. Furthermore, since cavalry isn't as big an advantage on defense, Karasu may be just the frood to lay down an Entrapping Terrain, cast Earthquake or Fist of the Earth, or Block some Supply Lines while his mates recover from the previous day's raid.

The Unicorns, however, have several other shugenja who can fill such a role just as easily. Iuchi Katta, Horiuchi Shoan, and Iuchi Shahai all lack an honor requirement. Iuchi Daiu has higher chi and lower cost. None of Karasu's peers, however, have his interesting ability. Normally, to move Followers from one Personality to another, both involved Personalities must bow, taking the two and any Followers in question out of commission for a full round. Karasu allows the transport of a Follower for the low cost of a single bowed 2F Personality. (Warstained Fields does the same thing, but can't cast Kiho. And prevents the use of useful Regions.) By and large, Followers are played on an acceptable Personality when originally played, but often they find themselves with a suboptimal leader to avoid falling into the discard pile. Karasu can move the Imperial Honor Guard from Toku to Takuan, a Spirit Guide to the Personality who just received the Wasting Disease or some other friendly present, or an unbowed Courier to Isawa Osugi. Play a Follower on Seppun Hotaitaka for the rebate, then move it off to balance unit force. Give experienced Shinjo Yokatsu a free Follower, then spread the wealth. This odd-situational use, however, does not usually warrant the use of Karasu. Instead of drawing a Personality to whom a Follower happily attaches, Karasu showed his masked face.

Unlike the conventional method of attachment transferal, Iuchi Karasu possesses an Open ability, allowing him to move Followers in battle or on an opponent's turn. Iuchi Katta, leading a unit of Heavy Cavalry, could cast Chasing Osano-wo on Otaku Xien-Chi, but this would normally prevent the Follower's four force from contributing to the army's force total. Enter Karasu who does his mysterious dance and ZIP! the Heavy Cavalry appears on an unbowed Personality. Karasu targets the Follower and the Personality to whom it will be moved, but not the current controller, since a Follower is never controlled by more than one Personality. This would be an ideal way to recover from the Imperial Favor or a Block Supply lines, but both send the whole unit home bowed, so without someone like Toku experienced 2, fetching the Follower back won't help much beyond setting up for Stand Against the Waves. Test of Might, Show Me Your Stance, and Stand or Run all leave the Followers unbowed, however.

Karasu can be more devious still, especially with infantry armies. Early in the game's life, players recognized the power in ability to reposition troops after the defender has assigned her units. Karasu allows an attack on multiple provinces where prudence might dictate one to focus on a single target. Based on the defense, Karasu allows one army to keep enough force to destroy the province, but moves the critical Follower (who has, perhaps, been pumped up by Yasuki Nokatsu experienced or other force boosters) to the battle which has a result in doubt. Or perhaps you'd like Hiruma Zunguri and his Imperial Palace Guard to stick around and deter any possible Counterattacks. But you're a few force down once everyone's said their piece (and you've your Philosopher). Iuchi Karasu steps to the rescue, spiriting the guard into the fight. By and large, this is something of a party trick, but I've won games thanks to Karasu's quick delivery of a Berserkers to a unit which rode with the speed of cavalry a moment before.

Weighing in with three personal honor and and seven gold cost, the nonexperienced Karasu almost warrants consideration for the Sacred Temples of the Phoenix, but since he provides neither honor nor an ability particularly useful for most Phoenix decks, his inclusion is unlikely in most circumstances. Joining Isawa Natsune, Asako Yasu, and Isawa Mitori in the exclusive category of nonunique shugenja with greater than two personal honor, Karasu may be worthy of a spot in a Shiba Phoenix deck, but again, such players tend to opt for cheaper folks with similar stats (many are the ranks of 2F/2C/2PH/4G shugenja).

The experienced Karasu, similar in brute numbers and theme to his early works, presents a new face of "here, there, and everywhere." Unlike Way of Deception (which has special wording), the swapping Personalities are both considered to move, so Karasu won't get someone out of an Ambush or your Zunguri into an attacking army, but he's helpful nonetheless. Karasu again allows last minute assignment decisions, swapping a clan champion for a small spud to win a battle or save the champion from a lost cause. Karasu holds the advantage over the shifty Yogo Shidachi in that he can move bowed units around -- he easily switches the bowed Tsuruchi for the towering Yoritomo. He pulls out the Crab Oni who unfortunately met the knuckled end of a Fist of the Earth in favor of a fresh one. He moves Toku the Favor Boy into a losing battle in favor of a critical Personality who met with some unfortunate action cards. Karasu's eight gold cost, however, leads me to recommend Yogo Shidachi for most decks concerned with the ways of water.

The latest incarnation of the man in the iron mask (which changed color yet again) quickly gained a spot on Rokugan's Most Wanted list, shared with the likes of Isawa Tsuke and experienced 3 Bayushi Kachiko. He therefore may warrant Kitsuki Kaagi's Journal or Mikio experienced as a protective measure. The Doomseeker essentially keeps your opponent's most dangerous Personality "stapled," preventing him from entering battle. Since Karasu doesn't need to bow to perform his action, he can keep one Personality out of battle for an entire run around the table. Or, if that Personality bows or otherwise becomes indisposed, Karasu can point elsewhere during the following turn and still be unbowed in case he needs to defend, though that places a most valuable asset at risk.

Simple are most tactical considerations for this card -- select a burly fellow with a clan sword, a shugenja with The Fires that Cleanse, or Togashi Rinjin against a weenie horde. Methods to deal with Karasu, however, prove a bit more subtle and more in demand. The easiest type of solution deals with Karasu himself. His three chi proves him excellent bait for Kolat Masters and Assassins or any of the numerous cards your neighborhood bloodspeaker carries. An Egg of P'an Ku or Ninja Shapeshifter will procure an eye for an eye, while Kitsuki Kaagi's Journal will keep your big slab in action. A pair of small shugenja can set Karasu at a stalemate with Counterspell or even Summon Faeries while Resist Magic may throw a monkeywrench in delicately calculated plans. Way of Deception (but none of the other musical chairs cards) will put your star in battle. Another trick is to attach a large item or Follower after Karasu has selected his victim, getting the best out of a bad situation. Unfortunately, neither the Ring of Air nor Shinjo Technique will redirect Karasu's malice, as poetically just as that would be. Playing with Karasu himself may prove the best method to avoid Karasu's wrath and will give your opponent a taste of her own attempted medicine.

One obscure combo involves the experienced 2 Karasu and Oni no Mizu. Target a Personality with Karasu during battle. Target yours if you'd like to take out an undefended province or your opponent's if you want him to stay put. Then use Oni no Mizu to switch unit positions between battles. The Personality stapled by Karasu must stay put, however. So if you swap with an empty battle, the Personality finds himself facing a defenseless province. Add Fortified Infantry and other movement prevention tools for a larger effect.

The experienced 2 Iuchi Karasu receives by far the most fame, but the wise see uses for each aspect of this mysterious Personality rescued from death's door by Kuni Yori. Perhaps the most interesting character in the Unicorn clan, perhaps the most annoying Personality in the game, expect someone to seek doom in an area near you. Are you prepared?

Card text copyright FRPG, 1995-2000.
Article text copyright Trevor Stone, 2000.

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Last modified by Trevor Stone