Bow down before the one you serve
You're going to get what you deserve
-- Nine Inch Nails, "Head Like A Hole"
This week, Superior Tactics takes a departure from its usual fare. Rather than extracting general strategy by examining one card, I'll extract several useful cards by examining general strategy. If you'd like, you can consider this article as a tangential look at Dakosho. Prepare, therefore, to consider
Personalities make up the core of almost any Legend of the Five Rings deck. They provide the foundation of an army, they produce honor, they cast spells, they lobby for the Imperial Favor, and they use all manner of interesting abilities. While a deck can be built without Personalities, a deck dependent upon Personalities cannot operate without them. Thus, a player who can put her opponent's Personalities out of commission finds herself largely free to complete her own mechanations for victory. Methods for bowing Personalities, and thus temporarily removing them from activity, generally fall into three categories based on the time at which they can be used -- as Limited actions, as Open actions, and as Battle actions.
But first, a word about bowing in general. Bowing a Personality usually provides only a temporary solution to a permanent problem. Without a follow-up present like Touch of Death, bowing a Personality merely holds it back for a turn. Of course, a single turn often gives a player enough time to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Since methods of bowing tend to be cheaper than methods of destruction, a delay may carry a greater net value than a permanent end to your woes. And with experienced 2 Bayushi Goshiu around, bowing can be a goal on its own.
Bowing a Personality during your own Actions Phase sets you up for two major advantages. First, you can immediately proceed with kill cards like Ambush, Matsu Hiroru, Touch of Death, Bayushi Areru and his friend the Ninja Questioner, or a challenge from Bayushi Yokuan. You can also stop a particular Personality from being used with a card like Makoto, but a smart opponent wouldn't use that Personality anyway.
The second boon from bowing Personalities during your Actions Phase is that, barring Seize the Day!, you may follow your action in short order with an attack, keeping the bowed Personalities out of the battle. An attacking player often leaves a single unit in his Fief to use Entrapping Terrain, Bridged Pass, or Torrential Rain when follow-up attacks come his way. Distracting this Personality often allows an army to enter the opponent's territory unhindered. A savvy general need not remove from consideration an entire opposing force; it may be enough for her to cripple merely the most potent weapon in the enemy's arsenal. Tsuruchi and a legion of bowmen will be hard pressed to shoot your troops if they remain in their tents. You need not fear the 12th Black Scroll from Togashi Yokuni's heart if he's out on some mysterious mission. Of course, Otaku Palaces players will just neigh at you, but you've got everyone else's number.
Whispers of Twilight provides the most effective battle-preparatory Limited bowing, even detaining the bearer of Kitsuki Kaagi's Journal provided enough Shugenja participate. Wind-Borne Slumbers does a similar number, though at higher cost to your fate deck.
Kouta provides a reusable precision hit with the added bonus of facilitating (ab)use of your own Personalities. Unfortunately, as a Personality, she gives your opponent time to account for her presence and act accordingly. And of course, you never know when the Entertainer might be used against you.
The Ruby of Iuchiban allows serial singleton subversion, and can keep a Personality bowed indefinitely, as can the experienced Bayushi Kachiko. A Personality who can't get up is just about as useless as one that's down for good.
Ninja can do some amazing body work while delivering a Deadly Message. Their Kidnappers can keep a Personality bowed or delay an opponent's purchases for a turn, and you can even bow it to use Kitsuki Iyekao or buy it with a Ninja Stronghold. Unfortunately, neither can hog-tie Ancestral Sword bearers and the like. Furthermore, the Kidnapper's not much help in the late game when players have lots of gold handy. This can work to your advantage in a multiplayer game, however, if you'd like an ally to straighten a bruiser for the attack.
Sake Works and Rank Hath Privilege (new in Soul of the Empire) will bow dishonorable folks while Den of Mujina can make a player choose between her hand and her Personalities. And in the miscellaneous corner, Suzume Mukashino can bow an of a handful of Personalities while he isn't gaining you one honor per turn telling stories to himself.
Open actions that bow Personalities possesses a superset of advantages of a comparable Limited action. Any Open action can be used as if it were a Limited action, and thus everything I said about Limited actions holds for Open actions as well. In theory, Open actions provide the same benefits as similar Battle actions, but many Open "bow you" actions can't be used in battle.
Bowing a Personality during his controller's turn not only allows you to keep his Unit from defending for a turn, it also prevents the Unit from attacking. Rather than trading provinces, you may have saved yourself for a turn and secured an opposing province for your own. Should the opponent have planned to play Rallying Cry, you've provided yourself an even bigger advantage.
Timing such an action may require some educated guesswork, however. When your opponent attaches a Farmlands token, do you pass, possibly missing your opportunity entirely, waiting for more Followers to appear? Or do you bow the largest Unit around, only to watch a different Personality receive Imperial Honor Guard and a Berserkers? Do you bow Silence, fearing several force bonuses, or do you bow the currently larger Yasuki Nokatsu unit? In the first situation, a good rule of thumb is to wait to bow a Personality until the total opposing force exceeds what you can handle. In the second case, use what you've seen of the opponent's deck as a guideline for what may be to come. Take a worst-case guess at the contents of your opponent's hand and may the fortunes be with you.
Bowing a Personality during your opponent's turn also prevents her from performing any adverse Limited actions. You can bow the designated "Favor monkey" after your opponent draws a card, forcing an important Personality to go in Toku's place. You can frustrate your opponent's Shugenja in the critical moment after attaching Rise From the Ashes. If your opponent takes another action to start her turn, you can avoid the fiery wrath of Isawa Tsuke, the seductive gaze of Bayushi Kachiko, the insane plans of Jama Suru, or the terrible pain of contracting The Wasting Disease.
Imperial Summons and Toturi is Drugged both provide accurate drive-by bowings. The first doesn't take such a toll on your hand and can dash the hopes of an Ancestral Sword bearer with ease. Bowing such a Personality with the Imperial Favor before battle is usually a wiser move than waiting to send him home, as it will not be prevented by A Test of Courage, Armor of Earth, Root the Mountain, Tsuchi-do, Rear Guard, etc. A player without the Favor must keep his Stronghold unbowed in order to use the Summons, however. While this should be fine with the Ruined Fortress of the Scorpion or Dark Path of Shadow, other Clans may find the price a bit steep. Toturi is Drugged, on the other hand, can be played without spending a zeni. It's best for small-chi units, such as those liable to cast spells, and allows an easy Ring of the Void. It'll also keep coming back with Kitsuki Iyekao and can be played by Shadowlands Horde players.
Yogo Asami deserves her place among the Rokugan's Most Annoying list. She can't hit a particular Personality, allowing Toku to prevent Toturi from succumbing to his woman problem. However, when a player only has one Personality in play, Asami is as good as a sharp shooter. Her effectiveness lies in preventing your opponent from mustering an early attack, and then turning around to bow the rest of his people on your turn in preparation for your own mighty military maneuvering. Note that, while Asami can use her action in battle, she must be present to do so, and the opponent can bow a spud left at home.
Threat is a one-shot Asami with an honor cost and less battle viability. It can, however, catch a sole defender off guard in preparation for a Counterattack. It can also produce some rather large honor losses for The Wind's Truth. If you don't anticipate having much honor, The Emperor's Right Hand will also do a one-shot Asami.
Kolat Oyabun can, given a little time, set up a Personality to submit to the might of Permabow (tm), which is almost as good as killing them. Bloodspeaker's Deal allows the Personality to be bowed during battle, even if the bloodspeaker isn't present. Honor's Cost varies in effectiveness depending on its targets, but it will probably average at about five or six gold. And Soul of the Emperor brings Brothers in Blood, which'll hit a dishonored Personality any time, anywhere.
Curse of the Rot Within lacks the surprise of the Action cards, but players often don't notice it, since it's a card they don't usually see. It's nice for bowing Personalities right after they attach something.
In most L5R games, a majority of the action comes in battle. Bowing a Personality in battle might save a province from an early attack or provide the critical force swing to obliterate an opponent's army. You can remove the threat of the Crab Oni with a clan sword, a shugenja prepared to cast The Fires From Within, or Ikoma Ken'o making ready to decimate your army. While bowing a Personality before the attack can postpone your opponent's plans of aggression, bowing a Personality in battle can permanently disable such plans. However, waiting until a battle to bow Personalities may force you to contend with Followers, Rear Guard, or an early end to the Battle Actions Segment.
Bowing is far from the only way to subdue opposing Personalities. Ranged attacks and a whole host of Spells, Kiho, and special abilities kill Personalities outright. Offing a Personality prevents the rest of the unit from taking actions and makes sure that the bugger won't be back if you lose the battle. However, a dead Personality doesn't provide any honor come resolution, and a Personality trucking around a lot of Followers can provide a truckload of honor. Also consider killing the bowed suckers with Forest Fire.
Bowing Personalities also prevents their controllers from targeting them; the careful player can take advantage of this fact. If an army's highest chi is three, bowing Morito Tokei and a pair of Toku before playing Defeat the Reserves will send the rest of the army home. Bowed Personalities must stay in place and experience the bad morning breath of Awakening Shakoki Dogu. Bowing an army before playing Come One At A Time prevents the scrubs from running away. Even if you lose a battle in which you bow most of the opposing army, the survivors can't move into another battle when you play Accessible Terrain.
Scorpions aside, most people who put bowing battle actions in their decks do so primarily for defense. Quick attack usually worry more about Entrapping Terrain than a large defensive army. However, an attack deck designed to do most of its work during the mid-game or one which doesn't generate as much force as other militant decks may wish to have some way to neutralize their foes. And almost any multiplayer deck can expect to experience a large-scale battle at some point.
The Yogo Towers stronghold set the Scorpion Clan as the acknowledged masters of bowing stuff. Obvious but effective, a horde of small Scorpions will do a serious number on opposing armies... until they run up against some Farmlands tokens. Street to Street, Heart of the Inferno, and Asako Hosigeru can help them get around the Followers.
Thunder Dragon and Earthquake, favorite cards of old Sacred Temples of the Phoenix decks, knock a Personality down regardless of Followers. Stifling Wind and Fist of the Earth, Earthquake's toned down cousins, bow Followers and past bowed Followers; the latter has the advantage of surprise, the former of reusability. Mantis Bushi and Imperial Legion join this crowd as a non-shugenja solution.
Bribery, one of the least expected cards in the game, also ignores Followers when it bows folks, and is especially helpful in conjunction with Ryoko Owari, Secrets on the Wind, or Unrequited Love. Best, it doesn't require any specific type of Personality to use.
Stand Against the Waves remains one of the most effective ways to bow a lot of Personalities, but it again runs up against the Follower block. Ikoma Ken'o and Flood also bow by the pound.
Flanking Maneuver and Virtuous Heart both ignore Followers and have their own deck niches. Flanking Maneuver does well in weenie horde decks while Virtuous Heart combines well with Isawa Osugi and her creature Dragon friends, dishonor, and Legacy of the Dark One.
The Face of Fear will extend undead presents to Personalities. The experienced 2 O-Ushi does this without a fate card, and her first experienced version has a similar ability. Storm of Arrows allows some really large shots.
Kumo provides an expensive way to hit a small class of cards. And speaking of odd creatures, Nue can bow past Followers, especially while Sharing the Strength of Many. Purity of Spirit gives any kiho caster the same ability and four focus to boot. Throw Kenshin's Helm in the same basket.
Storms of War can bow a lot of folks, but only if their player will be busy. Expect crestfallen looks from Yogo Towers players.
Some methods of bowing Personalities don't fit into the above categories, yet they deserve special mention.
Peasant Revolt and Torn From the Past both bow large Personalities during your Events Phase. They don't discriminate, bowing Personalities on all sides. However, the player who resolves the event stays bowed for the least time; a weenie deck can use these events to bow all defenders and attack without fearing a reprisal on the following turn. It then straightens its few large units and attacks again, continuing to laugh at the opponent stuck in the mud. These two events are most often used by defensive decks, frequently saving themselves from two full Attack Phases apiece.
Imperial Funeral and Lion Attack the Crane give players the option of bowing Personalities or dishonoring them. Against a player unconcerned with honor loss, however, these cards can present you with as much of a problem as you hoped to give your opponent.
While Suspended Terrain bows Personalities as a battle action, it doesn't do anything in time to affect the battle's outcome. However, it stops Rallying Cry, allowing you to Counterattack, and keeps the units bowed for a round, giving you a chance to launch an attack during your next turn.
Fight to the Setting Sun performs a similar duty in multiplayer games. It's also useful to keep infantry units from moving in against a cavalry army and assuring the advantage with Accessible Terrain.
Overconfidence bows a Personality when he gets too big for his britches.
As you prepare decks for the upcoming major conventions, consider the advantages provide by the cards mentioned above. Decks which can deal with an opponent's threats will do better than a similar deck which focuses purely on its own advancement. Look at your deck and try to come up with the sorts of Personalities that could give it a tough time. Does Rise From the Ashes bug the snot out of you? Consider some cheap Open actions to bow the caster. Would you rather not deal with defensive units? Give Whispers of Twilight a go. Do large stacks of Followers give you trouble? Perhaps Earthquake is your thing. And by all means, test your deck a lot to check the mix of pro-you and anti-opponent cards. Get a feel for when and what opposing forces need to be hung up. Bowing a single Personality could well prove the critical moment during the Battle at Oblivion's Gate. Will you be prepared to do so? Or to respond if it's done to you?
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