3 Most Problematic Cards and Mechanics in Legends of Runeterra
Nothing is perfect. We have heard it over and over again. And card games are certainly no exception – even with frequent updates, and as polished as LoR is, it is not without problems.
Every card game has problematic cards or mechanics that hinder playability to some extent. In Legends of Runeterra, these are effects that:
- Are extremely difficult to interact with or play around;
- Generate excessive value for too little cost;
- Prevent players from enjoying the game.
Effects that meet any of the above criteria often lend themselves to problematic play patterns or are simply damaging to the health of the game. Today I am going to leave you with my take on some of the problems that are currently floating around Legends of Runeterra and discuss some potential changes.
Since the release of Rising Tides, Unyielding Spirit has been a topic of discussion throughout the LoR community. While it is a menacing card, Unyielding Spirit is unhealthy for the game due to a lack of interaction options. The card on its own is not broken. It is simply frustrating to play against given there are so few cards that interact with it.
Ultimately, an 8-mana anything (spell, follower, champion, etc.) should come close to winning you the game. But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t have counters. At Burst speed, players facing down an Unyielding Spirit have no way to interact before it resolves and since it is a spell it can be played as early as Round 5!
Once it has resolved, there are only so many tools a player can use to deal with the Unyielding unit: Will of Ionia, Lee Sin/Dragon’s Rage, Minah Swiftfoot, Devourer of the Depths, Riptide, Detain, Purify, Strong-Arm, Hextech Transmogulator and She Who Wanders. The first three on that list belong to the same region. Devourer and Riptide are generally only being run in Deep decks. And other cards either only work on follower units or see play very rarely.
As frustrating as it can be to play against Unyielding Spirit as an experienced player, I wouldn’t be surprised if a tilting experience with the card is enough to keep newer players from returning to the game. It is a spell that is difficult enough to play around when it is expected, but when you have no idea that a card of that nature could be coming your way… That doesn’t sound fun. And even when you can gauge whether or not an Unyielding Spirit is coming… what can you do? If you’re not playing Ionia, chances are no amount of skill is going to help you remove the problematic unit.
That said, Unyielding Spirit doesn’t win games by itself. Players still need good threats worth targeting and they need the mana to do it. Skill certainly plays a role in playing both with and against this card, but at the end of the day, Unyielding Spirit simply isn’t fun to play against.
So what can be done to make this situation better? First, the team can include more ways to interact with Unyielding Spirit in the next set. More ways to do so across more region combinations would be a big boon for the game as a whole. Another potential fix is to adjust the card itself. Perhaps it needs to be a Fast speed spell. I could see the balance team changing its cost to 7 mana as well. A change of that nature would provide opposing decks with a window for interaction, but wouldn’t take away the powerful effect of the card if it can stick.
Karma represents the epitome of Control strategy in card games. A player needs only stall until turn 10, play her leveled up, and sit back while she generates endless value. As a Blue mage during my Magic: The Gathering days, this is exactly the kind of degeneracy that I enjoy; however, most players don’t and even I find myself wishing often that Karma would change. As it turns out, card games aren’t very fun when your opponent is the only one who can do anything. Who would have thought?
Don’t get me wrong, control decks need lucrative win cons and Karma certainly fits the bill. The question is whether or not she fills this role in a manner that is healthy for the overall game and player experience. In a game like Magic, many cards that generate unfair mana/card advantage become overpowered sooner or later and get banned/restricted (ex. the latest axing of Fires of Invention and Agent of Treachery). Leveled-up Karma shares some features of those.
And the recent nerf didn’t do much to change this. The nerf brought Karma’s casting cost up from 5-mana to 6-mana. I do appreciate that the balance team prefers frequent incremental changes over large but sparse ones. That said, this nerf feels like it doesn’t do much of anything.
As per the patch notes:
We want Karma to be both more difficult to protect and more taxing on your immediately available mana, so we’re bumping her cost to put more constraints on what else players can do on the turn they play Karma.
While the reasoning is sound, the action they took doesn’t quite address my main concerns about Karma. Most players are looking to drop Karma on turn 10 so she is leveled up and immediately able to duplicate spells. By that point, you can play Karma and still have up to 7 mana to cast spells. That is still plenty to be going on. Despite my affinity for infinite value and locking my opponent’s out of games, I think Karma needs another look. The biggest problem – which is exacerbated when she is paired with Ezreal – is that she allows poor play patterns to win games. Frequently her value alone is even enough to make up for mistakes made prior to playing her, which is extremely frustrating as someone who is sitting “across the table.”
Cards like Karma ultimately limit design space as developers have to constanly be mindful of cards that could push her too far. Anything that limits the potential of the game is something that I have to question should be in the game at all. Obviously, the balance team wants Karma to still feel like ‘The Enlightened One’ and they want every champion to have a viable deck, but they still have some room for iteration with Karma.
It is important that each region in Legends of Runeterra feels unique. Similarly to Magic: The Gathering’s “color pie,” each LoR region has its own original twist on strategies and mechanics to provide different playstyles to players. Card stealing is arguably the most unique mechanic that was introduced as part of Bilgewater’s repertoire.
Unfortunately, though card stealing can be extremely fun for the person playing it, the mechanic is quite frustrating to play against. Not only do players need to play around cards in the opponent’s decks, but now they have to fear of their own weapons turned against them as well. On top of this, the mechanic largely blanks Freljord decks that use the deck-buffing synergies.
That said, card stealing as a mechanic has its place in Legends of Runeterra, as it has the ability to create very interesting game states and rewards clever piloting. The mechanic brings with it a new set of skills to strengthen, particularly the ability to adapt on the fly. Players who are hoping to make use of card-stealing effects need to be capable of properly building a gameplan that involves the cards they have stolen.
Though none of the “card stealing” cards in the game currently are inherently overpowered, the mechanic as a whole needs a bit of work in my opinion. The first tweaks I would make would be to either reveal the stolen cards or steal cards from the bottom of a deck rather than the top. The former allows players to properly play around the cards that were stolen while the latter allows buff mechanics to operate properly.
Legends of Runeterra is in a great place and has a plethora of interesting interactions. There are plenty of decks that feel good to play. There are plenty of options for climbing ladder/playing in tournaments. If you haven’t already, check out my recent article on some of the best features of Legends of Runeterra to get a fuller picture of what the game has to offer.
But nothing is perfect and there is always room for improvement. As more and more cards are introduced to the game the chance for unfair (or simply unfun) interactions increases. The design and balance teams will be faced with the dilemma of whether to prioritize balance or fun and I am intrigued to see how the dance between the two shakes out as more and more cards are added to the game.
All in all, I’m impressed that there are so few major issues with the game as a whole. The open communication that the balance and design teams have put forward regarding their watchlist is refreshing and keeps players apprised of what the devs are thinking.
What do you think? Should the balance and design teams focus on creating cards that feel fun to play or fun to play against? What else should the balance team have their eyes on? Let me know in the comments here or over on Twitter @RanikGalfridian.