This article is intended for players who are familiar with the game and want to improve their game with the Phoenix clan. If you are just starting the Phoenix deck building article may be a better place to start.
Phoenix is a very versatile clan. So versatile that it has two divergent paths. In the Lion Masterclass article the decision point between the Way of Akodo and the Way of the Matsu is in what you do during your first turn. In the Phoenix clan proponents of the way of the Shiba and the Way of the Isawa use entirely different decks and have entirely different playstyles. If you want to practice playing Phoenix I suggest you focus on one school and master it.
Way of the Shiba
The Way of the steadfast warriors of the Shiba focuses on combat. They use their humility to honor their characters and use the strength gained from that to destroy the opposing provinces. Just like Shiba Ujimitsu, the previous Phoenix champion who tirelessly travelled Rokugan, personalities in this deck would participate in multiple challenges per turn. This synergizes well with the Stronghold ability as the glory gained lasts for an entire turn.
The entire engine of this Phoenix deck is dependent upon your characters being honored. Most of the characters you will use start of with a glory of 2-4 and the Stronghold can provide a further +2. Your entire strategy is dependent on getting as many characters honored as you possibly can. To put this into context the best comparison to this is Dragon. A Dragon deck would be able to give one character +4 to one relevant stat (this would be 2 attachments) with the house providing a further +2 at the cost of 2 cards or 2 fate (as the ancestral items recur). The Dragon character would win a straight conflict and items are harder to get rid of than the honored status but the Phoenix character is more flexible and can be used in both conflict types.
There are 12 ways to honor your characters in the conflict deck and 3 in your dynasty. More importantly the ways to honor your character are persistent. If your opponent dishonors, which usually costs a conflict card or ring effect, you can simply win a conflict or participate in defense to get honored again. Your opponents will run out of ways to dishonor you before you run out of ways to honor yourself.
Remember to be creative in your honoring. Are you losing a conflict? Why not have your character Benten himself. You are losing anyway and it will help for future conflicts. Favorable Grounds can help drag the tired corpses of the Asako Diplomat or characters dressed in Kimonos.
The Way of the Shiba usually has a very high fate curve. In the deck posted Shiba Tsukune was even removed just to lower it slightly. You want to initiate 2 conflicts a turn anyway so Tsukune may not have much to work with at the end of the phase.
In order to mitigate this the deck uses Charge to cheat high cost characters in. Remember with Prodigy and Against the Waves the characters you cheat in one conflict can be used in others. Favorable Grounds can also be used in case the current conflict is lost. Stand Your Ground is there to enable you to survive till the next turn where the duplicate rule can be used. Having such a high curve means that you are vulnerable to a good Crabbing. Stand Your Ground helps cancel this as well. It is also possible to just splash crab with 3x Rebuild 3x Reprieve and 2x Skirmisher though you would lose the honor effects and resistance to bow effects.
Ring of Water
The Way of the Shiba is very reliant on someone claiming the Ring of Water every turn. The only way to do this is to initiate the conflict for Water yourself and this is a very serious liability. First there are times when there are no good targets for the Ring of Water and more importantly challenging for Water every turn means that it never has a chance to build up any fate. Having your opponent gain fate from two sources every turn to your one leaves you at a very serious disadvantage.
Know the World is the obvious solution to this but it is very hard to find cards to cut for it. If you notice it becomes a problem in your games you may want to try cutting 3 Kimonos. This would also bring you up to 15 spells making it very likely for the Maidens to pick up 1-2 every time.
Like Crane you want to bid as high as you are comfortable with every turn and rely on the honor gain for being honorably dead to keep your honor up. This usually means you are bidding 5 first turn and every other turn you can.
The most difficult match up is Dragon. You both have similar game plans of developing a tower but due to Restoration of Balance you cannot bid as high as they do. The provinces they carry are generally more harmful than yours are and they carry the Pathfinders Blade to negate yours. You may have to switch your play style to the Way of the Isawa which your deck will not be
Your strongest matchups will most likely be against Lion and Crane. The only real way they handle towers is either overpowering them or killing them with Noble Sacrifice and it is very easy for you to honor your people. The number of honor counters you have mitigates Voice as well. The high Pol values of your characters negate the Crane Stronghold as well.
I chose Lion for this splash to maximize opportunities to honor my characters. There are some other good splashes as well. Crab would run with 3x Reprieve 3x Rebuild and 2x Skirmishers. This allows you an easier time to extend the life of your Charged characters and to be able to Rebuild Kanjo District or Favorable Grounds. Unicorn would be good as well with 3x Spyglass 3x Talisman. This allows you to take advantage of your ready effects to generate card draw and Talisman functions like Guard Duty by shunting everything of to Shameful Display. Plain old Dragon works as well with 3x Fury and 3x Let go to counter Cloud the Mind.
Some players may be surprised at the inclusion of Satoshi in both decks. There is some value in having Keeper Initiates out early but the main reason he is there is Kanjo District. Phoenix has the easiest time of all clans securing the Imperial Favor and the
district basically negates your opponents best character for an entire turn.
Players may be surprised that she did not make the cut. The primary strength of the deck is having honored characters able to engage in multiple conflicts per turn. Giving my opponent multiple uses of his characters goes against that. Given a choice I would also rather honor my Shugenjas rather than my Courtiers.
For some players the lack of Forgotten Libraries would qualify as heresy. Keep in mind our game plan is to bid 5. The higher you bid the less value the libraries have. The lower you force the bid like in the Way of the Isawa the more valuable they become. In this deck I need to cycle as fast as possible to take advantage of the duplicate rule for my many named characters. Remember if both players bid 5 then Library represents a 20% increase in the number of cards you draw. If both players bid 1 then it represents a 100% increase. It is 5 times more effective in Way of the Isawa decks.
You may have noticed this did not make the cut. If you feel it is necessary you can always cut Banzai for this card. This would top you off at 18 spells making it very likely for your Maidens to pick up 2 or even 3 spells.
It looks like i have gone on for longer than I intended to. I personally prefer the Way of the Isawa so stay tuned for Part 2!