Hey guys, Yangzera once again here, with a guide on resource management.
Resource management is an interesting topic to cover in Legends of Runeterra, since it’s commonly known yet hard to theorize, because of all the nuances in what are the most efficient lines of play on each game state, so let’s try to break it all down bit by bit.
In Legends of Runeterra, I like to say that there are three main types of resources: Mana, Cards and Health.
I’ll be covering all three of them today, but we’ll start from the easiest to the hardest to grasp and master. First, let’s talk about Health.
Health as a Resource
Health as a resource in Legends of Runeterra is probably the first concept you’re introduced to, and it’s fairly simple to understand, starting from the basic principle – you start with 20 health, if that 20 somehow becomes 0, you lose.
And, of course, the same goes for your opponent.
Health is a resource in the sense that there's no strategic advantage in keeping your health at 20 all the time. That's why seasoned players usually tell new players that "Winning at 20 health, or winning at 1 health, is the same" – in other words, there are 19 points of health you can "trade" (as in, allow your opponent to deal to you) for something that is advantageous to you.
In other words: in order to gain better trades or do stronger plays, you can let an opponent creature hit your Nexus instead of blocking it with your small creature, or save one of your key spells to use later.
This is very commonly seen and talked about in Demacia mirrors or Demacia games in general, where big beefy boys headbutt each other fighting for board control, and if one of the beefy boys is too big, it will probably connect with the Nexus – unless the opposing player can play something as big (or bigger!).
Demacia, as a region, lacks direct face damage, that's to say cards, usually spells, that can target the Nexus directly, like Decimate or Mystic Shot (usually nicknamed "burn"). And even if Demacia can be paired with other regions with access to said burn card, Demacia decks most of the time won’t include any sources of direct damage since those cards don't help Demacia develop their midrange gameplan.
That is why you can more or less say that “You can have 1 or 20 health against Demacia, and it’s the same” – as long as you’re still alive, if you end up controlling the board you will eventually beat a Demacia deck since it doesn’t have burn damage.
In other words, against Demacia decks, you can (usually) use 19 of your starting 20 health points to gain said board advantage, and at that point the game is won for you.
In contrast, against regions like Noxus and Piltover & Zaun, health is much less of an abusable resource because those regions have access to direct burn spells like Mystic Shot, Get Excited! and Decimate. Against these decks, if you manage to gain control of the board while you have just one health point left, next things that will most likely happen is them "burning your face" (ie ignoring your board and targeting a damage-dealing spell directly to your Nexus).
There isn’t really a “HP safety margin” you’d be wanting to look out for, but for me, a good rule of thumb is to first look at their deck list and count how much direct burn they have, and try to stay in a health total above half of that value, counting how much burn they’ve already used in game.
So if my opponent has Two Get Excited!s and three Mystic Shots in their list, that’s twelve burn damage they can do to me, so staying above six hp is probably a good idea. If they use their burn spells during the game, be it on minions or your Nexus, you can lower that health threshold, but be careful to not get blown out by direct damage, use your health wisely!
In addition to this, you need to play differently depending on how much health your Nexus has left at any stage of the game.
For example, let's say we play out a bunch of games as Demacia midrange against Noxus Pirates and have the same board state by round five, but with different health totals on the Demacian side.
We would be forced to play more aggressively the less health we have left, because of Noxus’ access to direct damage via Decimate – for example:
- If as the Demacia midrange deck I have 12 health left by round five, I could take my time and have an extra turn to develop a bigger board and deal with yours, giving me two token turns to win the game.
- On the other hand, if I only have 4 health left, I would be in a rush to end the game as quickly as possible, preferably on an open attack, seeing as Decimate is a slow speed spell.
These concepts of “how much time I have left to win,” based on remaining Nexus health, are a thing you learn through experience on matchups, because as much as they have a common idea as to how much damage you can take, different hand states will offer you different end results on how fast is the clock your opponent is putting you on.
Cards as a Resource
This subject may be a bit difficult to talk about efficiently since different scenarios have different interpretations, but that’s the fun about LoR theory, it’s so broad and diverse that each scenario has uniqueness to it, and that is beautiful.
There are a few different ways you can look at cards as a resource against your opponent.
One of them is simply comparing how you’re trading cards with each other. For example, if you drop Aphelios on the board and your opponent stuns him with Arachnoid Sentry and then kills him with Ravenous Flock, you’re ahead in card advantage as long as you've picked Calibrum to kill the Sentry, or Crescendum to generate a blocker big enough to deal with said Sentry.
You’re going plus one in card advantage because what happened was you’ve exchanged two cards (Aphelios and Calibrum or Crescendum vs. Sentry and Flock) with your opponent, but playing Aphelios counts as “draw 1”, as it generated a new card in your hand – card generation can be seen as card draw.
In other words, if you compare your hand before and after the play described above, then your hand is minus one in cards (Aphelios), whereas your opponent's hand is minus two (Sentry and Flock)
The above line is pretty basic and was used to instigate you into thinking “What if I had a different moon weapon?”.
Not only that, but if you used Calibrum on the Arachnoid Sentry as soon as it came down, you could do something like Guiding Touching your own Nexus to generate a second Moon Weapon to go +2 in card advantage instead.
Let's break this play down:
- You play Aphelios (-1 card in your hand, +1 card on your board)
- You generate Calibrum (+1 card in your hand)
- Your opponent uses Arachnoid Sentry to stun Aphelios (-1 card in their hand, +1 card on their board)
- You use Calibrum on Arachnoid Sentry (-1 card in your hand, -1 card on their board)
- Your opponent uses [Ravenous Flock] on Aphelios (-1 card in their hand, -1 card on your board)
- You use Guiding Touch on your own Nexus, generating the phased Moon Weapon (-1 card in your hand for playing Touch; +1 card in your hand from Touch's draw; +1 card in your hand for the generated Moon Weapon)
So, when comparing how the round started, with how the round ended after this play:
- There are no new cards on the board (they've killed Aphelios, you've killed Sentry),
- Both of you played two cards that were on your hand at the start of the round,
- Through this play you've drawn or created three cards (and played one of those created cards), putting you ahead on card advantage.
In some matchups, if you simply keep doing this and going up in card advantage on exchanges – and as long as those exchanges aren’t setting you behind in tempo – you’ll simply win by out-grinding your opponent with the amount of card advantage you have.
Attacking Hand Size
You can also look at cards as a resource if you can use your cards to constantly put your opponent in “check”.
Take the old Ahri/Kennen deck as an example of this. If you’re attacking with Ahri and Dancing Droplet, you’re putting your opponent in check. As long as you’ve done your homework and managed to get both Ahri and Droplet down with backup mana, you can start attacking your opponent’s hand size and scouting their hand.
Do they have their Sharpsight?
Do they have their Mystic Shot?
How can I better navigate their possible removal spells while also applying enough pressure to force said spells from out of their hand?
In Ahri Kennen games specifically, the game becomes a reactivity battle, where if both players have enough interaction, the game is decided on who can manage their cards better in order to force out initiative from their opponent. Ahri Kennen decks used to get around this by having one-mana Recalls to be reactively proactive while using pretty much nothing, and having this nothing generate them an advantage – Recall, when played on Dancing Droplet or Kennen, will generate or draw cards in hand, for example, while being extremely low-costed denies (recalling a unit from a spell that would kill it is basically denying the spell, and Recall does that for a mere one mana).
Attacking hand size is a concept I've recently talked about with Cephalopod when we were discussing lines, but the gist of it is that basically you can go for plays to “remove cards from the opponent’s hand” (that is to say, force your foe to play a specific card or group of cards they are likely to have), or have a better read on what your opponent’s hand looks like.
For example, let’s assume you’re playing a Targon mirror.
You’ve played one Starshaping, and you didn’t find Cosmic Inspiration but got The Great Beyond instead, while opponent only used a Solari Priestess and didn’t follow up with The Traveler or The Golden Sister yet, so you’re assuming they got a removal spell off of it.
If you have a second Starshaping in hand, you can play your The Great Beyond even as a plain 8/8 and put your opponent in “check”.
You’ll either push their Falling Comet out with it, along with something else to pop the Spellshield, or (if the card they got from the Solari Priestess was not a Comet) you’ll not only put yourself at a massive advantage, but you will also gain information on their hand.
Information is power, so to speak, and these scouting moves give us a lot of information!
Curious Shellfolk is also a good example of a deck that relies heavily on card advantage, that will run away with a game if their cards aren’t answered as quickly as possible. Viktor can work as a mini Glorious Evolution if Curious Shellfolk is on the board, and those cards can quickly seal the deal in terms of generating enough hand size and mana advantage that the opponent can just never keep up with it.
And since we’ve touched on mana…
Mana as a Resource
This is probably one of the most important resources to manage properly, since it is the one that impacts a match the most. Managing mana properly does not only mean doing efficient plays, but your opponent will make reads on your hand state based on how much you manage your mana – making them get wrong reads, or forcing them into a specific read is what can generate you a big advantage.
Also, remember it's not only about managing our resources properly…
… it's also about forcing them to mismanage theirs, and Mana is perhaps the resource where this factor comes the most into play.
The way to start grasping the “mana as a resource” concept is to analyze a small Feel The Rush line, one that has historically created many debates among good players, which is Catalyst of Aeons on round three.
Say you’re playing a Feel The Rush deck, and you’re running Catalyst of Aeons in your deck, as well as Avalanche, and your opponent knows it.
They have the attack token on odd rounds. They’ve played a one-drop on round one and another on round three, while you’ve only passed so far, sitting at 6 total mana. They face the dilemma that if they attack (and deal around 5 damage), you can have Catalyst…
… yet if they develop further, you can have Avalanche. This is what's usually called a Fork, as Card Gamer details in How to Set Up Forks in LoR.
Even though they have the priority, you’re the one who’s in control of the situation here (in cases when it’s not a matchup that will snowball the board via buffs, rendering your Avalanche useless, since you can threaten more plays).
By pressing the Pass button, you’re either inviting them into an attack that’s going to be followed by Catalyst (and will later allow an early Trundle), and you’re inviting them into playing another minion so your Avalanche gets more value.
If they pass back and end the round without attacking, you’ve basically played a fleeting three-mana, heal-five card on your Nexus (since they didn't attack, therefore with this play you've prevented such damage), while also dealing with one of the few attack tokens they have to win the game against your inevitable win conditions on Feel The Rush or She Who Wanders.
Us burning three unit mana here (our “fleeting three mana heal five”) is not a big deal for us, because those three mana aren’t setting us behind in our game plan.
You’ll start round four with full mana and a pass, keeping on strangling their board, threatening to Avalanche if it gets any bigger. If they play a one-drop, you can keep passing and tell them you’re not impressed with their board, telling them you might have Blighted Ravine or Withering Wail plus Vile Feast for their open attack. You’ve played zero cards so far, but the threat of having them has done you more than actually using these cards so far.
Now I’m not saying you should try threatening to have every card in the game, and not always your opponent will fall for it, but the better your opponent is, the more they will consider what cards you have or not in your hand.
For example, say you play Solari Priestess against a Lee Sin deck, and you don’t see a Falling Comet among the options – you still need to try and play the game out as if that card in your hand was indeed a Comet. Don’t play it unless you really need to – hold six mana while they have five unit mana left, keep strangling their hand into playing around a card that you might or not have, but they’re forced into playing around because how big of a blowout it is to get hit by it.
On the other side of this same coin, you as the Lee Sin player can sandbag Lee Sin until a later turn, where you’ll have more mana open for plays like Deny or [Bastion]], even if you happen to not have them in hand, as long as you keep four mana up – representing the threat will do you god’s work.
Keep in mind, though, that players at lower ranks tend to not play around cards, or forget to do so very often, so holding Deny mana will not always work - but as much as a line of play may not work, it doesn’t mean it was a bad play! Result-based analysis on these kinds of situations aren’t the best route, so keep in mind that whenever a play you make turns out bad, it could have still been the correct one, and the same goes the other way around - just because a line of play worked, that does not mean it was the correct one!
Now this isn’t super common knowledge but you need to plan this in advance. You can’t play a game for a few turns saying you don’t have a card to suddenly start threatening to have it in your hand. If you intend to threaten Deny, you need to set things up for it.
Let’s say you’re playing Viktor Karma against an Invoke deck and they’ve played Solari Priestess on round three, followed by an open pass with six mana on round four. Even if you might have Twin Disciplines for a Meteor Shower, the correct thing to do is to hold Viktor in hand and play him on round five, and only get him down on four if they’ve tapped under six mana.
By dropping Viktor on five with spell mana available, even if both you and your opponent burned excess mana on turn four, you’ll threaten a Deny blowout on their possible Comet while also having the Twin Disciplines out if they Meteor Shower it.
It’s not guaranteed that they will respect the Deny, though, but it definitely is correct to respect their cards as it is correct for them to respect yours.
This logic mostly applies to situations where the gamestate is relatively even and players are scraping after little advantages here and there, avoiding big blowouts that turn the game around – don’t expect your opponent to respect you having a Deny in hand if them not using their removal spell means they lose the game! It’s important to know that as much as representing a card is important, when you don’t actually have the card, you need to plan an out for when your opponent decides to pull the trigger.
The same applies to you. When you decide to represent a threat you don’t have in your hand, you need to evaluate how beneficial it is for you if your opponent respects it, or how you need to change your playstyle in order to fit the theme.
Sometimes you need to fight with the weapons you have, even if they’re susceptible to be countered or are suboptimal plays, since in these cases setting yourself behind just to represent a threat you don’t have can lose you the game in the long run.
Additionally, you need to question yourself if not going for a blowout by not playing around one card that would give your opponent a minor advantage can cause you future problems. Maybe that Akshan hitting on turn two with one spell mana, representing a Shaped Stone against your Aspiring Chronomancer, could be put in check, and if they do have the Shaped Stone, it’s one less trick in the enemy’s hand to deal with a more important card on your board.
Sure, they set you behind, but it’s a blow you can probably deal with and punish their lack of tricks later – that of course, depends on your hand state…
… but this is precisely what resource management means: what blows can you take now, that will allow you to either save resources for later, or make your foe spend resources they'll need later?
Now Let’s Do a Quick Recap
Health as a Resource:
How much Nexus damage you can take without being at risk of losing the game in order to gain a future advantage, be it by regaining board control or by extracting more value from your removal spells or board clears.
This is more prevalent in matches involving aggro and some combo decks, where their opponents need to develop their game plan with different health thresholds in mind.
Cards as a Resource
How many cards you use to deal with your opponent’s cards, looking to generate more resources than them, eventually out-grinding the game.
This is more prevalent on midrange mirrors and some control-combo decks, where one player or one deck will be able to out-grind the other through efficient card trades.
Mana as a Resource
How much extra mana you can burn, or have to hold, in order to represent a specific threat to your opponent and make them play in awkward ways, letting you dictate the game flow and rhythm.
This is more prevalent in control matchups, where the control player tries to extract as much value from their board clears as possible, or in some specific combo decks where the player represents protection to their key cards once they come down on the board.
Alright, and that was the whole article!
It’s been a blast to write this piece as many players I’ve talked to have different ideas on each concept, so I tried to condense them in the best way possible. I hope it was an insightful piece that helped you see some situations differently, and if you made it to the end, thank you a lot!
About the author
Playing LoR since beta, Masters player every season, with multiple rank 1s and 2s. Topped Seasonals twice, qualified for the Regional Worlds Qualifiers, and got way too many grassroots tops and wins to put into one single paragraph.
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