Welcome to this in-depth guide to the wackiest, swingiest, ohgimmeafrikkinbreakist PvP mode in LoR: Lab’s Ultra Rapid Draw, aka URD.
At first blush this game mode may look and feel like a deluge of coin tosses: all luck, no skill, pure chaos without rhyme nor reason. But there’s a rhyme in here, I promise, and a method to the madness, so let’s dive in!
Fortune is indeed a harsh mistress…
Games in URD are bloody, brutal, and usually short: surrendering in rounds 1 or 2 is not uncommon, and knowing when to quit is a good way to keep our mental health in this game mode.
And Lady Luck may indeed be a harsh mistress. Whacky randomness and screwball swings are very much URD's thing, but foes nuking our shrewd strategy by dumbly drawing bomb after bomb can indeed take a toll on our sanity.
But despair not! Her fickleness aside, Lady Fortune’s swings have a lot to offer:
- URD games are always fresh—wrestling victory from the cold grip of defeat by assembling, on the fly, a whacky combo no one has seen before is perhaps URD’s greatest pull.
- This mode requires a broad knowledge of most cards in LoR, and you get to play with (and against) the most powerful creatures and spells in the game.
- You’ll learn LoR’s most important skill: Passing. Good URD players pass a lot!
- Later rounds, especially when going for lethal, get deliciously complex: lots of units on board, lots of powerful cards on hand, and our foe could have anything up their sleeve. If you like the "Get lethal this turn" type of puzzles, you're in for a treat.
If intrinsic rewards are not enough to entice you, then we also have:
- Totally, wholly, 100% no-strings-attached free. No collection needed with no entry fee. From the point of view of resources, URD is objectively the best PvP mode in LoR—which makes it particularly welcoming for rookies that don't know what cards to craft just yet.
- If you do care about acquiring a vast collection and URD is great for grinding. Games are on average faster than Constructed, and grant the same XP. On top of that, if you play this mode frequently then Quests will take care of themselves. When you play so many cards it’s rare to NOT advance any given quest at least a little bit each game.
Here’s how the format works, from the nuts-and-bolts point of view:
- You draw 6 cards per round, from a fully random 60-card deck.
- Every odd round (round 1, round 3, round 5, etc…) you also get the Prolong card. You can use it to remove Fleeting (see below) from any card in your hand.
- Except Prolong, every card that enters your hand gets Fleeting (it will be discarded at the end of the round). Note that this includes not only cards you draw, but also created cards, and cards that return to your hand. (For example when your foe recalls one of your creatures from your board to your hand).
- Like all other LoR game modes, the “Max 10 cards in your hand” rule applies – if you're holding 10 cards, any other card that would enter your hand is obliterated.
- There is a weird “Deck Refill” rule that is unique to URD: If at the end of a round there are exactly 6 cards left in your deck, then at the start of the next round you’ll draw those 6 cards and your deck will be refilled with 40 new cards. If there are less than 6 cards left, though, you’ll lose the game. (Like you’ll lose the game at any other time when you try to draw from an empty deck).
- You start the game with four mana gems and three spell mana, all full.
- Unlike other game modes, you do NOT get extra mana gems each round. That’s why cards that increase your mana gems are VERY, VERY POWERFUL, as we’ll detail below.
- Other than that, mana works exactly like in other game modes: any unspent mana at the end of a round, up to a maximum of 3, will be converted into spell mana for next round.
Rest of the game:
Everything else works entirely like in other game modes, although the mechanics of Urd make cards more or less powerful. For example;
- Karma is pure hot garbage: We'll never reach her level-up condition of 10 mana gems, and the spell she creates at the end of the round gets discarded immediately,
- Whereas Sion is even more of a monster than he is in Constructed: since you discard a lot of cards each round, he’s usually levelled up by turn 3-4 (and sometimes by turn 2!)
Mana Gems rule,
Discounting is king,
And one-sided board wipes are a wonderful thing.
Big bods are nice,
Tempo is great,
But for strict card advantage don’t go out of your way.
See? Told you: there was indeed a rhyme in here! =)
Or, well, if you prefer less lyrical language, the three pillars of URD are:
- Increasing the number of cards we can play each turn, which is done by getting more mana, and by reducing our cards' cost.
- Playing around board wipes and tricking our foe to play into ours.
- Assembling a big-ass board full of big bodies to punch our foe’s face. A quick though, sometimes finesse triumphs over brute force, and we can get our kill via buffed elusives.
Never, EVER let cards that grant you more mana gems, like Voices of the Old Ones, go to waste. This is the most common mistake I notice from my adversaries—I just can’t believe the number of times I see these great cards discarded at the end of the turn. This is pretty much blasphemy in this game mode. Same goes for cards that reduce the cost of our other cards. Glorious Evolution, for example, is actually the most powerful card in the format.
Unlike in Constructed, one-sided board wipes are very much a thing in URD. Knowing how to play around them is key, and their threat makes the first couple of rounds of every game a tense, back-and-forth experience.
On the other hand, drawing cards, broadly speaking, and card advantage in general is less impactful than in other modes. Spending mana to draw cards is often not ideal: since all cards are fleeting, if we don't have enough mana left to play the cards we've drawn then we’ll discard them at the end of the round.
In other words: in URD, cards operate under a “use it or lose it” clause. The key resource to manage is mana, which can be partially saved for next turn, rather than cards.
That's also why spending two cards from our hand to get rid of just one of our foe's threats, usually known as "2-for-1ing ourselves" and is a bad thing in other game modes, is often not a big deal in URD. This can even be advantageous. For example:
- Foe pays 3 mana to play Aurelion Sol, and a huge threat that we gotta get rid of ASAP.
- We pay 0 mana for a Mystic Shot, and then 2 mana for a Vengeance.
- We are now 1 mana ahead of our opponent, and at the end of the round their card advantage will be neutralized. Because had we not used them, we would have discarded our two spells.
Although a board full of big bodies will often suffice to pound our opponent to dust, URD's bread and butter are bombs: cards so powerful that will often win the game by themselves.
As a general rule of thumb:
- If you attack on round 1, mulligan away everything that is not a straight-up bomb.
- If you defend on round 1, consider keeping some fat-assed creature in hand so that you can block/chump whatever your foe may have, and mulligan away everything else that’s not a bomb.
- Always save your early Prolongs for bombs you may draw later. It’s better to save them rather than to use them on some mediocre card you may have drawn this round. More on this later, but that’s the gist of it: Prolong = Bombs.
Cards that I would consider bombs include:
Extra mana gems (aka “ramping”)
Cards that permanently grant you extra mana gems (a Freljord specialty) are VERY strong. Their value diminishes as the game goes on, though. For example: by round 3+, if our foe is about to smash a full board into our nexus, getting ourselves an empty mana gem this round ain’t gonna stop ’em. But in the first couple of rounds these jewelers are among the most powerful cards you can play.
Three of these mighty beauties are burst spells. This means our foe can’t counter, so there’s never, EVER a good excuse to let these babies go to waste on round #1: Voices of the Old Ones, Cold Resistance, and Catalyst of Aeons.
There’s also Wolfrider, but dude’s Plunder clause is tricky to trigger early on, and since we need to attack with something else, he’s not so high on the bomb list. Still it’s very much worth a Prolong. And Wyrding Stones, although once it’s removed, which is not really hard in this game mode, the mana gem is gone.
There are a couple of creatures and landmarks that let us refill some of our mana, like The Veiled Temple, Field Musicians, Tortured Prodigy, Wizened Wizard. They are not as powerful as the gem-granting cards above since these can be removed and they are a bit harder to trigger. But very powerful nevertheless.
Similar to granting extra mana gems, cards that reduce the cost of our other cards are very powerful.
In particular, Glorious Evolution is arguably the most broken card in URD. If your foe plays it on round 1, and you don’t have a huge counter-bomb yourself, be kind to your sanity and concede. You’ll notice savvy foes doing the same if you open with GE yourself. Yep, Evolution is that gloriously powerful.
In a similar vein, Smooth Soloist is game-winning, and will sometimes elicit a straight-up concession from our opponent. Like Wolfrider, her Plunder clause makes her a bit tricky to trigger, but it’s usually game over if she does.
One-sided board wipes
At the time of this writing, one-sided board wipes (cards that kill everything on one side of the board while leaving the other side untouched) are a rarity among top tier Constructed decks. This is because they are prohibitively expensive for that format…
… but no so in URD! We ain't wearing no silk gloves in here: broken stuff is our bread and butter and this particular loaf of bread has a LOT of implications about how we play the early rounds.
First we have The Skies Descend: Pretty straightforward, will roast everything on our foe’s side if not protected by Spellshield or Barrier. Skies is also why I wouldn't rank Ruination as a bomb: while certainly powerful, and not a bad Prolong target, it is more of a sort of panic button. Savvy foes will always try to maneuver around Skies, which of course includes playing around Ruination.
Then there’s the one girl you’ll quickly learn to love, fear and hate in equal measure: Minah Swiftfoot. If our foe taps out and spends all their mana on creatures, then we can permanently remove those creatures with Minah by bouncing them back to hand. Because our foe has no mana left, they won't be able to replay those creatures and will discard them at the end of the round.
Minah and The Skies are the core reason why, when facing an experienced opponent, you’ll notice that the first couple of rounds can get quite a bit back-and-forth-y, with a lot of passing: nobody wants to be the first to commit expensive units to the board, because Skies or Minah can blow them out.
There are a couple other niche one-sided wipes, like Judgment; I find them a bit conditional to rank as bombs, but they can certainly blow out an unprepared opponent.
Big Bodies & Tempo:
Tempo is a rather slippery subject, and some of the brightest CCG minds have produced whole bookshelves on discussing and dissecting this tricky topic. Adding to said illustrious literature is outside the scope of this humble article, as such let’s keep it simple and define tempo as “board presence”, and in particular how well we convert mana into big bodies on board.
While anything big and hard to kill like Tryndamere is nice to have, the biggest bombs in this category are spells that either summon something huge (Feel The Rush), grow your whole board (Give It All), or supersize everything in your deck (The Tuskraider).
The obviously powerful stuff
Cards that normally cost 10+ are of course super-powerful: Warmother's Call, Aurelion Sol, Atakhan, Bringer of Ruin... Anything that can either produce value every turn, or generate a huge board in one action, is of course great to have.
Last but not least, we have Chief Mechanist Zevi. Everything is fleeting anyway (therefore her effect is not a downside) and we draw a lot of cards, making her a powerhouse. She’s not that hard to kill, and does nothing the turn we play her, but she’s indeed a force to be reckoned with.
Learn to Pass
As Aiden Thorne mentions in their New Player Guide, passing is a fundamental skill in LoR. In fact, as a filthy Aggro player on ladder and fairly seasoned in Expeditions, I'd risk saying that passing is more important in URD than in other game modes.
At its core, passing is about information, and knowledge is power: whomever commits/moves latest has the most information and therefore can make the best decision. And since in URD our foe could have literally anything, intel gathering is crucial.
On the other hand, by passing we risk a lot more than in other modes: if we dry-pass, and our foe passes in response and ends the round, we lose our whole hand, on top of whatever extra mana we may have, which ain’t nothing.
A few rules of thumb, although there is a ton of nuance to this subject that can only be acquired the hard way, so sprinkle salt at leisure here:
- While we want to aggressively mulligan for Bombs and Big Bodies, zero-mana spells and creatures do come in handy to pass priority to our foe without giving them the chance to end the round. Zero-mana creatures, in particular, are immune to Minah because we can replay them should she bounce them back to our hand.
- The exception to the above is Prolong: it is VERY MUCH NOT WORTH IT to spend a Prolong on some mediocre card just to pass priority. On the other hand, it’s great for passing priority if we do have a bomb that we don’t wanna play this turn, of course!
- Always be wary whenever your opponent has enough mana to cast a 3-mana spell.
- Be EXTREMELY wary when your opponent has enough mana to cast a 3-mana creature. Ignore this basic rule and Minah Swiftfoot will kick your creature's butt first, then proceed to plant her foot in yours.
- Sometimes you will need to go for it, if you attack first. In these cases, it’s often a good idea to play a strong 2-mana creature, and if your foe passes, just attack. If they play a 2- or 3-mana creature afterwards you are at least out of Minah range. There’s no way to always play around The Skies Descend, so just “make 'em have it”.
- Keep in mind that the key resources are mana and Prolong. As long as you are not too far behind on the board, it’s not a bad idea to at least consider finishing the round without playing some mediocre (i.e. 1- or 2-mana) creature or spell, in order to have extra mana next round.
Learn to Quit
While passing is the foremost skill in LoR, knowing when to quit is the foremost skill in life.
No, really. Listen to me, kid: I don’t give a damn about what Disney movies and your favorite pop star who’s never heard of Leonard Cohen have to say. They may sing about following your dreams, never giving up, losers ain't quitters, yadda yadda yadda… Poro poop and Elnuk manure, all of it.
We can’t win ’em all. That’s the cold, hard fact that card games teach us: sometimes the decks are stacked against us. We play perfectly, but our foe outdraws us, and that’s it. No point dragging the inevitable; if we can't kill our opponent this turn and they play, say, Glorious Evolution and Aurelion Sol, it’s game over and that's that. We emote our worthy foe (using the Shen emote, obviously, no need to be a dick!), surrender, and either take a break, or jump back into the fray.
URD is a bomby, swingy game mode. It is what it is. If your foe is two bombs ahead of you, just click Concede and move on. Remember: the quicker the concession, the more games we’ll play–and the more games we play, the more variance will be smoothed out.
Quick Turn-by-Turn Cheat sheet
- Always remember what Ziggs says: Small bombs are good, but big bombs are, well, bigger.
- Attack token? You need no defense, so throw away everything that’s not a big frickin' bomb.
- Defending? Consider keeping some beefy 2-drop to block the incoming onslaught, and then throw away the non-bomb rest.
- This is usually a tug-of-war to see who’s the first to go below 3 mana (i.e. out of Minah/Skies range). Zero-mana units/spells are great for slow-playing if you suspect your foe may hold a board wipe.
- Attack token and your hand is complete rubbish? Consider dry-passing and letting your foe decide to skip this whole turn.
- Attack token and your hand is decent/good? You’ll most likely be the one to go below 3 mana first, so you just might as well go down the “Make 'em have it!” route: play some strong creature right away, and then let them worry about you going face.
- Your hand is great and you've got more bombs that you can play right now? Prioritize playing mana-gaining cards this round, Prolong your other bombs, and then go from there.
- I know I've said it, but I'll say it again: Don’t waste your Prolongs on mediocre cards. Remember: Prolong = Bomb!
- It’s always a good idea to save mana for next round and even more so if you Prolong some premium removal/board wipe). Games are often decided by having one explosive round when you play a bunch of combat tricks and blow out your opponent, and you will need mana for that.
- Like the first round, but usually with just 4 mana, so less risk of being blown out by board wipes. Unless of course you did save mana, and now you can make your foe nervous! =).
- Stick to being very stingy with your Prolong—bombs only!
Round 3 and later:
- Getting Bodies on Board gets increasingly more important than extra mana gems. There will be times, especially when you’re behind on board, that you’ll just have to let a Voice of the Old Ones go since you’ll need this round’s mana for defending BoBs.
- On the other hand, if you are ahead, setting up lethal becomes a priority. Spells that can get you the kill next attack (like Atrocity, Moonlight Affliction, Battle Fury) become great Prolong targets. This is one of the more advanced URD skills: there’s lots of creative ways to get lethal!
- Pace yourself! In URD, 2 turns are forever. If you’re not dying or killing your foe this turn, then focus on playing for tempo (ie; assembling the biggest, baddest board you can and/or shrinking your foe's). Spending all your mana on a couple of combat tricks to deal a lot of damage but not enough for lethal is not always the best idea, since your foe will have this round and the next to create a huge board.
- On the other hand, somebody will draw a bomb eventually. Go for the throat if you think you have lethal, lest your foe gets lucky and nukes your board next turn.
Corner cases and niche tips
Below, a handful of special situations that won’t come up often—nothing to trouble yourself with if you are starting out, but if you already have a few URDs under your belt these may give you a tiny edge.
- The Reputation mechanic is mostly broken (in a bad way): if you trigger the Reputation clause, the cards will become more expensive, some of them literally unplayable. (A good example of this is Incisive Tactician, who will go from 3 to 6 mana.).
- Effects that consider a card’s cost will use the current cost, which will be good or bad depending on the card. For example: it makes Professor von Yipp better, and he will even boost himself since in URD he is a 1-mana card, but makes Ethereal Remitter worse because he will create a cheaper card.
- There are a couple of quirks to copying cards:
- Making an exact copy of a non-fleeting card will still create a fleeting card.
- Some of the time, a copy will get an additional discount. For example, if you use Zephyr Sage on a 2-mana card, the copy gets an additional discount and becomes a 0-mana card.
- As you play your cards, keep an eye for hints that some of your champs may be levelling up in your deck. For example, when you damage your foe’s nexus, check if Gangplank or Sejuani level up. A couple of champs are really powerful at level 2 (Lee Sin, Sion), so you may want to play a bit slower knowing you may draw them.
Aaand that’s about it, folks.
Hope these tricks help, may Lady Luck be on your side, and see you in the Lab! =)