Riot has been unveiling loads of titles to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the release of League of Legends. The first of those games, Legends of Runeterra, has the CCG community scrambling to try it out. How similar is it to the current card games on the market? Is it as rewarding and complex as games like Magic? Will it be as difficult and expensive to keep up with the metagame as games like Hearthstone? In this article, we will be comparing and contrasting many of the mechanics in Legends of Runeterra against many pillars of the CCG genre.
Here are a few examples of cards in Legends of Runeterra. They are structured very similarly to Hearthstone cards, with a simple mana cost and stats on the bottom. The left number is the units attack, and the right is its health. In the bottom middle each card will have its abilities. The symbol at the very bottom shows you which faction the card belongs to. I’ll be referencing different attributes of some Legends of Runeterra cards to exemplify some mechanics in this article.
Priority and Turns
The way the game handles turns and priority is very different than most people are likely used to. Players don’t really have their own traditional turn. They instead take each turn at the same time by alternating who can play a card. The turn will pass once both players pass priority without playing a card.
Both players will also draw a card every turn. This pushes the idea that it isn’t a specific player’s turn, but actually both of your turns at once. This is probably very familiar if you have played Artifact or Gwent. Those games work very similarly and I’m sure inspired Riot when designing this system.
Unlike Gwent however, you can pass priority without getting locked out of the rest of the turn. For example, if you pass priority to your opponent, then they play another card, you will then get priority back again. This allows you to get creative with your timings and will reward you if you read your opponent well.
Casting your spells and playing units
Spells are handled in a very similar fashion to Magic. Slow spells are similar to a Sorcery, Fast spells are Instants, and Burst spells essentially have Split Second. This system is different from Artifact since you are actually able to respond to slow and fast spells. Burst spells work like an Artifact spell with the “Get initiative.” text. It will immediately resolve and you will get priority back.
Like Eternal, you cannot respond to units being played. You also cannot respond to a unit ability unless it is a ‘Skill’. For example, you cannot respond to Laurent Bladekeeper making an enemy unit bigger, but you can respond to She Who Wanders trying to Obliterate the board.
Just a Few Issues
There is currently not an easy way to figure out if a unit’s ability is a ‘Skill’. You can click on the card to see, but that it is the only way to check. The Skill abilities seem to mostly be abilities that interact with the opponent. This is the oddest part of the priority system that I have encountered. However, I’m sure there will be numerous UI improvements before we get to the open beta.
There are some real downsides to this priority system, but I believe Riot does a good job of mitigating those issues as much as possible. The main problem was that priority passes so often. This can make games drag out with someone isn’t playing a brisk pace. Riot deals with this issue fairly well by having the turn timer extremely short. This timer is frustrating on tough turns, but it keeps the pace of the game quick. However, in private and competitive matches, I believe we should be able to increase the time limit or remove the timer altogether.
Mana and Spell Mana
The mana system in Legends of Runeterra is essentially the same as Hearthstone’s. You start with one mana on the first turn, then every turn you gain another until you reach ten mana. You can also accelerate this with some card effects, which are mostly found in the Freljord faction. However, even though this is very similar to Hearthstone, you will mostly only be able to attack every other turn. This makes it feel like the game progresses twice as fast as Hearthstone, since you will gain two mana instead of just one between your attacks.
Compared to Magic or Eternal, this greatly reduces variance. Less games will be decided by your opening hands alone. However, there are interesting decisions that spawn from creating a mana base that is lost in Legends of Runeterra. In my opinion, I would much rather have more consistent games.
Legends of Runeterra does take a big departure from traditional spell casting, which is the spell mana mechanic. At the end of each turn, your leftover mana is converted into spell mana. This is a small bank of three mana that can only be used on spells.
Saving some mana from the early turns can catch you up against an aggressive start from your opponent. It can also help you cast a big spell early. This causes the developers to balance the spell mana cost in ways we aren’t used to. We will have to evaluate spells a little differently than other card games.
Attacking and Blocking
Legends of Runeterra starts you at 20 health, and you will mostly defeat your opponents by attacking with your units. Combat is ripped straight from Magic and Eternal. You declare your attackers and your opponent will then choose which of their units will block. This system in general will favor the defender since they make most of the combat decisions, unlike Hearthstone where the attacker makes all of the decisions. Riot does put a few spins on this that does make combat fairly different than Magic and Eternal.
All units can attack the turn they are played. They all have haste/charge. This can seem extremely frustrating, but it’s not as bad as it may seem. In other games, most creatures give the other player a chance to interact before it is able to attack. In Legends of Runeterra, you are able to play a card after they play a unit. This lets you deploy your own unit to block immediately afterwards. This sequencing makes it feel like every unit has the Flash keyword from Magic.
This gives you a big choice when on the attacking side. You can either attack immediately and not let your opponent play another creature before yours attacks, or you can instead play another unit to try to get more damage through, but this will let your opponent potentially play another blocker.
Everything has Vigilance
There’s no tapping or exhausting your units in Legends of Runeterra. This means that units can both attack and block, similar to vigilance or endurance from Magic and Eternal respectively. This makes attacks very safe is you have board control, since they can also block if need be. One issue with Magic and Eternal is that the board can easily get into a big board stall, but giving all units vigilance can cause the player with a slight advantage to leverage that advantage without giving up their blocks.
Everything has Haste
The other mechanic stopping board stalls is the fact that unit health does not regenerate at the end of each turn. This makes units easier to deal with over a series of turns rather than only one. There hasn’t been a card game that I know of that has combined Hearthstone unit health and the Magic/Eternal attacking and blocking system. I personally enjoyed it since your chump blocks will actually matter since the damage is permanent.
Each unit can only block one attacker. There is no blocking a single large unit with more than one of your own. This removes some complexity, which is up to you if that is a good thing or not. This also makes abilities like Challenger, which is the same thing is Provoke from Magic, much better since you can just put a smaller unit in front of your Challenger. Your opponent won’t be able to block with more units to destroy your Challenger unit.
There are two separate areas of the board in Legends of Runeterra. One is the Bench, where you play new units and they wait to be sent into combat. The other zone is the Battlefield, which is where attackers and blockers are placed. Riot chose to go with a similar approach to Hearthstone, and gave both zones a limit of six units. You will only have at most six total units a majority of the time, but in some scenarios it may get a little more complicated than that.
For example, if you attack with Elise, she will make an attacking Spiderling. This lets you have more than six units in play. However, if any units tries to enter a zone that it full, it will die. This will cause your Spiderling to die if it tries to enter your full bench after combat.
The last combat mechanic that is a big departure from any other card game, is the way combat damage takes place. Damage will not occur all at once like Magic or Eternal. When attacking, you order your units from left to right. This will affect your Support abilities and which order the units will fight. Damage will happen left to right, and some abilities may trigger or change in the middle of going through combat. This gives the attacker some much more interesting decisions than just selecting a bunch of units to attack. You need to go through some possible combat sequences to figure which is the best for you.
For example, if you order Kalista’s bonded unit first in combat and it dies first, then Kalista’s damage will not go to that unit since it is already gone. Also, if you order Darius late in combat and one of your earlier units puts the enemy at 10 or less health, he will Level Up and get much bigger before he deals damage.
Something else to note about combat is that by using some card effects, you can also attack on turns you are defending. When each turn begins, the game gives the player on the attacking side an ‘attack token,’ and once they declare their attackers it uses up that token. If you play a card with the ability “Ready your attack,” it will give you a ‘attack token,’ even if you are on the defending side. Also, you can only ever have one of these tokens at a time. This can make combat fairly odd in some games since the defending player will all of a sudden be the aggressor in that turn. This mechanic does not affect the attacking and defending turn cycle.
Legends of Runeterra currently has a total of six factions to choose from when building your deck, and potentially more to come in the future. When you build a deck, you can include cards from up to two different factions. This way of deck building is very similar to Elder Scrolls: Legends, and also has some similarities to Magic. If you include mono colored decks, there are up to 21 different configurations to build your decks with.
You’re deck will always be 40 cards, and you can have a maximum of three copies of any individual cards. There are no sort of ‘Legendary’ cards like Hearthstone that limit you to just a single copy. This 40 card style is the exact same as Yu-Gi-Oh and offers a good amount of consistency without having your hands play out the exact same way every game.
The only other limitation on your deck building is your Champion slots. The Champion cards are just powered-up versions of Unit cards. These cards feature the main characters of League of Legends, and all have a level up mechanic. This makes them function as a sort of dual-faced transform card, which are mostly seen in Magic. You are limited to six total Champions in your deck, and each Champion is also limited to the normal three maximum copies.
These Champions are mostly designed so that they are good cards to build around, but normally they don’t fully take over a game once you play them. There are definitely some balance issues here and there, especially with the champions, but there is plenty of time before the open beta to balance the game out. Nevertheless, the Champions do offer good starting points in your decks and help you determine how you want your deck to function.
I won’t be diving too deep on the economy of Legends of Runeterra because we just don’t have all of the information about it at the time of this writing. However, what we do know is that Riot is doing all that they can to remove randomness from building your collection.
The first step in card collecting is choosing a faction. This will tailor your free to play unlocks toward that faction, but the rewards won’t just be exclusively from it. You will still receive normal chests and wildcards while also building up your collection of the chosen faction very quickly. If you change your mind, you can also change factions at any time, and all of your progress with each will be saved.
This progress will award a few different types of chests and wildcards. The chests are like traditional card packs, and wildcards work the same way as Magic: Arena. Each wildcard has a rarity, and you can redeem a wildcard for any card of its rarity. Overall, it seemed that you gained wildcards and these chests very rapidly, which built your collection up at a solid pace. For players familiar with Eternal’s free to play economy, this will most likely feel very similar. I don’t want to dive too deep in exact chest rewards since they are being changed very often.
Every week, each player will also be able to open their weekly Vault. The Vault has a variety of chests to open and will provide a massive boost to your collection every week. The chests in the Vault will be better the more you played Legends of Runeterra the previous week, with a current maximum Vault level of ten. Getting to the max Vault level seemed fairly attainable from my experience in the October Closed Beta, as long as you played fairly regularly. This seems like a great incentive to keep people playing.
The last part of the economy is the pay to play model. You cannot purchase the aforementioned chests. You may only purchase wildcards, and only a limited amount each week, as you can see in the image above. Riot’s reasoning behind this decision was that they did not want players to be able to have a full collection very quickly, even if they paid real money. This will make the metagame take longer to solidify, which makes the ‘discovery phase’ in card games last much longer. I have my doubts about this system panning out, but I am open to trying out the idea.
Overall, a lot of randomness in building a collection has been controlled, especially when using real money. This will give more people confidence in whether they want to spend money or not since they will always know how much they need to spend to finish their deck or collection.
In my opinion, Legends of Runeterra takes some of the best mechanics to be used in card games and combines them into one very deep game. It isn’t overly complicated, but still provides plenty of complex decision making and interesting games. They also use economy and free rewards to keep people playing each week, and they have a RNG-free pay to play model. Overall it looks like Riot is catering more towards the actual players and less towards their bottom line, and I’m pretty sure the players will take note.
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