Superior Tactics #43: The Emperor's Under-Hand

I apologize for the recent sporadic timing of recent issues of Superior Tactics. I plan to get issue 52 out by the one-year anniversary of Superior Tactics, so look for a flurry over the next month. I have several articles lined up, but don't let that stop you from sending one in yourself!

Three hands. Three clans. One empire.

This week, Jason Liang (aka Kakita Daisan) writes about the Emperor's Hand that is not Honor Bound.

Back in Ambition's Debt, Crane and Shadowlands Horde players alike shared a moment of mutual understanding when we both rejoiced at Norikazu Sensei, only to realize that our clans, the two clans who most needed a card to control events, could not apply the teachings of the Mad Prophet.

Three expansion sets later, salvation has arrived for Crane players at least, in the form of:

Emperor's Under-Hand - Rare Holding (SW) - 3G
Unique. The Emperor's Under-Hand costs 3 less Gold for a Scorpion player.
Limited: Bow the Emperor's Under-Hand to target another player. You may look at either the face-down Dynasty cards in the player's provinces or the player's hand (your choice). You may discard the Imperial Favor to discard one of those cards. Lose 1 honor.

The first feature I would like to point out of this beautiful card is that it is under costed at three gold. Three gold is affordable for every stronghold beside the original Scorpion (who get it for free) and the original Horde box [which can't use it -- ed.]. It comes off of Jade Works, Empty Crevasses, Hiruma Dojos and most of the clan-specific gold holdings (Iron Mine, Stables, etc.). Even poor Lion players can get in the fun. At three gold, this holding will never sit in your province waiting for your opponent to pick it off on their turn. To compare, for three gold, you could also buy Hawks and Falcons. Maybe if you lived in Atlanta...

Emperor's Under-Hand is best suited to clans that have a good chance of claiming the Imperial Favor: Crane, Dragon, Lion, Phoenix, Scorpion, Monk, Unicorn, Toturi's Army and the Spirits. Even without the Favor, any player using Hantei Sensei will find the contents of their opponent's hand most interesting. But while finding out what your opponent has in their hand and in their provinces is useful for almost any situation, being able to discard the most offensive of those cards turn after turn is devastating.

Discarding cards from your opponent's fate hand will often completely destroy their strategies. An enlightenment opponent will lose any elemental ring they have in their hand to the discard pile. A military opponent stripped of Sneak Attack, Deadly Ground, Rallying Cry, Counterattack and Kitsuki Kaagi's Journal has almost no chance of defeating his military or defending foe. Forcing your opponent to lose cards such as Rise From the Ashes and Torrential Rain will deny them those extra turns they needed to get their victory. Even Shadowlands Horde players will know that there is no hope when one by one their Avoid Fates end up in their discard pile. Finally, there is no feeling better than the comfort of knowing that your Imperial Favor will not be lost in Confusion, your opponent can not Flee the Refugees and your Soul of Thunder was not in Truth working for your opponent all along.

Once you are done destroying your opponent's hand, you can set the Under-Hand to wreck havoc on your opponent's dynasty deck. Under-Hand provides some of the clans most meta-gamed against (Phoenix, Crane and Monk) the chance to control and avoid those events that have traditionally been used to hose those clans in tournaments. By diligently checking your opponent's provinces every turn, the Crane will never have to respect Kisada's Funeral, tremble As the Shadow Falls or fight in Winter Warfare. The Phoenix will never have to sit idle As the World Stood Still or watch their shugenja succumb to a horrible tainted death when The Twelfth Black Scroll is Opened. Finally, Monk players who systematically trade for and burn every copy of Doom of the Brotherhood that they find will breath a little easier when Hantei Sensei takes out their Dharma Techniques (unfortunately it still can't stop a first turn Doom).

Even clans that do not fear being hosed by events can benefit from selectively eliminating their opponent's personalities. A military opponent can strip away Iuchi Karasu exp2 or Isawa Norikazu exp2, personalities that could easily turn the game around. Scorpion players will have an easier time denying their opponents the 10 chi necessary to destroy Den of Spies. [Not to mention keeping away personalities with a - honor requirement. -- ed.]

And of course, the Emperor's Under-Hand is the perfect card to hose Master of Five. Once you have the Under-Hand out, your opponent would be foolish to Augury for Master of Five, and indeed foolish not to simply concede. Unless they can somehow deny you the Imperial Favor, you will make sure that their victory condition will never resolve.

Although part of the devastating power of the Under-Hand is that its effect is extremely difficult to counter, there are some common solutions. It has been ruled to be a political action and a use of the Imperial Favor, so Confusion at Court will provide one turn of relief (especially to protect your dynasty deck because the Under-Hand cannot hit cards which have been turned face up), and Hantei the 38th, who is a solution to some other common problems like Rise From the Ashes and The Wind's Truth, can flex his political muscle and permanently hold the Under-Hand in check, provided you can gain the Favor (or 16 force) to get him out in the first place. The Emperor's Naga counterpart, Dashmar, provides less flexibility but is probably much easier to get out for most clans. Events that cancel political actions such as Duty to the Empire are also a possibility. However, in general cards to cancel political actions not taken by a personality are hard to come by (as any honor running player looking for an easy solution to Deeds Not Words or Tribute to Your House would know), and even if you pack cards that will destroy or steal Holdings, such as Explosives, Bandit Attack, Blackmail, Contested Holding, or Hurricane, your opponent has a good chance of voiding that card before you get a chance to use it. Perhaps your best and only defense is to get the card out before your opponent does.

Note: one other strategy to use against the Under-Hand, if it becomes a powerful enough force in tournaments to warrant metagaming (and I suspect it will be) is to use Kakita Yoshi to deny your opponent the Imperial Favor. When your opponent lobbies for the favor, you use your next action to take it away from them.

Three clans deserve special mention with the Under-Hand. The Scorpion not only get this card for free, but the Under-Hand can also be used to lead Aramoros and Ninja Shapeshifters on a raid of your opponent's provinces. The Crane will always be able to claim the Imperial Favor with Kakita Yoshi, even if their opponent has higher honor. Combine Kakita Ichiro's ability to lobby an extra time for the Favor and Doji Yosai exp's ability to copy any political action and your opponent will wish dearly that he had played more honorable. Let's not mention throwing Ninja Shapeshifters here as well. [Or mention experienced Kakita Yoshi. -- ed.] Finally, a Taka Tricks Crab deck, once it claims the favor, can get multiple uses of this card using Yasuki Taka and the Under-Hand complements well with Kuni Yori.

There are only three faults with this card. One, not only is it unique, it is also not possible to search for it. You cannot Walking the Way for a dynasty card, Augury for a Holding, or claim it while Restoring the Doji Treasury (it does not produce gold). Second, your opponent will get a chance to empty the key cards in their hand before you get a chance to do it for them. Unless you Plans Within Plans twice and have Yasuki Taka lying around conveniently, your opponent will get one limited phase to play the rings in their hand or attach their Ancestral Sword or Kitsuki Kaagi's Journal. Of course, if you can force him to Hesitate, your strategy will be perfect. Finally, the Under-Hand is a holding, so you can't use it to lobby for the Imperial Favor (Crane joke, just ignore).

I fully expect to see the Emperor's Under-Hand in almost every tournament deck from here on out to the end of Gold Edition. It might not come out every game, but it will win you the games that you do get it. And it will cost you the games that your opponent gets it.

Oh, I forgot to make note that using the Under-Hand costs you 1 honor. Okay, from one Crane's perspective anyway, 1 honor is well worth the comfort of knowing that the works of Kakita Shijin will never glorify the Phoenix instead, and my poor Daidoji will never have to face Matsu Tsuko in the middle of Winter Warfare. [Note that you lose an honor even if you just look, despite the way the card might sound. -- ed.]

I'm sure our kindred spirits within the Shadowlands would agree. [If they could use it, of course. -- ed.]

Jason Liang
Kakita Daisan
Crane Seer

[Additional: Even without the Imperial Favor to nix threats, The Emperor's Under-Hand is still useful. Knowing that your opponent has no tricks up her sleeve when you attack is well worth a one-point honor loss. Note that the Ninja Spy provides the same functionality, and can even peek as an Open action, isn't unique, and costs one less gold. Of course, The Emperor's Under-Hand doesn't die to Evil Portents, but it can't surprise the opponent with Out of the Shadows, either. -- ed.]

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

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