For the longest of time, Noxian people and army have cried for a strong leader to restore the region’s power in Runeterra. And so Swain arrives in the new expansion – to begin the expansion of his own.
Here’s our rating scale:
- 5.0: Broken card. (Hecarim before the nerf).
- 4.0: Meta staple. (Zed, Karma, Deny, Cithria the Bold).
- 3.5: Good in multiple archetypes. (Stand Alone, Get Excited, Will of Ionia).
- 3.0: Archetype staple. (Corina Veraza, Anivia).
- 2.5: Role-player in some decks. (The Ruination, Fae Bladetwirler)
- 2.0: Niche card. Underpowered card, or tech card or currently from an unfleshed archetype. (Ren Shadowblade, Parade Electrorig).
- 1.0: Never sees play (Unstable Voltician, Basilisk Rider).
SWAIN – 3.5
Swain’s statline is quite satisfying, no complaints there. As a 3/6 for 5 mana, he has the exact same base values of Thresh – and you know how hard it is to work through 6 points of health sometimes! Culling Strike is the only removal spell that trades up with Swain, but that card requires a very specific meta to become actually prevalent.
The Noxian Grand General has a strong keyword ability Fearsome, and also threatens with a scary Nexus Strike clause – if unblocked, the champion will smash face for a total of six points of damage. However, connecting with him will not be a trivial task, mainly because he comes at the point in the curve where his dominance is being very much contested.
Avarosan Hearthguard, Garen, Swiftwing Lancer, Jeweled Protector are all among the premium meta 5-drops that shut Swain down. Even some of the 4-costed units can deny him a Nexus Strike – namely Crowd Favorite and Mageseeker Inciter. And the thing is, Fearsome tag doesn’t do a whole lot on a 5-drop. There’s a reason why only cheap Fearsomes have so far been a part of the meta (Precious Pet, Arachnoid Horror, Elise, Mistwraith, Frenzied Skitterer), while heavy Ferasome drops remain on the fringe at best (Legion General, Trifarian Shieldbreaker).
As such, in his Level 1 form, Swain feels pretty mediocre for a champion and doesn’t do much. But as we turn our attention to his level up condition, things become really interesting. The Noxus visionary wants you to deal ‘non-combat damage’ to progress his quest. This new in-game term accounts for all the direct and AOE damage from your spells and abilities dealt to both Nexuses – yours and theirs. It also includes in its definition single target and AOE damage dealt to the units of opponent, but also to your own. The non-combat damage is essentially another new mechanic being introduced into the game, even though it is not keyworded on the Swain card.
How hard it is to deal 12 non-combat damage in a single game? I expect that with proper deckbuilding it should be an easy task – with the tools we already have in the game. The key decision point here is to choose the right alliance. Swain can pair up with Piltover and Zaun for more controlling style of a gameplan – Mystic Shot, Get Excited, Statikk Shock, True Shot Barrage all help contain the board while advancing the quest progress. If you’re into weird stuff, you can even level Swain up with a single late-game Thermogenic Beam – hardly effective, but certainly hilarious.
Or you can pivot into midrange beatdown with Freljord. They have Avarosan Marksman, Tarkaz the Tribeless, as well as recently revealed Ember Maiden. The interaction with the last one is particularly frightening. Imagine this: you slam Ember Maiden onto the board, then you and your opponent both have 2 units out (quite a plausible scenario, right?). At the start of the next round, Maiden deals a total of six (!) non-combat damage (four to units, two to Nexuses). And then, when you then get your attack token back, your Swain is already leveled up! That’s crazy!
Accounting for a sadistically-rich toolbox of direct damage toys that Noxus have themselves (Legion & Crimson package), you can see that Swain players have plenty to choose from. Out of all the champions revealed so far (Quinn, Sejuani, Maokai), Swain certainly feels like the easiest to level up.
Okay then, now what’s the payoff? Upon ascending to his demonic form, the Noxian Grand General becomes a 4/7, still retaining a Fearsome tag. His Nexus strike ability receives a significant upgrade – Swain now sweeps the board (and enemy face) for 3 damage upon connecting. He also stuns the Strongest ‘backrow’ unit whenever you deal direct damage to the opponent’s Nexus.
Thanks to this new ability of his, leveled up Swain will have much easier time removing beefy blockers to trigger the devastating Nexus Strike clause. With the way it is worded though, with the ‘backrow’ term, the champion can stun units only outside of combat phase. Swain is limited in this way – all his stuns are – not technically, but effectively – happening at the Slow speed.
It seems that designers quite intentionally went out of their way to eliminate any possibility for Swain stuns during combat. If champion had the ability to remove blockers at Fast speed, every Overwhelm unit (of which there are lots of both in Noxus and Freljord) would present and unsolvable problem for the defending player. There’s also another notable ‘feels-bad’ interaction to account for – combat tricks fall an easy prey to reactive stuns.
One might also think that Riot aim to limit the utility of Swain on defensive turns. Thorough fast speed stuns, he could’ve potentially cast a ‘Fog’ effect on the battlefield by removing several attackers with a couple of timely direct damage effects. That interaction would obviously go against the perception of Swain as an offensive champion. Also, by the way, you see how carefully designers are tip-toeing around the leveled up Swain? It implies that his quest should be indeed quite easy to achieve!
Speaking more broadly, we now apparently have an official rules’ distinction between the ‘combat zone’ and the ‘back row’ in the game. It would be interesting to see how the developers explore this design space in the future. Still, with how it is implemented with Swain, it feels a bit gimmicky and hard to grasp at first.
Anyway, to the last question we should answer here – how do we think Swain will be positioned in the meta, which archetypes will feature him? Once again, I really feel like he can shine in a Noxus/PnZ control deck. Currently there are Draven/Ezreal builds floating around that try to tackle the meta in a different way compared to Karma/Ezreal. The biggest difference is that they are quite good at pressuring greedy lists, but can also burst them out if the match goes long. Swain fits into that kind of a gameplan quite well and could easily replace Ezreal – their quests are different, but the means remain the same. And with the help of a few more late-game bombs (see The Leviathan), Swain is perfectly able to close out the game.
And then there’s also one fabled Freljord/Noxus midrange dream – what a deck it shapes out to become! With the introduction of Sejuani, Ember Maiden, Swain, and a few of the cards we will talk about below, the archetype will certainly shake off its memey reputation for good!
NOXIAN FERVOR – 3.5, RAVENOUS FLOCK – 3.0
These are the two spells revealed alongside Swain card, but we currently have no confirmation about which one is actually the champion spell. My personal theory is that they both are. You see, Noxian Fervor supports level 1 Swain and his quest, while Ravenous Flock goes nicely along with level 2 stun synergies. Could it be that the champion spell card changes up after Swain upgrades?
Anyway, both cards are quite efficient in their respective fields of use. Noxian Fervor lends itself to Get Excited and Glimpse Beyond comparisons at first, but I feel like it’s closest to Single Combat when it comes to the play patterns. Just as with Demacia fight spell, you will only ever play it proactively when your opponent is tapped out and you have a high health unit to target. But more often, you would just hold on to Noxian Fervor as a purely reactive spell. The opponent goes for Grasp of the Undying – you’re there to deny the healing and retaliate with 3 points of damage. Same for any kind of targeted removal really – Noxian Fervor flips the value proposition just as Single Combat does. Noxian Fervor is an amazing interaction piece and the region really needed something like that.
The same goes for Ravenous Flock, though this kind of removal is a bit more conditional and so will see use in a more narrow range of decks. Yasuo players are obviously ecstatic, and Swain/Freljord decks will probably also maindeck a few copies without much hesitation. In the deck that can easily enable it, cost-to-effectiveness ratio on Ravenous Flock is through the roof.
IMPERIAL DEMOLITIONIST – 4.0
Everyone seems to be in love with this cute character for now, but I wonder how long before the passion turns sour? Because what I see looks like one of the most broken aggro cards in the game.
You don’t even need to be in the obviously-synergistic Crimson archetype – Imperial Demolitionist following up on Legion Rearguard, Hapless Aristocrat or even Yeti Yearling still feels pretty bonkers to me! Now let’s explore 2-drops – Crimson Disciple, Cursed Keeper, Ruthless Ranger, Boomcrew Rookie… And then, accounting for Swain, Sejuani, Braum and Vladimir quests, it becomes scary how easy it is to make a profit from self-pings. But as I’ve said, this card is still good even when it doesn’t generate additional value!
The only measly downside to Imperial Demolitionist is that her play ability goes on the stack and can be interacted with. Don’t quote me on that, but I believe you can fizzle the ability by removing the target of the ping; however, removing Demolitionist itself at Fast speed will not do it. The interaction here should work similar as with Ledros and Yone, whose abilities will still resolve even if those units themselves leave the board.
CITYBREAKER – 1.0
I doubt that even focused Swain decks will find a good use for this clunky engine. Playing this on turn 4 just to get 1 direct damage to Nexus at the start of the next round feels awful. Legends of Runeterra combat system is unique in a sense that creatures have no summoning sickness – but Citybreaker still somehow does, or so it feels like. The inability to threaten as a four drop is killing this card. Sure, it can block – but how many, two times? Will your ever feel safe to block with it if you want it as an engine? To get your mana investment back you would look to reliably deal 5 Nexus damage with Citybreaker – and that’s a big ask. At least give it Tough or something to enable self-damage a bit better, I don’t know, but for now it feels useless and overcosted.
THE LEVIATHAN – 2.5
An epic name for an epic card, I very much dig that. Still, 5 attack value at 8 mana – so very late in the game – will rarely appear as truly overwhelming. So I wonder – how often the play pattern of this card would involve just holding it back defensively for a while as an engine?
This is also probably why we have a neat ‘tutor for Swain’ effect. It probably goes like this – it’s your attacking round, you slam The Leviathan, get your Swain, which has already been leveled up throughout the game. On the next defensive turn, you slam the champion, use your board to suffocate the last attack of the enemy. Then it is back to you, the battlecruiser in tandem with Swain stuns most of their board, the Noxus Grand General gets in – and it is pretty much done. The Leviathan feels like it can break up board stalls quite nicely. For starters, I would experiment with one copy of it in the deck – that is if you also run a three-of Swain.
Thanks for reading! Do you think I’ve misrated any of the cards? Feel free to let me know in the comments below and stay tuned for more spoiler discussion & ratings at RuneterraCCG.com!