Hey everyone, Jasensational here. This article will be the pilot of a six-part series geared towards newer players to teach them about the basic fundamentals of Legends of RuneTerra (and card games in general). Each article is aimed to build on each other and teach you how to think deeper behind your plays and how you pilot the game.
In this first article, we will start with one of the most important concepts: Tempo. Then we’ll dive into the different deck archetypes and how they use Tempo differently.
What is Tempo?
Like the conductor of the orchestra controlling the flow and speed of the music, Tempo in Legends of Runeterra dictates the flow of the match. Tempo is everything; it decides who is winning, who has a chance to come back into the game, and who gets blown out in a trade.
If you are unfamiliar with Tempo, you can think of it as a combination of the number of units and stats that you have on the side of the board. Tempo can be static, looking at the board in a point of time, and it can be continuous, looking at the overall development for the next few turns. You may have picked up on some lingo like, “I’m getting out-tempoed” or “that is a very low-tempo play”. Because of the way Legends of RuneTerra is balanced, with strong units, efficient combat tricks, and generally lacking removal, it is extremely important to get a good understanding of Tempo and how to use it effectively. Every deck regardless of aggro or control will need to play for Tempo at some point.
How do you gain Tempo?
Even though Tempo boils down to how many units and stats you have on the board, there are a variety of different ways to gain Tempo than simply playing down units. You can also gain Tempo by value trading, using spells to remove units, and passing to burn your opponent’s mana. Let’s break them down.
When playing units, there are two aspects to understand about Tempo. The first is the stats for mana. Not all units are created equal in the eyes of Tempo. Let’s take a look at two different three drops Ziggs and Solari Priestess. Ziggs has one of the best stat lines for three cost, coming in at a beefy 3/4 while Solari Priestess is only a 2/2. If you play Ziggs on turn three while your opponent plays a Solari Priestess, then you developed more Tempo that turn.
The second aspect is curving out. The concept of curving out means playing down units every turn to spend your mana efficiently. It could look like playing a 1-drop, 2-drop, into a 3-drop, or a 1-drop into two 1-drops, etc. Now curving out is typically a strategy for decks that do not rely on spell mana in early turns and want to generate a lot of Tempo to deal early damage to the opponent. If you are able to curve out and your opponent can not, then the early Tempo can snowball into a heavy advantage later on.
Value Trading/Using Combat Tricks
With the emphasis on board-based combat, another good way to gain a Tempo advantage is by value trading. This can either be done through the use of challengers like Laurent Protege to often gain two for one trades. Another way is to use units with quick attack, such as Sivir or Draven to force unfavorable blocks in an effort to not take too much damage. This strategy can also be used in conjunction with vulnerable granting units as well like Merciless Hunter, Hired Gun, or Rock Hopper to target key units or maximize a value trade. In a hypothetical situation, if both players’ decks consisted of 40 units each, being able to trade one unit for two of your opponents is a Tempo positive exchange.
Even in combat, it doesn’t stop there. There are a plethora of combat tricks to buff your units or debuff enemy units to gain a favorable trade. Cards like Sharpsight or Troll Chant can often dictate how trading will go and swing Tempo to the victor.
The idea of value trading, either through quick attack, stat advantages, or combat tricks, is to maintain your Tempo while decreasing your opponent’s Tempo at the same time. Once you have a Tempo lead on your opponent, it can be hard to come back from that situation.
Spells and Interaction
Outside of the board, there are still many ways to swing Tempo, such as using spells to remove the opponent’s units off the board. If your opponent plays a unit every turn, and you play a spell every turn to remove the said unit, then the opponent can not gain a Tempo advantage. In most cases, spells are usually pretty Tempo neutral. If you Mystic Shot a 2-drop and Get Excited! a 3-drop, then you are trading pretty evenly. But there are some incredibly powerful and efficient spells that can trade up in mana to allow you to develop in addition.
Some good examples of this are Culling Strike or Will of Ionia. If my opponent spends five mana to play Thresh, and I play Culling Strike in response, I’m only spending three mana to deal with his play. If this is three spell mana, then I still have at least five mana to play units and gain a considerable Tempo advantage for that turn. Similarly Will of Ionia can do the same, but with more flexibility for bigger units. It can be very advantageous to Will of Ionia a Nautilus or Aurelion Sol, netting you even bigger mana advantages on a turn. That’s why a card like Tri-beam Improbulator is really good. It not only removes an opponent’s unit but also generates one on your side of the board, which can be a massive tempo swing, often netting you the result of 10+ mana for just five.
In other cases, you can punish your opponent for overdeveloping into a board clear such as Avalanche or The Ruination, which will likely net you mana depending on how much mana your opponent spent to develop their board.
Passing and Burning Mana
This last concept of Tempo is the most conceptual and hardest to grasp of the four. We’ll cover this in length in a separate article down the line, but I want to include it here, just so that you are aware. Passing is something that doesn’t come right away to newer players, but it is one of the most powerful mechanics in Legends of RuneTerra.
If we think of Tempo as units on board, then we can think of mana as potential Tempo. In most cases, both players have mana that they want to spend, whether it be on units or combat tricks/interaction. If they don’t spend all their mana, or can’t bank all of it into spell mana, then they will “burn” the wasted mana. Have you ever been in a spot where you held up four mana for a Deny or five mana for a Concerted Strike and your opponent couldn’t play what they wanted to and had to burn their mana or make an awkward play?
If one player is efficient with their mana, not burning any of it, while the other player has a hard time spending theirs, then the efficient player already has an advantage. Again, this is a hard concept to wrap your head around, and a much harder one to execute in a game, but we will save this topic for a later article.
Now that we have a basic understanding of Tempo, let's put it into practice. With many different ways of gaining Tempo, not all decks will play towards the same strategies - all the best LoR decks, be it for ladder or Tournaments & Gauntlets, need a good grasp of Tempo, but they don't all apply it equally. When playing any deck, it's important to identify which strategy is the right one for your deck. That’s why it is important to group the decks together into archetypes. This will make it easier to identify which strategy is the right one for the deck and will make it easier when picking up new decks to be able to play them correctly.
For simplicity, we’ll have three different archetype groups that we will look at. Most decks will fall under one of these groups being: Aggro/Burn, Tempo/Midrange, and Combo/Control. While we compare the different strategies these decks use, we can take a look at how the decks are constructed to match their playstyles as well. Note that this is not a one-size-fits-all, as some decks may share strategies with different archetypes, but this will serve as a good guideline.
Poppy Ziggs has been the poster child of Aggro/Burn oriented strategies for a patch and a bit. This archetype relies on developing aggressively in early turns, getting chip damage through having a wider board than the opponent, and ending the game with burn such as Noxian Fervor and Decimate.
You’ll notice that the curve of this deck is very low, with many 1-drops and 2-drops. Because the plan is to out-tempo the opponent in the early turns, it is crucial to mulligan aggressively for lots of early game units. It’s easy to see Bandle City Mayor in a mulligan and think that it’s a decent card, synergizes with champions, and think it's a good keep. But remember our game plan. In order to maximize Tempo, we would much rather play Ziggs as a 3-drop compared to Bandle City Mayor to apply maximum damage and pressure. Ideally, you even mulligan for two to three one drops to go wide as fast as possible, so long as the opponent can’t deal with it.
Every early game turn should be thinking of how can I maximize the damage done with my units. In later turns, we can ditch the Tempo game plan and focus on burning our opponent out. Once we have the burn we need, we can just play out minions minimally to stall.
Other aggro decks may close out the game instead with rallies like Relentless Pursuit and Golden Aegis, but those will play much more aggressively for the board, as they typically lack burn.
Meta decks in this archetype include: Bandle City Gangplank Twisted Fate, Poppy Zed Elusives, most other Poppy decks.
One of the strongest decks that hit the LoR Worlds Stage: Akshan Sivir, is one of the best midrange decks currently. Midrange decks similarly will focus on developing the early game, but will generally focus on curving out into their key turns. Playing Akshan on turn two and Sivir on turn four are some of the strongest plays the deck can make.
You’ll notice that this deck does not have as many early cards as Poppy Ziggs. Instead of going super-wide, midrange decks like Akshan Sivir will usually focus on gaining Tempo through value trades, with their attackers having quick attack, or in conjunction with Merciless Hunter. In addition, a plethora of combat tricks such as Shaped Stone, Sharpsight, and The Absolver will keep your units alive turn after turn, allowing the same unit to trade into multiple of your opponents. The deck aims to stabilize, set up a strong board state by maintaining Tempo through value trades and combat tricks, then end games with leveled Sivir, Golden Aegis, and The Absolver.
Other decks in this archetype may have less of a combo finisher and instead rely on beefy bodies and high-statted units to gain favorable trades, or have ways of stabilizing to the midgame and dropping big bombs.
Meta decks in this archetype include: Ashe Nox, any Shen deck, Draven Sion.
Finally, we come to the last archetype of Control/Combo. Unlike Aggro or Midrange decks, Control/Combo decks rarely have to play for Tempo early on. Through the use of removal, healing, and board clears, Control/Combo decks can put opponents in awkward moments and make them burn mana, or just neutralize the opponent’s board. Most control decks will have some sort of “combo” win condition like Lee Sin or an “I Win the Game” button like Feel The Rush.
This is reflected by the unit count too. Instead of developing early on, they would happily pass back and forth if they were allowed to. By banking mana into spell mana, they can play reactively to what the opponent is doing. This Zoe Lee deck will use Eye of the Dragon in combination with spells like Sonic Wave and Guiding Touch to clog the board with Dragonling and stall the game until leveled Lee Sin ends things. The opponent could be at 20 health and still be in threat of a Lee Sin ending the game.
Other control decks in this archetype are much more removal-centric, featuring board clears such as Avalanche and The Ruination, or filled with interaction like Ravenous Flock, Mystic Shot, and Vengeance. There are also some decks with alternate win cons and aim to stall the game through healing or trading down the board. Note that because the definition of combo decks can be so wide, some may be more focused on playing out for tempo, but using units to trade down the board and stall until they can combo off.
Meta decks in this archetype include: Feel The Rush, Ezreal Vi Shellfolk, The Bandle Tree decks, Tahm Kench Soraka Star Spring.
Wrapping Things Up
With a good understanding of Tempo and how to gain it, we have covered the basic fundamental concept that drives each game of LoR. It’s important to identify your own game plan as each deck will want to do it differently. They may fight for Tempo early on, aim for Tempo swings, or just control the board into the late game. In the next article in this series, we will drill down on Win Conditions, and how we can achieve our own deck’s gameplan to the fullest.
And if you'd like to read more about this topie, here is Yangzera's guide on the Tempo.
Let me know what you think! You can find me at any one of these places.
Discord: Jasinsane #0246