5 Decks That Make ‘Bad’ Champions Work
Mezume here, bringing another article that highlights some off-meta decks! This time, I took a glance at what is meant to be at the core of Riot’s design philosophy: the champions.
Quite some time ago, I featured five decks for five underplayed champions of LoR. This new article will be a little different, as now I’m going to base my selection not so much on the play rates of champions, but on their win rates.
Each of the champions included in this article has one of the lowest win rates in the game currently, but I ventured to find an interesting deck for all of them anyway. They will not be fully competitive, as there is obviously a good reason why the win- and play rates of those champions are pretty low. I will also try to briefly assess the problems that the champions might have and what the reason for their weakness or lack of power may be.
Zilean has the highest play rate among the champions included in this article, he is in the middle of the pack in regards to popularity. His win rate, on the other hand, fits well in an article about “bad” champions, hovering around 40%.
It is difficult for me to pinpoint one defining reason why he is bad. As a standalone card, he is quite strong – he creates a delayed AoE in your deck, lets you Predict, and on top of all, has a game-winning leveled form. Also, his stats are decent for a defensive backline champion.
Yet with all that, he regularly tops the lowest-win-rate charts. Much of it likely has to do with the current meta; he naturally wants for the game to go on longer, which will give him breathing room to outvalue the opponent. He is not very well-equipped to deal with early combo turns that Azirelia is capable of. But overall, I consider Zilean to be the strongest champion on the list and I expect him to see better days!
The deck I want to feature for Zilean is essentially a mashup of good cards from Shurima and Targon. Most recently brought to a Fight Night: Europe by Win by Coinflip, this is a deck that can surprise any opponent with the amounts of value it is able to output.
Zilean Zoe plays 40 cards and nearly all of them are just universally high value. You will usually want to drag a game out, regardless of the opposing decklist, which in turn means that it is a true test of skill to pilot the deck. You will get to play with many cards in your list every game, while also letting your opponent draw a large part of their list.
The game plan is flexible for this strategy, as you can adapt to what is presented to you. Both of the champions can win a game on their own once they level, so the deck packs some efficient protection in the form of Pale Cascade, Shaped Stone,
This archetype has its worst matchup against Azirelia, especially if you fail to find an early Baccai Sandspinner to deal with Azir. Being a Targon deck, it is well-positioned into Nasus Thresh and it can win against most decks if you draw the right cards at the right time and use them well. I recommend this deck to anyone who just genuinely enjoys playing LoR. It is tons of fun, requires lots of thinking, and brings a new challenge to the table.
Remember how hyped people were about Kindred when the card was revealed? Very few actually correctly predicted at the time that Kindred will end up as a complete flop (good job, Drisoth). And here we are, 3 months later – the champion is still very low on win rate and on play rate.
This has many potential reasons. First of all, Kindred is a backline champion who has 4 toughness and costs 5 mana. Asking you to Slay a unit is quite a big condition – it requires either sacrifice fodder on your side or a way to kill an enemy unit. On top of that, Kindred makes your own attacks awkward, as it is the defending player who ultimately has control over what units get marked by champion’s ability. To make matters worse, marking a unit doesn’t do anything by itself – you need to make sure Kindred survives until the end of the turn to get any value out of it.
That’s a lot of weaknesses, so.. is there even hope? There sure are things Kindred does well. They present lots of pressure on the board; if the opponent cannot kill them, they provide tons of value over time and that is what the focus is in the featured decklist.
Swain in Shadow Isles is not a novel concept. The Rekindler, plus healing and damaging spells in the region, are a fantastic way to survive until Swain and The Leviathan’s combo. Kindred’s role in this deck is entirely supportive; as I believe it is designed to be.
Kindred Swain is a slow control deck. Noxus and Shadow Isles are some of the most removal-heavy regions, with access to pings such as Vile Feast, AoE in
Kindred is here acting as additional removal – or at least as bait for opposing removal to clear the path for Swain. Kindred has a higher attack than Swain, and since The Rekindler revives the Strongest allied champion, it will prioritize Lvl 1 Kindred over Lvl 1 Swain. It seems like a predicament for us – however, in practice Kindred almost never levels, while Swain does so every game. Lvl 2 Swain will be revived over Lvl 1 Kindred – so everything actually works as we want it to most times.
While this deck might not completely focus on Kindred, it is a good place for them; they do what they are meant to: let others shine, while Kindred quietly hunt for victims.
For some, Karma is one of their favorite champions, as she allows for absolutely crazy combos and game states. For others, she brings back horrible memories of being held prisoner in hour-long games. One way or another, she has been sitting at the lowest win rate out of all champs for a long time now time and it does not seem like she’s coming back to the meta any time soon.
Why? Well, she’s been nerfed heavily. A 6-mana 4/3 is a painful sight to behold, and she doesn’t feel especially useful until her turn 10 power spike. This is where the problem really lies.
What decks even want the game to go that late?! TLC ends the game on turn 8 or 9, Azirelia – somewhere around turn 6, Nasus prefers turn 8-9 as well. Karma decks only begin to stabilize on turn 10 when she starts doubling spells to wrestle control back. Her Lvl 1 ability is fine, but it’s also nothing to write home about. The random spell could bail you out, but it could as well be a Death Mark or Shadowshift. Overall, her power level is just a bit low and, on top of all that, her decks tend to require higher piloting skills – and this is something that pulls win rates down.
For Karma’s feature, I decided to go with a blast from the past. This deck was a menace around a year ago, and it might be the single deck in the history of LoR to receive the most number of nerfs – Grizzled Ranger, Loyal Badgerbear, Karma, Will of Ionia – the list goes on. What’s interesting, many of these changes weren’t even targeting Karma Lux specifically, and were meant to address other out-of-line archetypes! This was truly one of the saddest cases of collateral damage in LoR’s live balance.
This list relies on what Karma loves the most – stalling. The deck consists of a few powerful cards such as Screeching Dragon and Egghead Researcher (which is most satisfying when it gives you another Screeching Dragon) combined with Lifesteal from Tasty Faefolk, Eye of the Dragon, and Radiant Guardian.
These, combined with some spells like Single Combat and Sharpsight are supposed to carry you to the later turns, where the goal is simple: stick Lux and leveled Karma on the board for crazy value of doubled spells, which create double the amount of Final Sparks, which are also then doubled! In order to level Lux and keep creating Final Sparks, the list needs to be a bit spell-heavy, thus the deck includes cards like Remembrance, which are alright on their own, but turn into game-winning with Karma and/or Lux on board.
It is hard for me to wholeheartedly recommend playing this on high ranks on the ladder – although I’ve won some games with it there too. It is a cute deck though and if you’re just having fun in lower ranks, somewhere in D4 or P4, or in Normal games, just queue it! For some, it can be a nice return to Karma’s past glory, while for the newer players – you can see what one of the strongest decks from a year ago looked like!
It is hard to tell if Leona really is a ‘weak’ or ‘bad’ champion because she simply isn’t played that much. Her pairing with Yasuo is alright, but he’s got other buddies in Swain and Malphite too, while Diana found Zoe as her partner in crime. Even Aurelion Sol now hangs out with Shyvana, while Leona is sort of left to dry. She’s picked up a little with Malphite’s release and I will actually feature a list that includes these two Targonian stat-stick champs.
So, is there anything wrong with Leona? Well, the thing is – she is fairly bland. She does not do anything flashy and the Daybreak package is not great at converting the stuns into winning games. Going hard on Daybreak to try and use her ability to the full potential with cards like Morning Light is also rather futile, as the archetype becomes just really predictable.
Because Daybreak is tied to only the first card played in a turn, it’s hard to be flexible with the mechanic; a huge disadvantage in a game with an initiative system like the one LoR has. And sadly, Rahvun, Daylight’s Spear feels much more like a champion in that deck than Leona. On top of that, she’s just sort of boring to play with, which definitely impacts her attractiveness in deckbuilders’ eyes; potentially hindering attempts at making her work.
I went in a bit of a different direction than usual with Leona and Malphite, as I steered away from the obvious pairings with either Demacia (for Strike effects) or Shurima (for good landmarks). Instead, thanks to the fact that Malphite now levels with only one Daybreak trigger from Eye of the Ra-Horak, I decided to pair Targon with Noxus.
The game plan goes pretty much the same as with every Daybreak deck. Play on-curve to both put some pressure on the opponent, or to stop them from running away with the game if they’re an aggro deck. In a perfect world, Leona levels on turn 4 and you can start pressuring with stuns and value trades once Rahvun hits the board.
Ideally, Malphite would come on the board leveled in the late game and break any stalemates with his Unstoppable Force. Against aggro, cards like Solari Sunforger, Solari Sunhawk,
The reason we dive in Noxus is that Ravenous Flock works very well with stuns and helps fix our bad trades into large units. Additionally, Culling Strike is the single most efficient way of dealing with Azir, the champion you will have to kill in many of your games on the ladder. If all else fails, this deck comes with a fool-proof win condition – Starshaping. Just pull The Great Beyond out of your sleeve and you’ll find yourself winning in seemingly awful situations.
The deck is not fantastic, but I found it surprisingly fun to play. It is easy to just drop Daybreak units on the board without overthinking your moves; it is a relaxing list that is also strong enough to win games – I’ve beaten a bunch of Thresh Nasus and even Azirelia players while testing the list!
Even though everyone’s favorite flamboyant gem-lover has been buffed once after his release, he failed to get any meaningful playtime. I can’t think of a single moment where he was good – I would probably have to go back to initial attempts to make him work with 4-mana Lee Sin – and even then everyone realized quickly that Taric wasn’t actually close to being the best pairing.
He has an abundance of weaknesses – many are similar to the ones that stop another support champion, Lulu, from seeing play. Taric is very weak on defense, as his ability is completely tied to attacking. He requires at least one other unit to have any value and if that wasn’t enough he needs to put himself in danger to do anything at all. His ability being “I’ve seen” also means that it’s really difficult to achieve his level up as, once again, to speed it up he needs to get in harm’s way. Sure it is really powerful, but even that is only any good on offence, preferably on open-attack. Of course, he can do some degenerate things and that’s what keeps him afloat at least in meme decks!
I said he is mostly afloat in meme decks and that is true for this one. Based on attacking multiple times in one turn with Golden Aegis thanks to Taric’s ability, this list can overwhelm others with its strong midgame presence.
The list relies mostly on the Taric + Golden Aegis combo, but of course, to get any value out of that, it needs to to wrestle board control first. This is done through Dragons, with Shyvana and Screeching Dragon both using their strong stats to put pressure on the opposing player.
Multiple Challenger units like Fleetfeather Tracker and Laurent Protege work really well with Taric’s support, as do spells like Pale Cascade,
The deck is not overly powerful, but it is able to abuse the Golden Aegis and Taric interaction which is enough to steal multiple wins – even from top-tier decks.
There’s been lots of criticism towards Riot lately, and for some valid reasons, but they do a tremendous job of making sure champions are fun to play with and fulfill their fantasies. Even ones that lose the majority of their games like Taric or Kindred are able to find some places they can call home, and many of the problems seem fixable with some number changes.
There are over 60 champions in the game currently and we are approaching what essentially will be a “full release” once the last region (whatever it is) comes to us. It is impressive that so many champions all fill some niches and are available for us to play with; here’s to hoping as more come, we will still be able to have fun with the ones that are currently leaning towards the bottom of the standings – be it on play rate or win rate.
I hope that this piece showed some interesting decks and ways to utilize your favorite champions!