The Naga, after a farewell storyline tournament (at which they appear to have done fairly well, surprisingly), shall return to sleep during Gold Edition. That's right, there'll be no new snakes for the diehard fans (hi, Phil) to write enthusiastic articles about. But those with a keen eye like Lemar Johnson can find a wealth of interesting Naga already slithering around among the boxes of old cards.
Anvil of Despair didn't seem to have much for me when it first came out. Many people felt similarly. As usual, I paid close attention to the new Naga Personalities that would be in the set. I was always interested in how the new people would suck -- rather than the cards being merely consistently mediocre, the designers had a way of making each new Naga concept inadequate yet unique. I was surprised, to say the least, when I read the following spoiler, oh so long ago:
The Experienced version gets all of three paragraphs out of us. There's a good reason for this, discussed below.
Radakast is the man.
Radakast is one of the most unique cards in L5R. In fact, no card in the entire game does what he does, once all aspects of the card are taken into account. In case the spoiler did not make it clear, an overview of Radakast is in order.
a) Radakast is a Duel-in-a-Box. That, in and of itself, is rare in L5R, even after all this time since Anvil of Despair. b) Radakast is cheap for his ability. This is a surprising thing. Naga still can't bring him out for Stronghold -- we'll leave that be, to forestall a very righteous rant -- but his price is very good. The other innate duelers that come out for cheap -- Bakeneko, Hitomi Kobai, Isawa Hochiu, and the Kappa-- have problems with their duel themselves that make them not as effective. Bakeneko can be refused and Kobai's duel has no huge effects. Isawa Hochiu is damn close to what Radakast does -- but see point (c). The Kappa targets one class of Personality -- Samurai -- which was good back in th' day, when everybody was a samurai (and then there's point (c), below). Radakast's duel means something and targets anybody. c) Radakast's duel is _safe_. If Radakast loses, the controller doesn't care. If you've never ever seen Radakast in play, read that again three times. Radakast's controller is less invested in the duel than the target. Such a trait is only shared by one other card in all of L5R: Hitomi. But Hitomi isn't cheap.
Radakast has a Chi of 3. That's not too good. Back in th' day, that meant that the duel's threat was mostly via bluff and trickery (see below for more on that). Nowadays, however, this Chi can take advantage of a few of the speedy personalities on the table. Toturi's Army and the Horde both have a few low-Chi Personalities out there. Fire Chickens have plenty of weenies, even with the rewrite on the most recent Stronghold. But the poorly-designed, all-around good Personalities from Fox and other speed clans will easily match that Chi, making a stand-up fight impossible. Thus, we conclude that the straight-up duel will only be seen in about half of the games one plays with Radakast. In addition, because of his ability, Radakast is target number one to send home and is Kolat-vulnerable (to both Master and Assassin). This means he won't even stand on the field that long. Our final conclusion on this point: Radakast is not useful for bowing people in battle consistently.
Despite this fact his praises are sung here. And despite the fact that focus values in a follower deck are low, this document will encourage use in follower decks. The reasons for this follow.
The justification for Radakast -- despite his low Chi and Force for a dueling military deck -- comes from the Fate. When Radakast issues his challenge, the chances of targeting a Chi 2 or less Personality is low, nowadays. And yet, one should issue the challenge, anyway. The opponent very well may strike.
And you should play Bend Like a Reed.
Now comes the game. The first time you do this -- if your opponent hasn't read this review -- the Bend will be a surprise, meaning you'll get a free bowed foe. (Anyone with a Chi of 4 or less -- not too shabby). After that they'll expect it. This means that you can truly play with them, as they very well may Focus even when they're winning because they'll assume you have a Bend. This turns Radakast into a miniature Kuni Yori. Especially since *you* can still Focus. Toss not-immediately useful Fate cards to the duel. Radakast won't die during the duel, so why not?
The second justification is that the Constrictor regularly kills opponents in duels. But not with the duel itself. If you challenge an opposing Personality with a Chi below 4 to a duel with the Constrictor and strike on the first opportunity and play a Poison Weapon, that's it. People have actually accused Naga players of cheese because of this combo -- but it is certain the accusing parties were overwrought... and that was back in th' day.
Again, Poison Weapon is key. It is a reasonably flexible card in a tourney of diverse deck types and it kills people without gold cost. With a Radakast, it's a free Kolat Assassin in battle. And once the surprise value is gone with it, the bluffing game can begin -- which can be just as good.
Radakast could be broken in any other clan. Because he's Naga, he's merely abusable. Other clans can use him, and some probably should, but most of what is reviewed here will be for Naga because, well, the other clans don't need as much help as Naga do. Well, perhaps Ninja, but Ninja don't exist so it's a moot point.
This, for many, is a contradictory idea. Follower decks have low Focus. Radakast duels. Thus, they would say, Radakast is pointless. It should be pointed out, again, that Radakast doesn't have to win the duel to be effective but deprive the opponent of possibilities. In addition, if one's Focus is low but one runs Poison and Bend, the Focus values are mostly irrelevant. Poison will kill the opponent. Bend doesn't work too well with low Focus values, admittedly: with every exchange of Focuses, the disparity between your deck and the opponent's becomes greater, quickly too great for the Bend to bridge. Nevertheless, the combos are still worth experimentation for many standard Naga follower decks and will often simply replace the anti-duel cards (such as Another Time) that many sport.
Radakast shines here. Naga players will be hard-pressed to break with convention and even attempt a dueling deck, but it can be done. Trust us. However, discussion of that is a very separate topic, and we digress enough as it is.
In any dueling deck from any clan, Radakast is reasonably priced. His honor requirement is a moot point for Naga and better than many in-clan people for others. Once he's out, however, many players will want to make up for the out-of-clan investment he represents by winning a duel with him, not merely toying with an opponent. This will usually require further investment. Armor of Earth works well with the Constrictor, giving his Chi some teeth and making him hang around in a fight. Oath of Fealty is a nice, free bonus. Excepting Poison and Bend, the best Fate card to run with Radakast in a true dueling deck -- especially a defensive one -- is Nemesis. I'm not sure why this card doesn't get more press -- it's incredible. A free +2F/+3C for a Personality. The targeted opponent will obviously be someone essential, but the target of the *duel* need not be. As long as Radakast sees the foe in a fight, he retains the bonus. ("I'll get to you in a second, Gaheris. First, I need to slap down Kamoko. But I'm thinking of you!"). Any Chi bonus that doesn't cost gold is a good choice.
A possible deck type is the "All Duels, All the Time" (also known as "Thunderdome") concept, usually sported in Dragon. Have everyone in the deck capable of innate duels: Isawa Hochiu, Bakeneko, Kappa, Radakast, The Hooded Ronin, Hitomi Kobai, and, of course, the L5R Personality with the least amount of atmosphere and highest gravitational pull, Hitomi. The utility of the above combo cards goes way up, but the high operating costs relegate this to a multiplayer concept -- or very friendly 1 vs. 1. It's still fun, though, and Togashi's Daisho will get a *lot* of mileage.
We're giving Radakast Experienced short shrift, some might say. Truth be told, there isn't much we could come up with to use him for. An overlay gives you +1 Chi -- nice, but not vital. His special ability is useful -- pump his force and he munches a dragon. The only creative thing you can do with this that can be called a combo is Curse of the Jackal. Obviously, boosting his Force is useful, but this document is long enough without a god-awful list of effects that increase Force -- for Naga, no less! Most importantly, his ability is missing five key words: "Usable only once per battle." Keep that in mind the next time you face a Nezumi deck. Start with the small Force rodents and work your way up.
Ratlings. It's what's for dinner.
The card combos mentioned above were mostly for 1 vs. 1. There isn't much more that's useful for such an incredibly tight format, but multiplayer gives a lot more flexibility. To wit:
Of course, if you want to make a Tetsubo/Shouts Naga deck, more power to you. We're quite willing to eat our words if a wacky Naga deck pounds some poor, unsuspecting cliche Clan deck into putty.
The following cards counter Radakast directly. Their relative severity is described as succinctly as possible.
Most amusingly, Radakast's duel is immune to Concede Defeat. Check the wording on both cards.
First off, many of you are thinking that Radakast is unthematic. Given what little theme is there for Naga, you're probably right. IMHO, nothing Naga has really supports whatever passes for theme, anyway, so any deck you make "sets the theme" as much as an official story -- in fact, you set it more firmly than the official sources because there's so little to flow against. It is enough to play Naga with an effective card. Theme, sheme. You take what you can get.
Second, I have heard (though this is unconfirmed) that Radakast won't be in Gold. Apparently, somewhere at Volturnum he dies. The irony is, of course, his existence was never acknowledged by the story, anyway, so his death has absolutely no depth or resonance whatsoever and does nothing more than annoy Naga players by eliminating him from the Gold line-up. This is mostly a personal gripe and I wouldn't have mentioned it except for one little fact: the existence of the Akasha. Because of that, no nifty special abilities should ever be lost to Naga players (that is, those abilities not dependent upon political ties or other forces outside the Naga empire). The irony is that if the Radakast falls, his powers and knowledge would be available to any other Naga, ensuring more Radakasts about. But Naga players will be jacked. I couldn't resist the irony -- there's theme there to help out Naga players, but it isn't getting sung about. [In point of fact, there are no Naga in Gold Edition, since they're returning to sleep. This does not preclude the death of Radakast, however. -- ed.]
Radakast is the only L5R Personality that has good reason to appear on WWF Smackdown. And he'd take them all to school. Would you take on a 20-foot long serpent man with two swords who eats human-sized rats while in a grand melee? Something to meditate upon, indeed.
[Additional: Just so the experienced version doesn't feel left out, here's an infinite combo involving the big boy. Those interested in purely practical matters are advised to skip this paragraph. In typical Naga fashion, Radakast doesn't actually benefit from this, but instead just sits there.
In play, you have Plains of Foul Tears, Radakast experienced, Ninube Ogoku, experienced Daidoji Rekai, and Swamp Spirits. Get attacked, attack with Ogoku at the Plains, defend with Rekai. Use the Reflective Pool to copy Radakast's ability to Ogoku. Ogoku eats the Swamp Spirits, gaining 1F permanently; the Swamp Spirits returns to your hand. Use Rekai's ability to reattach the Swamp Spirits. Lather, rinse, repeat. When you've had enough fun, send Ogoku home. For even more silliness, give Rekai three Gaijin Merchants and an Oh-chi'chek. Increase Ogoku's force to 3 and use the process above. Not only does the anti-conformist Ninja get an indefinite amount of force permanently, but your Ratlings get as many followers as they'd like. -- ed.]
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