With the arrival of the Legends of Runeterra Open Beta, Riot Games has officially earned that “s” at the end of Games. Given that Runeterra’s a digital card game, comparisons to Magic: The Gathering Arena and Hearthstone are natural, and it shares a lot of common mechanics and themes with both. While the reactive interplay of spells and skills borrows a lot from Magic, the overall focus on direct combat interactions (throwing Followers into each other) retains that delightful crunchiness that games like Hearthstone and Shadowverse have set the standard for.
However, if you go into Legends of Runeterra expecting it to have the same fundamental strategies and gameplay as its peers in the space, you’re going to have a really rough time. Here’s a few tips and tricks to help you get started.
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You’ve Put a Spell on Me
Legends of Runeterra’s mana mechanic is mostly identical to Hearthstone’s: you add one mana crystal to your collection a turn, maxing out at 10, and they refresh to full at the start of every turn. Runeterra, however, has a powerful wrinkle to this: you also have a spells-only mana reservoir that lets you store up to three unused crystals a turn for future use.
While this doesn’t mean you can pop out a six-mana beatstick on turn three just by hoarding up, it does have nasty implications for how combat resolves even early on. What may look like a vulnerable board can quickly turn around thanks to spells like Grasp of the Undying or Steel Tempest, making some of the most dangerous phases of the game the ones just after your opponent passed up a turn with deceptive meekness.
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Slow, Fast, Burst
Unlike Hearthstone, and more like Magic: The Gathering, “card speed” is something that matters a lot in Legends of Runeterra. The most fundamental speed, of course, is “slow,” the priority of most Followers and spells. Slow cards cannot be cast in response to anything else, and automatically given the opposing player a chance to play their own cards after yours resolve.
Notably, attackers always have the first choice for whether or not to play a Slow card on their turn. Importantly, they can also choose not to do so – and go right into attacking with whatever they have on the board instead! This actually prevents the defending player from having a chance to play their own Followers to block with – giving the attacker the opportunity to lay on the hurt.
However, the opposite is true: if the defending player opts not to play any spells to back up their blockers, the attacker can’t cast anything to support or beef up their army either, at least not until after damage is already resolved.
Fast and Burst cards, meanwhile, take pages right out of the Magic: The Gathering rulebook. Both can be cast in response to other cards, though Fast can’t be played in response to Burst – and like Slow cards, will pass priority to the other player when they resolve.
Burst cards, meanwhile, are the “fastest” of the three types of card speeds, can only be responded to by another Burst card, and do not pass priority. You can play a Burst card, and then another card of any speed afterward, so long as you still have the mana to do so.
Stay In There
Unlike both Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering, it’s really hard to fall behind in Legends of Runeterra. Both players draw a card at the beginning of the turn. Both players gain a mana crystal at the start of the turn. Though Ionia decks have ways to ramp up mana crystals faster than other factions, getting out their most expensive Followers and Champions sooner, the Spell Mana reservoir means that even non-Ionian players get access to their most powerful game-changing spells long before they reach 10 mana naturally.
Ready access to both cards and mana, and careful manipulation of your mana reservoir, means your deck design has a lot more to say about whether you can wriggle out of a tough spot than merely what’s on the board. When The Ruination can come out as early as turn six, facing down a whole army with just a pipsqueak Poro isn’t actually that daunting!
Granted, the opposite is true. Just because YOU have the army and THEY have the Poro doesn’t mean you’re not about to get badly wrecked. She Who Wanders is ever lurking just beyond your vision, waiting for you to make the wrong move…
Of course, none of these tips matter if you can’t get into the game. Until its forecasted 2020 release, access to Legends of Runeterra is restricted to three types of players: those lucky enough to find a Riot Games email in their inbox with a download link, Twitch.tv influencers like Scarra, DisguisedToast, or Hafu… and those camping streamers with a Twitch.tv profile linked to their Riot Games account. The last group of players have a random chance for access to “drop” as a reward for their attention, triggering an email to their inboxes as well.
While the initial Preview Patch is expected to close shop at the end of October 20th (today), Riot’s roadmap includes another two beta periods. Mid-November, Legends of Runeterra opens back up to closed beta testing with its Expeditions Preview patch, showcasing the game’s draft system (for Hearthstone players, think Arena). Then it returns in early 2020 for the “official” Closed Beta, including everything from Ranked matchmaking and friend challenges to cosmetic options.
Long before you log in, though, and especially before you’ve spent any in-game currency to make cards, you should probably figure out what deck you want to make. Riot Games partnered with Mobalytics as an out-of-game host for Legends of Runeterra’s cards and deckbuilder. Even if you don’t have access to the game, you can at least fantasize about the decks you will eventually build. That will have to tide you over until, finally, Riot lets us all in.