Superior Tactics #32: Isawa Norikazu and Accessories

Superior Tactics hasn't exaclty been weekly for the last few weeks. Partly I've been pretty busy and fallen behind on my geekly vices. But partly it's because I haven't received any submissions. What cards stand out from experiences at summer conventions? What are the hot cards from Soul of the Empire? Have old cards changed with new rulings? Send in your thoughts -- I'd like to publish several articles in the next few weeks to make up for the missed weeks over the past month.

And if the dam breaks open many years too soon
And if there is no room upon the hill
And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon.
-- Pink Floyd, Brain Damage

Brew yourself a calming beverage and prepare to read part two in Superior Tactics's Not Fully Sane Shugenja Series. Learn how you can profit from this prophet, the Wackiest Wizard in the West,

Isawa Norikazu - Rare Personality (C&J) - 1F - 3C - 0HR - 10G - 2PH
Phoenix Clan Seer. Unique. Shugenja
Reaction: Bow as an Action card is being played from a player's hand that targets you, your cards or tokens (or if Norikazu is in a battle, that targets or affects that battle, such as a terrain). That action is canceled and its effects negated. The Action card is returned to the player's hand at the end of the Dynasty Phase this turn.
Isawa Norikazu - Rare Personality (HE6) - 2F - 5C - 0HR - 10G - 2PH
Phoenix Clan Seer. Shugenja. Experienced. Unique
Reaction: Immediately after an Event is revealed and before it is resolved, destroy Norikazu to destroy the Event, which is discarded without effect.
Isawa Norikazu - Rare Personality (HB) - 2F - 5C - OHR - 10G - 2PH
Phoenix Clan Seer. Shugenja. Experienced 2. Unique.
Limited: Target any one player and name a Fate or Dynasty card. The player must discard all versions of that card from his or her appropriate deck and Fate hand. Reshuffle the deck. Cards already in play are unaffected. A player cannot be targeted with this effect more than once per game.
Norikazu's Ravings - Uncommon Event (HE2)
Until the end of the game, all spells are destroyed immediately after they are used.
Norikazu Sensei - Rare Sensei (AmD)
Dragon. Mantis. Lion. Phoenix. Scorpion. Toturi's Army. Unicorn. Sensei
No Events resolve except those that create new victory conditions.
Scrolls of Norikazu - Rare Item (F&S) - 0F - 0C - 7G
Unique. Only a Shugenja can attach the Scrolls of Norikazu. Isawa Norikazu can attach the Scrolls of Norikazu without cost.
Reaction: Immediately after another player's Event resolves, bow this Personality to give each of your Shugenja +2F/+2C until your next turn ends.

When Isawa Norikazu made his debut in Crimson and Jade, I imagine he caused quite a stir. For starters, Anson Maddocks's picture of a man with eyeballs in his hands and a glazed look his eyes lent much to the imagination. He also had a very unique ability which separated him from every other card in the game. Until he came out, there was no way to cancel a generic Action card. He can bow to cancel a Test of Honor or Iaijutsu Challenge, a Facing Your Devils (Kiho are Actions too!), and a Block Supply Lines or Terrain (provided he is in that battle). There are several drawbacks, though. First, the Action goes back into the player's hand at the end of the Dynasty Phase. [Which means it doesn't come back if played during a Twist of Fate. -- ed.] This means that, most likely, the action will be coming back at you the next turn. Often, however, the situation will be different the next turn. During that turn you could have found Kitsuki Kaagi's Journal, hired Shiba Raigen, or rehonored a Personality slated for Shame, thus making the action less effective, unplayable, or forcing a change of targets. Or, of course, you could just use Norikazu again. Another drawback is that the Action card has to target you or your cards. Norikazu will never stop a Bountiful Harvest or Charge (unless they are charging you, to play Overconfidence), for instance.

Perceptive players will note that Norikazu has a similar ability to the exp3 Bayushi Kachiko, the slinky, sexy, Scorpion Selquet. Countless times I have heard her be called 'cheesy', 'abused', and 'broken'. Perhaps, then, we should compare her with Norikazu. They both have the same gold cost, personal honor, and chi. Norikazu has one more force, while Kachiko has a - honor requirement. Kachiko will join only Scorpion, while Norikazu can be hired by anyone. Kachiko can only be used against Battle actions, while Norikazu can stop Limited, Open, Battle and Reactions. Norikazu can only stop Action cards, while Kachiko can stop actions already in play. There is one large advantage the Lady Scorpion has over Norikazu (And I don't mean the pictures). Rather than bowing to perform her ability, her player merely discards a card from his hand. This ability lets Kachiko cancel a number of Battle actions up to the number of cards in her controller's hand. This includes nearly all actions that would send her home, destroy her, or otherwise negate her ability. Clearly, Kachiko holds the upper hand in battle, but Norikazu is by far the more versatile of the two.

When Isawa Norikazu experienced in Hidden Emperor, he again had a unique ability. Once again, his ability is appropriate to an Ishiken. Before him, the only cards that canceled Events were other Events, and thus unreliable. [Avoid Fate just delays things. -- ed.] Being able to cancel an Event is often more important than it seems. Countless games have been won and lost because of a single Event. Be that Event a province-destroyer, a new victory condition, or even an Event such as Emperor's Peace, the madcap laughs at them all. Of course, his cost of destroying himself is rather high, so it is usually good to save him for an especially crucial Event. Also, being unique, it is hard to use his ability on more than one Event. When Honor Bound came out, the Scorpion got another Personality to rival good old Nork. Hojyn, the Ashalan explorer who has essentially the exact same ability. There are few differences between them. Hojyn's 7 gold cost compared to Norikazu's 10 and his - honor requirement makes him easier to get out. Norikazu, however, is a shugenja with five chi, making him an ideal duelist in a Phoenix dueling deck. Hojyn, however, is a Scorpion, so has a large advantage in a Yogo Towers deck. The main difference between the two comes down to one trait. Norikazu is Unique, while Hojyn is not. That means there can be three Hojyns to cancel three of an opponent's Events. Sadly, Norikazu takes second to Hojyn in canceling events, but Norikazu is still a very worthwhile Void mage.

Like Iuchi Karasu, Norikazu's experienced 2 version is the version that draws all the attention and complaints (is it just me, or does he look less insane as he progresses?). Once again, Norikazu has an ability which represents avoiding Events in the future. Like his previous versions, he has a 0 honor requirement, 10 gold cost, and 2 personal honor. He also has practically the same traits, and the same force and chi as his experienced form. So, once again, it is his ability, not just his haircut, which makes him stand out. The ability to remove cards from an opponent before he even gets to play them is incredible. No one should need to be convinced why to use this ability, so let's move on.

While his ability is quite powerful, Norikazu is useless if you don't know what is in your opponent's deck. By the time Norikazu enters play, however, your opponent has usually shown you part of both his fate and dynasty deck. By the third or fourth turn, your opponent usually has several Personalities and holdings in play, and odds are they've played a fate card or two as well. Seeing these cards often means there are more of them in the deck, giving Norikazu a good probability of hitting two cards. When Norikazu names a card which has already been in play, however, he only hits two cards, maximum (with a few exceptions). Thus, if you have some way of knowing which cards are in your opponent's hand and/or deck (such as Ninja Spy or the Bayushi Stronghold) before they enter play, Norikazu has an even greater effect. Of course, you do not necessarily need to _know_ what is in your opponent's deck. A military deck will most likely have Rallying Cries, most Dragon decks use Agasha Gennai, and nearly all decks use Jade Works and/or Merchant Caravans. Like his previous version, Norikazu can single-handedly remove a winning condition, such as Master of the Five, The 38th Hantei Falls, and The Darkest Magics, merely by naming the Event. Alternately, he could name, say, Mirumoto Hitomi to remove all versions of her, prEventing the Death of Onnotangu (unless there was already a Hitomi in play). Norikazu can even help by targeting your own cards. You usually don't need more gold at the end of the game, nor do you need a Rallying Cry if your opponent has low force or only one province left. By removing cards from your own decks, you create a higher probability for getting whichever card you need. Norikazu is extremely useful if you have Paths of Wisdom or Shiryo no Shiba. By placing them in the discard pile, you can then return them to your hand, only to discard them again for some vile purpose (focusing with Tsuke, discarding with Gennai, discarding with Kuni Yori, etc.). [Even if you don't have anything in your deck you don't want, use Norikazu anyway and name Pearl of Wisdom. That way, your opponent can't copy Nork's ability and use it against you. -- ed.]

There are many decks in which Norikazu is a helpful attribute. While he doesn't directly help military or honor decks, he can hurt an opponent's strategy enough to warrant including him. He is slightly more useful in an enlightenment deck, giving an innate ability which can be used multiple times in one turn, as well as adding prEvention for the ever popular Doom of the Brotherhood. In a holding or Personality denial deck, he can help the cause by denying them before they enter play. He can help your opponent run out of cards for Doom of the Dark Lord, or remove your own Doom of the Dark Lord if you are facing an exceptionally large fate deck. He can help a dueling deck by removing Kharmic Strikes, Another Times, or Concede Defeats. If you play with cards to stop certain strategies, such as Sun in the Shadow or Breach of Etiquette, Norikazu can remove them when you face other opponents.

All these factors make Isawa Norikazu experienced 2 a powerful, versatile Personality. Thus, he often gets complained about. Whenever I hear someone bitch about him, I merely point out his disadvantages. First, he is Unique, and his ability can only be used once on each player. That means you only get one shot per player. Period. Second, he is a Personality, and susceptible do death just like everyone else. He has to survive a full round before he can use his ability (Unless Plans Within Plans or Twist of Fate throw a wrench into the works). If people don't use cards which can eliminate Personalities, they have no right to complain about them. Third, he only hits a few cards. True, he could remove all your versions of Otaku Kamoko, or all your Iaijutsu Duels, but depending on a single card is never wise. Just ask anyone who wins by Events. You either need to put cards in to get your cards back (such as Grasp the Earth Dragon or The Kami Watch Over Me) or be able to win a second way. Further, Norikazu only affects certain cards. He can't discard cards already in play, nor can he catch cards in provinces or under Kyuden Hitomi. He is also virtually useless against a Highlander deck (only one of each card). Unfortunately, all this still won't stop some folks from rambling on about how much he is cheesy and broken. [Players of Lesser Oni decks receive special complaint permission. -- ed.]

Isawa Norikazu, having graduated first in the Isawa Ishiken School, naturally turned his talent towards teaching others. Thus, he has earned a place among the new Sensei cards. Norikazu Sensei is one of the most powerful and versatile Sensei cards in the game. Wherever the words powerful and versatile appear, however, there are usually considerable weaknesses or downsides. It is just so with the Nork Sensei. While most decks can shake off the -1 to Honor and Province Strength, the -1 Gold really hurts many decks. On the plus side, he joins just over half the clans and has no other bad features. [Aside from the fact that your Events don't work either. -- ed.] His advantages are twofold. Not only does he stop Events from affecting the game, but your opponent has an unusable province the turn which the Event appears. Events are often a key factor in an honor victory, as well as an integral part of many decks' strategies.

There are, of course, limits to what this Sensei can do. Firstly, he doesn't stop Events which create new winning conditions. It does still cancel Events like Abandoning the Fortunes and Doom of the Dark Lord, or any other crucial Event which your opponent needs to win. The aforementioned 'limitation' can even be used to your advantage if your are playing an Event-win deck and don't want to see cards like Troll Raiders or The Age of Man showing up. Unlike cards like Yokuni Sensei, Large and Family Shrine, and Botsumoku, Norikazu neither helps you nor hinders your opponent when an Event goes of. This is balanced by the fact that the Event never goes off in the first place.

Perhaps the most hindering part of this Sensei is its -1 modifier to Gold Production. Most clans have strategies have strategies and cards which reflect their stronghold gold production. While anyone can build a deck designed to work off a cheaper stronghold, several clans lose a lot of off-the-box Personalities. Of the 7 clans which have access to Norikazu Sensei, it is probably hardest to adapt to Dragon and Unicorn. These to clans are loaded with Personalities costing 2 or more gold than the Stronghold produces. They also lose critical first-turn holdings (like Silk Works for Unicorn and Hiruma Dojo for the Dragon) when their Stronghold reduces its money-making capacity. The remaining clans all have something in common. They all originally had Strongholds which produce less gold than the newer Strongholds do. Because of this, they have a large number of Personalities who were suited to their previous strongholds, and a better choice when using Norikazu. Even Phoenix and Scorpion, with their low gold era so far behind, have large numbers of 4- and 5-gold folks (Phoenix, of course, has a seemingly unending supply of the fore-mentioned people). Also, the first stronghold of the Phoenix was able to produce additional gold, so the -1 modifier won't hinder their production of shugenja at all. Toturi's Army and Lion, too, harbor few 6 gold men and hordes of the 5 gold type. Finally, the Mantis have never had a problem with money, and since their mercenaries range from 2 gold to 15, they are hurt little by a slightly smaller stronghold. Even the Fox have an additional discount to alleviate gold problems. [-1 Province Strength hurts too, especially for clans with a low 5PS already. -- ed.]

Like every lunatic, Norikazu can hinder you as easily as help you. We see this through an Event from Hidden Emperor 2, Norikazu's Ravings. Unlike most things associated with him, Norikazu's Ravings seem to be aimed against his own clan. With Phoenix shugenja casting most of the spells you see, they'll usually be less than happy if this Event were to surface. Of course, many commonly used spells already destroy themselves when used, such as Walking The Way, Touch of Death, and Fear's Bane. These are only some of the annoying, resurfacing spells in L5R. The Wasting Disease is a terror in Open format, and Secrets on the Wind has often spelled doom (pardon the pun) within a dishonor deck. Of course, Ravings won't stop these from going off the first time, but many spells rely on continual use to become powerful. Norikazu's Ravings will even get past Isawa Suma's ability, as the spells aren't actually destroying themselves. Unfortunately, like many cards, this Event is near useless if you're opponent isn't playing with the right cards, and and has thus become obsolete. The way to get by this is to use it on yourself. "But why would I want to destroy my own spells?" you ask. Well, if you are playing a Darkest Magics deck, you may wish to destroy your black scrolls before they can corrupt you. I would recommend this Event for any such decks that aren't using Trading Ports.

A madman is of little good without his diary in which to transcribe his ravings. One scroll, two scroll, red scroll, blue scroll; you can get them all in this bargain package featuring all of Norikazu's known manuscripts. Be the first in your clan to own this limited edition set of history's finest literature -- a million household uses! The Scrolls of Norikazu are among a handful of items in the game which really seem more like spells. Like Curse of the Rot Within, only a shugenja can read these words of the future. The only notable difference, in fact, is that these scrolls are affected as items, so can be fetched by an Imperial Gift, destroyed by Hida Yakamo, and will not attach to an elemental dragon. (Additionally, they do not affect the number of spells a shugenja can hold, if it ever comes up.) Of course, being an item also means it is neglected by Naka Kuro exp2, Agasha Tunnels, Battle at Isawa Palace, and numerous Phoenix scribes, librarians and prodigies. Additionally, if going by a strict reading, only The 12th Black Scroll and Scrolls of Norikazu will protect a Personality from losing 2C to the First Scroll is Opened. [Plus, Norikazu's rantings don't get destroyed by his ravings. -- ed.]

Now, without further ado, and without saying the word 'scroll' again, let us examine the attributes of this item. First of all, it gives no force or chi bonus, keeping it akin to a spell. It's focus value of 3 is nice, if not outstanding for a unique item. It's gold cost of 7 can be slightly prohibiting, although if you are playing with Norikazu himself it can be free. Like all Event-triggered actions, this card has the potential to be anywhere from devastating to useless, depending on the contents of your opponent's dynasty deck. Against a fairly standard deck, one can expect to get a use of this item once every 3 or 4 turns, providing the opponent is cycling moderately quickly. However, if playing in a multiplayer game, it could be activated once every turn or two. The benefits of this card are obvious -- it provides a temporary bonus to every Shugenja you control. That means its +2/+2 bonus will be multiplied by the number of your Shugenja for the purpose of group statistics. Examples of such would be an army, a ritual, or the ability to play cards like Hantei the 38th, Thunder Dragon exp, and Crushing Attack. This can easily double the force of an all-Shugenja army, turning the balance of power dramatically (it works wonders against the Dark Path of Shadow as well).

Of course, the force and chi bonuses from this card affect each Personality individually. This means dueling becomes easier and cards like Kuro's Fire become much more powerful. It also means that cards such as Narrow Ground or Fields of the Dead hinder many more of your Personalities. Also be careful of In Search of the Future, which could turn your amazing army into a pitiful posse. The last attribute of the ability on this item is the duration. Lasting until the end of your next turn means you get the bonus on your turn as well as the controller of the Event (as well as all players between the controller and you in a multiplayer game). That means that this card, with the help of their Event, will help you defend on their turn and attack on yours, all at the cost of bowing one Morito Tokei.

Whether you listen to his words, read his writings, or invite him to live with you, Isawa Norikazu can help lead you to a future that is known only to him.

And now, some words from our new Oracle of Fire:

"In the dark the shadows wait, the wings of war rise beneath the bloody hands of the living, and nothing can save us. Only nothing, ever nothing... nothing, and nothing alone."

"I hear her voice -- her voice -- the voice of nothing -- the Darkness -- speaks!"

"The monks of Shinsei seek a new prophet, a new path. They will be fooled by their own pride, and in the end, they will forsake the Tao itself."

"The Sun and the Moon must die; the throne itself will be consumed. From the flames, a lost Emperor will be returned."

"All endings are beginnings," he said, and I asked, "But what came before the gods made the Earth?" "Nothing," said he, "and that, too, ended."

"When they speak, be silent, for their words sing of spheres we cannot know. Reach and find the darkness in all of us. All the world is dark, and the spirits of the dead are coming to life..."

"...Joined by twenty more from each clan, borne on the breath of dragons."

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

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