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RNG in Runeterra: The Good, the Bad, and the Meme

For his first MaRu article, SantaTCG looks back at his preparation and participation in the Regional Worlds Qualifiers, reflecting on the role of RNG in LoR and how to improve the frustrating bits.

Hello there! I'm SantaTCG – I play competitively for the Mastering Runeterra Squad. I’ve been playing LoR since beta and in that time I’ve reached top cut in Seasonals four times (Top 8 once, Top 16 once, and twice Top 32), as well as playing in both the 2021 and 2022 Regional Worlds Qualifiers.

This article was prompted by my preparation for, and playing in, said Regional Worlds Qualifiers this year. Overall, I think LoR is in an extremely healthy place and I don’t expect the World Ender expansion to change that, but I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss some concerns I have about the current state of the game, and my thoughts about the ideal use of RNG in the future. 


Another RNG hate thread! (sort of) 

I want to highlight that I really like how LoR handles RNG in general – my main goal with this article is to exemplify how we can bring the power level more in line with where I think it should be.

In particular, I think that the Domination metagame has been simultaneously one of the most demanding, but also one of the least skill-intensive metas we’ve ever had. I have seen too many incremental advantages over the course of a twenty-minute game be invalidated by Back Alley BarkeepBack Alley Barkeep rolling an extremely powerful card that is usually not playable in those regions. This type of RNG feels terrible, for both sides – win or lose, it isn’t a fun experience. I think both players in a match feel a sense of dissatisfaction when a losing match is turned into a win because someone was blessed with a Feel The RushFeel The Rush that day.

Feel The Rush

As another example: in the three sets I played at the Regional Worlds Qualifiers, I won and lost a game thanks to Ambitious CultistAmbitious Cultist's RNG.

It felt bad both times.

And I think that's the important part: this rules-defying RNG isn’t fun for anyone involved, especially in a competitive setting. 


Breaking Down the Bad

For this article, I’m going to assume that it is the developers' intent to curb the power level of random card generation and the frustration it brings, and to make for a more enjoyable back and forth between players. I know I’m not alone in my distaste for a certain deck archetype.

I’m going to list a handful of cards that are, in my opinion, the most egregious offenders, and the ways I think they could be fixed with the current card generation system. I think a lot of these cards could feel great in their current form by simply making these effects create cards from within the deck’s regions, and I’ll be sure to mention if I think that’s the case.


Seraphine BAD! Well, Actually: No

Seraphine Seraphine (level 2)

I really like SeraphineSeraphine in her current iteration. I know this might be surprising given the intro to this article, but duplicating spells is an extremely rewarding gameplan to build around and which offers a fair amount of counterplay. The cost of leveling her seems balanced given the payoff.

I rarely feel cheated by Seraphine in particular. I think that she, alongside EzrealEzreal, takes a lot of blame for the supposed toxic decks that populate the metagame. They receive this hate not because they themselves produce the frustrating type of RNG, but because they are the best ways of abusing the truly frustrating cards.

The only change I would make to Seraphine in her current state is to remove the card generation on summon. Or, if in-region generation were implemented, I would instead simply remove 1 Health point. I don’t think much more is needed to make Seraphine an exciting card to play with, for everyone involved. 


Back Alley Bar

Back Alley Bar Back Alley Barkeep

This card, on the other hand, is ridiculous. It feels terrible playing against this card, especially when it is played on curve.

I think Back Alley BarBack Alley Bar was extremely difficult to evaluate at first because it’s a six-mana landmark, which needs to be powerful to see play – but Bar goes well above and beyond. Not only does it discount ~80% of the cards you’ll play for the rest of the game, it also summons a 3/3 body that also generates at least one completely random new card (what Woke calls both uncontrolled and inconsistent RNG in his own article about Luck in LoR), with said new cards enjoying the discount that Bar provides.

That last fact is obviously the worst offender for what I'm talking about here: Back Alley Bar creates so many variables that it is simply a fool's errand to even try and play around the generated cards. Any line you take to play around your opponent having a certain card, loses to another random card that could be there. This play pattern is so infuriating that I often find myself relieved when my opponent plays the cards they got from the Bar, so I can then stop thinking about what ridiculous pull can save them in this game.

And, conversely, winning off a ridiculous Bar pull just makes me feel guilty. I didn’t outplay my opponent if I rolled a Passage UnearnedPassage Unearned to answer their The HarrowingThe Harrowing: I just didn’t deserve this win. 


Possible Solutions

That’s enough complaining, though. How do we fix this?

I like Back Alley BarBack Alley Bar's discount mechanic: a landmark that generates value in the form of a discount has a really cool risk-versus-reward angle – the specific problem with Back Alley Bar is that even if your landmark is destroyed, you are up in mana and card advantage (since even if the landmark is destroyed, you still have a 3/3 unit on the board, plus a created card in hand).

I believe this card in its current state is simply too overloaded, and its cost would probably need to be pushed to at least seven mana, but even then it would likely still see play.

Another option to curb frustration would be to region-lock the generated cards (that's to say, making it so that Back Alley BarkeepBack Alley Barkeep creates a card only from your deck's two regions, like Ferros FinancierFerros Financier does), but I also think that Back Alley BarkeepBack Alley Barkeep’s ability is fun and belongs in the game outside of a competitive environment. Nobody has an issue with The University of PiltoverThe University of Piltover because it is an inherently weak card…

The University of Piltover

… so if we push Back Alley Bar to eight mana, I think it will fit in the niche of the fun-but-not-competitive deck archetype. 

Another option, to maintain the card's flavor while reducing frustration and power level, would be to increase the cost to seven and change the summoned unit to Zaun BouncerZaun Bouncer. In this instance you could also test allowing the Bar itself to create a random card from your regions: by putting the creation effect on the Bar itself, you no longer get the inflated card advantage of multiple bars.

To reiterate: I like Back Alley Bar – it's extremely fun to build around a discounted deck, and it's a powerful landmark. But in its current iteration it simply has too much inherent RNG and value. 


Fanclub President, Oh Millie…

Fanclub President

I actually don’t hate this card. I really like the Manifest mechanic – however, I think that once again the lack of region-lock leads to a lot of extremely unfun situations.

First, I want to touch on counterplay because this is something I see a lot when talking about cards like Fanclub PresidentFanclub President. When playing against her, you can lump a lot of picks together and play around them as packages: Damage, Healing, Rally, etc. The problems arise when the opponent hits the perfect card: for example, when you’re put in a situation where you beat every board-wide spell except Withering WailWithering Wail, or when you can beat Golden AegisGolden Aegis and Blood in the WaterBlood in the Water but not ShunpoShunpo. These situations feel horrible because a lot of the time you have to choose not only what type of card you’re playing around, but also specifically what cards you can’t. This can lead to an unreasonable amount of variables.

Ferros Financier 

I’m going to compare Fanclub PresidentFanclub President with Ferros FinancierFerros Financier because I think that’s the direction I would take her.

Since there aren’t enough five-cost spells in two regions, simply region-locking would, as Woke discusses in his RNG article, actually make Millie too consistent, since her pool would be quite small. I think by changing the text to "Manifest a spell that costs 4, 5, or 6 from my regions, and reduce its cost by 2" (or maybe 3; balance is hard!) we could make the card much more fun to play against, while retaining the flavor and reducing the extremes in variance.

This would also mean that, if you want to duplicate a spell with Seraphine, you would need to choose a four- or five-cost option. These numbers could obviously be toyed with, but I like the idea of reducing the size of the card pool. 


Ambitious Cultist, Sputtering Songspinner, Crowd Pleaser, Hextech Anomaly, Encore

Ambitious Cultist Sputtering Songspinner Crowd Pleaser

Hextech Anomaly Encore

I’m lumping all of these together because they all fall in the same category of boring and frustrating design: we are simply making a new card, and finding out what it is. There are a lot of two-cost spells in the game, ranging from potentially game-winning to functionally useless. This variance sucks to play with and against, especially when paired with a cost reduction.

I think the only way to reasonably address these cards is to region-lock them, or make them more inefficient. I don’t want to see a free Troll ChantTroll Chant in my Kayn Vayne mirror, whether it's mine or the opponent’s.

There are a lot of other cards I could talk about here, but they tend to fall into the same category of breaking the established rules of the game in a way that is neither fun nor exciting. 


Good RNG! It’s not all bad! 

Time to change the tune now: after the above bit of criticism, I want to highlight some RNG cards that I think add a lot to the game in the form of replayability and strategic depth.

I’m not going to talk about Manifest because I feel like I covered it well enough in the section on Fanclub President; suffice to say that, in my opinion, Manifest is a great mechanic if the pool of cards can be reasonably anticipated.


Invoke

Starshaping Spacey Sketcher

The entire Invoke package is my favorite form of RNG. The limited pool, along with cards like Spacey SketcherSpacey Sketcher and StarshapingStarshaping further shrinking said pool, offers a lot of interesting decisions.

For example, it allows the person playing these cards to curate their options in a way to increase the odds of hitting a Crescent StrikeCrescent Strike. And, conversely, lets their opponent know that they should be playing around the possibility of that card's existence. This leads to intense mind-games of holding Invoked cards in your hand to threaten a Stun even if you failed to Invoke the particular card you're representing, and forcing your opponent to call your bluff or take a suboptimal play.


Norra and Mysterious Portals

Norra Mysterious Portal

I feel that, like a lot of people, I was reasonably worried about NorraNorra on release. However, the Mysterious PortalMysterious Portal package is extremely fun to play with. You get to plan attacks into a Norra deck based on the possibility of new blockers, and vice versa. I would say that this is on the extreme of tolerable RNG in LoR, but falls in line with unique and exciting moments that are seldom game-breaking.


Improvise

Combat Cook Pan O Pot O

Improvise is a lot like Invoke in that the limited pool creates a really fun play pattern (even if the power level can be slightly high with certain other effects). There isn’t much else to say here – I really enjoy this style of RNG.


The Howling Abyss

The Howling Abyss

This is an example of the right way to do a card with frankly outrageous RNG. The Howling AbyssThe Howling Abyss will likely never be Tier One, but it is extremely fun to play with, and can be really interesting to play against.


Wrapping Up

There’s a ton more that I could talk about, but I feel this is a really good baseline for what I think constitutes good RNG in Legends of Runeterra.

I’m a generally optimistic person when it comes to Legends of Runeterra, and I have a ton of respect for the dev team that builds and designs this beautiful game. This article is meant as constructive feedback based on a sentiment that I believe is shared by a sizable portion of the playerbase. 

If you have any feedback or comments, feel free to poke me on Twitter (@SantaTcg), or stop by my Twitch (https://www.twitch.tv/santatcg) or Youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/@santatcg). 

And thank you for reading!