Legends of Runeterra is currently offline until November 14, 2019.

Legends of Runeterra is the recently announced card game by Riot Games based on League of Legends characters and lore. The game is planned for release in Q1 of 2020, the rollout plan can be found here. Since the announcement, they have given a number of keys for a patch preview this past week to content creators (like myself) and a lucky few who won the lottery via pre-registration with increased odds for playing League of Legends or watching it streamed on Twitch.

We have a number of articles detailing Runeterra more extensively, but my goal today is to answer this question: What is Runeterra like compared to Hearthstone and why should you care?

I'd like to start by giving you some of my background with Hearthstone. It is the first collectable card game I ever played, I found it on mobile and was instantly hooked by the beautiful graphics, easily accessible gameplay, and playful nature of the cards. I began playing during Blackrock Mountain with a brief hiatus during Pirate Warrior's Reign of Terror (it was 67% of the metagame and consistently won by turn 4). I had a year of play almost exclusively in Arena before getting deeper into Standard Ranked play with the introduction of Death Knights when I hit Legend for the first time. I joined Out of Cards to share the same knowledge the community gave me when I was learning how to play the game. My ties with Hearthstone run deep and I haven't been able to find a suitable replacement up to this point. I played Auto-chess but got bored, I recognized Artifact as an overcomplicated-joke, and Magic has too much history for me to get into; Hearthstone remained king.

That changed when I played Legends of Runeterra. The other night I couldn't put it down, I played until 2:30 am for 6 hours straight. It stands a real chance of becoming my main game and this article details why.


Game Overview

Your goal in Runeterra is the same as in League of Legends: destroy the enemy Nexus. The Nexus is essentially your health pool in Hearthstone. Both players start with 20 health and 40 cards in their deck. There is an attacking phase and a defending phase that you and your opponent alternate each turn. Both players are allowed the same amount of mana and a chance to take the same number of actions each turn. We'll get into more details below.


Deck Building

Let's talk about deck building and how it is different in Runeterra.


Classes vs. Regions

Legends of Runeterra does not have Classes to build your decks around, instead, it has Regions. There are no neutral cards. There are 6 regions with their own card sets and mechanics, you are allowed to combine any two regions to build a deck. In Hearthstone, you can reasonably play around cards based on which class you are up against; but you need to play around the neutral cards as well. Runeterra displays which regions your opponent's deck hails from, allowing for similar play-around. The best comparison for decks in Runeterra is dual-class arena in Hearthstone. Dual-class arena runs every October in Hearthstone, it's the only time of year I always play arena due to the unique deck-building. Deck-building in Runeterra is best related to Hearthstone as building a dual-class deck with only class cards.


The opponent is playing Ionia and Freljord, as seen on the left side of the screen.


By the Numbers

Deck-building limitations:

  • Runeterra: 40 cards, 6 Champion limit, 3x of any card (including Champions), 2 Regions
  • Hearthstone: 30 cards, 1x Legendaries, 2x any other, 1 Class and Neutrals

How do the differences change my deck-building process?

Statistically speaking, you are much more likely to draw cards that are part of your plan in Runeterra than you are in Hearthstone. In general, the effects of cards in Runeterra is much weaker than in Hearthstone. The impact of individual cards in Hearthstone is and should be much greater due to Legendaries being 1x in every deck. This tradeoff of more consistency for less power in each card feels fair to me. In Hearthstone I am often waiting for the 1 card in my deck that will win me the game. In Runeterra my deck accomplishes what it was built to do almost every game, whether I win or lose.


Champions

Hearthstone has minions, Runeterra calls them units. Runeterra has two distinctions for units: followers and champions. Champions are your Legendary cards from Hearthstone, the most impactful ones in the game. You can combine any 6 champions from 2 regions in any deck. Champions are the most powerful cards in the game and are typically the build-around cards for your decks. Each champion functions much like quests from Hearthstone. Champions have the ability to level-up once their conditions are met, these leveled-up champions often result in winning the game.

Ezreal Card Image Fiora Card Image Braum Card Image

Upon leveling, they'll turn into...

Ezreal Card Image Fiora Card Image Braum Card Image
Note the new borders, higher stats, and no more level-up condition.

There are 24 Champions planned for the game's release, with each region getting 4 Champions. You can see them all here.


Followers

Followers are your Common, Rare, and Epic minions from Hearthstone. You can have up to 3 of any of them in your deck. Followers have a variety of keywords on them and they vary quite a bit depending on how you want to build your deck. They are region-specific and many of them form the essential body of the deck around the Champions. Some have interactions with specific Champions and others simply have powerful abilities.

See them all here and check out these examples:

Avarosan Sentry Card Image Chempunk Shredder Card Image Minah Swiftfoot Card Image

Green, Blue, and Purple - the same as Hearthstone rarities!


Spells

Spells are an essential part of the game, just like in Hearthstone, but the effects are weaker for their cost. The key difference is that spells have a speed associated with their cost. There are 3 speeds: Burst, Fast, and Slow. Burst spells are instant and can be used at any point in during one of your actions for an immediate effect, your opponent is not allowed a reaction. Burst spells are essentially cantrips (if you are familiar with this D&D term): relatively weak, but effective. Fast spells can be used during one of your actions, your opponent can also play a fast spell in reaction. A slow spell takes up an entire action and will allow your opponent to play any type of spell or a unit in response. Spells play a huge role in how combat plays out. Learning how to utilize and manipulate spells will be a huge part of the learning curve.

See them all here and check out these examples:

Radiant Strike Card Image Statikk Shock Card Image For Demacia! Card Image


Keyword Glossary

Just like in Hearthstone, Runeterra has it's own set of keywords. A few of these have direct correlations with Hearthstone, those are:

  • Last Breath = Deathrattle
  • Barrier = 1-turn Divine Shield
  • Lifesteal

Others do not. Here are the list and definitions: Keywords.


What does a turn look like?

Every action you take in Runeterra gives your opponent the opportunity for a reaction. Hearthstone presents the player with a static board to make decisions, Runeterra only gives you the choice to make one decision at a time before the opponent can respond as they wish. Runeterra gives the defender initiative to initiate trades rather than the attacker, thus improving the ability to make meaningful decisions at each stage of the game. If you play a unit (think minion), your opponent will also get to play a unit or play a Slow spell.

Runeterra has two turn phases: Attacking - indicated by the Sword icon - and Defending - indicated by the Shield icon.


Attacking

Attacking is the only phase when you are allowed to deal damage to the enemy nexus with your units. When attacking, you are first given the option to attack with any units you have on board, you can also play any Burst or Fast spells prior to attacking. Your opponent can then choose to block or play any Burst or Fast spells they wish in response. If you choose not to attack immediately, you can play a unit or spells of any speed with a limit of 1 Slow spell. Your opponent is then given the option to play a unit or their own spells with the same restrictions. You and your opponent are allowed to trade actions until you are both out of mana or you both pass. You are not required to attack, sometimes it's in your best interest not to.


Defending

When the opponent chooses to attack, you are given the option to select which one of your units defend each attacker. When blocking an attacking unit, it will not any deal damage to your nexus unless it has the keyword Overwhelm. You can respond to any attack with Burst or Fast spells prior to the attack occurring as well. Once all actions have been decided, the attack takes place.


The Spell Stack

The Spell Stack is nonexistent Hearthstone, but central to Runeterra. Spells played will be put on the stack in the middle of the board to show their order. Spells stack from right to left. Burst spells resolve, then Fast spells, and then Slow spells. For each spell speed, the leftmost will resolve first and the rightmost last. The interaction of spells plays a big role in how board states are resolved each turn in Runeterra.


Mana

Runeterra has a mana-system incredibly closely tied to Hearthstone. You are granted one per turn, some cards can give you more mana each turn as well. You get mana on attacking and defending phases, the same as your opponent. The only real difference is a special pool of mana called spell mana. Any unspent mana at the end of your turn will be added to the spell mana reservoir to be used on a later turn. Spell mana has a maximum of 3 and can only be used on spells. This allows you to use all of your mana efficiently over multiple turns and should be considered in your turn-planning each game.


Winning the Game

A game of Runeterra typically ends with you or your opponent destroying the enemy nexus, with the exception of Fiora who has a built-in win-condition when you kill 4 units with her. Most games I played in Runeterra feel like a mid-range battle for board and resources with the winner being whichever player lands the biggest board to find lethal. There are aggro decks, combos that defeat the opponent with spells, big minion pressure, and decks that out-resource the opponent. The ways you can build a deck and win games seem limitless at this point, but that is certainly going to change with the creation of a metagame when Runeterra is released. Almost every time, the better decision-maker won the game because they maximized each turn's potential.


Amassing your Collection

I will give a brief overview of my experience, but we have an article with more detailed plans from Riot here. Riot has built their economy to remove paying for random card packs. I absolutely love busting open packs, but afterwards, I feel unsatisfied that I did not get the exact cards that I wanted. If you pay for any cards in their game; you will receive specific cards or wildcards, which can be turned into any card you want of the same rarity. They still have random loot packs and bundles that you can unlock through gameplay to satisfy the thrilling, gambling itch. Additionally, for your duplicates and some gameplay rewards you can receive shards to craft cards you want for your collection. This system seems like a good balance in my opinion, but I will have to see it in practice to know for sure.

Riot has said that they plan to limit the number of wildcards you can buy each week. This should translate to a better free-to-play experience because a player has the ability to get exactly which cards they want from wildcard rewards. I'm hopeful that purchase limits will result in slower metagame development because once a player creates a deck with money-bought cards, they have to wait a week or earn more in-game before doing so again.


Conclusion

I have loved my experience with Runeterra so far. I am very sad that I can't play it beyond the Patch Preview. I can't wait for November when it opens again. I can't wait for full release of the game next year, my hype is sky-high. I will be thinking about this game and how to build decks for it in the coming months as I eagerly await its full release.

Please comment below with your questions, comments, hype, and disagreements!