Hey there Runeterra Aspirant, Aiden Thorne here, and today I'm writing a guide for new players to Legends of Runeterra.
In this guide, I will explain some of the most important concepts for Legends of Runeterra players to understand as they begin their journey to Master. Given the article’s focus on LoR novices, I will avoid using examples that require significant game knowledge to grasp.
Additionally, I will not be covering things that you can learn from the in-game tutorial like "What is the attack token?" I will, however, go over some general card game terminology, review important game concepts, and suggest where to focus when creating a brand new account.
Table of Contents
What Are These Fancy Words People Keep Using?
- Card Advantage
- Mana Curve
- Playing For Value Versus Playing For Tempo
Reactivity Is King In Runeterra
- The Stack — First In, Last Out
- Turn Structure of Legends of Runeterra
- Passing Is The Most Important Skill To Master
- Playing For Your Win Condition
- Game States — “Who's The Beatdown?”
- New Account Guide
- Card Economy
- Spoopy Spiders
- Helpful Additional Information
What Are These Fancy Words People Keep Using?
If you've ever read any card game related material before, you've surely run across a bunch of terms that people keep using such as tempo, card advantage, or mana curves. Some of them may be more intuitive than others, and this list is far from all inclusive, but we'll identify some of the more commonly used and important ones in this section.
In Legends of Runeterra you have various forms of resources such as mana and nexus health, but there is one that is a little less obvious, card advantage. Simply, card advantage is having more cards than your opponent; cards themselves are resources and having access to more resources than your opponent at any given time is a significant advantage.
Mana Curve refers to the concept of efficiently spending all of your mana on any given turn. As a deck building concept, this means having a distribution of card mana costs that allow you to efficiently spend all of your mana every turn.
To give a more specific example, the concept of “curving out” is when you play a one cost card on turn one, a two cost card on turn two, a three cost card on turn three, and so on.
Tempo by definition refers to the speed or rate of something. In card games, tempo translates to the speed at which one plays threats and how they control the pace of the game. Another way to think of it is as applying pressure to your opponent.
If you’ve come from other card games, you’re probably familiar with how important it can be to actually play cards in the first few turns of the game, since unspent mana is wasted. An important distinction in LoR is that the ability to convert unused mana into up to three spell mana means that unspent mana is not actually lost and can instead be utilized at a later time. This has a dynamic impact on the game’s progressions and has a profound impact on the early turns.
Playing For Value Versus Playing For Tempo
When you’re playing for value, you’re playing for card advantage. When you’re playing for tempo, you’re playing to produce mana efficient threats that force your opponent to make low value plays in response to what you do.
So now that we’ve identified a few concepts, let’s elaborate on them a bit further and see how they relate to overall deck concepts. It’s important to note that archetypes aren’t absolute: not every deck will fall into just one category. That said, archetypes do give us a general idea of what each deck is trying to accomplish and what its overall strategy is.
Runeterra archetypes tend to have a rock-paper-scissors aspect to them. As a general rule of thumb, the more early-game oriented a deck is, the more it plays for tempo. The more late-game oriented a deck is, the more it plays for value.
Aggro is an abbreviation for aggression, and as such, we generally refer to aggressive decks as aggro decks. These are very proactive decks whose goal is to win as fast as possible. They’ll be full of low cost cards that quickly apply pressure to their opponents in hopes of ending the game before their opponents are able to stabilize.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from aggro, control decks aim to outlast their opponents by playing for value and winning in the late game. They tend to be reactive, and the “pass” button is one of their most useful tools. They are often favored into aggro decks due to the presence of useful tools for dealing with units and/or healing, but they usually don’t apply enough pressure to beat combo decks.
This is the flexible archetype that falls between aggro and control. Its role varies based on the matchup, though some variants of this archetype are more favored in one direction than the other. Generally, midrange will be the aggressor against control decks and the defender against aggro decks.
Combo is an abbreviation for combination, and as the name implies, it relies on a combination of cards to execute a specific strategy that will usually result in winning the game. Combo decks are disadvantaged versus aggro decks, as pressure mounts before they are able to find all their combo pieces, but they tend to hold an advantage to the control decks, as the slower tempo allows their winning combos to come online.
Reactivity Is King In Runeterra
Now that we’ve covered the terminology, let’s really get into the skills that will help you improve. Stripped down to its most basic fundamentals, Legends of Runeterra is a game of action and response. Players take actions and then their opponents are given the opportunity to do the same. You’ll come to understand that reactivity is king due to the game’s design, giving the player who acts second an inherent advantage in most circumstances. In this section, we’ll define the stack, go over turn structure, and then elaborate on some of the most important concepts of LoR.
For starters, you may remember this from the different spell speeds part of the tutorial, but some actions do not resolve immediately and are instead placed on the stack; so let’s quickly define what the stack is and how it functions before moving on.
The Stack — First In, Last Out
The stack is the name for that area in the center of the screen where cards and effects that have yet to be resolved are lined up for visual clarity.
The Stack — Get Excited Challenge
The most important thing to remember about the stack is that it always resolves left to right and that spells and abilities placed on the stack are always placed to the left of whatever was there before them. Since the stack resolves left to right and new additions to the stack are always placed on the left, this means that whatever is played last resolves first and whatever was played first resolves last.
Turn Structure of Legends of Runeterra
In LoR, turns are called Rounds, and in each round players will alternate taking actions or passing until both players consecutively pass without performing an action while the stack is empty, in which case, the round ends. That’s a little confusing, so let’s try to break this concept down more before we delve into the intricacies of reactivity.
When a round begins, a player will receive the attack token. This player is the active player and has priority, they can either perform an action or pass. Priority then passes to the other player, who can do the same — perform an action or pass.
When both players have passed in succession without performing an action and while the stack is empty, the round will end and a new round will start.
The reason for the “while the stack is empty” contingency is because if both players pass while something is on the stack, the stack will resolve and priority will go to the player who did not initiate the original action that started the stack.
The other contingency, “without performing an action” is a little bit more specific. As you may know, burst and focus speed spells resolve immediately and do not pass priority to your opponent, but they have a more subtle interaction in regards to passing. If you cast a burst or focus speed spell before hitting pass and your opponent passes back, the round does not end and you will instead be given priority to perform an action again. This is known as “Burst Passing.” When you cast a burst or focus spell, you’ll actually notice the pass button changes to “Okay” instead of pass.
If a visual explanation of the turn structure of LoR would be more useful, check out this flowchart over on mobalytics — although I do have one minor criticism about that graphic: you don't actually need to spend mana on a unit or spell to take an action; a zero cost spell or unit is perfectly viable.
Passing Is The Most Important Skill To Master
Passing is the most deceptively high skill ceiling that LoR has to offer. Knowing when to pass efficiently can often be the difference between winning or losing.
As you can see from the way the stack functions, being the last player to resolve a spell or ability will generally result in a favorable outcome. Outside of variables like spell cost and accessibility, the player with more mana is the player most likely to be the last player to resolve a spell or ability.
This is why passing becomes so relevant — being the first player to act often creates a mana disadvantage compared to one’s opponent. This is why reactive decks will favor utilizing the pass button, even if it’s the first thing they do in a turn. Passing as your first action is known as an “Open Pass.” Before passing make sure to ask yourself, “What happens if my opponent passes back?”
Any time your opponent passes, you can pass back and end the round. When your opponent passes, you always have the option of just passing back and making them waste all of their mana for that turn. Of course, so are you, but if you have no spell mana and your opponent has full spell mana they’re losing more mana than you. If you’re a deck that doesn’t need as much mana per turn, you can utilize passing to gain incremental mana advantages throughout the game.
When you receive the attack token and have at least one unit on board, you have the option of having the first action you make that round be an attack. Attacking as your first action is known as an "Open Attack." You’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of open attacking against summoning a unit (or “developing”). By developing, you’re passing priority back to your opponent so that may summon a unit or cast a spell. There will be times when you need to consider if giving your opponent another opportunity to do something before you attack is worth it; even if it might mean a smaller attack for you.
Decks that are generally proactive have times where they can confidently pass to their opponents. Aggro decks will need to play conservatively to a degree against decks that are able to easily do damage to multiple units at once; many times passing is a better alternative to developing once you’ve established a few units, as it forces your opponent to choose between making the first move to deal with your threats or allowing your existing threats to continue attacking. If you’re in a dominant position on board and it’s your opponent’s attack token, passing forces them to make the first play, as passing back will expose them to a strong open attack.
One variant of passing that shows up less often happens during combat. If your opponent declares an attack, there are times where it is better to just hit pass and take the damage instead of declaring blockers. The reason for this is because the act of declaring blockers also results in your opponent getting priority to make an action again. This gives them the opportunity to cast spells that they otherwise would not have been able to if you had allowed the attack to resolve by passing.
Playing For Your Win Condition
When playing with or against a deck, try to identify what cards are key to winning the game. Every deck has some form of plan and it’s important to figure out what that plan is so you can make plays throughout the game that progress you towards your own goal or interrupt your opponent from accomplishing theirs.
Being intimately knowledgeable of both your own and your opponent’s deck will come with time and experience, but being able to fully grasp the nuance of what cards have the most impact in a given match is what sets apart good players from great players.
This will become more and more relevant as you improve at LoR, but you’ll find that games can often be decided in the mulligan phase by simply understanding the match up more so than your opponent. Rarely is it as simple as just mulliganing for a good curve, you want to find the cards that have the most impact in the specific match you’re in.
Ask yourself, are you just playing cards that seem good in your current situation or are you really thinking about the lines of progression and how a play will progress you towards winning? This becomes especially relevant when you’re behind in the game, you need to think about what lines of play could result in you winning; not just play cards in the hopes to stay alive — Play to win, don’t play to not lose.
Game States — “Who's The Beatdown?”
Back in the day when card games were still only played with paper, a Magic player by the name of Mike Flores wrote one of the most influential articles in card game strategic theory of all time titled “Who’s The Beatdown?” He delves into the concept that players will take on roles and that “Misassignment of Role = Game Loss.”
We’re only going to vaguely touch on this topic as it requires a lot of experience to apply, but I at least want to familiarize you with the concept that one player is going to be the “beatdown” (aggressor) and the other is going to be the “control” in any given game. Generally one deck is favored in the late game and that places the other player in the role of the beatdown where they need to be proactive and take initiative because they will inevitably lose if the game goes on too long.
Knowing whether you are the beatdown or control in a given match up is of vital importance because it fundamentally shapes how you approach that game. It gets even deeper than that, the role that a player has can change on a turn-by-turn (or even action-by-action) basis. You’ll need to reevaluate the game state as often as possible to ensure you are still taking actions that fill your given role and reach your win condition.
New Account Guide
After you've completed the mandatory tutorial, you'll find that the game will only allow you to play against the AI or do challenges until you've reached an experience threshold to unlock PvP. At this point, I strongly suggest spending the time to do all of the Challenges. Not only will they give you enough experience to completely finish the prologue reward track and unlock most of the game's features, but they will teach you more basic information about the game and explain every existing mechanic. At the very least, you should play the first nine challenges (First Battle — Ice and Wind) because these are still tutorials covering the basics of the game.
The next thing I suggest you immediately do at this point is turn off "Auto Pass" in the settings. While convenient, the amount of information provided to your opponent by having the game pass for you is not worth it.
One of LoR’s primary selling points is that it’s the most free-to-play friendly CCG on the market. You can reasonably expect to be able to make a new meta deck every two or three weeks without spending any money if you’re finishing all of your quests, and the process can be much faster than that if you’re willing to play more.
There are two primary ways to build your card collection, the “Region Road” reward track and the “Weekly Vault.” These will provide chests and capsules of varying rarities that award you with cards. You can also get up to three rewards each week from Expeditions, but we’ll go over that more later.
Upon finishing the prologue reward track, it will be replaced with the “Region Road” reward track. The Region Road is a region-focused reward track that gives rewards at certain experience thresholds. These can be seen by clicking the “rewards” tab from the home screen. Every region except Targon, Shurima, and Bandle City has bonus experience for the first 12 reward tiers.
There is no wrong way to go about these reward tracks, but there is an optimal way for newer accounts to ensure you have the resources necessary to make your first competitive deck in a timely manner. My first piece of advice is level each region (including Targon/Shurima/BC) to level 4 as your first goal. The reason for this is that there is one type of capsule in particular that you should focus on early — Wild Capsules. These are capsules that contain “Wild Cards” and those are a currency that can be traded for any card of the same rarity. Each Region Road awards a Wild Capsule at level 4.
Speaking of Wild Cards, that’s a good reason to discuss the Weekly Vault. The Weekly Vault is a scaling reward system that all of your experience throughout the week will contribute to. On Thursday of each week you’ll get a large sum of cards and shards in addition to an Expedition Token and a random Champion. I strongly suggest that you get your Weekly Vault to at least level 10 each week because at level 10 the random Champion card will become a Wild Champion Card.
The other way to get cards is through Expeditions, a game mode where players do not use their card collection and instead pick from a series of cards to build their deck. I strongly suggest against spending Shards on expeditions, but you should use your weekly Expedition Tokens even if you do not like limited game modes as you can still immediately surrender the run to receive an Epic Capsule. The rewards for this mode do not scale well, so it generally is not worth using your card crafting resource to enter.
One of the major bottlenecks can be Epic Wild Cards. While you generally do not need too many of these, you may run into the situation where you'll be forced to spend shards on epic cards to build certain meta decks. Fortunately, if you have Amazon Prime, you can link your LoR account to Prime Gaming and get a free Epic Wild Card every month.
As a general rule of thumb when it comes to optimizing experience, reroll all of your quests that award 1000 experience and try to get quests that award 1500 experience. PvP, Labs of Legends, and Saltwater Scourge all have separate bonus experience pools.
This is the first “real” deck that I suggest you work towards making. The card investment to complete it from the starting collection is relatively small and playing aggro will force you to learn many of the concepts that were covered in this guide. It’s possible to finish this deck in a few hours but for a normal person you’ll finish it within the first few days, or at the longest, a week.
Tips For Playing:
Your general plan is to try and do as much damage to your opponent’s nexus as possible with your units and then close the game out with burn damage. You’ll want to mulligan for a good mana curve of early game units as you’ll draw your burn to close it out later. You will almost always be the beatdown, the exception is against other aggro decks where roles tend to swap back and forth.
Nexus Health is a resource and should be utilized as such. The only point of health that matters is the last one; if you're above zero, you're good to go. There are minimum thresholds where some decks are able to find lethal, but as you play more and become familiar with archetypes you'll come to understand what those are. Generally speaking, as an aggro deck you'll only want to block when it's favorable and will guarantee you a better attack.
Fearsome is an extremely potent keyword, don't forget that units with less than 3 attack cannot block a unit with Fearsome. Combining Fearsome with Frenzied Skitterer’s reduction to the enemies attack can be very powerful.
Your attack order matters sometimes, but it matters the most if your opponent has a lifesteal unit. Combat resolves left to right, and wherever that lifesteal unit blocks is when the healing happens. Your attack order can make the block order awkward for your opponent so that they must block suboptimally. For example, if your opponent still has 20 nexus health, you can place the unit you want blocked by the lifesteal unit the least all the way on the left so they don't benefit from its healing if they want to make that block. Consider what might happen if you had Elise leveled and utilized the challenger from a Spiderling to force an opposing lifesteal unit to block all the way on the right of your attackers — all of the other combats would resolve first, potentially reducing your opponent's nexus to 0 before they ever get to heal at all.
You can deny strike effects such as lifesteal or “on strike” by killing your own units. In this deck, you can only do it with Noxian Fervor, but this is an important concept to keep in mind. Here’s an example from the World Championship of this concept in practice.
Helpful Additional Information
Oracle’s Eye — You can place your cursor over the little blue orb in between the two nexuses to see how the stack or combat will resolve.
Players cannot go above 20 health.
You can only play 15 spells with the same name in one round.
A maximum of 9 spells and skills can be on the stack at a time.
You can have a maximum of 10 cards in your hand.
You have six slots on the board to play units and landmarks; you can continue to play cards after that but you will need to replace the ones currently in play. Cards being replaced in this way do not count as being killed or destroyed. Units that kill or destroy your own units or landmarks will function normally instead of needing to replace a card if there is an applicable target.
Cards that say "give" refer to giving a temporary buff. Cards that say "grant" refer to giving a permanent buff.
A unit's attack stat can be a negative number but the card will continue to show 0.
You can use temporary buff spells as pseudo-healing spells, but damaged units that are buffed with temporary effects are still damaged until end of turn, after which, when their health resets to their default number, they will no longer be damaged. Pro Tip: If a damaged unit has its max health increased by a spell or ability up to or beyond its normal maximum, you can silence it to stop it from being damaged. Check out this clip from Worlds.
You can hit the pass button to "skip" during Predict if you don't like any of the choices.
Predicting shuffles your deck.
When a card says "Strongest" or "Weakest" and there is a tie, it is determined in the order of attack, health, mana cost, and then for all intents and purposes random as they have internal values that decide but these are unknown to players.
Effects that stun the Strongest or Weakest units will not target units that are already stunned.
Traps still activate even if the card drawn is “burned” by already having a full hand.
When clicking on your opponent’s decks to see their champions, they are shown in the order of most copies to least from left to right.
If you have three copies of every champion in a region, a Champion Capsule from that region will reward you with a random champion you do not already have three copies of from another region.