The Order of the Wheel, by Kalon Jelen
Home > Strategy > The Order of the Wheel
[posted 21 Mar 2005; updated 18 Apr 2005]
The first four articles in this series were originally posted to the (now-defunct) Shadowfist Northwest wesbite in July 2004 by Kalon Jelen. Republished with permission of Kalon and Steve Feldon, Shadowfist Northwest's publisher.
Beginning: Introduction to the series (Jul 2004)
The Architects of the Flesh (Jul 2004)
The Dragons (Jul 2004)
The Talents (Chi, Magic, Tech) (Jul 2004)
The Eaters of the Lotus (Apr 2005)
The Guiding Hand (Apr 2005)
For a while, I've wanted to write a set of articles talking about how the factions measure up against each other, what they're about, how they feel when playing them and what they tend to work well with. Part of this is inspired by the set of Magic articles Mark Rosewater wrote on the color wheel (hence the name). Part of it is that there seems to be a lot of newer players in my area, and giving them an idea of what factions do what might let them figure out more early what they like to play without picking up the cards immediately.
Plus, I like doing these kinds of broad comparisons. They're fun. They might help future design fit better with each faction's flavor and color, while keeping the central factional theme. And they start discussion, which I like too.
Finally, I hope that this will help when people are building decks. Looking for answers to those evil states that someone keeps playing? How about some nice protection for characters? This will hopefully give people some easy places to look for answers without looking through their entire collections or memorizing every card.
The format is going to be similar: each faction will be rated on several categories. Let's define the non-obvious ones:
*Utility Characters*: characters that don't often attack and are used primarily for their special abilities. Gardener is a good example.
*Hitters-fast*: : characters that could reasonably show up within the first 3 turns without ridiculous draws and with reasonable development. CHAR is a fundamental example.
*Hitters-big*: : characters that show up when the game has developed more - usually turns 5+, and possibly as early as turn 4. Virtually any character that costs 5 or more, or any character that requires 3 or more resources, fits in here.
*Alternate Power Generation*: : any card that can provide power (either real or virtual) outside of normal site power generation. The most basic would be something like pocket demon.
*Protection*: : ways to defend your cards against opponent?s cards. This is typically things that last longer than a turn or do things in response to effects. A typical example is charmed life.
*Manipulation*: : this was almost titled ?meta-effects?, but manipulation fit slightly better. Basically, any effects that you can generate that fundamentally change game state in some non-obvious way fit in here. A classic example is probability manipulator.
*Disruption*: : this was a toughy. Disruption effects are any abilities that preemptively stop your opponent from doing something they normally would be able to do, for whatever reason. The classic and hated card here as an example would be Inauspicious Reburial.
*Recycling*: : anything that allows you to replay cards, either for the same cost or cheaper. Golden comeback is the obvious example.
With that in mind, onto the articles!
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You've heard all about what the Architects have done and who they are, I bet. No need to go with that history all over again. Well maybe a little bit.
The Architects of the Flesh in the storyline have suffered more than any other faction around. First, their Arcanotowers were destroyed in the Flashpoint era. More detrimental was the destruction of the Biomass Reprocessing Center, their primary stronghold in the Netherworld and key component to production of abominations and winning the Secret War. They then broke into a civil war between the scientist and the military subfactions, which allowed the Purists to take a sizeable chunk of their juncture away from them. Then they were obliterated from the time stream when the Dragons won the pulp juncture. Yikes. Poor guys.
Which is fine, because they started off as the strongest faction around. In card game terms, they began as the best faction by a fairly large chunk, with their biggest drawback being that they did not have access to a lot of great midrange to large hitters. The next couple of sets fixed that drawback with a vengeance. Since then, the Architects have largely gained little; that they haven't improved significantly and still remain one of the strongest factions points to how unbalanced things were in the past.
Themes: sacrifice, ambush, recycling, weenies, abominations, meta-effects, talents, anti-character, vehicles and weapons, massive high-tech, soldiers
Drawbacks: no event, state, or edge removal. No tutoring. Bad midrange (3 cost) characters. No site denial (aside from OLS). Little 'free' stuff worth playing. No protection.
Foundations: they've got one of the best foundation characters ever made - DNA Mage. Access to multiple talents like this is huge. Only the 7M Kunlun Clan Assault compares, and it costs twice as much and isn't a character. They have easy access to tech - two 1 cost foundations (DNA, Test Subjects) and two two-cost (CDCA Scientist, Beta Beast). They have a good beater in BuroMil Grunt. They have a good utility foundation in Loyalty Officer. BuroMil Grunt and Assault Squad are both excellent surprise foundations.
Weenies: They have great characters like BuroMil Grunt, Midnight Whisperer, Assassin Bug, Srcanorats, Bouncing Benji, Swarm of Teeth (kinda), and BuroMil Scout. They have one of the best boosters for weenies in Arcanowave Reinforcer, as well as cards like Superior Technology and Geoscan Report. They use cards like Biosalvage to get back their investment, and use cards like War of Attrition to punish those that don't have many characters out. They use cards like Reinvigoration Process to recycle them. This is one of the classic archetypes that has continued to be improved on. Architects traditionally are either the best weenie faction or tie with Jammers (and maybe Lotus) as the best faction for weenie hordes.
Utility characters: Arcanotechnician and Vivisector are great. Arcanowave Researcher is quite decent, especially for her cost. Buro Scientist isn't horrible. Many of the Arch Unique characters have a utility aspect, such as Boatman, Johann Bonengel, Andrea Van de Graaf, Dr Ally Matthews, Dr April Mucosa, Jeroen Becker; few of these are good, but the 'mad scientist' theme runs through a lot of arch abilities. Their utility characters aren't as good as the Hand or as numerous as the Monarchs, but that's about the only set of factions that can challenge the power of things like Vivisector.
Hitters - fast: in the two slot they have Rocket Man, Blood Reaver, Commander Corliss. Not amazing. 3 drop has Raptor Squad, Rapid Response Team, The Reconstructed. 4 drops are CHAR, Black Ops Team, Gnarled Attuner, Napalm Belcher, Sergeant Blightman, Prototype X, Paradox Beast, Superfreak. They've got some of the best 4-drops in the game but none have evasion abilities; one theme Arch has is 'big guy with drawback'. The 4-drop tends to be where Arch makes up for their weaker 5 and 6-cost characters. Basically thanks to folks like Blightman and CHAR, they've got either the best or the second-best 4-cost characters in the game (next to the Dragons). They suffer quite a bit at the 3-drop, being somewhere in the middle of the pack, and have only limited access to good 2-cost hitters.
Hitters - big: They tend to not have the best larger characters. Homo Omega and Magog are both fine. The drones are all quite decent for the 5-slot, particularly the Assault Drone. Thing with a 1000 Tongues is okay. Desdemona fits well in the theme of sacrifice and Ambush. None of the big hitters have evasion or protection abilities beyond toughness. The drones are the best here; while their big hitters are big and scary, they're not particularly impressive compared to most other factions. This ties in well with their theme of weenie hordes, cheap characters, and overwhelming firepower. Their 5 cost are some of the worst in the game (slightly ahead of Jammers, Lotus and Monarchs, and about even with Purists) though they have some nice 6-cost hitters.
Alternate Power Generation: If all the Architects had were access to magic and tech, they'd still be one of the stronger factions in APG. They have a lot better. Dangerous Experiment is one of the strongest APG cards ever created. They have decent cards in Biosalvage and We Have The Technology. Vivisector is quite strong, and goes well with Vivisection Agenda for a nice boost. Helix Rethread isn't bad either. All told, they likely have the best access to APG of all the factions.
Card drawing: A bit. State of Emergency and Rapid Response Team are decent, scorched earth. They have access to tech, meaning Supercomputer. This tends to be a small theme instead of a big bonus. They rank behind the Dragons, Hand, Purists in this, but are ahead of everyone else.
Anti-character: This is a central theme of the Architects; they are the faction of death. Nerve Gas, Imprisoned, Neutron Bomb, Aerial Bombardment, Artillery Strike, Napalm Sunrise, Fire in the Sky, Uncontrolled Mutation the list goes on and on. The Architects are the best single faction for removing other characters from the board. In addition to their faction riches, they have access to all the magic cards, though Shattering Fire tends not to be as amazing here as it is in Purist decks. They also have a fair amount of access to pinging effects like PubOrd Sniper, Napalm Belcher, Fusion Rifles, Brain Tap Rifle, adding to their riches here. If you like killing characters, this is the best faction by a considerable margin.
Anti-site: They have access to the tech cards and magic cards, and that's basically it. Orbital Laser Strike shines almost by accident here. Some of their pinging cards do incidental damage to sites, but they have nothing that negates the abilities of sites by themselves. They are not as good as the Jammers and don't deal with negating site abilities like Lotus or Monarchs does, but thanks to their tech they come in around 4th.
Anti-state: none to speak of; they can remove the character or the site, but not the state. They only have access to Discerning Fire. Slightly worse than the lotus.
Anti-edge: Absolutely none save lucky breaks via Discerning Fire. They're pretty bad at this; the worst of the magic factions though slightly better than Hand thanks to magic.
Protection: Not a whole lot, especially if you don't consider Imprisoned protection. Boatman and Bonengel have a bit of this. So does Colonel Richtmeyer. Magic and Tech don't have much in this either, so that's not a lot of help. Why protect a card when you can just play it again the next turn? The Hand, Dragons, Jammers, Monarchs and Ascended all rank ahead of them here. Even the Purists have better ways of protecting their stuff. About the only ones worse are Lotus.
Redirection: not a central theme; in fact, it's one of the anti-themes of the arch. They have one of the best redirection cards in the game in Expendable Unit, but that's where the theme basically ends. Information Warfare is essentially an Arch card and is fairly good here too. They're not nearly as good as Hand or Monarchs by default, but are better than anyone else thanks to Expendable Unit.
Theft: almost none. They have a couple cards like Conversion Drone, Monster Hunter and Capture Squad that are thematic, but they have no way to regularly take control of characters, edges, states, or sites. The Dragons, Ascended, Purist, Lotus and Hand are better for the most part; they rank close to the Jammers in theft ability. Only the Monarchs are worse.
Manipulation: A little bit. Probability Manipulator is the classic one. Many of their scientists have some sort of manipulation, especially the unique ones - like Ally Matthews. It might be better said that they have the 'mad scientist' theme and share this with the Jammers. This is generally not a theme; they tend to use strength and overwhelming force over guile. They're not as good as the Jammers, Purists, Lotus or Ascended, and are about on par with the Hand or Monarchs. The Dragons are far worse.
Disruption: Arcanowave Researcher is a great card for this theme, but in general they are a fairly direct faction. They get some of this for free as part of having magic and tech. Thanks to their dual resources, they go way up here; they're not as good as Ascended or Purist tricks, but only by a small amount.
Recycling: This is a central theme of Architects, and they do it as good as anyone in the game. Arcanotechnician and Reinvigoration Process are the classic components for the Arch. They have very little else because they don't need much else. They don't have many 'return to play' cards, but they can play most everything they played before. And they have access to tech and magic themes here, which gives them a boost. They're not quite as good as Dragons in character recycling, and not quite as good as Hand at event recycling, but they're about second best overall in recycling.
Talent providers: They are kings of tech. Most of their characters provide tech as a byproduct. It is hard to not produce obscene amounts of tech as an accident. They have two 1-cost FCs that provide tech, which is the best of all factions. They are the worst basic magic faction; only one 1-cost FC magic producer, and no 2-cost FC magic producer, though many of their utility characters provide magic. They are anti-chi; they have a number of cards that hose chi cards, and a couple that are in turn hurt by having chi. Because they get easy access to two talents, they rank in my mind as the best faction for talents, even though they get the subpar tech.
Healing: none to speak of, save the little bit that is part of the tech talent. They're in the big pile of factions that get nothing, beyond Dragons, Hand and Ice Monarchs.
Ambush. Arch are the best faction for Ambush as a rule. They can give it to other characters and they have the most characters that have it by default. Ascended share this a bit with assassinating characters. Four Monarchs and Dragons can do this conditionally. There are a few characters here and there that get it for various reasons. But the Architects get it all over the place.
Guts. The Architects have a few characters with Guts - notably most of their supersoldiers and the occasional abomination. They also have one of the few events that gives Guts. They are second best behind the Dragons on this.
Sacrifice. Bobos have a number of cards that sacrifice themselves, cause other things to sacrifice themselves, and give you benefits for sacrificing. They share this theme with Lotus and the Darkness monarch cards.
Vehicles and weapons: They have most of the best vehicles in the game, sharing this with the Jammers. They have many of the best weapons in the game in faction. The tech vehicles and weapons don't hurt either. They have some boosters for vehicles. None for weapons; dragons remain best for weapon support.
Attacking on other turns: They have a few characters that can attack on other turns and at least one event that allows it. They share this theme with the Dragons.
Battlegrounds: they have a few characters that are improved by battleground support, though this has waned as of late. They rank around 3rd or 4th for battleground fun.
The best technology: they produce a ridiculous amount of tech. Abominable Lab produces more tech for you. Many of their characters produce tech as a byproduct. Up until recently, anything that cost 3 or more tech was essentially unplayable by anyone save the Architects. They also tend to require tech as part of their costs of cards; this is essentially not a drawback in Architects (unlike Jammers, Ascended and Dragons) and is often a benefit thanks to cards like We Have The Technology and Nerve Gas.
Cool Designators: Thanks to 2FT, the Arch team has a great new designator along with a bunch of support cards for it. They've always had scientists, arcano, buro and abomination themes, but soldiers did not have much support until recently. They're one of the factions that actively and directly supports specific mini-factions internally.
Relations with other factions:
The Architects pretty much loathe every other faction. Even the really 'evil' ones like the Lotus. No one really likes them all that much (aside from maybe the Thunder faction of the Four Monarchs), and they're not too happy about anybody. They tend to take a few factions a bit less seriously than others. Notably, they don't spend a huge time opposing the Ascended because, well, they know they will win. They don't oppose Lotus so much as view them as a source of a renewable resource. Up until recently, they didn't care about the Dragons; Homo Omega figured out quickly how crucial the Dragons had been in stopping them, and they changed their mind but good. They have a particular hate for the Jammers and the Hand, though thanks to the critical shift coming up they'll probably curse those Dragons for the rest of their lives.
Which is ironic, because in the game, they tend to be allied with these factions all the time. The Jammers and the Archies get along great. Both have access to a large amount of tech, the Archies give the Jammers magic in some dosage, and they get all the removal they might ever want, and back all of this up with weenie happiness. With Dragons, they get the Vivisector/Golden Comeback goodness along with removal galore and nice fat characters, and both factions have special love for vehicle/weapon states. The Hand gets some consistent removal, better characters, and more offensive power out of the deal. Ascended get more discard/disruption and useful High-Tech. Lotus give some weenie enablers and other forms of disruption, along with more efficient early hitters. The monarchs get more force multipliers, better removal, good states to play with and some better midrange characters for their money. About the only faction that doesn't seem to mesh well with the bobos is the Purists; The Purists tend to have fairly good character removal, decent characters and decent defense, and very little of the meta-manipulation that the Purists do goes well with any themes of the Architects.
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The Silver Dragons are the typical heroes of the world. They're brash, rude, dangerous, and are impossible not to love. As the heroes they've been involved in at least some small way - and usually a big way - in most of the events of the Post-Z-Man world. They've been especially good at thwarting the plans of the Architects and the Lotus, as well as unwittingly stopping all sorts of various things along the way. Many have died, but for every Dragon that dies two seem to pop up in their place.
Recently they won the new Pulp juncture, and the world has changed. How, well, even the Dragons don't know - though it's pretty likely that those bobos are out of the time flow now. For the first time, the underdogs have finally won the big one; what happens now?
In the game, the Dragons started off with poor characters and some very good basic events. They've since become the faction of choice when it comes to characters of any flavor, and have added some pretty bad tricks along the way. They've not gained as much as the Jammers have, but they're pretty close.
Themes: the best characters at 2+ cost, return to play of character effects, toughness, guts, independent, character abilities in general, event protection, guns, access to all talents (badly), comeback, events that produce resources, unique characters
Drawbacks: no direct event or state removal. Limited tutoring and only for characters. Poor or conditional alternate power generation. Very little site denial. No pinpoint character removal.
Foundations: The Dragons didn't have much to speak of early on in the way of foundations, but that all changed with Flashpoint. Now they have the very keen Hacker. The Dragons suffer almost as bad as the Ascended in talent production; only the Hacker does reasonable FC talent production. They do have some nice designators for their FCs - two 1-cost guys with 'student', and 1 1-cost guy with 'gun'. For the most part, the Dragons are weak at FCs; no one wants to be the student of Zheng when you can be Zheng. They do have one of the few decent Cop FCs in Rookies, but the Dragons tend to be punished for having the power of l33t haxors. They are probably the worst overall.
Weenies: They have a subtheme of weenies in their 'student' theme; between a bunch of good student characters, Dragon Dojo and various other boosters, they've got a reasonable deck that draws a lot of cards and occasionally buffs their guys. However, that's not the Dragon style, and cards like Final Brawl show it. Because of Brawl, they're very anti-weenie quite a bit of the time. They do have Scrappy Kid - but these don't go well in the weenie hordes. They do work great for cheap, fast characters that have problems being intercepted. They're about the second worst, ahead of the Purists.
Utility characters: Chinese Doctor is one of the classic utility characters. The Prof - one of the leaders of the Dragons - is another, and a really scarily excellent one too. Grease Monkey and Lin continue this theme of slightly useful fringe utilities. For the most part the Dragons don't like this kind of character, and the abilities their utilities have are largely character-focused. Again, why bother with subtlety? I would rank them as close to the bottom in utility characters, possibly above Lotus.
Hitters - fast:
2 drop slot: Bronze sentinel, David Maxwell, the incredible Good Ol' Boys, Gus Andropolous, Jane Q Public, Jenny Zheng, Taggert. These are some of the best 2-drops in the game, which is befitting the faction with the best characters.
3 drop: Bei Tairong, Dirk Wisely, Ex-Commando, Hiro Asataka, Isis Fox, Johnny Tso, Li Mao, Master Bowman, Netherworld Vet, Old Uncle, Reluctant Hero, Sifu, Tom Donovan, Wandering Hero, Wandering Swordsman, Wu Bin. A huge choice of good to amazing characters here. Bei is my favorite, but all of them can serve depending on what you want to do.
4 drop: That Ting Ting is in this category and is considered to be one of the strongest characters ever printed should tell you something. Most of the 4-cost Dragon fast hitters are excellent. Ting Ting tops them off. The Dragons are the best faction for fast hitters.
Hitters - big: The Dragons don't have the best of the super-big guys, but they do have the best of the slower to get out smaller guys.
4-cost: Dr. John Haynes, Wu Ming Yi, John Tower, Dr Amanda Snow, Captain Jake Malloy, Bao Cho, Big Mack - all are fine to the best in their class -particularly Wu Ming Yi and Dr. John. One drawback is that they're all Unique.
5-cost: the new Big Bruiser, Concourse Godard, Steven Wu and the Nemesis would all be considered close to the top of their class in any other faction, but they all fade compared to The Golden Gunman.
6+ cost: These are not so hot. Which is fine - 6-cost guys aren't the best most of the time. Zheng is good in the student deck. Little Jim is interesting but usually not too great. Spencer's Beauties is a basket of abilities that don't work great together. Kar Fai is a wonderful example of why characters that cost more than 5 need some kind of event protection. The Dragons are the best faction for hitters in the 4 and 5 slot, and around 4th (behind Monarchs, Arch, Hand) in hitters beyond 5 cost.
Alternate Power Generation: The Dragons don't have a lot of access directly to APG. They get some tech through Hacker, but it's not that consistent. The nice thing, however, is Hacker is not the only way they get tech - and Dirk Wisely's Gambit is a great way to gain power and provide that tech resource. Never Surrender helps on occasion, and Kiii-Yaah! Can do some nice, unreliable stealing of power. Now You've Made Us Mad! is inconsistent at best. A new card that has quickly become one of my favorites is Out For Blood. In general, the Dragons have access to some character-associated power generation that is reasonably conditional. Because of their lack of Mag or Chi, they fall behind almost everyone; even the Ascended are better than they are.
Card drawing: Student Dojo, Old Uncle, Both Guns Blazing, Gonzo Journalist, "I will avenge you!" and Wu Bin help with card drawing and tutoring. Not a central theme, but one you'll see here and there in Dragon cards. They are around 4th in this, behind Arch, Hand, and Purists.
Anti-character: The Dragons have absolutely no direct character removal of any sort. Fortunately, they've got Final Brawl to make up for it. They do have some interesting conditional character-damaging cards such as Fast as Lightning, Fists of Fury, Going Out in Style, Life in the Fast Lane, The Prof's and the Golden Gunman's Gambits, but these aren't as reliable as many other factions. About the best direct removal the Dragons have is Carnival of Carnage, which is excellent for wiping out selective weenie hordes. Four Mountains Fist is a newer card that continues the flavor of the Dragons doing conditional damage. Dragons having only conditional removal of characters - and usually which is good only when on the attack - is one of the key weaknesses of the Dragons. They rank above Jammers, but not by much.
Anti-site: Limited access to the tech cards means they have a little bit, but not that much. They've got some janky cards like Booby Trap, but very little that either cancels a site or does damage directly to one. A lack of anti-site cards is a key weakness of the Dragons. They are the worst faction in dealing with sites.
Anti-state: Almost nothing natively; they have limited access to chi and nothing really else. Lin is one of the few Dragon cards that does anything with states. They are a faction that loves states normally, so them having something that would remove states would be somewhat odd. Again, another big weakness. They are probably 8th here as well.
Anti-edge: The Dragons have only one card: Thunder on Thunder. However, it's probably the best single anti-edge card in the game. The Ascended have more anti-edge cards. They're about as good as Lotus and Purist at dealing with edges, and much better than the rest of the factions.
Protection: The Dragons believe in carrying protection at all times. They've got state-based protection (Charmed Life), event-based protection (Got My Mojo Working, Let's Book) and most importantly a ton of characters with some sort of built-in protection. The most popular kinds are anti-control and anti-event protection. The Dragons don't like having their characters messed with. They're about the second-best faction for this, behind the Hand.
Redirection: Only on a few cards, sparingly. Bring It! Is one of the few out there. It's not a big deal for the Dragons, and they're another faction that occasionally punishes redirection through character abilities like Steven Wu. Not a core ability. Far behind Arch, Hand, Monarchs or Purist or really anyone with magic.
Theft: Exactly one card steals anything for any reason: Heroic Conversion. Theft is wrong, mmmkay? Assassins in Love is another old card that steals things conditionally. Hiro Asataka has some theft chrome. For the most part, the Dragons are strongly anti-theft of their cards - particularly their characters. Perhaps the 4th or 5th best, though in this case it's much worse than the top 3 (Lotus, Asc, and Hand)
Manipulation: Almost none. There are some weird mix cards like Surprise Surprise or Cliffhanger, but for the most part the Dragons are anything but subtle. They are the least 'meta' faction of any of the factions. Easily the bottom.
Disruption: Virtually none. Some characters like Gus Andropolous or Ting Ting's Bandits have a built-in disruptive ability, but this is rare. Also the bottom of the factions.
Recycling: The Dragons are one of the best factions for recycling, especially in characters. Golden Comeback and Is That All You Got bring back characters directly to play; this is one of the core strengths of the Dragons. Fighting Spirit and Ashes of the Fallen bring back Dragon events in one way or another; they both are 0-cost and thus pretty good. Slo-Mo Vengeance brings back any number of weapon states. Jack Donovan and Johnny Badhair come back after they've died to your hand. While they don't have many cards that fit this theme, the ones they do have are some of the most powerful effects in the game. They are the best at returning characters to play, and the second best at returning non-characters to play behind the Hand.
Talent providers: The Dragons have decent access to tech via Hacker and DWG, and random access to the other talents. They have a hard time getting chi and a harder time getting Mag, though this has been fixed slightly with the addition of Golden Gunman's Gambit. They have only one 2-cost FC that provides any talent at all. They're one of the worst factions; only the Ascended provide less overall talents than they do, and they provide the least 'useful' talent.
Healing: Chinese Doctor, Lin, and a number of other smaller cards do healing. The Dragons are the second best at healing behind the Ice faction of the Monarchs - and they usually do it cheaper or more easily than the Monarchs do.
Guts. The Dragons are the best faction with guts; more characters in their faction have it, and better characters in their faction have it than any other faction. They also have a few effects that give Guts such as Claw of the Dragon.
Toughness. The Dragons have the most characters with Toughness, as well as effects that give Toughness either until end of turn or permanently. They are by far the best faction for this.
Independent. Another core ability is independent; no other faction has as good characters with independent or as many characters with independent - and they can even give it to others using Real Bad Cat.
Superleap. The Dragons are the second-best faction behind Hand in superleaping characters. They can also grant it unconditionally via Flying Kick or unconditionally with a number of abilities. Their superleapers are not as good as most of the Hand superleapers, and certainly not as big - but they do have access to one of the best in Bei Tairong.
Character abilities in general. The Dragons get random access to good character abilities. Sometimes they get a character with conditional ambush. Others get stealth. Some get mobility or tactics. One regenerates. A couple Dragons are either immune to events or cannot be targeted by them. Some Dragons cannot be taken control of. Many get temporary or permanent boosts conditionally. This goes well with their theme of havingS the best characters of any faction.
No, really, he has a soooouuul now: The Dragons have the most 'ex' characters of any faction. They've got a couple ex-bobos, an ex-lotus demon, an ex-ascended tiger, a couple of ex-hand guys (though they don't provide hand), a Jammer traitor, a Monarch consort; about the only faction they don't have a traitor for are the Purists.
Plays well with others: The Dragons have the most dual-faction cards out there. This isn't a lot, but between Wedding Gifts, Bring It, Friends in Low Places, Borrowed Nuke, Spirit of the Gun and a couple others I'm sure I'm forgetting. They reward multifactioning well. Kar Fai's Crib and Comrades in Arms also help out multifactioning.
Guns, guns guns: The Dragons don't have many good guns by themselves, but they sure help out that 2nd amendment. A number of characters love having guns. Both Guns Blazing and Slo-Mo Vengeance improve gun decks significantly. With some tech, they get access to most of the better guns and weapons out there.
Don't mess with me and my boys: Dragons don't like being touched by others. They have a number of cards that punish toasting or theft of power, stealing of their characters or targeting their characters with events. It's not great protection because it's often reactive and only applicable to their characters, but it can come in handy now and then.
Get out of my dreams, get into my megatank: Dragons like cool vehicles, and have the third-best vehicles in the game behind the arch and Jammers. They've got some support for vehicles too, as well as a number of characters that either help playing vehicles or are boosted by them.
Pump You Up: Dragons have a large - LARGE number of things that will boost a character's fighting or damage. Either boost one character (Open a Can of Whupass, Who's the Big Man Now) or boost everyone (Bag Full of Guns). They have things that boost it permanently via states or via counters. They've got the ability to give guts, toughness, independent, mobility, tactics, and even stealth via states. Another subtheme that goes well with their having the best characters.
Blunt object: Dragons have exactly three edges to their name - and none of them are particularly good. This isn't as bad as it seems, given that they have Thunder on Thunder. The Dragons simply don't produce edges.
No, you can't clone me: Dragons have more Unique characters than anyone. They've even got a number of cards that key off of unique characters - either giving them bonuses or helping out after they're dead. This is often a drawback; playing another Dragon player usually means seeing duplicates of characters and auctions.
Relations with other factions:
The Dragons will work with almost anyone if it means holding off evil. They will never work with the Archies or Lotus, seeing them as very naughty. They tend to ally with the Hand and the Jammers; both are ideologically very close to Dragons in many ways, and both tend to be trying to 'be the good guys' at least some of the time. The Ice faction of the Monarchs is another stalwart ally.
In the game, they do well with virtually everyone. Having the best characters means every faction likes them a lot; having such poor anti-characters means that the Dragons like teaming up with people who can fix that. The classic team up is the Dragon-Arch speed deck. About the only one that just doesn't seem to work that well is the Lotus/Dragon deck; mostly because they just don't have a lot of synergy together and because they both require quite a bit of resources for their best cards to work. I have also not found Dragon/Jammers to be that great, mostly because the Jammers have similar strengths and similar weaknesses, but they do occasionally show up. The most 'common' combinations are Dragon/Hand (which adds even more protection to your astounding characters along with lots and lots of fun chi stuff) and Dragon/Arch (combining the best characters with the best anti-character cards is not the worst thing that can happen).
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Tech was originally the Architect's realm, which meant that for the most part, tech cards were essentially Architect cards. This has changed greatly, though the architects still produce tech better than any other faction. The Jammers are second, Dragons are third, and the Ascended are a distant fourth.
Themes: Blow stuff up, vehicles and weapons, alternate power gen, what does that button do, recycling
Blow Stuff Up (site manipulation and destruction): While they don't have a lot of cards here, they have one of the best. Orbital Laser Strike is an old standby for site destruction. Smart Missile also works in a pinch. Satellite Intelligence and Satellite Surveilance round out this theme.
Vehicles and Weapons: One of the best weapons is a tech weapon in Fusion Rifle. Havoc suit was the classic giant weapon of doom. There are a ton of decent to good weapons other than it. The state Newest Model is an enabler for other vehicle and weapons. Spit and Bailing wire is another aid. Tank Warfare enables the tank deck. And there's the classic: For sheer destruction, not much beats Floating Fortress or a MegaTank.
Alternate Power Gen: While there isn't much, there is one big one: IKTV Special Report. It's only one card, but it gives the Jammers, Archies and Dragons that much more goodness to go around.
What does that button do? Tech has some really weird states and manipulation abilities. CAT Tactics, Big Red Button, Doomsday device, Supercomputer all affect the game and how it's played in some interesting ways. IKTV Rebroadcast Link is another bizarre tech state. Recently, cards like Disguise Kit and Invisi-Ray continue the odd experimentation deal.
Recycling: Salvage is a fairly decent recycling card, especially for Arch, since most of their cards are tech by default. Spit and Bailing wire is a great cheap recycler. Tank Warfare was so good it got errata. Okay, kidding.
Other effects of note: Information Warfare is one of the most overlooked effects in the game - the ability to combine Fox Pass with essentially a face-off vs. another character (not one you control) can be incredible in multiplayer.
Magic started out as primarily a Lotus bailiwick, but has moved on to encompass 5 different factions (along with the Dragons, who produce everything). Currently the Purists are the best magic faction - virtually every character produces magic in some amount. Four Monarchs are second; while they have more foundation characters that produce it, they have less non-foundations that produce much. Lotus are a definite third now - they only have two 1-cost foundations that produce magic, and most of their demons and many of their other characters (particularly Hoods) do not. The 7 Masters are the fourth best - they produce a decent amount in their foundation event, and basically all of their characters produce it. They also have a lot of cards that require magic. Architects are essentially last here, as while they have a 1-cost foundation that produces magic, they have few cards that require magic, and only a few utility characters that produce it. Dragons, of course, produce some here and there but not reliably.
Because it is so widespread, Magic has one of the larger sets of abilities in the game. It also tends to be the most bland in effect; when half of the factions can access it reasonably, one has to be careful about giving it too much power.
Themes: Character removal, site damage, event manipulation, disruption, summoning, alternate power gen, strong states, scrying
Character Removal: Shattering Fire is a classic here, and is often as good as Nerve Gas for removing one character. Discerning Fire is a great global removal event. Alabaster Javelin and Energy Flail are adequate for these effects. The Celestial Eye can be a ridiculous beating here.
Site Damage: Killing Rain is the classic 'blow everything up' card, and makes Jammers envious that they didn't study more sorcery. Alabaster Javelin also works here in a pinch. Even Discerning Fire can work occasionally to thwart a couple of Proving Grounds.
Event Manipulation: One of the classic tutor effects is Scroll of Incantation. Memory Reprocessing helps with recycling.
Disruption: Curtain Of Fullness is a classic card for this theme. Larcenous Mist and Chi Detachment serve to stop a lot of state and character shenanigans. Killing Rain, Chaos Spirit, Soul Maze, Spirit Frenzy, Year of the Rat, the Lusignan set of cards, I Ching, and even things like Cloud Walking all fit well with this theme. Even weird cards like Illusory Bridge work here. Recently, The Ruby Eye fits into this theme.
Summoning: Weird spirit constructs abound here. There's the set of spirits: Anomaly Spirit, Chaos Spirit, Mirror Dancer. There's a couple of magic Hoods in Big Daddy Voodoo and Eugene Fo. There's the Duodenum of Yang Luo, a giant intestine. Finally, there's the Lusignan set of cards.
Alternate Power Generation: The Hungry was one of the original cards - which fit well into the Lotus theme of burning sites instead of seizing them - but then came Pocket Demon. Really, they don't need much else.
Strong states: While Magic isn't known for good state support, it has some of the strongest states in the game. The new Amulet of the Turtle is quickly becoming a staple card in any magic deck. Solar Sword and Lunar Sword are strong weapons. Sword of the Dragon King is a HAVOC Suit for magic. This is definitely a Z-Man critical shift issue; before the shift, Magic states were largely blah. They're largely great now. Ivory Goddess could fall under this category.
Scrying: Scrying is the ability to look into the top X cards of a deck for answers. Farseeing Rice Grains and I Ching are the two cards here. If scrying was a more powerful effect in Fist, I'd imagine we'd see more; as it stands, it's largely unused.
The Chi talent used to be another word for 'Hand'. Only the Guiding Hand had any useful access to Chi, and only they could produce it in any amount. Thanks to the 7 Masters, we have a second faction that can produce Chi with foundations. The Dragons can produce some Chi on utility characters and the occasional hitter, and Four Monarchs get a little bit of Chi access in their Fire subfaction. The Ascended have an odd, mostly bad interaction with a few Chi cards. Lotus recently has a card or two that produces Chi; I expect this to increase in future sets.
Because of this interaction with the Hand, Chi cards tend to share a lot of the themes with Hand cards. Especially the largely unsplashable triple-chi cards.
Themes: Your Kung Fu is Strong, Alternate Power Gen, XXX removal, protection, healing
Your Kung Fu is Strong: Virtually every Kung Fu stance and attack in the game is represented by a Chi card. As of right now, there are 34 distinct Chi-only states that go on characters. Not all of them are very good, but what they lose in quality they make up for in variety. There are some of the basic ones like Hands Without Shadow to the incredibly powerful Shadowfist and No Shadow Kick. Fortune of the Turtle is often a great metagame choice. There aren't many weapons here; most of these are abilities of some form or another. Secret Wisdom of the Ancients lets you play with all those wacky states in a slightly better way. In general, if you want to duplicate some interesting ability on a character, you can come here.
Alternate Power Gen: Only a few, but Violet Meditation is a biggie. Dark's Soft Whisper and The Fox Outfoxed are more specific cards but can occasionally be a big deal.
XXX Removal: Blade Palm is possibly the most utilitarian card in Shadowfist. Wing of the Crane is an interesting combination of removal and protection. Return to Center is a nice way of getting rid of states. Many of the chi states stop events or other weird effects. Buddha's Palm is inconsistent but free character removal.
Protection: The classic ones are Fortune of the Turtle; giving 'not affected by events' to any character is very strong. Fortuitous Chi can be even stronger. Invincible Chi can be good to deal with what Fortune can't.
Healing: While there aren't many cards here, it's criminal to not mention Healing Earth and Dawn of the Righteous as two central cards of the Chi theme.
Other cards: Chi has some manipulation and disruption in cards like Robbing the Kong and many of the kung fu states, but it isn't a central theme.
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The Eaters of the Lotus are the classic villains from any number of old HK movies. They exist around 75 AD, and use demons, sorcery, thugs and political power to control China under a grip of terror. They are almost all Eunuchs who wield various amounts of magical might. What, you're not scared of squeaky-voiced villains? Maybe you shouldn't be, so much. In the backstory of Shadowfist, they've mostly been the people that lose a lot. They managed to thwart the Hand from taking over 75 AD China and causing a critical shift in Throne War, but have since been stopped from trouncing everyone in Shaolin Showdown, had their nefarious plans cancelled in Boom Chaka Laka, and been done in when Jueding Shelun tried to take his revenge in Red Wedding. They most recently attempted to open the gates of hell in the real world, but the Seven Masters stopped that particular plan.
Historically the Lotus started out as a weird conundrum; they had one of the most hated (and most effective) cards to ever exist in Inauspicious Reburial, some great things like Tortured Memories and Evil Twin and almost nothing else of note. Their characters were for the most part underpowered and overcosted. They were the kings of having 4 cost, 4 fighting guys who had some ridiculous ability but would never see play. Pre-Z-Man, they were easily the weakest faction of them all; even the Monarchs and the Jammers were more playable. Throne War changed all that, and ever since they've become quite a decent faction with a lot of different themes to exploit.
Themes: Great cheap characters. Improvement of early game position at the cost of late game ability. Odd metagame effects. Regenerate. Assassinate. Magical ability. Toasting resources. Hoods, Eunuchs and Demons. Character killing. Limited recycling of characters. Access to magic.
Drawbacks: Poor character protection, especially against direct removal. Fairly limited selection of characters with cost 4+. No state removal.
Foundations: The Eaters now have a good selection of Foundations to choose from, thanks to Red Wedding and beyond. They now have two 1-cost characters who provide magic, three different 1-cost Hoods and a couple of 2-cost Eunuchs. They've got the annoying yet fun Palace Guards. They've even got a couple of 3-cost guys that you can make decks around; the Bloody Horde deck is one of those staple decks that focus on cheap early hitters that's been around since Flashpoint. The real weakness here is that a Eunuch deck must either ignore the Eunuch foundations or rely on 2-cost ones for their characters, which makes it somewhat slow.
Weenies: About the only weenie theme for the Lotus is the Hood subtheme, though the Palace Guards also works in a pinch. They've only got a couple underpowered cards that boost all characters, and those are a per-turn card; the best is Evil Chanting. Feast of Souls deserves special mention here because it is such a great weenie booster. They are better than Purists and 7 Masters but basically worse than anyone else out there.
Utility characters: Fairly poor, all around. The classic one they have is White Disciple. They have this subtheme of hoser characters in their traitor cards; they have one against the Buro, against the Triumvirate and against Pledged, but these aren't the best cards. The Emperor is probably the most feared, but is hard to keep on the table reliably. Recently, Yuen Sheng came out to help, but he's not enough to stem the tide. They are better than the Jammers and about on par with the Dragons, but much worse than the Archies, Ascended, Hand, Monarchs and Purists.
Hitters - fast:
The classic one is Walking Corpses, which is a great speed card. Unfortunately, that's about where their curve of decent 2-drops stops. There are weird cards like Vile Prodigy and Gnarled Horror but not a lot else here. Walking Corpses makes this fairly strong regardless; this is one of the best 2-drops in the game.
3 drop: Abysmal Absorber is one of the evil ones the Lotus have; being able to toast opponent's characters early after they've been played makes this guy feared. Hopping Vampire [the new one, from Seven Masters] lets you recoup their cost later. Poison Thorns is a decent midrange Hood choice. One of their best is Two Hundred Knives of Pain, which is very hard to deal with when attacking and often sticks around for a while thanks to the regeneration ability. Underworld Tracker is a fairly nice way to hose recursion decks; the sheer amount of effects that return this guy to play make him a must to consider in any deck. Then there is the classic Bloody Horde, who is still a viable deck choice. The last is a bit hard to get out early but can be a beast if you do - Four Burning Fists, who usually sees play as a 3 for 7 regenerating monstrosity that can do some tricky things with feng shui sites you have. In general, the 3 drop is one of the Lotus' biggest strengths; while the Dragons have the best individual collection of 3-drops out there, the Lotus have a lot more solid ones overall, especially when you aren't looking at Uniques. Probably second-best to the Dragons.
4 drop: The quality drops off sharply here. There are a few cards that shine, such as Destroyer, Feng Kan (who often comes out as a 3 or less), Kun Kan, the new Jueding Shelun [from Red Wedding], and the often very scary Mad Monk. Mostly, they get oddities like Snake Man and other hitters with nasty abilities but poor fighting/cost ratios. Clearly inferior to Dragons and Architects and Hand, slightly worse than Purists and Jammers, and close to the Ascended.
Hitters - big: They tend to really suck, with some notable exceptions here and there.
3-cost: I mention this here because it doesn't really belong in the 'fast' category. Evil Twin is one of the best cards in the game. You can guarantee that it comes out to be strong thanks to the 3-cost characters the Lotus have, and it usually is much better than that. The drawback is that if there aren't many good characters, it's often a dead draw, but this happens very rarely. Still, it usually isn't something that sees play early on.
4-cost: Kan Li is the best of the bunch, and given the proclivity of state-based decks, his ability might be fairly good nowadays. Ten Thousand Agonies is their version of Sergeant Blightman, and is pretty good too. Master Chin is way too specific, and other 4-cost hitters they have continue to share the poor fighting/cost ratio, such as Xiang Kai.
5-cost: continuing the trend of poor fighting/cost, we have Chang, who has another stellar ability on someone who can't quite take most sites. Miasma is very strong, but only a 6 fighting. In all fairness there are silly things like Mother of Corruption, who comes out at a whopping 13 fighting but can't heal or attack, or Tanbi Guiawu, who must attack if possible. They do have some good 5/8s in Tommy Hsu and Shi Zi Hui, but they don't match up well to Dragons or Hand and are about on par with Ascended, Jammers and Architects. They are better than the Monarchs.
6+ cost: Well, there's Gao Zhang, who is a fairly playable leader of the faction. Thing with 1000 Tongues is one of the better 6-cost hitters ever made, and is made even better by his easily splashable nature. And then ugh. Kong Jun She is not too bad, and his drawback isn't the worst ever, but at 6 cost he's just too fragile. Most of the others have too much of a drawback (like Burning King) or are simply not safe enough by themselves (such as Seven Evils, Xin Kai Sheng, Poison Clan Killers or Desolation). They're ahead of the Purists and Jammers, behind the Hand, Ascended and Monarchs, and close to the Dragons.
Alternate Power Generation: The Lotus have easy access to magic, so they get fairly decent APG right off the bat just because of this - but then they get more. There are the decent things such as Evil Whispers. The slow buildup of Insidious Plan and the jankiness of Chin's Criminal Network. The classic one is Glimpse of the Abyss, which is one of the defining abilities of the Lotus. Feast of Souls is also notable for being an engine of power of sorts and one of the few Edges that is actually correctly priced at 4 cost. Not as good as the Architects or Ascended, but better than Hand, Jammers, Dragons, Monarchs and about as good as the Purists.
Card drawing: Almost nothing; only Shi Zi Hui and Insidious Plan allow anything in-faction for extra card drawing. Infernal Pact allows one single tutor effect, but this is not a strong ability for the Lotus.
Anti-character: In addition to the Magic access, they have some real doozies. Die!!! is one of the best character killers for a Lotus-heavy deck, given that it is free, doesn't target, and can kill any number of characters in one fell swoop. Banish can be a great card depending on your metagame. Shrieking Witch Heads is a great alternate to Shattering Fire if you don't play with a lot of Magic. Demonic Plague is another nice 0-cost character killer that deals nicely with utility dudes. Inexorable Corruption can kill characters very slowly. And then there is Assassinate. They have more ability to kill characters directly and easily than anyone else other than the Architects. They are especially good at doing direct damage to characters.
Anti-site: Verminous Rain is a great answer to site problems for the Lotus, and goes well with their subtheme of blanking text. Aside from that, though, they're not too strong. They've got jank like Larcenous Fog or Veiling of the Light, and bad cards like Sphere of Defilement, along with the okay cards in Magic. They're better than the Dragons or Ascended, much worse than Jammers or Architects, worse than Purists and about as good as the Hand or the Monarchs.
Anti-state: Basically nothing in-faction. Having access to Magic means access to odd things like Soul Maze and good solutions in Larcenous Mist. Kan Li is one exception that proves the rule. They're better than the Dragons on this, about the same as the Purists, and worse than anyone else.
Anti-edge: surprisingly good. Eater of Fortune is one of the best ways to deal with an Edge in the game, given that he usually comes out as a 2-3 or 2-4 while destroying an Edge. There are some weird ones like Theft of Fortune, a very odd one in Abysmal Prince, and a couple hoser ones in their infiltrator set. Not as good as Ascended or Dragons, but much better than Hand, Jammers, Archies or Monarchs and slightly better than Purists.
Protection: Almost nothing. Sure, they get some of the magic-based ones such as Amulet of the Turtle, but only a couple of their characters can protect themselves in some way (desolation, Gao Zhang, Emperor) or protect others (Elite Guards). Worse than Dragons, Jammers, Monarchs, Purists and Hand , about the same as Ascended, and about the same as the Architects.
Redirection: No damage-based redirection. They do get one of the neater redirection abilities in Flying Sleeves. A couple of their characters get event redirection under certain circumstances. Clearly inferior to the Hand (but really, who isn't?), not as good as the Architects or Monarchs, and about as good as the Purists or Jammers. Definitely better than the Dragons or Ascended.
Theft: While they don't have a lot of cards, the Lotus get one of the best in Tortured Memories. Bribery is a cheaper version of this that can work out well in some metagames. Soul Theft can be a cheaper version of Shadowy Mentor. There are some limited theft abilities too, such as shifting loyalties and purist sorcerer. They are not as good as the Ascended, but are better than the Hand and far better than any of the other factions.
Manipulation: The Lotus are right up there with the Architects and Purists in manipulation effects. There are odd cards like Feast of Souls, game-defining cards such as Wasting Curse or Underworld Presence, and alternate win conditions in Underworld Gateway. There are a lot of characters with abilities that change the game in various ways too, such as Abysmal Daughter. Sinister Accusations is another great deck-altering card that goes well with many of the Lotus' designator-based hosers. Cyclone of Knives sort of belongs here too. They aren't quite as good as the Ascended, but are right up there with the Purists and Jammers, and much better than anyone else.
Disruption: The Lotus are probably the kings of disruption. They can force discards through their magic ability. They can toast resources in a variety of ways, including the insanely strong Inauspicious Reburial. Necromantic Conspiracy can stop one opponent's plan before it begins. They can steal characters, remove edges, blank sites and characters, stop people from playing cards in their hand, turn characters with high cost the list goes on and on. The Lotus are probably the best in this category; only the Ascended are even close to them, and only because of the strength of Covert Op. The Purists run a bit farther back and then everyone else is much farther back.
This strength tends to show itself best in dueling.
Recycling: Despite their undead theme, the Lotus don't have a lot of recycling ability. They have a number of characters that return themselves back from the dead, such as Destroyer or Palace Guards. They have one event that brings back characters in Inauspicious Return. Gao Zhang can play events from the smoked pile, and they have a few reloadable cards. They do not have any way of bringing back any arbitrary cards or playing them from the smoked pile without massive cost or subcondition, such as Registry of the Damned or the Strangled Scream. They aren't as good as Dragons, Architects or Hand, they aren't as good at character recycling as the Jammers, and aren't as good at non-character recycling as the Purists or Monarchs. They're probably about 5th overall.
Talent providers: They have 2 1-cost magic providers and 2 2-cost magic providers. Most of their non-demons provide magic. They have a few Unique guys who provide chi as well; this is happening more often now than it has in the past few sets. They don't provide as much arbitrary magic as Purists or Monarchs, making them about the third-best magic providing faction out there.
Healing: This is almost an anti-theme; they have a couple cards that either prevent anyone from healing or have built-in 'cannot be healed' in their cards. They do get a lot of 'free' healing in Regenerate, and a couple of conditional healing cards such as Rend Chi or Chang. They're not nearly as good as Hand, Monarchs or Dragons but better than basically anyone else thanks to Regenerate being a subtheme.
Regenerate. The Lotus have more characters with Regenerate than any other faction. They also have some uber-regeneration abilities on things like Destroyer. They have a couple cards that grant regeneration, a number of cards with conditional regeneration. By far the best faction for this ability.
Assassinate. The Lotus are the second-best faction for Assassinate behind Ascended. Not as good of assassins, but there are quite a few of them along with a couple characters which can assassinate someone without turning.
Buy now, pay (with your soul) later: Lotus tend to sacrifice the future for the present. The classic card for this is Glimpse of the Abyss. There are a number of cheap hitters with big drawbacks, such as Walking Corpses, Shu Kan, Four Burning Fists and Ten Thousand Agonies. Many of their characters allow you to sacrifice other characters in exchange for a onetime benefit, such as Red Scorpion Killers, Tomb Spirit and Thing with 1000 Tongues.
For every thing, turn, turn, turn: Strangely (to me, at least) the Lotus like turning cards. Corruption, Dance of the Centipede, Hypnotized - all turn characters.
Attack me at your peril, foolish dog! The Lotus don't like to be attacked. Or rather, they do, because it lets them do fun things. "You Fell Into My Trap!" is a great encouraging card. Flying Sleeves can do odd things to help you out. Deathtrap isn't good, but does do the job. Terracotta Warriors is a better version of Deathtrap. And then there are cards like Palace Guards that pop out when you're attacked. Lotus can really punish a person for attacking them, and there are a couple deck archetypes that work specifically to entice people into attacking so that they can explode for cheap.
Eunuchs, Demons and Hoods - oh my! The Lotus have 3 subthemes in their cards. The first is the Eunuch deck, which has cheap ways to play eunuchs, big Eunuchs, and ways to protect your Eunuch investment. Never thought I'd type that phrase. The Hood deck has a few cards that improve based on how many Hoods you have by either giving you power or improving fighting bonuses. The Demon deck only has a couple cards that help with Demons, but it seems like this comes out every so often. Of course, the Dragon Throne helps all of these (and many other) deck ideas.
Sacrifice: Following on the immediate reward theme, the Lotus have no problem sacrificing their characters and cards for some gain. Just remember - Feast of Souls doesn't trigger on sacrifice. They share this with the Architects and the Darkness Monarchs.
Relations with other factions:
In the fiction, the Lotus do not tend to have many allies. The Hand hate what they've done to China, the Architects look upon them as a source of materials, the Dragons hate the evil they provide, the Jammers just love tweaking the nose of egotistical eunuch overlords, the Purists broke away from them about the only group that likes them, kinda sorta, is the Ascended, and that is mostly because the Ascended want to keep the status quo. That, and they both share similar criminal elements.
The Lotus tend to team up well with most factions in the game though. They do well with Architects thanks to overwhelming character removal, odd meta effects and some complimentary strengths/weaknesses. Ascended and Lotus both work well thanks to massive disruption and hoods. Dragons and Lotus are okay; the power of Evil Twin and Dragon uniques is strong. Lotus/Jammer can work great thanks to Inauspicious Return and Simian Liberation Army. Lotus/Monarchs also tends to work out well.
I've personally not found the Lotus/Hand to do well, though I can see a very defensive-minded deck revolving around punishing people for attacking you while building up strongly working. Mostly, the Lotus strength of speed doesn't fit as well with the Hand controlling option. I've not found Lotus/Purist to work that well together either, but I can see a massively disrupting deck working okay.
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The Guiding Hand are the representatives of the other classic in Hong Kong cinema: buttkicking monks. They're a little bit more active and political than most monks you see, but they're still flying through the air, announcing their crazy multiple-kick style, and pretending to live in peace and harmony with the universe. In fact, they want everyone to be able to live a life of perfect balance and wisdomwhich also happens to be perfectly boring. In the storyline of Shadowfist they've been remarkably quiet with one (large) exception. They didn't do all that much in Netherworld or Flashpoint, allying themselves with the heroes. They were thwarted from taking over China in Throne War and relegated themselves to their senshi chambers in Netherworld 2. Dark Future had them attempt to start the seeds of a small rebellion, but not much occurred there. Boom Chaka Laka had them play a peripheral role in the fight between Billy Chow and Master Chin. They were merely guests in Red Wedding, and merely a distraction in 7 Masters. They were noticeably huge in Shaolin Showdown, where they aided several rebellions in China and heavily reduced the power of the Ascended. Right now, they bide their time
Game wise, they started out as a fairly boring faction with some of the most overpriced cards in the game. They were the only faction with any Chi access as well. One of their bigger weaknesses was good characters of any size, which has since been fixed greatly. Another weakness was any ability for punch-through; this has also been mostly answered. They still remain the best faction for wacky Chi powers and defense but now have any number of interesting side abilities to exploit and team up with.
Themes: Gratuitous chi generation. Defensively minded cards. Great non-feng shui sites. Healing. Redirection. Weenie hordes. Kung Fu powers. Event denial. Protection. Redirection of damage. Superleap and other evasive characters. Copying of abilities.
Drawbacks: Poor character removal choices. Poor offensive characters. Very little disruption of other players. Poor site disruption.
Foundations: The Hand are kings of Chi-generation. They have two 1-cost characters, three 2-cost characters, and a couple of three-cost guys. They also have two students and a couple of good foundations that have a special subability in addition to their foundation quality. They have the most foundations that generate Chi, and up until Seven Masters they were the only faction that had foundations which generated Chi at all. Buddhist Monk is a standout here as a 2-cost foundation with a stellar special ability that makes him great later in the game, especially in a faction that specializes in having so many sites. They don't tend to have a lot of variety though; you tend to either see Chi-generating Hand decks or occasionally student-based decks.
Weenies: The Hand have a good subtheme of weenies and a few ways of boosting them, as well as a few ways of taking control of others. The peasant line of cards gets bigger with more guys or takes control of smaller guys. Cards like 18 Bronze Men and Cave of 1000 Banners give bonuses to some guys, as do Black Flag Rebels. A few cards give bonuses to all your characters or a bunch of them, such as Storm of the Just. Their actual weenies aren't that exciting for the most part, but there are a fairly impressive amount of ways to get them bigger. Some important designators are the martial art theme, the students, rebels/rabble/bandit characters and peasants. They're worse than the Monarchs and about on par with Architects, and much better than pretty much anyone else - though the Jammers have much better cheap characters to do damage with.
Utility characters: A lot of Hand characters are never, ever meant to get into fighting. There are quite a few that suck, mind you (Quai Li comes to mind here) but others are stellar, such as Xiaoyang Yun, Orange Sage, the surprisingly useful Master Gardener, Yellow Geomancer, Peasant Leader, the ubiquitous Gardener and the always fun to try and abuse Tranquil Persuader. They have more of these kinds of characters than the Architects but their power levels are around the same, and they are better than the many but bad utility abilities of the Monarchs.
Hitters - fast:
2 drop: Fatty Cho and Shaolin Agent are two of the more interesting early drops for this faction. Swords of Heaven can be interesting if vulnerable as well. Carmen Zhou is an interesting new add too, and will often grow big quite quickly. Wandering Monk is an interesting card as well. They don't tend to do the fast pressure that well, simply because the rest of their cards don't back them up, but they have some decent 2-cost options.
3 drop: Surprisingly bland. Blue Monk is often a great card, having evasion against anything, but the quality drops off sharply after that. Sword Saint is another decent one though his disability is harsh. Then there are a bevy of mediocre 3/3s and 3/4s that fill the list, such as Red Monk, Bulletproof Monk, Fist of Freedom, Jade Dragon Monk, etc. If you're looking for speed, you can look elsewhere.
4 drop: Aside from one card this is another mediocre category. Red Master isn't bad. Virtuous Hood isn't bad and is a weird but nice designator. Leaping Tiger Troupe is great in some decks and the evasion helps. Mostly this isn't a category for them, with one exception: The Iron Monkey, who is so far and away superior to anything else here it isn't funny. One less fighting than Red Master with an ability that is sick. If it wasn't for the Monkey, this entire category would be thrown away for the Hand - they'd be way down the bottom of the list, only comparable to the Ascended (who have much better 3-drops); as it stands, they're slightly above the Ascended and worse than almost anyone else.
Hitters - big:
This is where Guiding Hand players rejoice, because their fatties kick some ass.
3-cost: Lui Man Wai deserves special mention, as he often is a huge hitter later on. Same goes for Orange Master. Finally, there is the gigantic Shih Ho Kwai, who usually starts out as a 3-5 and only gets ginormous from there.
4-cost: Leung Mui is one of the better hitters the Hand have; an out-of-faction ability and a good fighting/power ratio. Wei Fong Yi is surprisingly relevant in the state-heavy environments that some people play in these days. Yen Fan is a great bargain for superleap and a high fighting score. Still, the 4-drop slot isn't as interesting as
5-cost: Now we're talking. Hung Hei Kwon and Kwan-Lung-Wei are very hard to deal with hitters. Shan Tsu is an old-school hitter with a difficult ability. Lui Yu Min can be great against some decks. Sun Chen is a great superleaper, one of the best ever made. Finally, there is the ridiculously good Yung Chang. Only the Dragons have better 5-cost hitters given the abilities.
6+ cost: Rivaled only by the monarchs and possibly the Eastern King. Billy Chow and Derek Han have some event protection built in. Wong Fei Hong can get really silly really fast thanks to his always spawning chi states of doom. Even Fong Sai Yuk is pretty good, with evasion and site denial. If you want a bunch of hard-to-deal with big dorks, this faction is hard to beat.
Alternate Power Generation: The faction with the best access to Chi gets a lot of the Chi power, but not a lot else. There are some odd cards like Jade Dragon and Ornamental Garden that supplement site power, along with Yung Chang. There's the hard-to-play card Heat of Battle, and the limited Red Harvest. Not much else. Chi does give them a lot, but they rank far below Architects, Lotus, Purists, Ascended and about on-par with Jammers and Monarchs, and better than Dragons.
Card drawing: Quite a bit. The peacock theme gives them orange principles and the Orange Senshi chamber along with Leaping Tiger Troupe. Elderly Sage allows extra card drawing. Temple of Boundless Meditation increases hand size as well. Dragon Boat festival too. Not quite as good as Purists but on par with Architects and better than most everyone else.
Anti-character: This is about their biggest weakness. They have access to Chi, which means Blade Palm and Wing of the Crane, but these are expensive cards that often have their own drawbacks. Faceoffs are an attempt at an answer, but these don't often cut it. They have no way to directly damage characters. One of the ways they do do anti-character is via things such as Robust Feng Shui or Blood of the Valiant, but these aren't the best answers to their problems. The Hand are about 6th, slightly ahead of the Dragons and Jammers, thanks to the power of Blade Palm and Wing, but not by a lot.
Anti-site: Blade Palm works here as well, but not much else. Master Gardener can deal with some sites, but more often than not the Hand won't be able to do much about another site save heal it. They rank above the Ascended and Dragons, but below anyone with good tech access or magic access.
Anti-state: Very strong. Return to Center, Righteous Fist, Shaolin Surprise and the awesome Confucian stability. Then they've got oddities like Chin Ken or Wei Fong Yi. Possibly not as good as the Monarchs and about on par with the Ascended.
Anti-edge: Very bad. Fist of Shadow is their only answer to an Edge. He's not a bad answer, but it's a very specific answer. Not nearly as good as Ascended, Dragons or Lotus, slightly worse than Purists, but better than Jammers, Monarchs and Architects.
Protection: The Hand are the Kings of protection. Many of their hitters have built-in protection. They can heal damage (with any number of good cards), redirect damage (Robust Feng Shui), grant toughness (Festival of Giants), prevent combat damage (Iron & Silk), bring characters back from the dead to prevent an attack (Mysterious Return), and then there are the various states they get from Chi and their own faction - including the defining Fortune of the Turtle. They are the only faction that can stop an event cold, in the awesome Confucian Stability and the sidekick Secrets of Shaolin. They are clearly the best faction at protecting their stuff.
Redirection: Robust Feng Shui is a great card here. All cards with Yellow can redirect some damage. Swinging with the Hand can redirect non-character damage. Goes well with the theme of protection. Probably the best faction in the game, though Brain Fire makes the Monarchs a close second.
Theft: A few cards stand out here. Peasant Leader can potentially take anyone assuming their fighting is low enough, and Tranquil Persuader can take anyone if he shows he's got the juice to handle their Chi. Shaolin Surprise can take states for a short time. They are worse than the Ascended or Lotus but better than Purists and way better than anyone else.
Manipulation: Virtually nothing. There are a few cards that alter the game for everyone like Dragon Boat Festival, but for the most part this is an anti-theme; the Hand want things to stay the same way. Worse than the Purists, Jammers, Lotus, Ascended and Architects, but better than the Monarchs and Dragons.
Disruption: Nothing. Well, okay, almost nothing. There are weird cards like Progress of the Mouse, janky cards like Difficulty at the Beginning, and a couple of other hoser-style cards.There are a couple of cards that allow you to look at the opponent's hand, but that's about it. Confucian Stability and its like often substitute for disruption of a plan, but the Hand would rather be reactive than proactive in stopping threats to them. Not as good as Ascended, Lotus, Purists, Architects, Monarchs, and about on par with the Jammers. Better than the Dragons, who are sadly down.
Recycling: The Hand recycle very well. They can recycle events like no tomorrow thanks to Wind Across Heaven. They have reusable recycling in Orange Sage. They can return anything thanks to Into the Light. Then there are the weird cards. Positive Chi allows everyone to share in the recycling love. Mysterious Return brings someone back for a short time. Master Blacksmith recycles swords. They are the best at returning non-characters to play or to their hand and about the third best at returning characters behind the Dragons and Architects.
Talent providers: They provide Chi, Chi and more Chi - and literally nothing else. Most of their characters provide Chi - 3/4ths of them, actually. If you need a lot of Chi for some reason, this is the faction for you.
Healing: Clearly the best faction. Beneficial Realignment, Yung Chang, Chinese Connection and Healing Earth all speak to this theme - and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Only the Monarchs and Dragons are close, and they're not even that close.
Superleap. The Hand are the faction with the most characters with superleap (built-in or conditional), the faction with the best superleapers, and have a few ways of granting superleap.
Toughness. A number of Hand characters and abilities grant toughness; this goes well with the Green Principle. Probably 2nd best behind the Dragons.
Attack me? You attack yourself: The Hand like to be left alone, and have a lot of cards to facilitate this. Robust Feng Shui, Shield of Pure Soul, Fire on the Lake all discourage attacks.
Comeback kids: A lot of Hand cards trigger heavily on coming from behind, such as "For China!" or Storm of the Just or Heat of Battle.
The best improvement is self improvement: The Hand have, by far, more ways to make their characters into something interesting or different than any other faction. They can boost sites and characters. Between this and the chi states, they have access to 60 cards that can boost other cards. A lot of kung fu silliness can result. Be warned though - a lot of them suck.
Meditate on that lesson: The Hand have some of the best non-Feng Shui sites in the game in the set of Senshi Chambers. They also tend to reward large site structures. They also have the most faction-specific Feng Shui sites (4), which are all fairly decent for what they do.
Anything you can do, I can do better: Starting with Rigorous Discipline, the Hand have shown that they can copy abilities better than almost anyone. Rig Dis is the classic card here, but a set of Violet cards also grants this ability, as do various hitters and a couple states here and there.
Relations with other factions:
In the fiction, the Hand don't want to have to deal with other factions, but they often do anyway. They see the Dragons as noisy, reckless, and clearly undisciplinedbut they keep helping those whippersnappers out anyway. Everyone else is deserving of their scorn; the Ascended are their traditional foe, since they share a juncture, but they save their real hatred for the Eaters of the Lotus given that they view the Lotus as corrupting the perfect land of China for greed and sorcery, and above all else want to erase them from time.
Gamewise, they tend to team up with a lot of people (or at least used to) because of their monopoly on Chi power. A control-minded player often likes teaming with Architects thanks to the combination of event denial and character denial it bringsand the Hand's impressive late-game hitters help this theme even more. The Dragons like the ability to stop pesky events as well and the Hand like dealing with hordes of dorks easily and cheaply. Jammers go well due to both factions having a plethora of rebels. Purists also enjoy the control aspects, as well as the ability to defend their beefy sites easily while they work on their master plan. Ascended mix well thanks to event recycling tricks, though they tend to be a bit light on character power. Monarchs/Hand can do some interesting things with Chi in the fire faction as well as be a good control mix thanks to the Monarch's set of edges.
I haven't personally found a good mix for Lotus/Hand. The Lotus do disruption and character killing well, but they don't share a lot of designators, they have very different play styles (aggressive vs. defensive), and the talents seem odd. About the best mix I've seen for this is an early nearly siteless deck, but other factions do better for the magic component of this.
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