Image thanks to Ikoma Tomoya and Randalor.
As the Winter Court of 2019 approaches, Lion players all over the world are hard at work constructing decks to help rebound after last year’s disgraceful performance. Fortunately, this year they are all armed to the teeth with their new clan pack, The Emperor’s Legion!
Except, they aren’t.
Much to the chagrin of The Lion Clan, the clan pack has been significantly delayed. Originally, there were rumblings at the Madrid Grand Kotei that the clan pack could be out as early as May. Then, during the Inheritance Cycle preview stream, we heard that a late August/early September release was more likely. Hopes were raised when FFG announced that The Emperor’s Legion would be available for early purchase during GenCon, but optimism was quickly dashed once The Emperor’s Legion was removed from the catalogue, nowhere to be found.
Most recently, we saw a tweet appear from FFG’s official Twitter stating that the Lion pack was scheduled to be out in “early Q4 2019” — but it would be pushing the limits as far as whether it would be available for Worlds 2019. This, of course, was devastating news for the Lion clan, who have been much maligned in the current meta but have clung to the promise that the clan pack would turn things around. Although this year saw Lion’s first ever Kotei win, overall Lion performance has been less than stellar, with only a few standouts able to make deep runs into top cuts. Faced with another Winter Court with harsh odds, some Lions have even opted to cut their losses by switching clans or even giving up their collections.
But for those of us continuing to fight the good fight, Lion pack or not, there are still decks to be built, games to be played, and Winter Courts to be won. While far from an ideal situation, I wanted to take some time and do a fun little exercise for myself in which I rate every Lion card currently in existence. As of this article, this includes everything up to Inheritance Cycle Pack 4. My goal in doing this is not only to spark up some discussion, but also to encourage some critical reflection on Lion’s current card pool to help focus and guide deckbuilding going into worlds.
My Rating System:
I ranked cards based on three (completely arbitrary and alliterative) criteria: their power level, their potential, and their playability.
- Power level reflects the card’s innate strength, in a vacuum.
- Potential rates the card’s viability in the future with other possible synergistic cards.
- Playability reflects the card’s current ability to be played in a deck, or lack of ability to be played, due to natural counters in the meta, deck space, or the restricted list.
Because people tend to get irate at ratings, I want to start this off with the obvious caveat that these numbers are completely arbitrary and my opinion alone. Feel free to agree or disagree as much as you choose–but most importantly, let’s have fun with it.
As much as I like to meme about how bad Kitsu Warrior is, Tactician’s Camp takes the cake for worst Lion card. As I’ve written before, the bonus it provides is almost completely negligible, giving only an extra +1 Mil stat to honored characters. In a clan not only lacking in consistent honoring mechanics but also with no shortage of stronger military bonuses, this holding may as well have never existed. Lead designer Tyler Parrott commented that the card once existed in a different form, but had to be changed because it “would not have been good for the game.” The end result is a card that will now never see play.
Pulling up in second to last is Hito District, Lion’s “spectacular” one-of holding that is an absolute joke not only compared to some of the other one-of holdings in Imperial Cycle, but also compared to any other card, period (besides its sister province Chisei District).
The rest of the F tier is made up of a lot of cards that are simply too expensive for what little they offer, like Beastmaster Matriarch and Test of Courage. Writ of Authority is a card that I’ve included in the past but is simply too expensive and restrictive for as minimal of a boost it provides over a card like Ornate Fan. Raging Battleground has a powerful effect that is severely dampened by its limited scope and trigger window.
The card with the most potential in this tier is Akodo Kage, whose ability lets you manipulate honor dials and can prevent opponents from drawing more cards or bidding high in duels. Unfortunately, Lion has a lack of support for any archetype that would benefit from this effect–and let’s not forget the “more honorable” caveat as well.
D Tier brings us a number of cards with some interesting effects that unfortunately lack playability for some reason or another. We see some more honorable effects in Venerable Historian, Ikoma Orator, and Matsu Mitsuko, all with fairly potent abilities marred by having their power contingent on that often inconsistent condition.
We also see some of the more interesting effects in Lion, such as the attachment recursion effects of Restored Heirloom and Guidance of the Ancestors. While cards that give bonuses for discarding cards are starting to become more prevalent, there still just aren’t enough effects to justify these otherwise lackluster stat pumps.
The tier also includes a number of cards that just simply don’t do enough. Command Respect and Kamayari have too limited of a scope, while Student of War’s staying power is attached to a very vanilla character otherwise. Guard Duty’s honoring effect is strong, but it only works on defense in a clan that doesn’t particularly defend well.
The tier topper for D Tier is Glorious Victory, which I probably rated too high. Honoring every single character you control after breaking a province is a pretty huge effect. Unfortunately, it’s tied to an on-break effect and also costs 3 fate, a price too steep for that level of effect.
We start to see some of the filler fringe cards show up in C Tier, with the old classic honor-based chuds Obstinate Recruit and Steadfast Samurai making appearances in the middle, along with some other vanilla-type cards in Matsu Beiona and Tireless Sodan Senzo.
A number of cards have some potential here, but just don’t have nearly enough support to justify running. Ancestral Armory is a solid Weapon recursion card, should that type of deck ever happen. Even the Odds is an interesting movement effect that comes with a rare honoring ability, but there just aren’t enough Commanders or reasons for Lion to move into a conflict for this card to matter. Staging Ground is everyone’s favorite Core set swarm holding, but the swarm style is still waiting for a few more tools before it can be viable again. Near the top is the new Sharpen the Mind, an interesting attachment that gives a nice boost to both stats during a conflict. However, its price is too inefficient, and until we see some more recursion type effects, it’s unlikely this card makes much of an impact.
At the top of the list is Master of the Spear, a card that has potential as a 1x include in a meta favoring taller play. Its biggest drawback, of course, has always been its cost inefficiency and its ability to be played around. But we’re starting now to get to the cards that can actually be played.
And now we’ve arrived at the B- Tier, or the home of the middling Lion low drops. There’s a whole glut of them here, from the very okay Gifted Tactician to the situationally annoying but still “meh” Deathseeker. I once wrote about Lion’s characters having issues with stats, and thus we see Honorable Challenger and Tactician’s Apprentice at the bottom, two cards with interesting effects that are overshadowed by their unexciting stats. My personal favorite of the bunch is Akodo Toshiro, a standout in HMT decks because of his innate +5 military pump. However, the sun has set on his time seeing play as other, more impactful cards appear.
There are a few cards in here that have strong abilities but are just waiting on a little something extra. Like Ancestral Armory previously, Time for War is a dream card that many have been wanting to see play–whenever Lion actually gets more Weapon support. Stand Your Ground is a save effect which alone makes it powerful, but Lion just doesn’t have that consistent honor token gain at this time to make the card worth running. Seal of the Lion finds its way into this tier with the hopes that someday, eventually, the Commander keyword will have a lot more meaning.
The two cards at the top of this tier have seen some play since their release, but both have the same fatal flaw of not doing quite enough to warrant inclusion in most decks. Ageless Crone’s taxing effect can sometimes shut down an opponent, but its bilateral nature and applicability only to events makes it awkward to play for Lion, a clan that also relies heavily on events. Ikoma Anakazu lends himself well to a more aggressive style of Lion, but his 4 fate price point makes him a lackluster investment for an ability that’s only on whenever a province breaks, leaving him at a mediocre 3/3 statline most of the time.
While the B- Tier was full of cards that are decidedly filler quality, the B Tier is almost the opposite, with many of the cards having powerful effects, but one or two fatal flaws that keep them from seeing consistent play. I would be remiss not to talk about the much maligned Ikoma Ikehata, who has all the bells and whistles but just a horrid statline to go along with it. Matsu Tsuko has a slightly different problem, with a very playable statline but the dreaded “more honorable” condition preventing her from seeing much use. Heroic Resolve is another potent effect that synergizes with the popular Phoenix splash for Display of Power, but it asks just a bit too much for an otherwise strong effect.
Some more aggressive cards find their way into this tier as well, with Matsu Seventh Legion finding a place just due to its fat 7 base military. Vengeful Oathkeeper still retains some amount of usefulness, moreso now thanks to the Disguised keyword and future “lose to win” synergies. Akodo Gunso remains one of the better 2 drops available to Lion thanks to his dynasty cycling ability. While not an aggressive card, I didn’t have any other place to mention Ikoma Prodigy, a hot medium chud who has a lot of value thanks to her cheap cost and relevant keyword.
Both of Lion’s current strongholds are in this tier as well. I have in fact placed Yojin no Shiro ahead of Hisu Mori Toride (HMT), as I find that having an extra influence and starting at higher honor is really the tipping point in its favor. But I still stand by my old views that neither stronghold is actually very good at all, and each one just partially scratches an itch for the ever-middling Lion gameplay experience.
The number one card in B Tier is a card that has seen lots of play in the past month–except not in Lion. My Ancestor’s Strength feels like a Phoenix card placed in Lion to gate its accessibility, and as we’ve seen, its effect is strong indeed. A Fushicho stat blob card is on the way to help fuel this card for future decks. However, Lion is going to have to see a few more (playable) Shugenja before this card can ever see meaningful play.
We’re almost at the good cards–I promise. Yes, I understand that we’re now into the 20s, but now we’re actually starting to get to cards that some of you may have seen at some point in time. Hand to Hand is the most common one in this tier, which sees more play than it probably deserves due to the necessity of attachment hate. Miwaku Kabe Guard, Implacable Magistrate, and Ikoma Tsanuri are all also in this tier because of their utility.
At the bottom of the tier are three attachments, all with powerful effects that are a little too susceptible to attachment hate or just aren’t ripe to see the battlefield. True Strike Kenjutsu lacks Lion characters with big enough base stats to have it matter, whereas Blade of 10,000 Battles asks for a lot with its “more honorable” condition. Sashimono remains an old high-roll favorite, but getting bonked by Let Go (or even worse, Karada District) makes playing the banner an always risky endeavor.
One good sign for Lion going forward is that some of the newer dynasty characters have also appeared in this tier. While Matsu Swiftspear and Steward of the Rich Frog are just filler options, the level of quality and total stats have gone up from past designs, making these cards more immediately worth consideration. The same can be said for Akodo Makoto, whose text box leaves something to be desired, but she still sports an effective 4 military for those looking for mid-cost military power.
It might be a little sad that it’s taken this long to get Lion cards that actually see play on a regular basis, but such is the nature of having 79 cards in-clan. We see some of those staples present here in Matsu Berserker, Ikoma Reservist, and Honored General, three very basic cards that always provide steady and consistent value–sadly a tall order in Lion. The Art of War is similarly not very flashy, but remains one of the best Water provinces in the game. A Legion of One remains an HMT staple, still boasting one of the biggest single-instance military pumps in the game.
While A- Tier brings us the old favorites from the playable bunch, it also brings us two blowout cards that are unfortunately less than playable. The Fires of Justice has a potent game-swinging effect, but unfortunately literally cannot be played thanks to the magic of role locking. Meanwhile, For Greater Glory’s insane boost to Lion’s staying power traumatized too many during the Core and Imperial cycles, and on the Restricted List it remains for the foreseeable future. This doesn’t make it inherently unplayable, but the need to find more consistent value from the RL slot will continue to keep FGG out of most decks.
As we started to see in the previous tier, the future looks brighter for Lion thanks to some gifts from the Inheritance Cycle. Ikoma Kiyono is a solid include in most decks thanks to her self-readying ability and whopping 3 glory, making her a great addition for favor control. Dishonorable Assault, like The Art of War, fills in nicely over the other mediocre province options in its element. Akodo Zentaro is one of the most versatile options available to Lion currently thanks to the Disguised keyword, and a much needed card for a clan whose cards mostly really don’t do much at all.
We’ve finally made it to the good stuff! It didn’t feel right to keep this tier as 10 cards, so I split it in half to denote the difference in power level for some of these cards. Akodo Toturi is of course one of the only stat blobs that Lion has, and a big one at that–his synergy with Lion effects like Way of the Lion, Kitsu Spiritcaller, and other cheat effects has been one of the few ways that Lion can really steal some value from their opponent. Double ring effects, as it turns out, are often quite impactful and powerful. While Toturi doesn’t do anything flashy like some other 5 drops in the world, he remains a bastion of Lion value and a staple for the foreseeable future.
Strength in Numbers is probably the recipient of the “biggest glow up” award. In the past this card was much maligned because of send home being valued less. But as the tall meta has evolved and obnoxious duels have become more prevalent, being able to send a target home with rather lenient conditions has become invaluable. It now functions as one of Lion’s few answers to most of the oppressive characters in the meta, and should remain in Lion decks until this changes.
Meanwhile, one of the most hyped cards in the Inheritance Cycle is Regal Bearing, a card that many believe to read “Pay 1 fate to draw 4 cards.” While this is often the case, its conditions of requiring a Courtier, being in a political conflict, and having your opponent’s dial on a worthwhile number make the card a little more restrictive than it may seem. However, ancillary card draw is much needed in Lion, and this card should find its way in some capacity into most Lion decks.
A card that has not often left Lion decks is of course, Way of the Lion. While in most cases, Way of the Lion is an unconditional plus 3, its multiplicative nature and its obvious synergy with Akodo Toturi has made it one of the craziest military pumps in the game. The card continues to get better as new characters are released with bigger and better base military stats.
Finally, rounding out this tier is a new card, Forebearer’s Echoes. Much like My Ancestor’s Strength mentioned earlier, a certain other clan has been getting a little better use out of this card than Lion likely ever will. That doesn’t stop this card from being quite strong, especially in a clan that already looks for big bursts of strength in the discard pile. The two fate, the military only restriction, and the Air role lock are all heavy prices to pay, but the ability to resummon a Toturi, Ujiaki, or even Lion’s Pride Brawler is undeniably strong regardless of the steep price. That being said, those costs will factor into this card’s usability. However, if you’re considering using an Air role in Lion, this card is certainly worth heavy consideration.
Last but not least are our absolute Lion staples, the powerhouse cards that keep Lion playable even in their decrepit state. Throughout Lion’s history, these cards have been the anchor in almost every Lion deck, providing steady value in every matchup. The finest example of such is Ready for Battle, a potent counterspell type ability that continues to grow more and more valuable as more bow effects enter the meta. Cards like Doji Kuwanan and Earth Becomes Sky trade rather poorly with this card, and even in matchups without strong bow effects, being able to negate a Water ring or a Midnight Revels still provides massive value.
Akodo Kaede is the new addition to Lion’s suite of powerful cards, with a multitude of great effects. Her statline alone is one that Lion has been lacking in-house, and coupled with her valuable Shugenja trait and ring immunity, she is quite playable in most Lion decks without her other text. The ability to save characters, especially when only on one fate, is incredibly strong when considering this clan thrives on “cheat into play” effects like Charge! and Ujiaki. While she might not have the same raw power as the cards ranked above her, she’s been quite usable in a clan starved for value characters.
Ikoma Ujiaki pulls up in the #3 spot for fairly obvious reasons: his effect can be insanely powerful and can provide a massive boost to conflicts like very few other cards in the game can. While his cost and his favor reliance puts a damper on his power level, it’s very unlikely that he ever gets bought outside of those situations where he’s on, and additionally he sports useful traits in Bushi and Courtier. As we progress through our 3rd cycle, Ujiaki remains the de facto closer in Lion and continues to grow more powerful the stronger the cards he can flip with his ability become.
Coming in at a possibly surprising second place is Lion’s Pride Brawler, one of the Core set menaces that may have truly been printed at an unintentionally strong level. The ability to bow anything equal or lower military strength, regardless of participation and conflict type, is an absolutely insane printed action. However, as cards become bigger and ready effects become more prevalent, LPB has lost a bit of her bite in recent times. This doesn’t preclude her from still being quite valuable, and even despite higher stats on other clans’ cards, all it often takes is a Way of the Lion or a Banzai to put LPB within striking range. Pair all this with her lovely Bushi and Courtier traits, and LPB will continue to have no problem finding her way into Lion decks.
Finally, our number one overall card goes to Kitsu Spiritcaller. While she does require a little bit of setup, her ability to be at home but still bring back ANY character from ANY discard pile during ANY conflict is one that is unparalleled by most clans’ cards. Versatility is something that I harped on earlier in this write up, and what could be more versatile than having access to any character you want at a given time? Her Shugenja trait is a rare one in Lion, and while not 100% viable currently, this coupled with her desirability in dynasty phase will eventually enable the consistent use of Cloud the Mind. Even when Clouded herself, she still sits at a decent 3 political stat, allowing her to be used for attacks when push comes to shove. It’s hard to find a card that does as much as Spiritcaller can do for Lion, and accordingly she takes home the top honors.
So now that we’ve gone through and ranked everything, what can we learn from this? I took away three main things–none particularly novel, but just observations that I came about throughout this process.
- Lion has a number of undeveloped themes that could be stronger with some additional support.
I’m looking primarily at the Weapon theme here, as cards like Ancestral Armory and Time for War beg for more support so we can see whether or not they’re actually viable. But with so few weapons available internally, it’s likely that these two cards will rot away in binders until further notice. With rotation due out soon, further notice could in fact be a non-existent scenario.
- Lion’s strongest cards don’t have heavily conditional abilities.
This is another topic that I harped on in my previous writeup, but one of the reasons Lion suffers so much in power is that its strong effects are gated behind inconsistent or unlikely conditions. When compared to clans like Crane and Phoenix, only Lion’s top characters don’t have to jump through hoops to get their abilities going. It doesn’t even have to be strong or heavily impactful abilities–but the bulk of Lion’s characters often reading as blank is certainly a problem with their power level.
- Lion has hope for the future.
A look at the sets for most of the cards reveal a large number of Core set cards near the top ranks. This is a well known issue, as Lion really didn’t receive that many powerful cards exiting the Imperial Cycle. However, a good number of Inheritance cycle cards have found their way into the higher ranks here. We were once offered a promise that we’d be asking the lead designer to “sign our cards” at the end of summer. But from what we’ve seen of Inheritance Cycle and the spoilers from the Lion pack, that promise might in fact ring true (albeit significantly delayed).
This was a fun little exercise to do, and while we haven’t really uncovered any new information by going back through old cards, it’s been good to take a step back and re-evaluate some of the cards I’ve overlooked in recent history. Hopefully this was as fun for y’all as it was for me, and feel free to comment with your own thoughts!