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Superior Tactics #17: Hantei Sensei

Race to Volturnum looms less than a week away, so it's time to get into shape. Make sure you know what time the event starts. Check your deck to see if it's Strict Jade legal (shameless plug: my checklist). Make sure to get enough sleep. And make sure you listen to Vaughn Derderian, lest your deck gets capped in the knee.

If the Emperor tells you to do something, you do it. Commit seppuku? Sure. Stand aside and watch the battle? Sure. Don't use Superior Tactics. Uh, well...

Hantei Sensei - Uncommon Sensei (F&S) - +0PS - +0G - +0H - 2Fo
All Clans Sensei
Limited: Once per game, target another player and name a non-Elemental Ring Fate card. For the rest of the game, the player cannot use any copy of the card except for its Focus value. The player may name a non-Elemental Ring Fate card that you cannot use for the rest of the game except for its Focus value.

[Note: Hantei Sensei does not affect cards already in play; a player who can't use Spearmen can still bow them for a Ranged Attack. Pretend the text said "play" instead of "use." -- ed.]

To start with, let me tell you a story. This past weekend at the Hirariko's Redemption tournament, I got matched up against a friend of mine in the 5th round of the Swiss. He was playing honor Phoenix, and I was playing honor Crane. On my very first turn, as my very first action of the game, I used my Hantei Sensei, naming The Wind's Truth. He named His Most Favored. In his hand were two Wind's Truths. In my hand were two Iaijutsu Arts. Because I named the right card, and he named the wrong one, I was able to Iaijutsu Art him twice a few turns later, giving me the crucial lead in the honor race, and eventually letting me win. In one single action, the entire course of the game was decided. That's the power of this card. The question is, how can you harness that power effectively? In this article, I'm going to try to answer that question, and step by step, help you figure out if you should align yourself with the power of the Son of Heaven.

First off, determine if you should be using Hantei Sensei at all. For multiplayer and casual play, I think it's less than a great idea. In multiplayer, you'll almost automatically lose Rallying Cry, and that can pretty much eliminate your chances of doing anything good. [Of course, if you build your deck without a Rallying Cry, this isn't a problem. -- ed.] In casual play, when you're going to be playing 4 or 5 games against the same person, you'll always know what's best to Hantei after the first few games. It's a pretty good way to determine tournament viability, but a really bad way to make friends. In tournament play, you really need to figure out if you can afford to lose one important card out of your deck. Assume that when you Hantei, your opponent *will* get the most critical card you've got. Can you still function (and win) after that? For any deck using Rise from the Ashes, the answer to this is probably no. Most Rise decks tend to need those extra few turns of safety that they get, and losing that pushes them under. Also, if your deck depends on one key card or combo, don't use Hantei Sensei. By the end of any tournament, most people there will know what your deck is supposed to do, and anyone with Hantei will be able to kick you out pretty quickly.

Next step, figure out *when* you should use the Sensei, if at all. In many games I played this weekend, it really wasn't worth it to activate the Sensei. If I was already winning a game, there really wasn't much of a chance of Hantei improving my situation. On the other hand, key use of Hantei as quick as possible against my friend the Phoenix definitely won me the game. It helped that my choice was best for short term and long term, while his choice was strictly long term. He was hoping that eventually, his Togashi Yoshi's would negate my Iaijutsu Arts anyways, so his next best choice was easily His Most Favored. Unfortunately, I was way ahead of him. So, timing is crucial. Pay careful attention to what your opponent is doing, and try and figure out where he's going next. If you can block his path before he gets there, you've as good as won. [Of course, you can use Hantei and some critical card if you wait until after you've used the critical card before use. -- ed.]

Now, once you've figured out when you should using the Sensei, you need to figure out what you should use it on. This is, to say the least, important. Every time you use Hantei Sensei, you give your opponent a chance to get the same advantage over you that you're trying to get over him. Again, assume that your opponent knows your deck as well as you, and he's about to take the critical gear out of your well-tuned machine. Is the sprocket you're trying to take out of his important enough? One of the best decks I saw using Hantei Sensei was a Shadow Scorpion box. He used the Sensei after he had looked at your hand and judged the most important thing therein. Quick, reliable, and guaranteed to be accurate. However, seeing as most decks don't have that option, what you have to do to use Hantei properly is know the field (something that's always important, but even more so if you want to get full use out of this card). Make sure that you know your opponent's deck so well that when you name your card, you're able to fully cherish that look of crushing defeat on his face.

Now, for the backlash. Every deck has key cards in it. How can you make sure that you aren't hurt seriously by your own card? One of my friends at the tournament lost a critical game because his own Hantei Sensei was preventing him from winning. The easiest way to make sure that you can dodge your own backlash is, cheat. Using Forgotten Lesson on your own Sensei is the best way to get off a quick Rise from the Ashes or Iaijutsu Art, and one turn can be more than enough for Finding a little bit of Harmony. The next easiest way is considerably more difficult, so if you've got space, think seriously about Forgotten Lesson.

The next easiest way around Hantei Sensei is deck construction. Forgotten Lesson really only works for decks that need just one or two turns of freedom to get their combos off. For everyone else, sometimes one turn just isn't enough. With Hantei Sensei is out there, everyone should seriously think about their decks vulnerability to it. It's not a bad idea to start taking a look at some cards that are usually tossed off as lesser versions of the most efficient actions. Stand or Run instead of Iaijutsu Duel. Diversionary Tactics instead of Superior Tactics. Coordinated Strike instead of Charge. The other option is to make sure that you have backups for your key strategy. There's not much that can replace Finding the Harmony in a FETA deck, but honor decks tend to have 12-15 cards that are all in there to act as defensive measures. Losing any one of those, such as Block Supply Lines or Entrapping Terrain, hurts, but because of the redundancy inherent in the deck design, there's still a significant amount of good stuff left over. Take a good look at your deck, and see which solution suits you best.

Hantei Sensei is probably one of the best tournament cards to come along in years, and I think that it will be affecting the tournament environment for a long time to come. Make sure you take a good, long look at it, and think carefully about what it means for you and your deck. From what I've seen so far in the short time this card has been available, we'll all have to face the wrath of the Son of Heaven sooner or later.

Vaughn, The Random Ninja

[Additional: To best minimize losses from using Hantei Sensei, consider having things to do with cards besides play them. An unusable Rise From the Ashes still makes 4G with a Merchant Caravan. A nullified Deadly Ground will give Bayushi Aramasu 1F. A nixed Finding the Harmony will recycle a Kiho for the Eternal Halls of Shiba. You can toss it away with Look Into the Void or Retired Advisor.

The use of Hantei Sensei is largely one of metagaming. If used first turn, the only information you have to go on is your opponent's Stronghold and Sensei. When a particular deck type is popular, such a guess can have a high frequency of correctness, but it'll miss the oddball decks. If you wait for a while, you'll get a better idea of the deck type, but the critical cards might come out before you can guess them. Alternatively, you can wait until your opponent is able to use a card you fear, and then strike... at which point he knows what to expect from your deck.

The decision to include Hantei in a deck is largely one of metagame as well. Are there cards that will cripple your deck more than the loss of a single card from your deck? Are there deck types that will beat you thanks to a certain card? Will people be able to beat my deck with Hantei Sensei? Metagaming is the game before the game, and it only gets more complex as time goes on. (For an almost entirely metagame challenge, try the new 4/5 format.)

Toturi's Army decks, among others, have demonstrated the power of "card equivalence." The typical Corrupt Toturi Blitz deck has a host of 2G/2F followers. The deck didn't depend on any of them in particular, and any of them were roughly as good and interacted in the same way with the other cards in the deck or on the table. This deck style has few moving parts; rather than having three cards in the deck that do what you want, a player has many. This reduces the impact of poor shuffles, Hantei Sensei, One Life, One Action, or other cards which may stop a particular card. Regardless of Hantei Sensei, deck redundancy is a principle that all players should consider when selecting cards for a deck. Each card of importance should generate the question "If I can't play this card, what then?" Even if you don't have a back up plan, you'll at least have thought of ways to scrape by.

Of course, like many design principles, the sage finds the balance between the extremes of the concept. A deck in which every fate card is a 2F follower may well end up on the receiving end of a Heart of the Inferno. Hantei Sensei makes similar work out of Lesser Oni decks. Redundancy is good, but so is variety.

Incidentally, I really don't like Hantei Sensei. I don't mind encouraging people to think critically about their decks, to be creative with methods of equivalence. I'm as annoyed as anyone by the One Ring Circus of Finding the Harmony. But I also love to build decks based around a single obscure card. And Hantei Sensei shuts that down. I write Superior Tactics in part to spread the word about cards that are worth featuring in a deck, that are sometimes worth building an entire deck around. What's the fun in a Kolat Geisha deck if you can't play your Geisha? What's the point in coming up with a 6-card combination when your opponent can take one action to nullify the whole thing unless you draw an Amnesia? Any hope of a Lesser Oni deck winning GenCon is pretty well shot. Abusive cards should be dealt with in ways which don't hamper the operation of non-abusive cards. -- ed.]

Card text copyright FRPG, 1995-2000.
Article text copyright Vaughn Derderian, 2000, edited by Trevor Stone.

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