Hand Reading: Play With Their Hand Revealed

Hello, Agigas here! I’m a competitive Legends of Runeterra player, with several tournament wins and #4 ladder peaks. Today, I wanted to talk about one of the main skills necessary to master the game – hand reading. I think this skill is often overlooked by players because of its complexity. However, it is often the biggest difference between a good player and an excellent player.

In this article, I will go over the different kinds of hand reading with examples provided and will leave with some puzzles at the end for you to hone your skills. Hand-reading is a skill that you can develop over time – and it will be useful at any level. This is an advanced concept, so it will take some time to take in and apply the principles laid out here in your games. Focus on making yourself comfortable with the most simple reads first (The Ruination, Deny), and look to attempt more and more reads on different cards as you get better with the concept.


Click to inspect the Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Cards they don’t have
    • Take note of the opportunities they didn’t take
    • Take note of characteristic play patterns tied to certain cards
  • Cards they do have
    • Keep track of created and tutored cards
    • Analyze questionable plays and changes of behavior
    • Combine your reads throughout the game
  • Limitations of hand-reading
    • The opponent’s draws
    • The opponent’s misplays
    • Bluffing
  • Puzzles
  • Conclusion

“Hand reading” is the skill of deducing the cards the opponent has/doesn’t have in their hand. In order to do so, you need to analyze your opponent’s plays and know their deck very well.

The precision of hand reading that can be achieved can vary from the simple estimation of a wide range of cards to naming the exact cards the opponent has in hand. What really fascinates me about hand reading is how high the skill-ceiling is. If you really dig deep into the concept it can radically change the way you think about the game and make you a way better player. There is always room for improvement in that skill.

Better hand-reading means having access to more information. Having precise and accurate information about your opponent’s hand is a massive advantage, as it will enable you to play exactly around the cards they have and not to play around the cards they don’t have. It is not a rare occurrence to win an entire game thanks to a game-changing hand-read, especially if you know how to capitalize on it.



  • Take note of the opportunities they didn’t take

One of the first and easiest ways to approach hand reading is by taking note of the opportunities the opponent doesn’t take. To illustrate, here are some of the simple examples of such situations:

  • You have a large board against an opponent who has The Ruination in their deck.
  • You play a big and impactful spell against Ionia when they have Deny mana.
  • You try to remove a key unit against a deck with protection cards.
  • You have a key unit on the board that your opponent wants to remove.
  • Your opponent has a window to play a key card that would make their gameplan progress significantly.

When your opponent passes on a key opportunity likes the ones above and makes a weaker play instead, you can make the assumption that they don’t have the necessary tools. Let’s look at an example below.


Example: I am playing as Fiora/Shen against Scouts. Miss Fortune already has seen 2 attacks and could level up on the very next turn. She is a priority target, and I know my opponent would do anything to protect her.

My opponent has 2 mana open and they just passed on the opportunity to protect Miss Fortune with a Brightsteel Protector. Because Brightsteel Protector would have been such a perfect play, I can easily deduce that my opponent doesn’t have one in hand.

This is a piece of very valuable information, as it’s the only way for Scout to punish me for not open-attacking with my Challenger units. In the next turns, I will use this information and take my time to develop my board before attacking.

In the very next action of the game, I challenge their Miss Fortune with Fiora. My opponent lets the combat resolve. In this spot, my opponent would have certainly played a combat trick (Sharpsight, Ranger’s Resolve) on their Miss Fortune if they had one, to save her and level her up on the next turn. I can deduce that they don’t have one in hand, and I will not play around those powerful combat tricks in the next turns.

At the start of the next round, my opponent plays the card that is the second one to the far-left of their hand. This means that the left-most card they just topdecked, which I don’t have a read on, could theoretically be one of the previous cards I eliminated from my hand-read.

However, it doesn’t mean that I lose the entire value of my previous read. I still know that the other 3 cards in their hand can’t contain a card I eliminated with my hand read on the previous round. My opponent still has a very low chance to have either Brightsteel Protector, Sharpsight, or Ranger’s Resolve, and they can’t have more than one of these cards.

This last example showcases a limitation of reads on what the opponent doesn’t have: these reads lose value as the game goes on because of the draw. They aren’t entirely set in stone.

Keeping track of when the opponent plays the card they top-decked is very valuable to know how reliable your hand read still is. The more your opponent accumulates new unknown cards in their hand, the less your hand read is reliable.


  • Take note of characteristic play patterns tied to certain cards

This is somewhat related to the ‘missed opportunities’ concept. However, it is something that can be tracked over several actions rather than one unused opportunity. Let’s look at a quick example:

Example: My opponent plays a board-centric Ionia deck (Fiora/Shen for example), I play a Shadow Isles control deck (Feel the Rush for example). They play around The Ruination a lot: they open-attack and refrain from developing a large board. What it means is my opponent probably doesn’t have a Deny in hand, else they would most likely develop more before attacking to force me to use my Ruination right into their Deny. Another possibility would be that they don’t have more units in hand.

This is the kind of read that might come from a “gut feeling” because it can be tough to keep track exactly of everything your opponent did recently. However, if you are careful, you can start to more accurately use your opponent’s sequencing of actions and make more informed plays.



  • Keep track of created and tutored cards

Keeping track of how a card found it’s way into the opponent’s hand is very important and can help you find a lot of clues. Some are simply revealed for you by the game (Draven’s Axes, Gems) but some are not (Celestial cards, some of the tutored cards) so it is up to you to keep track of them.

Example #1: The opponent invokes a 0-3 cost Celestial card with Supercool Starchart, and doesn’t play it for several turns despite having mana left to do so. Therefore, this Celestial card is probably one of the more situational ones (Moonsilver, Equinox, Crescent Strike). Working down from that, you can further take a guess at which card exactly they would opt to select against you.

Example #2: The opponent plays TF Go Hard and tutors a card with Zap Sprayfin. You can assume they either have Go Hard or Glimpse Beyond in hand. You can once again narrow the possibility by finding which one they don’t have. If they have a very good opportunity to use Go Hard and don’t take it, you can assume they have Glimpse Beyond, and vice-versa.

As you can see in this last example, you can often use hand reads on the cards the opponent doesn’t have to refine your read on what they do have.


  • Analyze questionable plays and changes of behavior

Every time your opponent makes a questionable play or changes their in-game behavior suspiciously, you must ask yourself if it might be because of a particular card they have in hand. Let’s look at a concrete example:

Here I am playing Ashe Noxus against Zoe Atrocity. My opponent’s Mountain Scryer has a very valuable static ability for them – it discounts the cost of their Celestial cards. I can pretty safely assume that they wouldn’t take the risk to crash it into my 3/3 only to deal 2 more face damage. It is especially suspicious because they aren’t playing an aggressive deck so the 2 face damage isn’t that valuable.

Hence, it is very likely that my opponent has something in hand. It’s not that hard to guess with their deck: it has to be Pale Cascade. This very precise read allows me not only to make an informed play on this action by blocking a 2/1 with my Avarosan Trapper but also to keep this Pale Cascade read for future turns.

Reads on the cards the opponent DOES have are more reliable over time than the ones on cards they DON’T have. Until they’ve played the card I had a read on, my read stays exactly as reliable, and I can keep playing around it.


  • Combine your reads throughout the game

By combining all of your reads made throughout the game, you can further inform your guesses about the cards they have. As the game unfolds and you accumulate more and more reads, you can make more accurate guesses about the cards that were stuck in the opponent’s hand for several turns.

Example: I play against Fiora/Shen. The opponent has 2 cards left in hand, and they keep playing their topdecked cards. They had opportunities to play units, combat tricks, and removals, but didn’t take those. However, they did not have the opportunity to play Deny. I can make the assumption that at least one, if not both of their cards, is a Deny stuck in their hand, and play accordingly.



  • The opponent’s draws

The biggest weakness when it comes to figuring out the cards the opponent doesn’t have is the opponent’s draw. Each time your opponent draws and keeps the drawn card in hand, it makes your previous hand reads less reliable. However, these reads still remain extremely valuable because the probability to top-deck a specific card over the duration of a few rounds is very low. You just need to acknowledge that this kind of read isn’t completely set in stone, and you might not want to bank your entire gameplan on it when you do have the choice.

Example: I have a good read that my opponent doesn’t have The Ruination and therefore I decide to commit all my units to the board. I fully acknowledge I might lose the game if my opponent shortly top-decks The Ruination.


  • The opponent’s misplays

Because proper hand reading assumes our opponents play optimally against us, this process can be somewhat derailed if our opponents make bad plays. Not only it can make some reads harder, but it can also mislead you into a wrong read.

Example: I try to remove an opponent’s key unit, they let it happen despite having a combat trick to prevent it. At that point, I made the read they don’t have a combat trick (because of the ‘missed opportunity’ concept). This may also lead me to do some further reads resulting from the first one. All these reads will be entirely false.

While getting wrong reads because of misplays can be annoying, this is not too big of a limitation and definitely not a reason to underestimate hand reading. If your opponent actually made a misplay, they might have given you an advantage with this misplay. So while your wrong read is a downside, the advantage gained from their misplay might make up for it.

Then, a misconception some players have about hand-reading is that it would be less efficient against low-level players because they make more misplays. While you do have to adapt your hand reading to the level of your opponent, you still have the ability to make very valuable hand reads no matter the level of your opponents. Low-level opponents are often even easier to hand read because, while they make misplays that you have to take into account, they also are not aware of hand reading. Hence, they make literally no effort to hide their hand, making it very easy to get some key reads.


  • Bluffing

Another aspect that can be considered a ‘limitation’ of hand reading is that as a player you can actively look to derail reads of your opponent. How? By bluffing – purposefully giving your opponent an erroneous clue about your hand.

The most common way to bluff is to purposefully take a risky/non-optimal line. Let’s look at the example, the same one we used before:

Here my opponent is strongly signaling that they have Pale Cascade with the Mountain Scryer attack. However, they might be bluffing it to make me play around it.

This is indeed pretty risky because I could block the Mountain Scryer there and it would die for no reason if there is no Pale Cascade. But if it works, it will give me a false read and more – they even get to push 2 extra damage. Additionally, not attacking with the Mountain Scryer would have signaled to me that they don’t have Pale Cascade, so by going for a bluff they are hiding the fact that they don’t have it.

Going for bluffs with sub-optimal/risky lines is something that can pay off, but can also backfire. If the opponent doesn’t make the read you’re hoping for, or if they call your bluff, not only you took a bad line for no gain but you also gave them a new and accurate read. I would recommend bluffing in these spots only if you really know what you’re doing and who you’re playing against, and/or don’t have other more reliable outs.

Another kind of bluffing is to try to insert false clues into your opponent’s mind by showing off a distinct in-game behavior. Examples of this would be: taking some time to make the opponent think you have a choice to make when you actually don’t; or showing your opponent that you’re thinking about attacking right now, when in fact you are not.

Many players are actually very attentive to your in-game behavior, and this can be an easy way to abuse people making hand reads this way. This kind of bluffing costs you absolutely nothing – except your time. It can help you give false clues to the opponent, and can also overload them with irrelevant information – but only if they actually do pay attention to you.



  • Puzzle #1

Ashe Noxus vs Targon Allegiance (Atrocity splash). My opponent uses Hush to remove Troll Chant’s debuff on their unit, in order to trade with Ashe.

I can now make a read on particular card that they don’t have. Which one it is?

Answer

Here, Pale Cascade would have been a better answer to my Troll Chant than Hush. It would have drawn them a card, made their unit survive the trade, and Hush is a very valuable tool against my deck to remove freezes or prevent a leveled-up Ashe OTK. Because they’ve used Hush instead of Pale Cascade, I am now very confident that my opponent doesn’t have a Pale Cascade in hand.


  • Puzzle #2

Scouts vs Fiora/Shen. My opponent plays Rivershaper on turn 3 and blocks my Jagged Butcher with it.

I have a read on two cards they don’t have. Which ones?

Answer

Miss Fortune is a very important card. She is a win condition, and her ability breaks Barriers, which is very annoying for Fiora/Shen. It is likely that my opponent will try their best to remove her. Relying on this understanding, we can make several reads here.

First of all, they have no Sharpsight. If my opponent would have Sharpsight, they would have likely used it on their Rivershaper to trade with Miss Fortune.

Second, they have no Fiora. Fiora on turn 3 would have been a better play than Rivershaper because she can block Miss Fortune. Playing her on turn 3 would also allow them to open attack on turn 4 to remove Miss Fortune before I can play Brightsteel Protector, or, alternatively, capitalize on Fiora by developing Shen.

On a final note, make sure to remember, going further into the game, about the fact that Rivershaper will draw the opponent a spell. This is very important to mention because it makes our read on “no Sharpsight” less reliable.


  • Puzzle #3

Scouts vs Fiora/Shen. My opponent plays a Concerted Strike on my Brightsteel Protector. Right after, they pass the turn.

What does it tell us about their hand?

Answer

This is an extremely surprising play! Concerted Strike is a spell that finds very strong uses in this matchup as it can remove some of my most powerful threats, like that Cithria the Bold that is already on board. This play is also very bad tempo-wise. We need to really put ourselves in the seat of the opponent to understand the reasons behind this play.

The answer is in fact pretty simple: the opponent has a very bad hand for the situation and doesn’t have much to do. They’ve made this play because it was better for them than doing nothing. In this situation, we can simply eliminate every card that would have been a better play and assume they don’t have them in their hand.

Our read here is that the opponent has no units in hand, other than maybe Brightsteel Formation. His hand is heavy on spells. This is a very important read to make because it means that we should always develop before attacking. Their spells can punish open-attacks but are way worse against development.

Furthermore, the fact we eliminated so many potential cards from their hand while they still have 4 cards in hand increase drastically the probability for every cards not eliminated by this read. We don’t know exactly which spells they have, but we can put a pretty high probability for each spell, especially the ones they have multiple copies of in their list.

The additional draw from the Rivershaper trigger caused by Concerted Strike only supports our guess that they have access to a lot of spells.


Conclusion

That’s it for this hand reading article, I hope you’ve found it useful! If you feel like it’s something too complex, take your time and learn concepts explained here step-by-step. Hand reading is an advanced concept in card games so don’t worry about taking things slowly!

If you have any questions or want to give some feedback on the article, feel free to put leave a comment below or in this dedicated Reddit post, where I’ll be happy to answer you! 😄

And if you like my content and don’t want to miss some of it, feel free to follow me on my Twitter, where I share my new articles, but also my tournament performances and my most successful decklists! 😉

Thanks for reading!

Agigas

I am a master player since Beta, with several #4 peaks and tournaments win (EU DoR 2, NA DoR 13, GiantSlayer). I am also TSM/Blitz.gg LoR consultant. I love writing guides to share my experience with the game with the community!

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE