This post has been heavily edited because I had missed the existence of Utaku Infantry! Strike-through indicate portions that I have deleted. Italics indicate portions I have added. Needless to say, the discovery that I had forgotten 3x 1-cost characters can change the thrust of the build quite radically!
First a confession: I'm sadly not a fan of the Unicorn Core pool.
Maybe I am underestimating the power of the Blitzkrieg cards like a Moto Horde that breaks a province, then after declaring a political attack with a 2/2, Captive Audience, I Am Ready the Horde and your stronghold moves it in for a double break. It's why I assume super-tempo cards like Breakthrough exist (if they had Covert, I can see 1x copy justifying itself for Way of the Unicorn + Breakthrough stealing the win, trailing 3-2 start of the final turn). Unicorn Blitz is appropriately an out-rush strategy but Magic's Red Deck Wins "I'm faster than you" (rush in Thrones) never really appealed even though you must respect its potency to win before your longer game set-up locks-in the win. This is also seen in cards like I Am Ready because who cares how much Fate is left on your cards if you can win this turn.
I am not aligned to a particular Clan so I take no pleasure in going out on a limb and saying I feel Unicorn is probably weakest in the Core Set
- but this can be quickly changed with the release of 2x 1-cost dynasty cards so it's temporary. Because the main issue that immediately put me off was their cost curve that can be easily fixed. But they do have great cards. With limited deck slots and an ever growing pool, it's better to have some outstanding cards and some sub-par cards than just mediocre cards. So let's look at some of my reasons to play Unicorn.
1. Captive Audience - for a small cost of 1C 1H, this is such a huge play and, after checking to see if it is cancelled, it turns on your stronghold as well as other moves. In defence with Fallen In Battle, it can kill an enemy champion attacking in political, a threat the opponent must always be wary of if you have 1F spare, perhaps the only credible use of Fallen In Battle (as detailed in the early posts of the Crab thread with Unicorn splash). It's the counter for Rally the Cause, a water province many builds include, as well as Kuroi Mori, and it affects how you evaluate many of the Unicorn cards.
2. Border Rider - this is the standalone Unicorn dynasty card that I rate most. It speaks for itself. Host a Katana when it has 0F (any more incentive and it's Assassination time).
3. Favoured Mount - the other standalone card, splashed with Captive Audience, the ability to counter an expel effect for the same cost (often returning stronger) or bring in reinforcements is unique to Unicorn (outside of visible Favourable Ground) and again makes unspent 1F a constant threat in conflicts.
4. Ide Trader - an economic powerhouse strengthened by the (intuitive) self-moving ruling, it does need support and benefits most from gaining the Cavalry trait with Favoured Mount (to be moved bowed by the stronghold to deny unopposed). Safe from assassination for stacking with the next card.
5. Spyglass - 2 influence to import in, I believe this lacks sufficient synergy outside Unicorn with its many movement tricks (stronghold, Outrider, Tatsuo, a full set of Mounts). It's 1F 1C commitment to gain +1P and payback 1-2C per turn, it really needs to be triggered twice per turn to be worth its slot - but in Unicorn, it's a card draw powerhouse (the +1P also helps against Crane and Shoju). And it's often a target of the next card.
6. Giver of Gifts - I love this design and I only wish it was worded wider for negative attachments trickery. Moving Katanas, Fans and Spyglasses at the right time is a telegraphed threat that must be mitigated with an overcommit or drawing the poison. It's unfortunate that Mounts do not have a constant benefit and that Moto Horde can only host the Katana (or imported Weapons). However, Giver of Gifts also ensures your attachments are inherited when their host is bowed at 0 Fate, indirect card draw like Ancestral but also free cost to play again.
7. Moto Horde - in a Core set pool especially, numbers matter and this beat stick is a necessary cutting edge, its text mostly an advantage, effectively immunising it from Pacifism (key) and Poison (but also no Spyglass), a key card mainly because of Charge and a late game Cavalry Reserves.
8. Golden Plains Outpost - although the +0/10H stats are poor, the effect is very strong (with so much Cavalry, even Mounts granting the trait) and being always available is the support needed for engines like Spyglass.
9. Way of the Unicorn - I like this card. The threat of it often prevents the opponent manipulating ring choices going second, setting themselves up to collect the ring they want with 1F on it. Going first is most definitely an advantage in a game where ring effects can be ranked (varying according to game state) with 1F incentives but also the 1F bonus for passing first. One of the main benefits of Unicorn move tricks without width is the denial of unopposed with a bowed unit you have already used to attack (that can Rout the attacker). Finally, there is Meishodo Wielder and Moto Youth that benefit from first. Make no mistake, this is a ring control card but also an economy card.
10. Shinjo Outrider - the power of late commitment ability is the over-commitment needed to safely resist an attack/break. A prime host for Spyglass, it's versatile 2/2 means it threatens in either conflict 1, is used in conflict 3 then prevents unopposed conflict 4 (going first). He's more cost-efficient than Tatsuo (who sadly can't trigger if already participating).
So looking at these strengths, the first thing that comes to my mind is how blessed Unicorn are with economy cards: Ide Trader, Giver of Gifts. Way of the Unicorn and Spyglass. It's also apparent how easy it is to stretch opponent's forces to prevent unopposed whilst at the same time denying unopposed with bowed move-ins to pressure on Honour. Both of these factors meant that I'd prefer to play the Unicorn long game - after all, in a long game, whoever has the better economy and less Honour pressure is going to benefit.
So my example build below tries to leverage this economic advantage
and mitigate the awful cost curve.
Clan: Unicorn (allied with Lion)
Here are my reasons for some of my build decisions:
Shinjo Altansarnai x0, Endless Plains x0, Fallen In Battle x0
The champion is simply too expensive
in a Clan pool that only has 1 printed cost 1 character, even with 3x Charge. She's wrongly costed to be used with Cavalry Reserves (where you want 4+2 or 3+3 or 2+2+2 but 5+1 Cavalry in discards is very unlikely). But the kicker is playing For Greater Glory (another economy card): you don't want to advertise that military breaking is important with a card in play (including Charge) that references it because it's an incentive to try and prevent the break. So once you skip her, the other two pieces are also not played, it's all or nothing in the culling tech (beyond Assassination which is pure utility).
x1 x2, Charge x3
I couldn't justify more than 1x 3 cost event facing an undeclared Scorpion or Crane cancel (alternative is 1x Guidance of the Ancestors). It's telegraphed (but often so what?) unlike Ambush in Scorpion that has alternative plays in Blackmail, I Can Swim, Unassuming Yojimbo and most importantly cancel cover against a cancel. With no Altansarnai, dynasty cards support it (even without Aggressive Moto). This event is for Blitzkrieg and this build is more about leveraging the Unicorn economy advantages in a longer game. However its upside "for the win" is good enough to include x1 (especially with For Greater Glory) and if you are facing Crane or Scorpion splash late game and fear the cancel, you may be able to pitch it to Yumino (much like Scorpion has Favoured Niece to cycle its match-up dependent cards).
How many Cavalry Reserves you play defines your Dynasty build. You want it later game so x2 is probably the most you will want and you don't want too many liability cards facing a Scorpion or Crane splash who has yet to cancel an event! Utaku Infantry (whilst not Cavalry) encourages a low end swarm and Reserves for 2+2+2 Bushi Cavalry with For Greater Glory is probably optimum flexibility (Moto Horde + Aggressive Moto is the classic attack). Charge synergises perfectly with Cavalry Reserves, the former x3 as a precursor to the latter x2.
I Am Ready x0, Ready for Battle x3
If you are facing Unicorn, you know your expel tricks are compromised but your bow tricks aren't. But whilst I Am Ready is proactive reuse in a Blitzkrieg build, Lion's Ready for Battle is the 1F cheaper free reactive equivalent for Brawlers, Admit Defeat, Fury, so many crucial effects as well as Water Ring that, with Way of the Unicorn, can be left for the opponent to choose in conflict 2, perhaps a political attack aimed at bowing your 0 Fate Horde - and voila, they have wasted their ring effect and their plans. Ready for Battle is better in the economic long game.
x0 x3, Miya Mystic x3
Aggressive Moto should not be compared to the Matsu Berserker which is a stand-out weenie, almost as good as Bayushi Liar. Objectively, it's a bad card really (compare it to other Unicorn 2 costers) although it does work with the stronghold and other move-in tricks for defence and it does further the Unicorn game plan. If I was playing 2x Cavalry Reserves in a Blitzkrieg build, I would play this x3 (I am now playing 2x Reserves) but in this build, where you often just want a probing threat to move into, especially in Political with a Spyglass on an Outrider or a Mount on a Trader, I prefer the Miya Mystic as a 1-turn attachment deterrent (and occasionally pre-existing removal) who often focuses a break attack on it if not deployed as an indicator of a key attachment in hand. With a tendency to go first, the Mystic is even more likely to launch that probe attack then exchange to remove that attachment for economic attrition. Pacifism can be an issue.
Warrior Poet x0, Utaku Yumino x0
These 3F for 2-2-2 characters are over-costed on raw stats and have sufficient Glory to become 0 threat if Dishonoured (and Honour / Dishonour events are based on Political conflicts or Courtiers). Although Cavalry, they also don't gel too well with Reserves (Yumino is unique, other 3 costers are Courtiers). Warrior Poet's ability is defensive whilst Yumino costs a card as a one-shot +2 (max. 1/conflict) which you can't use in attack before Crane stronghold bows it (Warrior Poet also bows without Fan or Spyglass). Leaving the 3-slot for Courtiers and skipping these female warriors for a high-low spread to accommodate both Charge (high) and Reserves (2+2+2) seems sensible.
Favourable Ground x1, Imperial Storehouse x3
Whilst it does add move home feinting, there is diminishing benefit in over-focusing. Yes, redundancy is a thing in card games but with a lack of 1 costers, Unicorn can't go wide enough to leverage this as well as the Stronghold, Outriders, Mounts and Tatsuo. I also like the Storehouse's denial of a holding presence vs Crab that does not occur if Crab are 2nd player (as you play Way of the Unicorn).
Move a bowed Horde to defence then Rout (or a bowed Outrider in Political) looks strong to me. Helps that Mount grants a +1M bump.
Pilgrimage x0, Shameful Display x1
A build that can often guarantee a defender, even if bowed, benefits most from this. Pilgrimage is for builds that care less about defence.
In Magic, my friends laugh when I try to play Aggro as I just don't get it: I'm always looking for good trades, longer economic advantage and attrition as a control player when the point is to just "win fast or go home". So I'm pretty sure I'm opening myself to the same accusations here but thought I should share my thoughts behind this build for forum feedback. Maybe there's something good in there that true Unicorn players can leverage.