Forces from Beyond is the 13th expansion in Legends of Runeterra, and we’re starting to get pretty good at knowing how to handle the first week. Many players with their eyes already on the Seasonal will be playing older decks for quick gains, while the masses play with, break, abandon, and reconcile with the new toys.
So it has been, so it shall be.
For ladder, at least.
For tournament grinders, we’re at the first step of a rather long process. While it’s easy to run back whatever lineup won the Seasonal, such a strategy can just as easily be caught off-guard by a standout new deck. Myself and many others have been combing through the meta and looking for the gems – the ones that may be able to transcend the ladder and become tournament staples.
It’s hard to quantify exactly what we’re looking for in these decks – we just kind of know it when we see it. I could try to explain it, but that’s perhaps an article for another day, so today we’re going to outline the tournament landscape in the early days of Forces From Beyond.
The Old Guard
Everything has a meta and, in article writing, the meta is putting the less interesting stuff first. I promise there are plenty of shiny new toys in here, but first we have to talk about the old stuff that’s still working because, if you enter a tournament this is likely most of what you’re seeing.
Winding Light P&Z
While its ladder popularity has never turned any heads, it’s common knowledge that Winding Light P&Z is the best tournament deck in the game. It dominated every Seasonal in the Open Rounds as well as Top Cut, and with no balance changes happening with patch 3.11 there’s no reason for that to change.
Strong, proactive, versatile – these are the three words that I would use to describe the deck if it put me down as a reference on a job interview.
For better or worse this is one of those “old best decks” that didn’t slot in a single new card, though I am out here in the trenches trying to sell Viktor players on a single of copy of Scavenged Camocloaker.
Okay, so maybe Thralls didn’t slot in any new cards either. Many players are in the lab right now trying to figure out the right formula to make Rite of Passage work, but the masses couldn’t care less. One of the biggest counters to Winding Light, Thralls was the second most popular deck amongst Top 32 contenders.
In the early days of the tournament meta, we normally seek to identify strong decks and insert them into lineups, and save the counter-picking for when we have a solid foundation. Unfortunately for Thralls though, one of their existing biggest counters got some new toys.
It takes more than that to push a deck out, however, so expect to see plenty of Thralls in your next event.
I understand that it can be painful to look at all your bullies from last Season and realize they’re still doing just fine..
… and Papercraft Akshan is actually doing even better.
While Supercharge isn’t the most exciting card in the world, it’s the only new trick we could teach these old dogs.
But, in all fairness, did you really want the old guard to be getting a bunch of new weapons to defend their throne with?
EMEA don’t look at this part
The big three from last Season was pretty well established across the board, with each of the old guard taking up nearly half of the top 32, while the fourth most popular deck was left with only five pilots playing it. A rather drastic dropoff.
There was an exception to this though – the NA special.
Twisted Fate/Nami is the large discrepancy between NA and the rest of the world.
During the Worldwalker Seasonal, nine players from Canada, the United States, and Mexico took this deck to the top 32.
In EMEA, only two.
And South America doesn’t even seem to want anything to do with it. But even with most grassroots events being LATAM based, TF/Nami has already picked up a win during the opening days of the Season at the Raise Your Flag Series (thanks to Eriicks).
It’s not enormously popular, but definitely something to keep on your radar as we gear up for larger weekend tournaments.
The New Stuff
Not the most eloquent header I’ve ever written, but the decks are going to speak for themselves.
New cards have breathed life into old archetypes, but we don’t have anything new new making waves just yet. If you’re looking for Kai’Sa/Evelynn, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Sivir/Akshan, and Kai’Sa’s place in the meta seems to be ensuring that we never see it again. Midrange Demacia has been a safe go-to for new metas since the days of Shen/Fiora, so it’s unsurprising that a revamping of an older archetype with new cards is popping up early and succeeding.
While a few adjustments have been made to accommodate your new champions level-up, it’s all pretty organic.
Blinding Assault and Radiant Guardian is not only a great way to get four keywords active, but it's one of the oldest tricks in Demacia's book. Back in 2020, Lux decks were hard-carried by Radiant Guardian, and players found they could force-activate it on curve with Blinding Assault – using spell mana and a Scout attack to suicide Valor before playing the Guardian, and still having the attack token to get an instant influx of lifesteal.
While this specific list was taken from Chapado de ivern's winning lineup from a Runescola Open Series, the list is as varied as the old Sivir/Akshan’s were. Cataclysm, Golden Aegis, Petricite Broadwing, Vekauran Vagabond... there’s quite a lot you can look to borrow from a given Sivir/Akshan list and slot it in here.
Also worth noting is that while the Sivir variant often topped out at five mana, almost every Kai’Sa player has incorporated Void Abomination.
Now I’m as skeptical as the next person when you show me a deck containing, historically speaking, the two worst champions in the game. Piling on to that skepticism is the fact that this is the only deck I’m showing you that hasn’t picked up a tournament win yet.
Yasuo decks have always had a few problems, first and foremost finding the titular champion to change their Stun and Recall effects from advantage-negative stall tactics into power Mystic Shots.
The second was a lack of a consistent finisher, as Fae Bladetwirler can only do so much as a two-mana follower.
Windswept Hillock has solved both issues, as Katarina now fits into the deck not just to level Yasuo faster, but to constantly trigger the Stun effect on the Hillock.
Strategic Execution also provides a nice fork for you, punishing players who seek to develop to play around the litany of Fast-speed Stuns and Recalls you output.
Or, you can simply summon an enormous Legion General off of it to put pressure on your opponent.
The builds are quite varied still, with the list I’m showing you borrowed from Kevor24. Sai'nen Thousand-Tailed doesn’t look to be super standard, but there’s a lot of room for experimentation still. As far as where this deck fits into the tournament realm, it’s a little early to tell for sure but it’s showing promise against Kai’sa Demacia as well as Thralls
Chapado de ivern was kind enough not just to win the Runescola Open Series with Kai’sa, but with Azir/Irelia as well.
While Domination is the only new card to make an appearance, it has shifted the way the deck is built quite a bit.
Comparing it to the list Jason Fleurant used to Top 32 the Seasonal, we’ve cut down on a few protection spells like Lead and Follow and Retreat in favor of more aggressive options, namely a fourth one-drop in Shadow Apprentice.
On top of the obvious one-drop synergy Domination provides to Blades and Sand Soldiers, the Husk she summons is no joke. An extra health on Irelia or an Elusive can really turn the tide of a game, and I personally have already been victimized by Overwhelm Azir.
Azir/Irelia was already known to be one of the best counters for Thralls, but that was where the deck started and stopped for many players last Season. With more midrange options (read: decks that get hosed by Defiant Dance) entering the meta, Azir/Irelia is gaining more prey.
With a favorable shift paired with the extra punch Domination provides, the deck seems to be ready to cement its foothold and hunker down for the long Season.
Just, please don’t try to add in Storm of Blades.
Winding Light 2: Electric Boogaloo
Scouring the internet for a Gwen list can be a depressing dredge through a sea of oddball pairings that couldn’t win a coinflip. Hanter Arquerio seems to have cracked the code though, already winning two different tournaments with the same Gwen/Aphelios Winding Light list.
While I’m not going to tell you this should replace your P&Z variant, there is value in running a different variant of a targetable deck.
I would advise against trying to fit this into a lineup with the P&Z version, though, as Aphelios seems quite pivotal to both versions. After all, Hallowed is a lot more impactful when you can actually damage your opponents nexus with the boost, and Infernum makes that a cakewalk whereas a more traditional Nightfall champion like Nocturne or Diana would simply fall short.
While this list is unlikely to gain a lot of traction past the novelty of playing Gwen, Eternal Dancers does offer a cute threat that isn’t going to be swept by the boardwipes that torment your traditional Winding Light list. At the very least, it’s the only Gwen deck that we’ve seen clutch a W in the opening days, and that's worth at least a spot in this article.
There’s Gotta Be A Shen Deck, Right?
Rounding out Chapado de ivern’s lineup we have a classic in Shen/Jarvan. With Quick Attack running rampant on cards like Kai'Sa, Papercraft Dragon and many more, some players are looking at the classic Barrier solution.
Kinkou Student has offered the archetype a new cheap follower to pair with Greenglade Caretaker to swing outside of its weight class.
While not present in Chapado’s list, we also got Moral Support, which may need a Lulu or Young Witch to fully supplement its space in the deck, but that brings me to my next point.
Do I think Chapado’s Shen/Jarvan is going to become the gold standard?
But I do think there is some Shen deck out there. With Quick Attack becoming a more popular keyword every day, defensive Barrier spells make all the more difference. They’re also the most protection you can get at Burst speed, letting you re-apply them after Quicksand or Hush has left your unit hung out to dry.
Now Shen’s had a little sprinkle of success here and there ever since Fiora lost her legs, but hasn’t been in the Tier 1 conversation since she was nerfed. I’m not saying Fiora is the answer, as tempting as it may be with decks like Azir/Irelia making a comeback, though (remember, Domination makes those Blades kill Fiora). Shen/Fiora's main win condition was out-grinding your opponent with Barrier and Challengers, and Fiora was simply the best three-mana Challenger. You may severely be misremembering how often you actually won with her ability. Don’t force it.
But that’s sort of the problem with Shen nowadays – out-grinding your opponent doesn’t work as well as it used to, when you’re Ionia/Demacia. Quicksand, Hush, Frostbite… there’s a lot to disrupt your combat-heavy playstyle and not much you can do in response.
Maybe Shen doesn't need to be in Demacia, or maybe you need to double down and Fiora really IS the answer. All I wanted to highlight is that Shen won a tournament, and I think he’s got a chance at some longevity.
When it comes to tournaments, the old guard isn’t going anywhere.
You’ll likely see a lot of Old Guard/Old Guard/New Deck lineups in the first few weeks as we figure out what weakness of the meta the new kids on the block exploit, but for the time being I expect people to slot their favorite new toy into a lineup that they know can win the event.
Also, I know we joked a lot during the last format about Nami being a 45% ladder win-rate deck that was Tier 1 in tournaments, but just to cover all of my bases I want to remind you that this doesn’t mean that every 45% win rate deck can be a Tier 1 tournament option.
I will let you know if we come across another TF/Nami situation – your Evelynn pile is probably not it, though.
About the author:
Boulevard is a National and World Champion CCG player turned caster and analyst with the release of Legends of Runeterra. You can find them on Twitter and YouTube.