Balance Update September 2023

Featured image for a new update of the rules. It reads "rules update" in the font of the Emerald Legacy.

In today’s article we will cover a lot of ground. We will talk about the planned schedule for balance updates, we will look at a few adjustments on cards from Ancient Secrets, we will have the complete errata and return of two cards from Through the Mists, we will also get a few changes to the restricted list and the ban list, and, last but not least, some words about our progress towards a new core set. Let’s dive in!

The Balance Schedule

Our last balance update was published on May 3rd 2023. We plan to keep a stable schedule for the balance updates, with 3 updates per year. The next update will be published in early January 2024.

Adjustments to Ancient Secrets

Before we go into the cards, we would like to explain a minor change in how cards are worded. To make card text shorter and more to the point, we’re expanding our use of the concept of “sides” in a conflict. The concept of conflict “side” is old and comes from the Imperial Cycle, the first expansion in the original game’s life.

A conflict is divided into two sides, the attacking side and the defending side. Each side includes all the participating characters who are attacking, or all the participating characters who are defending. We also refer to sides as “your side” and “the enemy side”, in those cases it does not matter who is attacking and who is defending, only the players involved. A “side” can be empty, but it still exists as a side. In multiplayer games, a side can include characters from multiple players, all fighting together for a common goal. This is one of many small changes that we are bringing with our own core set, but you will read more about it later in this article.

Yatakabune Port was designed to be a simple card that enabled decks to go deeper into splashing cards from other clans. Its design required it to be an Eminent province, and to balance the inherent weakness of Eminent provinces we added a small beneficial effect when it was broken. Still during playtest, we expected it to be used together with Feeding an Army or any other similar cards in the future. But a few months after release, the decks using Feeding an Army got refined and, coupled with other cards from AnS that support wide strategies, those decks became stronger than it was planned. Feeding an Army is balanced around being a high risk play: if it gets canceled, it is game changing. But when the sacrificed province is Yatakabune Port, the Lion player has the opportunity to claim the favor in time to use their own Censure to protect Feeding an Army, while at the same time they deny the opponent their Censure. The correction is simple, now the interrupt ability on Yatakabune Port can only be triggered during conflicts, making that interaction with Feeding an Army impossible.

Kinki’s issue was a slip, we were only half-smart. When designing Kinki we understood that its ability and skill bonus on a 0 cost character were powerful. Multiple copies would be abusive, we thought. So we added Unique to Kinki… without noticing that the ability sacrifices itself, making the unique clause almost irrelevant. Time confirmed that our intuition was correct (if not our attention to details). Kinki’s ability now can only be triggered once per round.

Ashalan Lantern’s design goal was to be above all a card that’s fun to use. It lets you play characters that are normally beyond reach, and it comes with a guessing game for a good reward. But beyond the surface lies a card that quickly scales in power as players get used to it and learn how to abuse it. When simulating scenarios with it against diverse decks we learn that a single Lantern on a Foreign character generates around 0.8 Fate Advantage per round while still offering a skill bonus. That scenario is already enough for the card to reach its potential as a card focused on funky plays, instead of high competitive value. The expected power level for Ashalan Lantern was never that high, especially because the card was an extra card received by Unicorn as a tournament result. So if 1 Lantern was ok, the issue comes when multiple Lanterns are combined. The first Lantern can be placed on any character, while the 2nd should be on a Foreign character: the first Lantern is used to scout the opponent’s dynasty, guessing the card correctly is not the goal here. The 2nd Lantern soon follows, and now the guessing should be correct, as the cards stay in position on the opponent’s deck. This combo generates three times more Fate Advantage than a single Lanter, and it can be repeated every round. The setup is considerable, but the payoff is beyond what was planned for that card. Now, Ashalan Lantern always gets discarded when a character is bought, regardless of its holder being Foreign or not. The synergy with Foreign characters persists by Ashalan Lanter itself being Foreign, making it both a trigger and a target for The East Wind.

Utaku Takeko was designed to be a centerpiece in the Utaku strategy. Those lists are expected to hold onto their holdings throughout the game, with Fields of Rolling Thunder and Shiotome Encampment being the stars among them. Takeko fits into that strategy as a 5th Province, to make up for the provinces blocked by holdings. Its original implementation reinforced her position as a mid-to-late-game card, by rescuing cards from the discard pile. Unfortunately that implementation causes issues by making certain characters over-reliable, as even if they’re discarded from play by some effect, they can still return next round. It also can fail in its roles as 5th province with a higher frequency than expected: a bad sequence of province flips might leave Takeko stranded with no characters to buy. For the card to fulfill its role, without overstepping her boundaries we are reworking its mechanics. Now, Utaku Takeko searches for characters on the top 8 cards of the Unicorn’s dynasty deck. This change eliminates the issue of making it impossible to get rid of certain characters, and it also makes Takeko a better tool as a 5th province. By searching the top 8, we expect Takeko to succeed in finding characters 98% of the time, with 90% of the time finding at least 2 options of characters.

Rescued From the Mist

The Emerald Legacy is a fan-project, fully developed and maintained by volunteers, including our artists. Also, our rhythm of releases is slower than a commercial operation. Due to the slower speed of releases and how precious each piece of art is for us, we should try hard to not waste cards by keeping them in the ban list. It’s for that reason that we revisit the next two cards from Through the Mists.

Deployed Garrison returns as a specialized defense force, always ready to defend the Crab from their enemies as long as they can rely on the clan fortifications to give them support. Once Deployed Garrison wins a conflict, if it is at a province with a holding or next to a holding, the Garrison does not bow for the conflict resolution. They remain ready, prepared to defend the Crab from a follow up attack, or to charge against the enemy as deliverers of vengeance. With the help of Floating Fortress (also from TtM), the Crab should be able to support their troops without much trouble.

Bake-Kujira is back! Still a scary sea monster, now cheaper and stronger, but less lethal. The returned Bake-Kujira is still a dangerous opponent and a destroyer of provinces, but its carapace and its hunger are diminished. No longer immune to events, the opponent should have an easier time trying to handle the monster, but stay on your guard for the owner of the creature now should also have an easier time to ready the whale or combine it with other effects. Its appetite is also moderated, now the whale can wait until they win the conflict to try and swallow their adversaries. Sometimes a single bite is enough, sometimes they will be taken whole, depending on their fate.

Updates to Restricted List and Ban List

This last season saw the recovery of Dragon, from being in the lower levels of competitive play, they are now back as a force to contend with. We also saw Lion rising to the top with multiple powerful builds, some of them as a result of Yatakabune Port + Feeding an Army, but that does not explain everything. Overall it is a diverse environment where the clans have freedom to express their capacities, the time of towers being dominant is long gone. Conquest decks are the dominant force; we still find honor decks in Lion, Phoenix, and a few Crane lists have been taking cautious steps; dishonor is still present in Crab and Phoenix, but Scorpion is almost exclusively run as a conquest deck!

The updates this season are:

Indomitable Will is being freed to give tall strategies an extra tool. The environment is now varied enough that we feel confident in giving back a tool for tall strategies. From the readies available, we believe Indomitable Will is the most focused one, that is usable by Tall without being abusable by other strategies. We expect to see Indomitable Will finding its way into Crane, Lion, and some Unicorn.

Togashi Mitsu 2 and Sacred Sanctuary are being switched around. In this season we noticed the rise of Dragon decks centered around Monks, but without a heavy dependance on Mitsu. Those lists can be found both in wide varieties with Nameless Brother or other builds using midrange Dragon Monks. We don’t want to give full lists here, but try to watch a few games by “Hierro” on This change gives an extra push to those alternative Monk builds, and it starts preparing Dragon for a life without Mitsu. We don’t expect much to change for Mitsu lists: a few lists ran Keeper Initiates, those will lose access to them, which also reduces the strength of Cliffs of the Sea Dragon for those lists (via Revered Bonshō). But for other Monk builds, they now have more options.

Tactical Ingenuity has been banned in the past by fan-mad banlists, eventually it even became restricted in the Imperial Edict. The strength of Tactical Ingenuity is uncontested. In the past, Tactical Ingenuity would find some balance in requiring the use of Commanders, in a time when not that many good Commanders existed. Nowadays, the situation is different, and Lion has a wide array of great Commanders to play, ultimately making Tactical Ingenuity imbalanced. We expect most Lion decks to stay loyal to Tactical Ingenuity on a first moment, with time we expect people to explore other alternatives, and hopefully they will come to agree that Lion can still win on the battlefield without depending on that attachment.

Subterfuge returns in an effort to bring Scorpion Dishonor back to the scene. Scorpion dishonor decks are extremely reliant on dishonor tokens and forcing card advantage. But as L5R developed, many tools to remove dishonor tokens were released, also many sources of card draw were released. Those two factors combined pushed Scorpion dishonor out of the competitive space. By bringing back Subterfuge we give back to Scorpion some control of card advantage, in hopes that this added control will be enough to make Scorpion dishonor a consideration again. We expected the impact of this change to be low on Scorpion strategies focused on conquest as the impact of a few discarded cards is lower in games where players are fighting with higher bids. We understand that moving from Banned to Free is a large step, but we believe that is the best way to move forward and test the hypothesis about its effect on Scorpion, as we understand that merely moving it to Restrict would’ve been a near invisible change. If having Subterfuge free is shown to be too much, we will not be afraid to accept the facts and take action.

The Emerald Core Set

Work on our own core set continues. The Emerald Core Set will contain 270 cards, with 30 cards per clan plus 60 neutrals. As of the time of this article, we have about 250 cards designed, and we are starting the refinement and balance phase of the process in the coming days.

Together with our core set, we are refining a few rules of the game framework, and are improving the wording of the game. It should still be the akin to the L5R that we all know and love, just slightly different. Still a game where player skill is the dominating factor, and where decisions that seem small turn out to be huge.

We expect to have the set released in time for the New Year. And if you’re interested in helping playtest or our art department, we are always recruiting.