This is Mezume, bringing to you another article that highlights underplayed cards and decks of LoR! This time, I have taken a look at the cards that are at the core of Riot’s design philosophy: the champions. In the past, developers have stated their intent to make each champion playable in at least one deck – but still, some of those fall short of the desirable play rate and power level.
I dove into some stats, backed it up by my own anecdotal evidence and discussion with my playtest group, and determined five champions that are rarely played. I also attempted to figure out why they are so unpopular.
Additionally, I will include a deck that each of them can be played in. It is hard to come up with competitive lists in this case, as there is a good reason why these champions are so underplayed. However, fans of any particular champion still deserve to have at least a somewhat viable strategy that revolves around their favorite card.
In order to make the decision on what champions to feature, I looked at the Mobalytics data for how often they are included in decks. After I’ve determined that starting range, I then omitted champions that have a clear home – an example of which can be Diana and Nocturne. Next, I gave more weight to the champions that either allow for fun deckbuilding and/or have a decent amount of following in League of Legends. Finally, I took the criteria of viability into account: some champions just do not offer enough strength or the creative potential to build around them.
Katarina is a card that has never had a place in the meta. She is a popular pick in League and loved by many. In LoR, she is a champion with probably the lowest power level and an awkward design that is very hard to balance.
- Why is she bad?
The Noxian assassin in her base form is a 3-mana 3/2, which is already a very weak stat line. While Quick Attack improves her strength a little bit, the key issue lies elsewhere. Once she attacks, she recalls herself, setting you back on tempo.
Her level-up can seem great on paper. She comes with a repeatable Rally effect, but it requires a commitment of 4 mana each time, without developing your board. The reason Relentless Pursuit is a strong card is that it is a small commitment of 3 spell mana in decks that are built to consistently achieve board advantage. Katarina is one big contradiction: she wants to have a big board for her Rally effects to matter, yet she consumes a large chunk of your unit mana for no board development at all.
- How to make her work?
As said above, Katarina benefits from having a large board. Additionally, she has synergy with recall strategies. So, essentially these two aspects of her design can be the two main ways to utilize her.
The first approach is to pair her up with a region that loves having a big board and rallying – Demacia. The other one is with Yasuo and Fae Bladetwirlers in Ionia. This is not to say she is the best possible champion for those decks; these are just lists that get the most out of her as a card.
As the list with Yasuo is quite well-known, I decided to include the Demacia Katarina strategy in this article. This particular deck runs her as a Rally engine to help close out the game alongside powerful tools such as The Grand Plaza and Cithria the Bold. Additionally, Rally gives you access to more Reforge procs via Riven, thus helping with recreating the Blade of the Exile. Overall, the list makes use of its multiple ways to gain the attack token, such as Scouts and Katarina, in order to overwhelm the opponent thanks to the Demacian landmark.
It is unlikely that Katarina will ever make her way into a meta deck strong enough to fight for high ladder placements. She does not synergize with herself and will need a big buff or even a rework to become playable at a high level. It is, however, possible to just have fun with her in lower ranks or normal games!
Yasuo is one of the most popular champions in League of Legends, but his play rate in Legends of Runeterra is on the opposite side of the spectrum. He has been tried in many concepts, but all of them have eventually failed in terms of competitive viability.
- Why is he bad?
Yasuo is a champion that enables strong synergies and boasts great stats. At first glance, there is no way he isn’t a solid card. Yet in reality, he currently is at the bottom 10 of the list of the most played champions.
The main reason for this, in my eyes, is his complete reliance on his synergies. Yasuo decks have to include cards that stun enemies, which are generally rather weak on their own and in terms of tempo/value. Without Yasuo on the board, you have a hand full of cards that do not achieve much. Likewise, having him on the board without stun/recall effects leads means he would be just a 4/4 with Quick Attack that took up a champion slot.
- How to make him work?
There were many attempts at making everyone’s favorite (or most hated) exile work. Stun cards available in Ionia, Noxus, and Targon region all seem like viable options. While none of the Yasuo decks proved to be fully competitive, there is a glimmer of hope for the champion.
As a very synergistic champion, Yasuo requires the deck to be built around him. There needs to be a certain amount of stun and recall cards to level Yasuo and use him as a strong board control tool. One other option is to include alternate win conditions to diminish our reliance on drawing the champion. This, however, is difficult, as a rather large part of the list still has to consist of cards capable of stunning or recalling.
The strategies that achieve most of the conditions above are Yasuo Swain and Yasuo Leona. These champions synergize with each other, and in both cases, there are win conditions outside of the Ionian exile himself.
In this case, I’ve featured Yasuo Leona, as I find it to be more consistent in the early game. The deck relies on Daybreak units to survive in the early stages while contributing to a Leona level-up. With her ability to stun enemy units and Rahvun’s infinite Daybreaks, it is possible to both threaten a dangerous attack or clear the board with Yasuo’s ability. In addition, there is the finishing power of Minah Swiftfoot and Infinite Mindsplitters.
All in all, unlike Katarina, Yasuo can be pretty hopeful about his future. As more and more good standalone stun and recall cards are added to the game, he will become stronger and maybe one day he can become a viable option. He has already seen some fringe competitive success with a top 16 in NA seasonal and some top cuts in notable tournaments. From where we currently stand, the future can look only brighter for the fan-favorite.
Out of all the champions on this list, Lux has seen probably the most amount of competitive play in the past. In fact, I initially was quite surprised to see how little play she currently sees according to the stats. But then I thought and realized – I actually haven’t faced a deck with this Demacian spellcaster in ages!
- Why is she bad?
To be honest, I hesitate using the word “bad” here. Lux has a good body – she comes down as a 4/5 with Barrier, which is fair considering that she has a further upside as well. Surely though, as she isn’t played almost at all, there must be something that brings her down. In my opinion there are two reasons we can look at.
First of all, she is stuck in Demacia. While she does have her own card package that is meant to synergize with her, these cards are simply not good enough to be included in competitive decks. This means that Lux always has to always ‘look for an escape’ from her own region to find a good build that works with her.
The second reason is simply the fact that she is a very slow card. She is not much of a threat until you have spent a total of 12 mana, and even then she does not win the game on the spot, like for example, Lee Sin would. Her ability helps you win slow and dragged-out games, which means her strategies need a lot of sustain.
- How to make her work?
As I mentioned before, she needs a way to sustain until the late game, as well as cards that synergize with her ability. Burst spells and other spells that allow her to create Final Sparks over and over again are absolutely necessary to make her work. She can look to pair with Shadow Isles – for the survivability, Ionia – for the combo potential with Karma, or Piltover & Zaun – for synergies with Heimerdinger.
Initially, I was going to feature a Thresh Lux list, as that one is very fun to play and allows Lux to go into extreme late-game scenarios. What changed my mind, however, was a Twitter post by Flaxeau, who shared his Lux Heimer list (that I’d like to refer to as Leimer), revolving around Tri-Beam Improbulator and The Grand Plaza.
The deck is filled with 3-mana cards such as The Grand Plaza, Sump Dredger, and Flash of Brilliance, which all help to stack Tri-Beam. Additionally, the list consists of many spells, which lets both champions generate very high amounts of value. The deck is still not the most competitive, but it is tons of fun to play and for that, I can vouch fully.
To sum it all up, I find Lux to be the strongest champion on this list, and the one that is most likely to find a home in the near future. Not only that; she is lots of fun to play and deck-build with!
This entry feels almost unnatural to me, as I am Vi’s biggest fan. But stats don’t lie; in the most recent patch, she is the least played Piltover & Zaun champion, and the overall third least played champion in all ranks.
- Why is she unpopular?
I refuse to call the Piltover Enforcer a bad card, but I can see multiple reasons why she is unpopular. First of all, she is one of the most ‘vanilla’ champions in the game, barring maybe Darius. Her design is centered around a passive ability and her level up is rather difficult to achieve reliably. She does not require her deck to be synergistic, her attack value will always increase as you play out your cards, no matter the curve. All the value she provides is in her strong Challenger body. It can be strong and desirable in the right shell, but it does not provide an exciting win condition and does not spark much creativity when building with her. Moreover, she takes up a champion slot, which is a very valuable asset you have in Legends of Runeterra.
- How to make her work?
Vi works as a strong body; if you’re playing your cards on-curve and have champion slots available, she is a great inclusion. Alas, her region is not about the curve-outs, thus there are few decks that are able to make use of her like this. This leaves us with two options: 1) lists that do not benefit from other champions and need some board interaction, and 2) decks that aim to level her up and leverage her ability through Overwhelm or multiple strikes.
The list I included above is a perfectly viable deck in a competitive sense – Veimer. This is my personal favorite, as it excels in flexibility and versatility. The deck uses Vi as a strong Challenger capable of trading with multiple cards. It also runs Guiding Touch, Pale Cascade, and Starshaping as tools that can help her survive longer. This strategy relies on Vi and Heimer to take over the midgame and finish off with a strong Celestial unit. Alternatively, you can simply overwhelm the opponent with a strong board presence.
Overall, Vi is a solid pick for almost any deck that cares about combat at least a bit. She does not add any insane power to the board, but she can be easily included in multiple strategies because of her low deckbuilding cost. It baffles me why she is so underplayed.
The newest champion on the list is the half-dragon herself. She has been buffed already since the release, but still never gained enough traction to be considered a competitive pick.
- Why is she bad?
Shyvana is a solid 4/4 body for 4 mana that becomes a 5/5 on-attack. She is an alright card on her own that can become a real menace when she levels up. Her upgraded form is really powerful – she grows to 7/7 on-attack, has Fury, and creates a Strafing Strike in hand.
The problem is that Shyvana can be only as strong as other Dragons in the game. This is the main thing holding her back; none of the dragons in the game are cheaper than her, so she cannot get any help leveling until at least turn 5.
Additionally, because a deck that includes Shyvana also has to run a considerable amount of Dragons – and preferably also strike spells – lists that want to play her are very hungry for card slots. This is problematic because this kind of an archetype is aiming to go into late mid-game or even complete late game, and it needs sustainability and ways to close out the game. Thus, her main weakness is being tied to a tribe that is not currently in a great spot.
- How to make her work?
Shyvana’s design doesn’t leave room for much creativity when deckbuilding with her. The question is not necessarily what shell she can be included in – that always has to be Dragons, and these, in turn, are tied to exactly two regions: Demacia and Targon. That means the improvements are to be made in the cards that will be in the deck.
Multiple spots are automatically taken by the stronger dragons – Screeching Dragon and Eclipse Dragon, plus strike spells such as Single Combat and Concerted Strike, and strong combat tricks like Pale Cascade. This means there isn’t a lot of wiggle room.
I have found, however, that it is best to use a more midrange shell and look to close the game out early on, rather than going for the value game plan with Aurelion Sol as top-end. The list I have featured came to be after a lot of theorycrafting and is in my opinion the most viable way to run a deck revolving around Shyvana.
Just like Yasuo, the half-dragon has high hopes for the future of LoR; the more dragons get added to the game, the higher the chance that she will be featured in a tournament-winning or ladder-topping deck.
Riot has been doing a great job at making sure every champion has a fantasy to fulfill and a deck to call home. Even less powerful champions such as Vladimir and Braum have lists where they feel very good to play. These five champions above are ones that miss the mark only slightly and for one reason or another.
There is one more champion that is worthy of a separate paragraph. Lulu. Her play rate is at the absolute bottom, yet I could not include her in this article. Why? I could not bring myself to just recycle another deck idea that is simply worse than those that already exist. As a card, she does not bring almost anything to the table. Her previous only home was destroyed and forced out of the meta by the War Chefs nerf and the power-creep of the newly released cards.
I hope this piece explained why some of the champions you love are not as strong as you may wish. For those who were looking for some fresh decks to play, I hope you’ve still found at least a bit of what you were looking for!