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Senryaku: Mastering the Elements

by Zen Faulkes

"When there is injury to the enlightened, it is beneficial to be steadfast and true in distress." - I Ching

An Enlightenment win in Legend of the Five Rings has been a notoriously tricky task, even though it's the path to victory from which the game takes its name. Enlightenment wins have been getting easier with the release of each new expansion, but nothing compares to what the latest set is going to do for Enlightenment wins. Crimson & Jade introduces the Brotherhood of Shinsei, less formally known as the Monks, a clan whose avowed speciality is the Enlightenment win.

The danger of having one clan that has such a clear advantage in gaining an Enlightenment win is that the temptation is to give up on Enlightenment decks for all the other clans. In this instalment, I'm going to dissect Enlightenment decks, but emphasise the needs of clans other than the Monks.

The goal of an Enlightenement win is to put each of the five Elemental Rings in play. Each Ring requires you to perform a certain task, but the very different nature of these tasks means that an Enlightenment deck has to be very well balanced, and require careful game play. While decks designed for a Military or Honor win can afford to do just one thing supremely well, an Enlightenment deck must be well rounded.

Designing a Ring deck

Devote more cards hard Rings.

When you start to sketch out your Enlightenment deck, the first step is to figure out which Rings will be hard to play. How easy each Ring is to play will depend in large part on the clan you play. For instance, the Crab stronghold ability and lots of good defensive cards make the Ring of Earth easy for a Crab player. The Ring of Water is a little easier for Naga because they have Isha, who can find his way around unfriendly terrains. Phoenix should be able to get the Ring of Air out in a heartbeat, but that Ring will a real nuisance for Lion, which has few shugenja.

Use Dynasty cards more than Fate cards.

Minimally, Enlightenment Fate decks require the Five Rings and a Terrain (for the Ring of Water); that alone is about 20% of a deck. That makes building a Ring deck a tight squeeze. Combine that with being able to draw only one Fate card a turn, and you can see why using Personalities, or Retainers, who have abilities helpful in playing the Rings may function better than equivalent Fate cards. Being able to bring out, or discard, up to four Dynasty cards a turn, means that you can cyle through your Dynasty deck quickly if need be to find Dynasty card you need to get that next Ring in play.

Choose cards that move you towards more than one Ring.

This principle applies most to choosing Shugneja and spells. Since any use of magic will move you towards the Ring of Air, pick those that are relevant to another Ring, too. Picking the right Terrains can move you towards both the Ring of Earth and the Ring of Water. Several examples of this principle will be given below.

Don't count on your opponent acting a certain way.

The next point to consider is that a well constructed Ring deck should rely as little as possible on your opponent behaving a certain way, or on combos. Ring decks are card intensive at the best of times, so pick cards that move you towards playing Ring with as little help from other cards as possible.

Getting the Rings in Hand

Before you can play the Elemental rings, you have to actually get them into your hand, which is a major task in its own right. You normally only draw one Fate card a turn, and games do not last the 30 turns you would need to go through a minimum sized Fate deck. Therein lies the secret of the Monk's potency in acheiving an Enlightenement win: their Stronghold allows them to pull the Rings out of the Fate deck. If you're not playing Monk, your options are somewhat limited.

Searching your Fate deck

Clans besides the Monks have only two cards that allow you to retreive Rings from your Fate deck. First, there's the spell Walking the Way. Your second option is to use the monk Yodin, who allows you to find a Ring from your Fate deck and into your hand whenever you bring a Ring into play. Bear in mind, however, that Yodin is Unique, and has 3 Chi (leaving him a target for a Kolat Assassin and the like). While Yodin's ability is great, don't depend on him to be your sole means of getting your Rings.

Draw lots of Fate cards

If you can't get specific Fate cards, your best bet is to draw lots of Fate cards. You can use the Imperial Favor and Glimpse of the Unicorn to draw a few additional cards. Isawa Kaede (Phoenix Master of the Void) lets you draw a card at the expense of discarding a card from your Province. If you are playing with Kaede, ensure that you have a slightly larger deck than normal so that you can discard without worrying about running out of Dynasty cards.

To become a Fate card monster, you will want the ancient librarian Kasuga Kyogi. His steep gold cost of 11 may well be worth it considering that you can pay 5 gold and bow Kyogi to draw a Fate card. When you are truly pressed for Fate cards, you can destroy Kyogi and draw five Fate cards. If destroying Kyogi seems a little drastic, use the spell Return of the Fallen Lord to bring him back. With this Black Scroll and a paltry two shugenja, you can resurrect Kyogi. Further, while you cannot play Feign Death on the librarian to grab a slew of cards, a Ninja Shapeshifter copying Kyogi's ability is not bound by the librarian's trait against using Feign Death. Either of these two tricks will let you draw more Fate cards than allowed by the Geneva convention. Kemmei is a good companion to Kyogi, because Kemmei increases your hand size by three, giving you more room for those extra Fate cards.

"Trade in" your Fate cards

Other cards that let you discard and draw new cards are also useful. Cards like Look into the Void, Mempo of the Void, and (in some cases) Contemplate the Void can all help you get rid of cards you don't need and increase the chance of your pulling a Ring into your hand. Sneaky decks can also use the Kolat named Ichiin. For many players, using such cards requires they significantly rewire their thought processes, since keeping cards in hand is the problem for most decks. You have to remember that even if you discard something a neat and potentially useful card, you are no closer to a Ring win without the next Ring in your hand.

The five-fold path to wisdom

Do not rush. If you are not playing the Monks, an Enlightenment deck is not a speedy deck. As long as you are still in the game, you have a chance to win. Remember, an Enlightenment win is an immediate win.

Mastering the Ring of Earth

The Ring of Earth is both a very easy and a very difficult Ring to play. The task is straightforward enough: if an opposing army ever has a higher force during a battle than your Province strength, all you need to do is successfully defend the Province and prevent it from being destroyed, and you can play the Ring. A single Entrapping Terrain can do the trick.

What can make this Ring so hard to get into play is that it is the only Ring that depends on another player doing something, namely attacking. For this reason, you should always try to get this Ring into your hand and into play before any of the others.

There are two cards that try to force an attack, Brash Hero and Shosuro Tage. Using these cards to play the Ring of Earth is not without its problems. Both only affect a low-Chi Personalities (2 or less and 3 or less, respectively), most of which do not have a high enough force to single handedly destroy a Province (unless it has somehow been reduced; with Doom of Fu Leng, say, or Bayushi Kachiko). Further, these cards only force a Personality to attack if possible. If your opponent does not want to attack, the most common trick is to make bow the Personality in a lobbying attempt for the Imperial Favor, futile or not. There are not all that many other ways of bowing Personalities at will, however, so you may get your desired attack if you play these cards after someone has just lobbied for the Favor.

In addition to have Shosoru Tage as a Clan member, Scorpion does have an advantage in that if their Province Strength hits zero, almost any attack will have enough force to let them play the Ring of Earth. You might also want to consider using A Hidden Fortress, which gives you an additional Strangth 4 Province. It doesn't do anything but sit and look like an easy target, so almost any attack at the Fortress will be big enough to let you play the Ring.

If you want to be really subtle, you can drop your Province strength suddenly using the innate ability of Agasha Koishi, which raise the strength of one Province at the expense of dropping the strength at another Province. There's no reason that Koishi can't lower the strength at a Province where a battle is resolving, making it more likely that an opposing army will be big enough to fulfil the conditions for bringing the Ring of Earth into play. Koishi's ability might also help you to play the Ring of Air, too.

If you don't get the Ring of Earth out early, you can use the threat of it to intimidate your opponents. If you have several Rings out, excluding Earth, tell your opponent, "Don't miss." Against an Enlightenement deck, your opponent have to take small things (like Toku with the Armor of Sun-Tao) seriously. While they're waiting for the combo that will guarantee they'll take the Province, you can be trashing theirs.

Mastering the Ring of Air

The Ring of Air is the easiest Ring to get out; so easy that nobody ever uses the Tapestry of Air. All you need to do is produce three spell effects or innate abilities by a Shugenja in a single turn. Note that while Kiho actions are considered spells, the Ring of Air now specifically requires Shugenja to put it into play. Togashi Jodome, the only Personality who has both the Monk and Shugenja traits, becomes very useful to Monk players for that reason.
[It has been ruled since this column was originally written that monks using Kiho actions count for the Ring of Air - Ed.]

Hiring Shugenja with innate abilities is the most practical design for an Enlightenment deck. Spells and Kiho actions are great, but why do with two cards what you can do with one? There are two things to consider when choosing which Shugenja to put into your Enlightenment deck.

First, does that innate ability move towards bringing out the other Rings? Kitsu Tojo, for instance, allows you to gain honor by discarding a Fate card, which can move you closer to bringing out the Ring of the Void. The rest of this column is peppered with other examples.

Second, does the shugenja have an innate ability that can be used anytime? Yotsu Seiki can generate a Ranged Attack, but using her ability depends on getting into a battle, which may not always be possible or desirable. Isawa Uona has a less dramatic ability: she can look at face down cards as an Open action. Not exciting, but being an Open action means that she can use her ability on either your turn or your opponents', and she never lacks a target for her innate ability.

The Water Dragon deserves special mention, because it can move you very quickly to bringing the Ring of Air out. The Water Dragon's innate ability is to copy another shugenja's innate ability. The copying gives you one of three, and when the Water Dragon uses that copied ability later in the turn, you've got two out of three. This makes the Water Dragon very valuable to an Enlightenment deck, and compensates for it having a high honor requirement, high gold cost, and being Unique.

Mastering the Ring of Fire

The Ring of Fire is the duelling Ring. To get it out, your Personality must win a duel against a Personality who had a higher Chi just before the challenge was issued. It was probably one of the most difficult Rings to play in the game's early days, but there are now many cards that can alter the course of duels.

You must start a duel before you can play the Ring, so how you start the duel should be your first consideration. Iaijutsu Duel and Test of Might are both good because they cannot be refused. You can also consider hiring Kitsuki Yasu or packing Code of Bushido to make samurai accept duels which they could otherwise walk away from. Often, though, it may be a good idea to not rely only on challenges created from your Fate cards. Particularly for a Ring deck, it is useful to have Pesonalities who have an inherent ability to issue a challenge. Almost every Clan has such a Personality: Kakita Toshimoko, Hida O-Ushi, Radakast, Isawa Tsuke, Matsu Seijuro, The Hooded Ronin, and Matsu Hiroru come to mind.

Isawa Tsuke, Matsu Hiroru, and the Ratling Thief deserve special mention, because they have abilities that make them one card solutions to bringing in the Ring of Fire. Isawa Tsuke the most powerful (and expensive) of the lot, but because he is a shugenja, his duels move you a step closer to the Ring of Air. Matsu Hiroru can also attach a Garotte, which increases his chance of winning a duel against a higher Chi Personality. The Ratling Thief is the least useful, since he can only challenge Personalities who have some sort of item attached, which the Ratling Thief can legally attach.

There are several other cards that enable you to boost Chi as a reaction to entering a duel. With a Tetsubo one one your Personalities, you can focus before your opponent strikes. The Oracle of Fire (Oracle of Water in the Imperial Edition) can raise your Chi, but you must remember to leave gold available to pay the Oracle's fee. Dragon Clan Shugenja Togashi Yoshi is an excellent choice in an Enlightenment deck, because his innate ability helps to play the Ring of Air. Also note that Yoshi's Chi boost does not count as a focus; neither does Strike With No Thought. These two cards are useful if you are playing with cards that cannot focus, notably Isawa Tsuke and the Crab Clan Oni.

Rather than boosting your Personality's Chi, another strategy is to lower the Chi of your foe. A Poisoned Weapon will accomplish this task, as will poison tokens from the Scorpion Poison Master, Shosuro Hametsu.

Finally, you can just avoid messing with Chi completely. You can bring out the Ring of Fire after winning a Test of Might, no matter how lopsided the force totals were. For instance, if Hida Amoro (6 Force, 1 Chi) defeats Doji Yosai (2 force, 4 Chi) in a Test of Might, the Ring of Fire is yours. You can also get the Ring if Doji Hoturi wins a duel against a higher Chi Personality after he changed the duel to one of Personal Honor. The tricky bit is finding a Personality with a higher Chi than Hoturi!

There are a few cards which can bring out the Ring, but are probably not the best cards for a pure Enlightenment deck. The spell Essence of Fire can help you bring in the Ring of Fire by negating weapon and item bonuses, and the ninja lady Hirariko has a similar trait. Unfortunately, your opponent may not be using any sort of weapon, so they are somewhat limiting cards in an Enlightenment deck.

Mastering the Ring of Water

The Ring of Water has one of the best elemental benefits, and has a correspondingly tricky task to fulfil. You need to win a battle (never easy), and (here's the tricky bit) replace a terrain card. Replacing a terrain card you put into play yourself is okay, though. The battle does not have to end with your terrain in play; if it is destroyed in turn, you can still play the Ring of Water as long as you still win the fight (although having your terrain replaced makes it less likely that you will win). The Drum of Water lets you bring the Ring out when you win a battle with your terrain in play, obviating the need to replace a terrain. Considering that getting a terrain down is usually the number one priority in a battle, having ways to replace a terrain will enhance your chances of winning the battle, and thus get the Ring out.

Superior Tactics, Diversionary Tactics, and Isha all suffer from a similar problem: they all give your opponent another opportunity to play a new terrain before you can get your own down on the table. Superior Tactics does allow you to move units around, and Isha compensates by having a nice Ranged Attack and stays on the table once brought into play.

The Go Master and the Watchtower are useful because they both replace a terrain in one step. The Watchtower, like any fortification, can only be used on defense. Both share the limitation that the terrain that you then put into play can be replaced.

The best terrain changing cards undoubtedly are the Oracle of Earth and The Armor of Sun Tao. Both make the change in one step, and both make the terrain irreplacable. Both have slightly different disadvantages. The Oracle of Earth is a Unique and a somewhat vulnerable retainer, and you need to remember to leave gold available to pay the Oracle. The Armor, on the other hand, needs a Personality to be attached to, who needs to be at the battle for the Armor's ability to work. If the Personality is short down with a Ranged Attack or otherwise killed, all the Terrains underneath are lost. On the plus side, the Armor can be used even when the Personality it is attached to is bowed.

There are some very nice "one two punch" terrain combos that are useful if you're set up to bring the Ring of Water out. Start by putting a terrain into play that takes effect immediately, like Accessible Terrain or Higher Ground. Take advantage of those cards to move some supporting units in or to shoot down a few of your foes. Then, when you've gained the upper hand, replace it with Deadly Ground, preferably using the Oracle of Earth or the Armor of Sun Tao. The battle is over and the Ring of Water is yours. A card intensive but vicious combo for an attacker is to play a terrain with a Scout, then use a Sneak Attack to replace the terrain before a defender has a chance to do a thing about it.

Mastering the Ring of the Void

After the Ring of Earth, the Ring of the Void is probably the Ring you want to work on getting out second. Because it increases the rate of Fate cards coming into your hand, it improves the probability of getting the other Rings.

The Ring of the Void is a popular card with duelling decks and action-heavy attack decks that chew through Fate cards very quickly. In these sorts of decks, it is not terribly difficult to play the Ring of the Void. Enlightenement decks, however, are not like ordinary decks that use a key Ring or two. For a Ring deck, playing the Ring of the Void poses a real problem. In an Enlightenment deck, your Fate hand will often contain cards you need. Emptying your hand to play the Ring of the Void is a pointless if you must discard other Rings to do it. For this reason, Candle of the Void is probably the most valuable Elemental item for a Ring deck: with it, you only need a Personality you can spare for a few turns, and a little patience, and you can play the Ring of the Void without crippling your Fate hand.

There are many good cards that allow you to empty your Fate hand quickly if need be. A Merchant Caravan or two will let you discard your Fate cards for gold, and Kitsu Toju lets you discard to gain honor. Similarly, Kuni Yori not only takes a Fate card out of your hand, but also forces one of your opponents to discard at random. Then there is the Ratling Conjurer, who can discard to raise the force of other Ratlings. In battle, Impassable Terrain can let you to discard up to three cards to prevent Personalities in battle from bowing. Not only can this terrain move you to the Ring of the Void quickly, it is particularly painful against fast attack decks that rely on lots of battle actions from their Fate hand to jump start a Personality's force. Personalities with the Tactician trait can increase their force with a Fate card discard, and throwing in some Mantis Budoka (who sort of have a Follower version of Tactician) can often help you drop the Ring of the Void midway through a battle.

Stopping an Enlightenment win

The best way to stop an Enlightenment deck is to drain your opponent of a few crucial Fate cards. Remember, every time you can force a Ring or Enlightenment out of someone's hand and into the discard pile, the probability of an Enlightenment win drops sharply. A Void Dragon can force your foe to lose cards, but if you're knocking out Provinces with a Void Dragon, you've probably got a Military victory within striking distance. Kuni Yori only takes one Fate card of your choosing from your hand, but whether you take a crucial Ring from your foe is pure hit and miss. The same is true for The First Shout, but it has the added advantage that you can force your opponent to toss several random Fate cards down on the table in a single duel. New Year's Celebration is also very powerful against Enlightenment decks. By forcing players to discard their entire hand, the odds of this event knocking a Ring into the discard pile are very good, although it does have the disadvantage of taking your Fate hand as well as your opponent's.

The card that is absolute poison to an Enlightenment deck is the Obsidian Mirror. This expensive, but not Unique, item lets you name a Fate card; if your opponent has it, he must discard it. Anyone using Yodin to put Rings in his hand has to show you the Ring they retreive, eliminating any need for guesswork on your part. Even if your opponent isn't using Yodin, there are lots of cards that let you look at someone's hand (for instance, Ninja Spy and the spell Whispering Winds). Simply use the Obsidian Mirror to force your foe to get rid of any elemental Ring or any copies of Enlightenment. Remember, even one Ring and three copies of Enlightenment in the discard pile all but ends any hope for a Ring victory.

For Monks, moves like these make Ichiin enormously beneficial to you. This Kolat is the only card that lets you put cards (like a Ring) back into your Fate deck, where they are immune to the card effects I've just outlined.

A little well timed Kolat Interference will not only stop your opponent from drawing a Fate card at the end of his turn, it also stops them from drawing cards in any way, including using the Imperial Favour, Ichiin, Kasugi Kyogi, or even Yodin or the Monk Stronghold.

For those brave souls playing Enlightenment decks, it's too early to tell if people are going to be stacking cards specifically to stop you. Mastering the five Rings is still hard enough that it remains the stuff of legend (as the game's title suggests), and few people seriously build defenses against what they consider to be an unlikely strategy. Start building decks to prove them wrong!

An Enlightened Naga Deck

I won my first Enlightenment victory with this deck, shortly after Anvil of Despair was released. I was playing against Crane. I had gotten all the Rings out except the Ring of Air, because only one Naga Shugenja had come into play. On my second last turn, I drew Ashlim. During her turn, my opponent shot up to 50 honor. I had one chance to win. I attached Walking the way to Ashlim, cast it, bowed the Naga Shugenja to give a force bonus to other Naga cards... and used Qamar (Naga Champion) to straighten the Naga Shugenja, bow it again, play the Ring of Air, and snatch victory away from Crane at the last possible second. It was a very, very sweet win. You may sniff at the choice of cards if you wish (not many people like Fortified Coast), and I would certainly change this deck if making it today to take advantage of cards in Crimson & Jade, but the fact remains that this deck worked.

Dynasty deck

Imperial Gift

Bushi Dojo
Forest x 2
Jade Works x 3
Pearl Bed x 3
Pearl Divers x 3
Port x 3
Small Farm x 3
Trading Grounds

Naga Personalities
Isha x 3
Naga Abomination
Naga Warlord
Naga Shugenja x 3
Radakast x 2

Other Personalities
Ikoma Kaoku
Kasuga Kyogi
The Laughing Monk
Togashi Yoshi

Fortified Coast

Fate Deck

Battlefield of Shallow Graves
Block Supply Lines x 3
Enlightenment x 3
Entrapping Terrain x 3
Higher Ground
Ring of Earth
Ring of Air
Ring of Fire
Ring of the Void
Ring of Water
Rise, Brother
Strike with No-Thought

Naga Bowmen x 2
Naga Bushi x 2
Naga Guard x 2
Naga Spearmen x 2

Bo Stick
Candle of the Void
Mantle of Fire
Mempo of the Void

Walking the Way x 2

(Note: "Senryaku" is Japanese for "Strategy.")

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This article was originally published in Gamer's World and is reproduced here with permission.

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