Ancient Secrets – Dragon and Unicorn

And we come to our final spoiler release article for Ancient Secrets! This time we join those with the strangest habits of the seven clans. The inscrutable mysteries of the Dragon and the incomprehensible ways of the Unicorn. Not only do they share in their puzzling behavior, they also share their borders — the only clans who kept a familiar neighbor after crossing through the mists.

The Eternal Sight of the Dragon

Historically, Dragon’s play style has been marked by patience. The Dragon cannot be rushed: the journey towards enlightenment takes more than a single lifetime; the quest for sword mastery takes more than a single strike; the search for truth takes more than a single question. This patient play style was carried by a design centered around exceptional characters. A common first question when discussing Dragon decks is which character carries that deck—for some it’s Togashi Mitsu, for others it’s Mirumoto Raitsugu, and for a good time it was Niten Master. In Ancient Secrets we stay true to Dragon’s style of patience and exceptionalism, but we do that with a few twists.

The Dragon Clan chose the Cliffs of the Sea Dragon as their landing site. That area challenges the sea with its imposing structure, a tall mountain that stands sharp against the ocean. A terrain marked by inclement rocks and powerful waterfalls, bordered by drylands and dunes. A hostile terrain. Perfect for pilgrims looking for the highest truth, and trying to lose themselves into the universe.

Cliffs of the Sea Dragon is a threatening province. It starts the game revealed, taunting the opponent with its high province strength. The province’s taunt is not an empty threat, though. As the game progresses, Cliffs becomes more valuable each round. The fate on rings soon starts to accumulate, giving ample options to the Dragon player when choosing rings to use on attack. Not only that, the opponent is denied access to that fate. To conquer Cliffs of the Sea Dragon a few options remain: the opponent can take it slowly, climbing it at a steady pace, by passing one of their conflicts for the round; or they must defeat the Dragon player during a conflict. Conquering Cliffs is no easy task. As for the Dragon player, note that while patience is important in the road to greatness, indolence is a curse. If the Dragon player passes a conflict the fate-control ability of Cliffs is also turned off for the round.

Once an individual joins a monastery, one of their goals is to dissolve their identity, becoming just another Nameless Brother. The monastic life is a subtle balance of finding your place in the universe by learning that the universe finds a place in you. The Nameless Brother represents one of the many wandering monks walking the roads of the land. Quiet they go, from town to town, just another monk. Their greatness concealed in their quality of being ordinary. This card is part of an effort to liberate Dragon from being tied to single-character strategies; it invites Dragon players to look back into their vast array of solid non-uniques and low-cost characters. The Nameless Brothers collaborate with each other, and empower other non-uniques: with a Nameless Brother in play and 2 copies of Togashi Mendicant each Mendicant becomes a 2/2 character; later, if the Dragon player finds a second Nameless Brother and a third Togashi Mendicant, then each Mendicant would be a 5/5 character. The cumulative nature of Nameless Brother can deliver impactful bonuses in the endgame, bringing a payoff that compensates for the weaknesses of strategies that rely on multiple small characters.

The mystical powers of the Togashi cannot be predicted. No ise-zumi should be underestimated, regardless of how meek they seem to be. If we are to empower monk decks centered around smaller characters instead of big champions, we must supplement them with resources to manage opponents through tricks that bridge the gap of skill between those characters.

By concentrating their ki into a Palm Strike the Togashi can put down their enemies, regardless of how strong they are. Learning from the ways of water, the enemy’s power can be turned against themselves, rendering it inert for the conflict. A Palm Strike can go through heavy armor, but it can be stopped by the opponent carrying a Weapon with them, making it impossible for the Togashi to approach. The same restriction applies to the monk: they must have their hands free of Weapons to employ their talents. Palm Strike is a useful movement in general, but it is superlative when used by a Tattooed monk. The blood of Togashi will make sure those who are struck stay down. Granted, many of the monks of the Dragon clan are not Tattooed, but they can acquire those tattoos during play. A few of them, like Dragon Tattoo, are especially fit to go along with Palm Strike.

Adding to the list of Dragon tattoos, we have Bamboo Tattoo. The flexibility of the bamboo is present in this card. Its cost is adaptable depending on who receives the tattoo, making it more attractive to midrange and low cost characters. That flexibility is also present in its ability: the Bamboo Tattoo can be used as a defensive tool to stand up after being bowed by the opponent; but it can also be used proactively in combination with abilities that require bowing the monk, like Hige’s Sermon or High Kick. Notice that when used proactively, the tattoo dishonors its holder. It is inconvenient when your sensei does not approve of your talents being used in unexpected ways. But society’s disapproval is a light price to pay for wisdom, the Dragon will handle that with ease.

Leaving land, in the sea next to the Cliffs, mysterious lights can be seen under the water. Something lives there. Something unfriendly. And they are acting.

Kitsuki Seiji is gone! Captured by the Ningyo who live in the bay, the Dragon historian was dragged into their magical realm, then forced into becoming something else. Kitsuki Seiji was a knowledgeable and capable courtier, but now his transformation is robbing him of his wits as he turns into a creature of the sea. Each day is a new struggle — will he remain in control of his own nature or will the curse take over? Little of what he was remains, only a few memories and lessons from the past. In return for the curse, at least he enjoys the fabled immortality of the Ningyo.

Seiji’s Fate is still unknown. But it is also unknown if Seiji will be the only victim, or if others will follow. Seiji’s Fate is a powerful tool to control the opponent’s characters, putting them under a curse that robs them of their abilities and their roles in society. The cursed character also sees their political talents reduced, but their military might makes up for it. The Dragon player must be aware of that, as the vengeance of the cursed can return for a costly payback in blood.

The Kitsuki are known as prosecutors of law. In Sanctuary, with all of society being reassembled their talents are valuable. These two cards also reflect on another motto of Dragon’s design, their mastery over attachment cards.

Kitsuki Masanori is an experienced magistrate of the Dragon Clan. With a long and accomplished career as Emerald Magistrate, this veteran was one of the greatest Justicars of his time. A sharp politician, and a quick draw, Masanori had every reason to be leading the Dragon expedition; yet somehow, he is not. His card brings to table a relentless magistrate who can count on decades of experience to find the best way to handle whatever challenge is presented to the Dragon Clan. The access to Techniques and Titles makes Masanori a versatile character that can be explored in many different types of decks.

Not all law enforcers of the Dragon are fearsome justicars, some are simple Village Dōshin. This Peasant is a simple man of the people, put in a position of minor authority. His duty is ordinary: keeping the order in the domains of the Dragon. When an opponent tries to steal or destroy some valuables of the Dragon, the Village Dōshin is keen on their duty and jumps into action. For the opponent two options remain: either stop their misconduct, or they can discard a couple of cards as a distraction. This attachment protection can be used on any attachment on a Dragon character, regardless of who controls the attachment, but it cannot be used to protect Dragon attachments played on opponents. Together with Jealous Ancestor and a few other cards of this set, Village Dōshin is a card with limited card-to-card counterplay, but it brings its own counterplay built into its ability: in this case, the random discard is offered as universal cancel, instead of requiring cancel effects in the opponent’s deck.

The Evergreen Curiosity of the Unicorn

One of the pillars of Unicorn design is their control of the battlefield through indirect means. All clans dispute their conflicts with their skill, but the Unicorn are the masters of manipulating which characters take part in that dispute. They do this with movement of their characters, and also by controlling their opponents with harpoon or send home, or with Covert to avoid larger threats. The followers of Lady Shinjo go beyond the control of a single battle, as they also control the rhythm of rounds. With effects to gain additional conflicts, and to declare multiple  conflicts in a row, and then later even to keep the First Player token. Unicorn dictates the rhythm of their matchups. In Ancient Secrets we develop that control of rhythm and movement, and also bring a few support pieces to make the Shiotome a force to be reckoned with. Oh, and we have a surprise at the end.

The Unicorn Clan chose the Obsidian Caves as their landing site. The area has vast black sand beaches and easy access to water, making it a fertile region. But it is also fertile in mysteries, with sinister caves dug in its cliffs. From here the Unicorn prepare to explore a new unknown. They have come a long way, but unlike the other clans the Unicorn are used to being far from home.

The Obsidian Caves go deep into the darkness of the earth. The environment is heavy and claustrophobic, and from its depths come echoes sourced from untold dangers. For intruders who find themselves in the area, being alone is a test of courage that most cannot withstand. Consumed by fear, they run back home, their hearts sunk and their minds seeded for nightmares. The Obsidian Caves offers cheap defensive capabilities, being capable of fending off lone attackers without spending any resources or defenders. Combined with The East Wind, its defensive potential can stop most attacks in their tracks, forcing the opponent to overcommit if they expect any results from their offensive.

Long Journey Home reflects on how far from home the Rokugani find themselves now. Even in normal travels, the roads can be unpredictable. And the farther you are, the riskier it is. Building on Unicorn’s control of tempo, Long Journey Home raises the stakes of any character assignment. Attackers or defenders, opponents must be aware that their characters might not be able to readied after the conflict. This event also adds a sharper edge to Unicorn’s send home abilities, or to their own retreats by making their feints stick for the whole round.

Once into the Obsidian Caves, strange marvels await. The caves whisper, but they also growl. The beings found in the darkness are threatening, but with the correct approach they can be appeased; sometimes, even tamed.

Pulling mighty warriors into the dark, we find the Whispers of the Lords of Death. Also known as the Shi-Tien Yen-Wang, the Lords of Death are foreign gods of death and justice, but not of mercy. They value might in battle, self-sacrifice through courage or the sacrifice of the vanquished in victory. The Whispers of the Lords of Death can be appeased by the destruction of your enemies with cards like Fallen in Battle or Shinjo Altansarnai, but it can also be satisfied with self-sacrifice from cards like Hisu Mori Toride or Weight of Duty. With the Lords of Death on their side the Unicorn forcefully takes the Imperial Favor, and later they can retain it if they continue being the stronger warriors on the land. If the Shi-Tien Yen-Wang find the Unicorn lacking in power, it is possible that they lend their favor to the Unicorn’s opponent instead.

The Unicorn’s curiosity and open mind brings us Ichigo-kun. In the depths of the caves, the Unicorn find a breed of giant lizards. Muscular creatures of extreme agility, but also extreme fear of fire and intense lights. A young lizard was taken out of the caves for inspection: it was a small red lizard. One of the Unicorn children nicknamed it Ichigo-kun. The name stuck, and the lizard was kept around. But those lizards grow fast! Ichigo-kun is a powerhouse of military skill. Their fury can be stoked by a companion, bringing a level of military skill unprecedented on a character of that cost. But in their time in human company, Ichigo-kun also learned how to be docile, bringing renown to their companion during political conflicts. If their companion is honored, that Marvelous Being can charm the whole court.

Coming to this new continent, the Unicorn bring their scouts to explore the land. With the seven clans competing to establish their footholds, disputes are bound to happen. Some will force their way through military prowess, others will twist their will into law. Regardless, the Unicorn is not a clan to suffer slights in silence.

The Shinjo Archer is a versatile character. With a solid statline, this character can provide both offensive and defensive capacity in the same round. On the offensive, its ability to retreat taunts the opponent into inefficient defenses or into risking cheap province breaks if Unicorn finds a skill bonus. Defensively the archer can reduce the impact of the opponent’s attack without getting tied up in the conflict. Shinjo Archer is also an enabler for many Unicorn tricks which depend on movement or having more characters in the conflict than the opponent. 

For those who dare wrong the Unicorn, they shall face Retribution! Some Unicorn strategies can find themselves behind on tempo, either because the opponent manages to be faster or because the Unicorn strategy itself requires some setup before going full speed. Retribution! is a tool to recover that lost tempo. The counter-offensive is launched immediately after the Unicorn player loses their defense, before the opponent gets the opportunity to ready their characters or use any other such abilities. This counter-attack is also useful to prepare terrain for the next Unicorn conflict — after the conflict from Retribution! is resolved the Unicorn player is still next in line for what would be their normal conflict. Granted, the conflict launched by Retribution! is started by a single character, but the Unicorn cavalry can soon use their movement abilities to join the fight, turning that small conflict into a larger threat.

During the life of the game the Battle Maiden theme of the Unicorn has lagged behind. The cards in that theme are sparse, and their identity revolves around characters with high glory and rewards for winning conflicts. This concept carries a central flaw in exposing the high glory first as a liability, as it makes those characters vulnerable to dishonor. The reward for their high glory comes only after those characters manage to win a conflict to honor themselves, or through a variety of inefficient tricks to honor without requiring conflict victories. The result of that combination of high risk and inefficiency is a play style that struggles to gain and maintain its rhythm. With the combined strength of these two cards we can give acceleration to the Battle Maiden strategy, unlocking its potential.

Fields of Rolling Thunder represents the vast expanses where the Utaku roam and the cascading sound of a hundred shiotome charging against their enemies. The Battle Maidens are renowned for their courage and honor, defined by their unrelenting dedication to honor in battle. To a warrior of the Utaku avoiding battle is an unredeemable sin, especially if the enemy attacks them at home. At the same time, the field of battle is where honor is forged, with victory being the element that tempers it into unbreakable steel. Fields of Rolling Thunder offers a powerful ability that supports both conquest and honor victory conditions at the same time. Its potential as a mere tool to mitigate dishonor in a pure conquest deck is offset by the requirement of defending enemy attacks, even if lightly.

Utaku Takeko is a matriarch of the Utaku family. She is now a retired warrior, famous for her accumulated trove of stories about the previous heroes of the Unicorn, and also revered by the valuable family that she raised. The Utaku strategy is bound to be dependent on accumulating multiple holdings: the readying effects from Shiotome Encampment, the movement from Reserve Tents, the honoring from Fields of Rolling Thunder, or any other holding from the powerful arsenal of the Unicorn. Takeko fulfills a supporting role of giving access to characters, even when the Unicorn provinces get filled with holdings. In addition to that, Takeko’s imponent political skills and high glory make her an impactful character for political conflicts. The combined political prowess of Utaku Takeko and other honored Battle Maidens might be enough to reduce the Unicorn’s reliance on Captive Audience. By giving up their dishonorable tools, the Battle Maidens can be a mighty force in the battlefield, while building up a parallel victory condition in honor.

The Ashalan Lantern

Last year the Invitational Championship had its winner name a card. That tournament was won by DirtyDeeds (a.k.a. Oskar Bladh) of the Unicorn Clan. His choice was to have an attachment card called Ashalan Lantern.

The Ashalan Lantern takes its inspiration from the Ashalan. They are a race of immortal sorcerors who live in the lands beyond Rokugan, in the western side of the Burning Sands. They are known for binding others into service through their sorcery. As the ninth card in the pack, the Ashalan Lantern is targeted more at fun interaction than highly competitive play, but we believe the card still packs a punch. Those who devote themselves to the secrets of the Ashalan will have their wishes fulfilled.

Enough talk! When can I play with the new cards?

All cards will be available in EmeraldDB and Jigoku shortly after this article is published. In the coming weeks, the art for the cards will be revealed. 

We hope to have the whole set available for purchase in about 2 months from now, in time for the Kotei Nuremberg, where Ancient Secrets will be valid! 

And if you haven’t signed up for the Kotei yet, DO IT!