When Runeterran champions were introduced to Legends of Runeterra, everyone was eager to see how they would stack up. The idea of a champion being their own region was incredibly novel and interesting, and we truly had no idea where Riot would go with this concept. In this article, I will break down how Runeterran champions began, and where Jhin, Bard, Evelynn, Jax, Kayn, and Varus are now. This article is just one portion of a multi-part breakdown I'm doing to accompany a video series on my youtube channel! Part two will on how Aatrox and Ryze differ from the prior designs and I will give predictions about future Runeterran champs. Without further ado, let’s get into it!
The Evolution of Runeterran Champions - Table of Contents
- What makes a Runeterran Champion?
- Jhin, The Virtuoso
- Bard, The Wandering Caretaker
- Evelynn, Agony's Embrace
- Jax, Grandmaster At Arms
- Cultists: Kayn, The Shadow Reaper, and Varus, The Arrow of Retribution
- Closing Thoughts
What makes a Runeterran Champion?
Runeterran champions are special, and different from other LoR champions, because of their Origin Ability. This is what Riot has decided to call a Runeterran champion’s "region": through their Origin, they’re given access to certain card pools and are provided with additional effects to support their win condition – these effects range from additional nexus damage to tutoring (drawing) the champion. Riot’s take on Origins has evolved significantly over the last year and we’ve seen several different graduations of how powerful and flexible they should be, let’s get into it and break down their evolution.
Jhin, The Virtuoso
The first Runeterran champion, Jhin, had a very streamlined game plan and arguably the most power built into his Origin.
Lotus Trap does a lot for him, and is arguably the only reason why you would want to play him.
Jhin’s Origin ability, The Virtuoso, also gives him deck-building access to any unit with a skill, something you think would allow for a wide array of deckbuilding options… but as it turns out, units with skills are fairly skewed towards an aggressive or burn playstyle. This was an intentional choice on Riot’s part, obviously, but this initial foray into the design of a Runeterran champion had its problems.
The biggest issue with Jhin’s design is that he has access to exactly zero spells in his Origin card pool.
As a result, he’s further limited in what he can do and we’ll really only ever see Jhin paired with Noxus as they have the highest density of, and most effective, burn spells (Decimate, Noxian Fervor). You can, and players have, experimented with Piltover & Zaun or Bilgewater, but they’re simply a weaker version of Annie Jhin.
Players were very quick to identify this major flaw in Jhin’s design, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say he flopped on release. Due to its nature, the Annie Jhin deck is only effective when the metagame allows it to be, making Jhin a rather polarized champion. I do believe this design flaw was intentional; had Jhin been given access to damaging spells within his Origin card pool, we would have seen him nerfed into oblivion and likely still terrorizing the ladder. It’s clear that Riot wants to keep Runeterran champions in check by forcing them to make tradeoffs in the deck-building process.
The other notable thing about Runeterran champions is that they have unique Champion spells that cannot be added to your deck on their own: Jhin's champion spell is Dancing Grenade, but that's not a card you can include in your deck while deck-building (compare that to any other champions, for whom their champion spells are also spells that you can put in your deck while deckbuilding: Darius' champion spell is Decimate, Garen's champion spell is Judgment, Jinx's champion spell is Get Excited!, etc).
Jhin’s champion spell is actually on the weaker end compared to some of the new ones, but it has its moments to shine – admittedly you rarely want to draw two Jhins when playing his decks, but it’s not always the worst thing in the world: since Jhin's Dancing Grenade is a Slow-speed spell, it works in conjunction with Jhin’s Origin, The Virtuoso. This allows skilled players to set up a Lotus Trap to stall a round, or push the offensive on the following round. I think it’s really interesting that the devs decided to backload the power on this card, but it does fall in line with Jhin’s Q in League of Legends (the ability it’s modeled after). Second Bounce appears to be an incredibly strong card, but don’t forget that you paid four mana for it the round before!
All in all, Jhin’s package is very streamlined and it’s clear that his game plan is to chip away at the enemy Nexus over time while achieving his level-up in the progress, and then attempt to close out with a Curtain Call (another skill that was amazingly translated from his League of Legends kit).
Bard, The Wandering Caretaker
Our next Runeterran champion is basically Jhin's polar opposite: Bard is a general-purpose champion that can be paired alongside almost anything!
It’s clear to see that Riot decided Jhin was cool but too limited in his functionality, and they took a 180 turn with Bard. Rather than having a large region with a streamlined game plan, Bard has a few key cards that can be slotted into any deck that wants to play a board-based game. Bard's Origin, The Wandering Caretaker, adds Chimes to your deck.
Originally, Bard started planting Chimes from the start of the game, but this was later nerfed to begin at three mana gems because stats matter so much in the early game and high-rolling multiple Chimes on a one-mana unit was simply too strong (at one point in Runeterra's history, you could more or less just slap Bard onto any half-decent board-based concept, and the Caretaker would make it work). Unfortunately, Bard has seen virtually no play since his nerf, though – which is a shame, if you ask me: Bard was a very fun champ, and is simply too weak now.
While his Origin ability isn’t limiting in nature, Bard is still tied to unit-based decks as a side effect of the way Chimes work. Understanding this, the developers did give Bard a spell in his Runeterran region! Cosmic Binding may not be the most powerful card, but it does give Bard some defensive options and, as we saw in Bard Illaoi's case, a way to get some surprise damage by removing enemy units that block our Overwhelm attackers. The inclusion of a spell in Bard's regional package shows that the devs understood the drawbacks of Jhin’s design (who, as we saw, got access to exactly zero spells in his Runeterran region, since Jhin's Origin only allows you to add units) and intended to continue to iterate on what a Runeterran champion should be.
Bard’s champion spell is incredibly powerful. Like Jhin, you often did not want to draw Bard (he’s a rather low-impact round-four play) but, unlike Jhin, double-drawing Bard is very good!
And it’s clear that the devs did not want Bard to be locked into one or two region combos, or even one or two playstyles as his champ spell activates all Boons (not just Chimes!), which includes Norra’s Mysterious Portal and maybe even more Boons to come in the future. The effect of Traveler’s Call is so powerful, and works so well with his playstyle, that it seems clear to me that the developers want Runeterrans to have spells that are borderline too powerful and work to push the champion's win condition.
The developers also broke the mold in one other way with Bard: they gave him additional cards (spells in this case) in later expansions, namely Eclectic Collection and Magical Journey. With Jhin, we were sure he would get additional cards (as it would be impossible to stop releasing units with skills) but there was no guarantee that this would happen with Bard – so it was reassuring to see him get additional support down the line, even if the cards aren’t necessarily the most useful for his archetypes.
But while Bard had his (albeit problematic) time in the sun, our next Runeterran champ has yet to really find her place.
Evelynn, Agony's Embrace
If we’re talking about problematic cards, the entire design of Husks could be considered problematic. The random nature of the keyword generation can lead to Evelynn completely blowing out some strategies and games… or she can be incredibly lackluster and it all balances on the roll.
I think the idea of Husks granting stats is incredibly novel and very cool, and the fact that you can turn temporary buffs into permanent ones can lead to some very interesting deck-building choices. I’ve seen Evelynn decks with Professor von Yipp, for example – the sort of cool and novel idea that only the likes of Stolen Conch could come up with.
And Evelynn having access to spells that help progress her win condition shows that Riot wants to ensure that Runeterran champs have the tools to live out their power fantasy.
Eve’s champion spell is arguably one of the strongest cards in the game. With her impressive base stats, she’s able to deal with most major threats, and her spell doubles as a Memory's Cloak. Her champion spell, Evelynn's Last Caress, allows you to protect her, cut through blockers, or remove key threats. Its versatility and power level give Eve some much-needed power.
Jax, Grandmaster At Arms
Jax came into Legends of Runeterra alongside Equipment, and Equipment is a major part of his strength.
The unique thing about Jax is that he auto-equips The Light of Icathia, and his keywords are attached to the infamous lamppost. And, since Equipment returns to hand after the unit dies, Jax gives you permanent value even if he only hits the board once – you can drop Jax at any point in the game and feel good about it.
Jax is also the start of a new type of Runeterran champion, one with access to multiple spells, to which the devs cleverly gave the 'Weaponmaster' tag which makes them part of Jax's Origin region.
And yet, despite the advantage of having units, spells, and equipment (through his units) in his region, Jax has seen little play – he had some success with Vayne Jax, back at Vayne's heyday (when, a bit like Bard in his prime, you could more or less slap Vayne alongside anything and it would work), but vanished after Vayne's first nerf.
It’s evident that Riot wanted Jax to be versatile and have various tools at his disposal: all of the spells provided to him through his Origin, Grandmaster at Arms, work in conjunction with his Equipment theme: Blades of the Fallen lets you maintain board presence and save mana on re-equipping a unit; Catch! lets you gain surprise value and trade positively into your opponent, or cheaply equip a unit and progress Jax’s level up; Entrancing Lure allows Jax decks to take value trades while cycling in the process; Sharesies lets you cheat value out of a unit that’s destined to die, or save a unit from death by equipping it at a moment’s notice; and Parts Made Whole is undoubtedly the most efficient draw spell in the game, with its “downside” being virtually non-existent for Jax decks – there’s always a weapon around.
I believe this to be one of the best-designed champion spells in the game, it also perfectly captures his 'E' ability in League of Legends. Jax's Counter Strike is his signature move (allowing him to dodge enemy attacks) and is the perfect ability to translate into his champion spell. It works incredibly well with Jax’s game plan, and is intelligently limited to Jax himself – Jax is his own win condition, so it’s great that double-drawing him allows you to keep him protected, something his Origin region doesn’t naturally allow for. The Forge keyword attached to Jax's champion spell also helps progress his level-up condition if you’ve yet to achieve it, or just to push some additional damage if he is already leveled. And Forging The Light of Icathia also allows the stats to stick around, alongside the keywords, even if Jax is removed – were this spell not limited to being cast on Jax, it would certainly be far too strong.
With Jax we saw a clear progression in Origin region design: by adding tags to spells the developers were able to give him an extended toolkit to work with. This idea of a toolbox region was further expanded on with our next two Runeterran champions, Kayn and Varus.
Cultists: Kayn, The Shadow Reaper, and Varus, The Arrow of Retribution
I’m lumping these two champions together because they effectively share an Origin region, despite having different Origins. This was another brilliant choice by Riot to prevent players from playing both Cultist champions alongside a secondary region, something that would have been far too powerful given that their Origin ability acts as a tutored draw. If you want to play both Kayn and Varus together you can, but you’ll only have access to cultist cards and lock yourself of any of the ten major regions.
Kayn is a really interesting champion because his level-one weapon grows and carries over its growth into his level-two. He’s also the first champion with two level-up options.
As you can see above, level-two Kayn has two forms, and while they have some similarities (both have challenger and weapons that continue to grow) they serve different purposes and let you close out the game in different ways: Rhaast acts as a giant wall and lets you heal up out of burn range, whereas The Shadow Assassin lets you close out games very quickly with his attack-focused Shadow Scythe.
Kayn’s spell is just another example of the Devs identifying a potential weakness in the Runeterran champion’s game plan and attempting to shore it up with their champion spell. Due to Kayn’s Origin tutoring him, you will often see Kayn's Shadowstep played either to progress his level-up or to allow him to end the game. As Kayn is tutored through his Origin, you will sometimes know that your opponent has access to his champion spell – an interesting design choice that gives opponents room to play around it.
Varus is equally interesting because he is the first Runeterran champion to share a card pool with another. And he has some other similarities to Kayn, namely his auto-equip ability and his Origin acting as a tutored draw.
This is a really interesting way to capture Varus’ League of Legends passive and empowered 'Q' ability. In League of Legends, Varus gains (or at least used to; forgive me if this is outdated) an attack speed buff after killing an enemy, and he is also able to empower his 'Q' by clicking 'W' letting it deal even more damage and turning it into an execute
It’s amazing to me how effectively the developers have been able to translate the Runeterran champion’s League of Legends abilities – they didn’t stop there, though: the devs also wonderfully translated Varu's ultimate!
Not only is this an amazing translation of Varus’ ultimate ability in League (like every other Runeterran champ spell we’ve looked at), but it also works brilliantly with his game plan, by acting as multiple spells to charge up the bow and letting you pull high-Health units out of the way, or pull low-Health units as Varus’ blocker. Varus' Chain of Corruption all but guarantees Varus will be able to close out the game when he’s ready to.
I’ve talked up Kayn and Varus, but the real power in the Cultist region comes from the cards that Riot gave them access to – all of the units provide their champions with some form of utility, be it a way to streamline your gameplan (Forsaken Baccai), survivability (Keeper of the Box), pure value (Lunari Cultist, Shadowblade Fanatic, and Ambitious Cultist), or annoying threats to help you push damage (Buhru Cultist, Blooming Cultist, Noxian Defector, Ranger-Knight Defector, and Icevale Cultist). The Cultist region has access to any kind of unit it might want, allowing players to build their deck in whichever way they may prefer.
And the value doesn’t stop there! Cultists also have access to some of the most powerful spells in the game – Tempting Prospect, Momentous Choice, The Violent Dischord, Furious Wielder, The Sudden Surge, The Unending Wave, The Expanse's Protection, The Unforgiving Cold, Heedless Resurrection, and Utter Devastation.
As you can see, the spells are both powerful and versatile – a common theme for the Cultist region. These spells all play very nicely with the other Cultist cards, and even more so with their champions. The region has been provided with some of the best protection spells in the game, all of which enable Kayn and Varus to pop off and live out their power fantasy.
I break down my thoughts on the cultist cards a lot more thoroughly in my youtube video essay, click here to jump directly to that part of the video.
It’s clear that the devs have continued to expand their idea of what a Runeterran champion should look like, where their power should be distributed, and what they should have access to within their Origin region. When we look at the Runeterran champions that have been released thus far, we can see a clear progression in these ideas: from Jhin, who is incredibly streamlined and has all his power baked into his Origin, to Varus and Kayn, who are incredibly versatile and have most of their power baked into their toolbox region. And Riot has taken these concepts a step further with both Ryze and Aatrox whom I’m excited to break down in a future article.
I hope you've found this look into the history and development of Runeterran champions interesting, and if you did, I’d appreciate it if you could drop a like on my youtube video which covers the same topic.
Keep an eye out for part 2 of this series coming soon!
About the Author
MonteXristo has been playing the game since closed beta and is a consistent masters player. His accomplishments include having peaked in the top 20, taking first place in the “Streamer Sideboard Showdown” and LPP Riot Grand Prix. When he’s not writing for Mastering Runeterra or hosting the Squadcast he keeps his card-slinging skills sharp by playing in the Aegis eSports league, with his team, The Wobbly Wombats!