Word up Crab gang, it’s your boy action_johnny here. Welcome to first of what I hope to be a continuous series of articles detailing tactics, strategies and musings over each of our match ups with the other great clans. My hope is for each article to be a two-parter, with one half written by myself detailing the Crab perspective, and the other half written by a personality affiliated with the opposing clan, written from their perspective on how to handle Crab.
As Scorpion is currently the boogeyman of the current meta, it makes sense that the first article in this series should examine Crab’s strategy against that most lamented of match ups.
Current meta state of Crab vs Scorpion
Looking at the results we have from the past two previous Koteis, you would be forgiven for expressing doubts on just how winnable this match up is for Crab. In both PAX south and the Cork Kotei, Crab appears to have underperformed considerably after its earlier-in-the-cycle Kotei wins. I think the reasons for this are fairly clear – PAX south heralded the rise of a truly unpleasant archetype of Scorpion deck (Chris Pottorf’s now infamous No Funny Stuff build), catching Crab players off guard in both tournaments and making a mockery of the Crab staple deck, Crab Unicorn.
So what exactly is the issue with Crab’s supposed tier 1 deck against this insidious foe? Let’s examine some potential red flags as to why Crab might be underperforming:
- Strategising ‘Tower building’ or ‘Voltron’: The Crab Unicorn general strategy is to purchase powerful dynasty characters that, over the course of the game, become a Voltron target for the multiple attachments that the build likes to run – e.g. Watch Commander, Spyglass and Talisman of the Sun. Against most other factions, this creates incredibly strong, resilient nuisance characters that can be impossible to get rid of. Scorpions, however, run A Fate Worse than Death. Tower characters are costly investments – so when they can be annihilated by one card, building one up goes from being a game winning strategy to folly.
- Reliance on attachments: In some ways a continuation of the last point, Crab Unicorn is reliant on its attachments to win, and attachments are a card type Scorpion deals with well. All good Scorpion decks will be running anywhere from 2 to 4 copies of attachment control cards, in the form of the in-faction Calling in Favours and, if splashing Dragon, Let Go. Losing attachments to Let Go can be a real pain, but having an attachment stolen – especially a high impact attachment like Reprieve or Talisman of the Sun – can lose you the game. Crab Unicorn conflict decks generally comprise of between 12-16 attachments, so when roughly a third of your deck is irrelevant or can be used against you, the path to victory becomes an uphill struggle.
- Cost of conflict deck/lack of conflict actions: Crab Unicorn does not run a cheap conflict deck. For the purposes of clarification, my definition of a cheap conflict deck is one that runs close to 50% of the conflict deck costing 0 fate. Crab, with their glut of 1 cost attachments and high impact 1 cost events, typically runs somewhere in the region of 13-15 0 cost conflict cards, which is only 33-37.5% of the conflict deck. Of the remaining 25 cards, at least 9-13 of these will be attachments that cost a fate and are (usually) best played before a conflict takes place. The problem with running so few 0 cost cards and so many costly attachments is twofold – a fate hungry conflict deck and a lack of battle actions. What this means is that the Crab player will generally run out of conflict ‘gas’ (the ability to play cards/peform actions) before the Scorpion player. This might not seem like a big deal, but when your hand is smaller than your opponent’s and you’re unable to pressure them into spending cards, conflicts can become lopsided quickly.
These factors, combined with Scorpion’s inherent ability to keep themselves from being dishonoured out of the game via their stronghold, make for a bleak picture in terms of Crab Unicorn’s ability to win out in this matchup.
Building to Win – Which Splash?
Crab have several decent splash options when it comes to dealing with Scorpion, however some of them are more effective in the current meta than others. If not Unicorn, then what’s the best to go with? Below is a quick list of potential splashes and what they each offer:
- Crane: In my opinion, this is the premiere splash against Scorpion at the moment. Splashing Crane gets you access to the Political Rival and the Steward of Law. The Rival is both an amazing defender and a Covert attacker that shores up Crab’s political weakness. The Steward of Law is an incredibly useful character versus Scorpion, perhaps best used to block their cancels on events you need to trigger, or baiting Assassination. These 2 courtiers also allow you to play For Shame! reliably, another powerful tool vs Scorpion. The rest of the splash can be rounded out with Admit Defeat and/or Duelist Training, for some extra bow tech.
- Dragon: A simple but effective splash. Mirumoto’s Fury makes triggering Defend the Wall an absolute breeze, while the Tattooed Wanderer provides a multifaceted conflict character that can either surprise attack provinces or give Covert to your big guys to help push through unopposed conflicts.
- Lion: Lion splash gives access to some cheap and effective anti-Scorpion tech. Ready For Battle and Ageless Crone are both cards that can cause problems for Scorpion, who rely on events and bow effects to keep their opponents controlled. Guard Duty is also an option, providing a way to re-honour your characters after they get Way of the Scorpion’d.
- Scorpion: Also called the A Fate Worse than Death splash. You will definitely be playing A Fate Worse than Death, which should be supplemented by Meek Informants, alerting you to any counters your opponent might have. There is nothing more mortifying than getting one cancelled. Depending the number of AFWtD you’re running, you may also have room for the Unassuming Yojimbo, a powerful Covert conflict character, or Calling in Favours, which can aid in stealing your attachments back.
So How Do I Win?
While there is no doubt that Scorpion is the dominant meta force at the minute, they are by no means unbeatable. Scorpion are first and foremost a control faction and, like any control faction, they are reliant on a continuous influx of powerful cards to see them through. I would describe this as the ‘gas’ factor. As long as Scorpion can continue to pump the gas, they are going to be the dominant force in the match up. It seems natural, then, that the key to beating Scorpion is to deprive them of cards, either via honour pressure, natural attrition, or both.
While honour and card management is one half of the matchup, the other is board and fate management. Crab win games by weathering the early game and building up a board that wins out in the late game. This can be difficult to manage vs Scorpion with their plethora of removal options, but it is no less essential.
So, in summary, producing a victory against Scorpion can be determined via 4 factors:
- Correct management and expenditure of honour
- Correct management and expenditure of cards played from hand
- Development and protection of our board state
- Fate expenditure/management as efficient as possible
The Race to the Bottom
The first two points on that list correlate directly. To draw and play their cards, Scorpions need honour. Over the course of the game, Scorpions will naturally ‘bleed’ honour from their total. Certain card effects, like Adept of the Shadows, Calling in Favours, and Forged Edict require them to spend their honour or dishonour friendly characters to get them to work. As they lose honour, they’ll use their stronghold to drag your honour total down whilst simultaneously topping up theirs. After factoring in the bid dial as well, every game against Scorpion generally sees both players steadily losing honour as a natural part of the match up. In this sense, the game becomes centered around who drops to dangerous honour levels first, and the options available to each player once they hit the ‘danger zone’.
As Crab players, our ability to manage this ‘Race to the Bottom’ defines whether we win or lose the game.
- What we want to happen: We play the game as conservatively as possible. We will seek to match the bids of the Scorpion player, meaning that they’ll have to proactively work to get use out of their stronghold. By forcing this, and being conservative with our own card expenditure, we can slowly accrue a card advantage while pressuring the Scorpion to spend cards in order to drag both honour totals ever downwards.
- What we don’t want to happen: We spend cards that cost us honour in order to trigger (Policy Debate, Assassination etc), putting us at a low honour total too early and paving the way for a Scorpion dishonour victory.
Our path to victory is through our opponent’s steady expenditure of cards and honour. I know what you’re thinking – easier said than done. Well, yes… but also no. One thing that Scorpion does very well is convincing us that we’re always losing the game. Indeed, it’s easy to assume that we’re losing when seemingly every line of play we take has an answer waiting for it; your events getting cancelled, your attachments getting stolen, your smalls getting Assassinated and your bigs getting AFWtD’d, to specify a few. Everything Scorpion does is designed to make us feel like the match up is hopeless and that there’s nothing we can do. If we believe that, then play errors and tilting begin to occur, and we don’t want that.
In actuality, all the horrible stuff that Scorpion plays out over the course of the game are just part and parcel of what needs to happen so that we can actually win. If a Scorpion is drawing roughly 25-30 cards of their conflict deck per game, then they’ll see (roughly) 2 copies of every problem card you’d hope they wouldn’t. Instead of hoping that they don’t have a certain card in hand, assume that they do and make them play it. You’re not going to be able to win out until they do.
Baiting the Play
Baiting is an important part of our game plan vs Scorpion, as that’s essentially our strategy for getting them to spend their gas in the manner that best suits us. The Crab’s time to shine generally comes in the latter stages of the game, when the Scorpion’s gas is all used up. However, in order to get the to the end of the game with enough room to maneuver, we need to force our opponent into spending their high impact cards.
- Baiting Cancels: Baiting cancels is an exercise in calculating the opportunity cost of sacrificing one potentially powerful action to force through a more desirable action instead. There are some events we never ever want to get cancelled and should never be used as bait, the cost being too high, like Assassination. Some prime ‘bait’ event cancel plays are events like Charge! on an offensive conflict to threaten a break, or playing The Moutain Does Not Fall to threaten a return conflict the opponent doesn’t want to deal with. In both these examples, the result of the event being cancelled is not highly impactful, but it feels to the Scorpion player like it could be. Rebuild can also be great cancel bait card by threatening to return an Iron Mine or another high impact holding to play right when your opponent least wants it.
- Baiting Attachment Control: The general rule here is ‘the more valuable the attachment, the later in the game it should be played’. Zero cost attachments are the least valuable, followed by attachments which are powerful but not game losing if stolen, followed by attachments that are powerful and game losing if stolen. With this school of thought, you would always play your Fans/Katanas before attachments like Spyglasses/Watch Commander, which in turn would be played before things like Talisman of the Sun or Reprieve. When you drip feed your opponent attachments in this manner, you control the impact their attachment control cards have. This way they must choose; either they can use their attachment control when you allow them to, or it languishes in their hand for long periods of the game, making it more likely to be hit by Earth ring/Policy Debate, or cycled away by their own Favoured Nieces. Remember, at most, the Scorpion is only going to be running 4 attachment control cards, so once you’ve seen 2 to 3, the risk of playing your strong attachments becomes much less so.
- Baiting Assassination: Baiting an Assassination at the right time is often the key to winning the game versus Scorpion, as it can signal the beginning of their descent into dwindling honour totals and thus the limiting of their card draw. Most of Crab’s 2 cost or lower characters are high value and thus make Assassination a very tempting prospect. Shrewd Yasuki and the Vanguard Warrior make the absolute best bait of all. Playing a Vanguard Warrior on a turn where a strong high cost character would leave play is almost begging for it. Likewise, a Shrewd Yasuki with fate on and a (non-Iron Mine) holding in play will also be very appealing. Just be sure you’re not offering these characters up on the altar in vain. If you’re purposefully trying to bait an Assassination, you should be at a position in the game where you’re prepared to switch gears and start playing for the win.
A Bait Worse than Death – Invest Wisely
The dreaded A Fate Worse than Death. I’ve given this card its own section, as baiting and playing around it correctly can be much more game defining than anything else. When it comes to surviving this card, the correct strategy is a precautionary rather than a reactive one. The key to overcoming A Fate Worse than Death, with as much damage limitation as possible, is never giving your opponent the option of completely removing a character from the board with it in a single round. Also, lower Glory characters are preferred targets to throw under the bus over higher Glory ones, as being Dishonoured is less impacftul.
Example: You have 8 fate going into Dynasty. Your purchase options for the turn are either Crisis Breaker or a Witch Hunter. You have a couple of cheap conflict characters in hand, as well as events that cost fate. Your opponent is first player, and you suspect they have A Fate Worse than Death in hand. You can only really afford a Dynasty purchase of 6 fate total, to preserve fate for your conflict phase purchases.
In this scenario, it may be a better investment to buy the Breaker with 3 fate on him over the Witch Hunter with 2 fate. Why? Because buying the Witch Hunter with 2 fate opens you up to a Void Ring + AFWtD combo, essentially removing the Witch Hunter from play at the end of the round. In that outcome, the 4 fate the Scorpion paid for AFWtD is worth more than the 6 fate you paid for the Witch Hunter. On the other hand, if the Scorpion Player uses the same combo on a 3 fate Crisis Breaker, they lose fate where you lose a conflict. Even though your Crisis Breaker lost 2 of the 3 fate you put on him, your opponent spent one of their best cards and he’ll still be staying in the game for another 2 rounds. Just make sure not to run him into Meditations on the Tao, if you can help it.
This scenario illustrates the difference between an investment that’s potentially risky vs one that will help you win out in the long game. In one example the opponent is forced to spend one of their really nasty cards but ends the round advantaged to us, an in the other example the reverse is true.
Provinces Don’t Matter Until 3 Are Broken
Versus Scorpion, your Provinces are another kind of resource to be spent in your pursuit of victory. In the early game, it is highly likely that you will fall behind your opponent in number of provinces broken. This can be dispiriting, especially when your provinces seem much more fragile than theirs. Again, don’t be fooled. Rare is the game that you will win on breaking provinces. Most games vs Scorpion you will win via Dishonour. That means that, until you’ve had 3 provinces broken, it’s kind of irrelevant how many you lose. What’s important is how dearly you make them pay for each break. If you spend your cards/actions in a way that forces them to spend twice as much to fulfill their goal, you are winning. If you can stop a break and force them to defend a potential one back whilst staying card positive to them, you are winning. Never lose sight of this fact. Even when Scorpion are knocking on the door of your stronghold, if you’ve played the game right then victory is still very much attainable.
There comes a point in every game against Scorpion where the wind changes, and the opportune moment to switch our bidding strategy in pursuit of a dishonour victory arrives. Up until this point, it’s very important to maintain bid parity with the Scorpion. We want as many cards as possible and we certainly don’t want to give them an easy way to use their stronghold. By sticking to this rule, you’ll find that you won’t fall as far behind in the early game as you’ll have more options to play with. At some point however, the time will come where you need to dramatically switch your bidding. Generally speaking, Scorpions will bid 5 until they can no longer afford to do that, so you should as well. The Switch will come when you’re aware of two or more of the following:
- The Scorpion player is on 5-6 honour
- The Scorpion has played at least 1-2 copies of every high impact control card they possess
- The Scorpion player has a smaller hand than you do
- The Scorpion player has the same size hand as you, but you just flipped into ancillary draw options (Shrewd Yasuki/Store House/Pyre etc)
- The cards in your hand are better than your opponent’s (discerned either via Policy Debate or looking at their discard pile)
Remember the ‘gas’ aspect of Scorpion I mentioned earlier? Well, if you spot any of the signs above, it’s a clear indication that the gas is running out. This is the moment we switch our bid to 1. The objective here is to catch our opponent out and drop them to 2-3 honour. Either one of two things will happen – either you’ll catch them out, or they’ll realise they’re in the danger zone and switch bids with you.
In either outcome, now is your chance to shine. Either you will have forced them into dangerously low honour position where they only have the cards in their hand left to thwart you, or you’ll have a significant card lead on them, allowing you to finally start breaking their provinces. Either way, this is the point of the game to amp up your aggression and really put the pressure on.
Cards for the End
Versus Scorpion, there are cards you’ll want to avoid playing early game, but will swing victory for you in the late game. Here are a few examples:
- Assassination: Playing this too early versus Scorpion can be a death warrant. It’s likely to get cancelled, leaving you with an honour deficit with no advantage gained. On the other hand, saving your Assassination after you’ve seen them play a couple of Forged Edicts, or when you’re leading in honour, is going to be much safer and much more impactful.
- Policy Debate: This event can be tricky to pull off against Scorpion, and early on we certainly don’t want to give them opportunities to spend honour to turn on their stronghold. Mid to late game however, this card really shines. Once the cancels have run out, or the Scorpion is on low honour and thus locked out of bidding high, it becomes a devastating tool in your arsenal. You’ll have complete knowledge of all their play options for the turn at the most important part of the game.
- Reprieve: My general rule is never to play these early, only ever late. That way, there’s a higher chance that the Calling in Favours will have already been spent/cycled via the Favoured Niece, or that my opponent’s honour total will be low enough that I can use Policy Debate without worry to scout their hand. Even late in the game, playing a Reprieve blind can be extremely risky. I never Reprieve if there’s a chance that a monster character (Shoju, Kachiko, Hiroue) can steal it and use it to stick around. Playing these at the right time, however, will see you going into the final turn/s of the game with much wider board than your opponent.
Remember, when a Scorpion only has 1-2 honour left, every Forged Edict or Calling in Favours is another Dishonoured status token that could potentially lose them the game.
- Play Satoshi: This guy has made his way into a lot of decks recently, and there’s a good reason for that. From a Crab perspective, he’s the missing link that not only fills a void in Crab Dynasty decks (on account of his cost and stats – hello there 4 in Political), but also has an action with relevant application for us as well. Milling your deck to put Keeper Initiates in the bin mid Earth ring conflict, or to find The Imperial Palace/Karada District at the right moment, or putting holdings into play with Rebuild will just win you games.
- Play for the Imperial Favour at all times: It may seem obvious, but having the imperial favour versus Scorpion is strong. It means that they cannot exclusively defend with Mirumoto’s Fury for the conflict type that you pick. So, in that sense, it is actively contributing to our strategy of bleeding them of gas whenever it’s on our side of the board. It also stops Censure, which some Scorpions are now including in their decks alongside Forged Edict. Satoshi is the most consistent way to play for the favour, either by milling for keepers and bringing them into play to count their glory, or filtering the deck for The Imperial Palace.
- Keep an eye on traits and board state: Always be sure to keep an eye on what traits the Scorpion player’s characters have. It sounds simple stupid, but there is information telegraphed in this regard. If your opponent only has 1 Courtier character out, then you know that they can only use one Forged Edict, no matter if they have more or not. Likewise, if your opponent chooses to play a Shugenja from their dynasty, then it’s safe to assume they probably have Cloud the Mind in hand.
- Fury on your terms: Try and create attacking scenarios where your opponent is forced to play their Mirumoto’s Fury. For example, attacking with an undefended board with lone Hida Guardian can be stopped by a simple Court Games or a Way of the Scorpion. Attacking with the Hida Guardian and say a cheap, surprise conflict character is more likely to force a Fury, as a break is being threatened.
- Never go back to Secret Cache: This province is just insanely strong and multiple triggers of it will just lose you the game. Being able to tutor an ever-increasing percentage of their deck to find the exact best card to help them win that turn is… well, as bad as it sounds. The only exceptions to this rule are if you’ve already attacked it once in a turn, or you’re so far ahead you don’t need to worry about it.
- Don’t break Meditations on the Tao early: Meditations on the Tao is the ‘soft’ province of the Scorpion back line. It is the closest thing to a sanctuary for farming ring effects that you’ll get playing against Scorpion, so try to keep it around for as long as possible for your no fate characters to attack.
Well, that’s it for part 1 of the first installment of A Game of Two Halves. Part 2 of this installment will see a Scorpion player detailing their clan’s strategies against the might of the Crab.
Conversely, if you’re a known Scorpion personality with a penchant for words who would enjoy writing a counter article to this one, hit me up and we’ll make it happen!
If you’re interested, I have a Youtube Channel where I post deck builds and videos of my games with commentary here. Thanks for reading and we’ll see you next time!