I've been brewing a lot recently to try and come up with the best Phoenix list going into the current meta and my predictions to how it will shape up. I've had a lot of help along the way from other Phoenix members with both theory crafting and practical testing and today I'm giving you all a write-up on the deck and why I believe it is the best Phoenix deck for the current competitive environment.
The list can be found here: https://www.bushibuilder.com/l5r/deck/…
To start, let's define what the meta looks to be, and where it may be heading as it is very important for many considerations put into the deck. It's no secret that Scorpion is not only very strong overall, but also one of our traditionally difficult match-ups thanks to the numerous targeted dishonor and removal options. Scorpion is probably best poised to be the best clan in this new meta with answers to both the impactful attachments that are everywhere and the towers that are common in Dragon, Crab, and (traditional) Phoenix decks. A Fate Worse Than Death is a very defining card in the Scorpion match-up, and very much a card that you need to prepare to face. Dragon is still a force to be reckoned with and you need to consider the Dragon match-up when deck building or lose very harshly to their strong conflict presence and punishing province line-up. Crab is also a strong voltron contender with lots of excellent attachments and the ability to seemingly keep characters in play forever. Lion and Crane, while weaker than the above are also not to be underestimated, but I believe we are currently favored against both thanks to our immense favor control, and excellent hand control thanks to Policy Debate and Censure.
So where does that leave us? The meta is built around character towers, with both Dragon and Crab decks relying heavily on a few characters to get the job done with the rest of their board supporting them. Scorpion is a natural counter to this play style thanks to cards like A Fate Worse than Death, Mirumoto's Fury, Calling in Favors, and Let Go being seen in most top lists. So, it seems best that Phoenix needs to be able to deal well with the Towers and attachments as well as build to better survive the horrid scorpion match-up. That means less towers ourselves, and more low curve, wide boards with impactful characters and the high cost characters being able to deal with being dishonored or having value outside of stats.
This deck is a bit of a paradigm shift from the traditional Phoenix deck, and I'm going to explain it in much greater detail below.
-Air: Manicured Garden is a standard pick as more fate helps build wider boards which is what we want. There is value as well to Before the Throne because it's harder to break and provides an honor net, but is also farmable for rings.
-Earth: Public Forum all day. This province helps slow down the game, removes the downside on Display of Power, and wins you the game if you stick Kanjo District on it.
-Fire: Meditations is about the only option as it helps control the board and provides lasting value compared to Night Raid
-Water: Rally to the Cause beats out Along the River of Gold because it's what will be going on our Stronghold and helps force opponents into poking first before going all in or potentially being blown out by it.
-Void: Shameful Display is the void province of choice as this deck is a tempo deck. Shameful Display will not only advance your board, but also slow down many opponents' characters. Kuroi Mori is busted, but Shameful Display allows you to be more active in the early game which is what you want to do.
-The first thing you may have noticed is that the deck runs neither Kaede nor Tsukune. While more acceptable against Crab, the tempo loss of buying these characters can be hard to justify against Dragon's blitzy archetype and killer provinces like Feast or Famine and Shameful Display, and both of these characters are horrid in the Scorpion match-up, with buying Kaede being an excellent way to lose the game quickly to many Scorpion cards. I found myself buying Kaede less and less over time because of these reasons, and eventually switched over to Tsukune who was better but much too slow given the pace of games right now. This leads me to believe it is honestly best to leave these characters in the binder, as much as it pains me to do so.
-For 1 drops we run the traditional Naive Student and Solemn Scholar. These are both solid 1 drops that provide extra value well worth their cost. Naive Student provides additional card draw which is excellent for a tempo deck like this. Solemn Scholar is just a decent body, a shugenja, and occasionally able to lock down any offense from the opponent.
- For 2 cost we run the entire gambit of courtiers and shugenja. Tsuki goes in every Phoenix deck, period right now and is both a courtier AND a shugenja. Adept of the Waves opens opportunities to bow opponent's characters without fate using the water ring by coverting them and is excellent for pushing the enemy Stronghold and removing their best defenders. Asako Diplomat bolsters the courtier count and is a decent way to turn on our Stronghold with her ability. Diplomat also combos well with Master of Gisei Toshi to help guarantee a trigger in many situations. Meddling Mediator is a very underrated 2 drop, but one of our best. 3 political for 2 is very good and the ability is nothing to sleep on either. Keeper Initiates work well with Miya Satoshi and provide extra value for Water Ring claims.
-Our 3 slot is short and sweet. Haughty Magistrate is just plain great, with about 6 characters able to actually defend against him when the SH is used. We run 2 instead of 3 because we are also running Satoshi to find them. Yojimbo is a valueable card as well to protect vital shugenja like Tsuki and Prodigy of the Waves. Your opponent has to force your hand with the interrupt before playing any huge events or get blown out if they forget it.
-The 4 cost is more inflated because we aren't running any 5 drops. Prodigy of the Waves is generally good and shouldn't need much explaining. Master of Gisei Toshi is a very good meta call against Scorpion and one of the best options at this card slot because of it. She has a natural 4 political which breaks most provinces, her ability isn't tied directly to conflicts and shuts down events which is great against Scorpion, and she's 1 glory base which is a godsend for Phoenix who really love characters that aren't neutered by a dishonor effect. Finally, we have the spicy glue of the deck in Miya Satoshi. Satoshi is a boss as he has great stats (4 in political yet again) but also an amazing ability to find imperial cards. With Satoshi's ability you will either find Haughty Magistrate (a busted card), a Satoshi duplicate to give him a fate (which helps build a wider board), or Kanjo District (which is a win condition on its own when flipped with Satoshi and placed on Public Forum). Satoshi is simply a straight beast and totally worth cutting the 5 cost slot to include.
-Finally, for holdings we run 2 favorable ground to help deal with covert, running away from Feast or Famine, or simply maneuvering the conflict phase better. We also run the traditional 3 Library because card draw wins game, especially as Phoenix. Finally, we run Kanjo because it's busted.
-Splash: As I said in the opener, Phoenix wants both attachment control and a greater ability to deal with towers. This leaves two main splash options to best align with the meta: Dragon and Scorpion. Dragon gives Let Go for dealing with Reprieve/Pathfinder's Blade/Talisman of the Sun/Cloud the Mind and Mirumoto's Fury which is a great answer to Crab and Dragon towers which typically have 2 or fewer glory and are vulnerable most of the game to its bow effect. Scorpion splash gives access to A Fate Worse Than Death for dealing with towers and Calling in Favors which is very, very good when dealing with the troublesome attachments listed above. Ultimately, I chose Dragon splash because it's about as good as Scorpion against Dragon and Crab, but worse when facing Scorpion as AFWTD isn't usually safe to play nor worthwhile most of the time.
-Spells: Embrace the Void helps keep up the building of the board and soft counters Feast or Famine by sending the removed fate to your pool instead of to the enemy character. Cloud the Mind is useful in every match-up and removes the teeth from several characters. Supernatural Storm can get to very high numbers at times thanks to the more wide style of this deck and the low cost of its shugenja, but isn't great early on so we just run 2. Against the Waves is one of the best cards in the Phoenix arsenal and helps us get extra value out of our characters or stop certain key enemy Shugenja such as Yokuni, Steadfast Witch Hunter, and Spiritcaller. Finally, we have a single copy of Display of Power for those moments where it can swing the game and it will keep our opponent on their toes.
-Conflict characters: With 12 spells total, Shrine Maiden has a fairly decent chance to draw at least one when played. You really need conflict characters to help dealing with Assassination/Way of the Crab combo and blow out events like Mirumoto's Fury, and Shrine Maiden is super solid even when not drawing spells. Just count the number of spells you've seen so far and determine if it's best to trigger the reaction or not from there.
-Attachments: The only attachment we run that isn't Embrace the Void or Cloud the Mind is Ornate Fan thanks to Dragon and Scorpion both having excellent options for attachment control and because the political buff is very nice in a meta where Policy Debate is in a lot of decks.
-Events: The rest of the conflict deck is just "good stuff" neutral events. Assassination is fantastic for tempo as it can completely deny entire conflicts and removes a body from the board. Just be sure to watch your honor total and not use it just because you can. Banzai! is a self-explanatory card that is best used to break on offense than while defending. Censure gives us added protection against the very high impact events running about in all decks and because we will almost always have the favor it is basically never off. Court Games is an auto-include for Phoenix. Don't forget you can use it to dishonor an enemy then use the Stronghold to give them an additional -2/-2! For Shame is a super card for Phoenix and we have plenty of Courtiers to use it. For 0 it either bows an opponent entirely or allows us to use our stronghold on their character if they choose to dishonor it instead to really debuff it. Last, but certainly not to be forgotten is Policy Debate, which I'm sure is a card you've heard of by now and why it's good. It effectively is cancels number 4-6 that can remove any problem cards.
The deck plays very much a tempo style in a similar vein to Dragon. That is to say you should draw as much as you feel comfortable doing based on your honor and play to break provinces first and foremost. The ultimate goal is to end up in a situation where you are ahead on broken provinces and able to keep it that way.
Almost always put at least 1 fate on most characters you buy, the deck plays to a wider board that allows you to better deal with the Mirumoto's Furies and AFWTDs out there without much issue. You won't often get the passing fate, but Embrace the Void helps offset this nicely.
Favor control is of paramount importance for both Kanjo District and Censure as well as denial against Lion and Crane of their powerful favor effects. The imperial favor is also very nice with Haughty Magistrate as he will still solo a ring claim even while dishonored.
Using Satoshi to dig up Kanjo District is a victory condition in and of itself, especially when placed on a fresh Public Forum where it can be next to impossible to remove. You may end up milling yourself and needing to spend 5 honor to reshuffle if the game goes long enough and Kanjo is buried, but it hasn't happened to me yet.
As for rings, you take what makes the most sense - with water and void being typically high on the priority list thanks to the water effects we have and the board control. Earth is almost always solid and Fire isn't bad either. Generally, you shouldn't attack Air unless you need to sustain your honor or it has fate.
I did take this deck to a Way of the Rings event in Springfield, OH where it went undefeated against 2 excellent Scorpion players (one being Hatamoto Mat Frye), and had Joe Habes (Crab Hatamoto) concede on turn 2 in the finals.
The deck works well for me and I've been handling Scorpion so much better with it and have even noticed better match-ups against Dragon and Crab as well. When people ask for my list they are often confused by a number of things so I figure a formal write-up was due. Hope you guys enjoy and thanks for reading if you actually made it through all that text!