On Tuesday, March 30, streamer BruisedByGod interview Live Design Lead RubinZoo about the recent patches, why Sunk Cost is such a meme card, and what exactly the secret 3rd tiebreaker for "strongest" is. 

Recent Patches

Aphelios Card Image Wiggly Burblefish Card Image Buried Sun Disc Card Image

Patch 2.3 and Shurima's Debut

  • Didn't want to introduce balance changes during a big card release.
    • Reducing Aphelios's health was an exception because they knew they wanted to do that regardless.
    • Are more willing to balance during the smaller card releases.
  • Agrees with sentiments that Shurima's release was generally underwhelming, but not as bad as some players made it out to be.
    • Some Shurima cards did penetrative into the metagame (> 3% playrate or >50% winrate).
    • Part of the reason they weren't more impactful was strong existing meta decks like TF Fizz and Fiora Shen.
    • Points out that players initially felt the same on Targon's release; later reversed.
    • Also points out there are only 60-61 Shurima cards out yet.
    • There's a specific upcoming Shurima card in the 2nd release which RubinZoo thinks will be big.

Patch 2.4 ("The Shuriman desert is vast...")

  • This was not a planned cadence -- i.e., any balance changes here would have been unscheduled and require additional work.
  • Did talk about doing the Wiggly Burblefish attack reduction in 2.4 (2 weeks earlier) versus sticking with the planned cadence, but were concerned it wouldn't be enough and what the community's opinion of a "half fix" would be.
    • BBG told RubinZoo that he thinks it would have been worth doing even if it was only a partial fix.

Patch 2.5 (Balance Patch)

  • Thinks TF Fizz will still be a Tier One deck in 2.5, but they removed the "unfair" aspects like TF level up and Burblefish burst damage.
  • They were considering a 3rd nerf for Targon in Patch 2.5, but decided against it because they were already committing 2 other nerfs to Targon cards and no buffs.
  • Thinks aggro will be improved in patch 2.5.

Releasing New Cards

  • They are looking into changing how they release cards in the future.
    • Want releases to be "punchy".
  • When developing sets, they focus on archetypes like Kindred + Nasus and Sun Disc.

Introducing New Mechanics

  • When new cards introduce new mechanics (e.g., Invoke) create novel experiences, but are also more difficult to balance.
  • Want to balance between making exciting new content and keeping it equivalent power level.
  • Do make exceptions when they want to promote novel experiences & new mechanics.
    • They knew Grizzled Ranger was very strong, but they wanted to encourage players to trigger Scout.


Basilisk Rider Card Image Legion Rearguard Card Image

Unscheduled Balance Changes

  • The current balance patch cadence is only every 4 weeks excluding major card releases (e.g., Patch 2.3).
    • Riot is thinking about changing this cadence.
  • Want to avoid 2-week balance patches unless it's an emergency.
  • Riot is using the data from TF Fizz to tweak the Key Performance Indicators for what's significant enough in the future to prompt an unscheduled balance change.

Quote From RubinZoo

2 weeks for a dev does not feel like a long time, but for players that are in the trenches playing every day, two weeks is much different. Especially for casters like Boulevard who are casting the same tournament every day for two weeks, so it's something that we definitely have to keep in mind.

Ultimately, there are always gonna be trade-offs. If we're gonna choose to like put effort into doing like a certain hotfix, then a different one might not be able to make it into the game which is definitely something to keep in mind.

Goals of Live Design Balance

  • Live Design is very different from Set Design. Live Design only wants to keep things fair and diverse.
  • There's a sweet spot of when a card is good enough to play but not too good.
    • More buffs than nerfs is the goal, but "nerfs get a lot more mileage".
    • "If we had a patch that had 20 buffs but didn't impact the meta at all, that would be a huge failure".
  • Don't want to introduce a buff that creates a new meta-dominate deck like the first Basilisk Rider buff.
  • They do internally playtest balance changes before committing them and try to anticipate how the meta will change, but they can't do as much as the community.
  • Do think about how buffs will impact meta decks.
    • Part of the reason for the Legion Rearguard buff is to help Noxus aggro which should be good against Lissandra Trundle decks, a top deck that isn't getting directly nerfed.
  • Prefer stat changes since they're "less riskier".
  • There is a design ethos against "killing decks".

Quote From RubinZoo

I think what we've learned from our players is that we might want to be a bit more heavy-handed in approaches to those sorts of omnipresent meta decks. Though it's kind of weird because that's clashing against the idea that when players craft their champions, we don't really want to mess with that. We don't want to just – for lack of a better word – destroy their hard-earned hard-earned stuff. Especially because [only a percentage of players index more on the super-competitive side and are in the seasonal tournaments and grinding rank], where a lot of our players don't actually have that so there definitely can be a problem when we're sort of over-adjusting for a very specific vocal minority.

Game Philosophies

Lee Sin Card Image Zoe Card Image Shyvana Card Image

Card Draw and Card Flow

  • Agrees that card draw is a powerful mechanic but points out that card generation is often almost as good.
  • Thinks card flow (draw + generation) might be too powerful in Runeterra.
    • Card flow -> low variance -> consistent play patterns -> player frustration.
    • Runeterra doesn't have land cards like Magic the Gathering.
  • Aggro decks do a good job of not running out of steam like in other games.
  • There is a huge difference between winrates in Platinum versus Masters for decks like Lee Sin, which makes it harder to balance.

Risk Level of Champions

  • Comparing Zoe to Shyvana: would describe Zoe as low cost as she doesn't have a particular deck building requirement while Shyvana does.
    • Would prefer to improve this by focusing on reducing champion setup rather than increasing payoff.
  • Champions with level-ups that just happen (Fiora, Twisted Fate) get better over time as more cards are added; champions with niche level-up conditions (Nautilus) do not.
  • They want low-cost champions to stay relevant and be able to attack later in the game; this is part of the reason for their keywords.

Focusing on Attacking

  • Want the game to be attack-focused, but this is challenging when the defender chooses blocks.
  • The problem is versatile value decks (e.g. TF Aphelios) and concentrated disruption decks (e.g., Draven Ezreal). 
    • Such decks that don't require specific cards to level their champion and instead just focus on good cards.
    • Those decks stifle "fair" decks like Shyvana and Garen.
  • Azir and Miss Fortune are good examples of good back row champions that reward attacking in their L2 forms.

Specific Cards

Fiora Card Image Jarvan IV Card Image Sunk Cost Card Image


  • Fiora Shen was an example of a deck that's fair.
  • It also checks a lot of criteria for when archetype gets nerfed:
    • Creates frustrating situations.
    • Suppressing the new region (Fiora benefits from Sand Soldiers).

Jarvan IV

  • Didn't realize J4 doesn't progress if he attacks with Quick Attack.
    • Would consider changing J4's level up from surviving a blocker's attack to striking a blocker so it would work with Quick Attack.
    • Region identity is a factor. If Quick Attack was a core Demacia keyword, this above change would be more compelling.

Sunk Cost

  • Was 6 mana in development, but changed it to 8 so it didn't just become a new staple in all Bilgewater decks.
    • Bilgewater isn't supposed to be good at removing big units.
    • Admits that just increasing the mana until it was unappealing isn't a great solution.

Tiebreakers for "Strongest"

The Veiled Temple Card Image

  • "Strongest" is the unit with the highest power with ties broken by the following criteria in order:
    1. Highest health,
    2. Highest mana cost,
    3. A hidden serialized ID number generated when the card is played.
  • They don't promote that 3rd tiebreaker because they don't want players to be too "in the weeds".
  • Would prefer to solve this by better visualization (e.g., highlighting units) rather than publishing more rules players need to memorize.

You can watch the full interview in the video below.

A big thanks to RubinZoo for yet again publically speaking with the community and to BruisedByGod for a fantastic interview. You can follow BBG online with the below social media links:

What did you think of RubinZoo's comments? Share with us below!