How Ionia Lost Its Region Identity

Let’s talk about what went wrong for Ionia and how the region could regain its identity.

Hello Runeterra, Spaiikz here with something a bit different. Let’s talk about region identity today. More specifically – the identity of Ionia.

The idea for this article came about just from looking at the state Ionia as it is in the game right now and what the community thinks of the region. The overall agreement seems to be that Ionia is in a very weak spot currently, that it lacks identity, and only really has Lee Sin and Deny/Nopeify! as strong cards.

This article consists of three main sections:

  • The Evolution of Ionia as a region in Legends of Runeterra. This section will include the recap of ways in which Ionia has been used in competitive decks and what the identity of Ionia was at the time. We’ll go over all the nerfs it has received in the past and what those changes did to the region.
  • The Current State of Ionia section will contain a breakdown of where Ionia is at right now with the arrival of the Empires of the Ascended expansion.
  • The third part will be about The Future of Ionia and possible directions Ionia could be taking as a region as the game grows.

Open Beta Launch: The meta was mostly dominated by Shadow Isles decks and Ionia elusive decks. The 2 most common Elusives decks were an aggressive Ionia+Demacia beatdown Elusive or a slightly slower version using Freljord. While the Freljord version slowly lost steam, the Demacia version stayed very strong.

Patch 0.9.0: Inspiring Mentor’s buff got changed from +1/1 to +1/0 and Kinkou Lifeblade lost 1 health making it a 2/2 instead of a 2/3. This was desperately needed as many decks could not deal with getting smacked by Elusives every turn while they also had a 3/4 Elusive Lifesteal on the board. Deny also got changed from 3 mana to 4 mana, meaning you needed at least 1 additional normal mana to deny anything, which was a big difference. It is still a shock Deny was ever 3 mana. Overall this did not change much for Ionia, primarily because of how strong Ionia (and Shadow Isles even more so) were just as a region in the early days of Legends of Runeterra. Ionia still remained mostly an Elusive-based region, but with the additional nerf of Back To Back going from 5 mana to 6 mana it swapped its second region to Freljord.

Patch 0.9.2: Prior to this patch Ionia Elusive was still very popular, while it lost some of its early game buffs the only Ionia decks you saw mostly still revolved around the same concepts of Elusives, but now with Kinkou Elusives as the main Ionia deck. Ionia still saw plenty of splashes in other decks though. In this patch, Navori Conspirator got changed from a 3/2 to a 2/2. This change did not change much to Ionia either, but it did slightly weaken Kinkou Elusives, and Ionia as a region finally started to develop something other than Elusives as an identity. Ionia was seeing tons of play with Shadow Isles getting another round of nerfs. Ionia started developing an identity as a second region to combo decks. Notable examples were Spooky Karma, Ezreal Karma, and Heimer Karma. Ionia was able to be perfect for combo decks due to the ability to draw with Shadow Assassin, stall the game with Will of Ionia and prevent opponents from freely playing spells with Deny. 

Slightly before the official launch, the popularity of the Zed/Fiora Stand Alone deck spiked through the roof as popular streamer Swim made a video guide on how to play it and why it would be the perfect deck to reach master with. It focused on using Stand Alone to buff Zed/Fiora or a big Elusive to kill your opponent really fast. 

Patch 1.0.0: Rising Tides launches and brings a few extremely powerful cards in Eye of the Dragon and Deep Meditation. Claws of the Dragon was also very popular at the beginning but slowly faded out in favor of Eye of the Dragon usually. The champion that Ionia got was Lee Sin but at 6 mana he was quickly deemed unplayable. The identity of Ionia stayed the same in a combo deck enabler whether it was a more traditional combo like Ezreal Karma or an all-in style with Stand Alone OTK. Lux Karma was also gaining a bit of traction. 

Patch 1.2: Karma got changed from 5 mana to 6 and Deep Meditation from 4 mana to 5. Both increases of mana made any Ionia spell-based deck worse. Dropping your Karma a turn later meant it was a lot less safe and you would gain less value from her generating spells. This made Karma fall down, but Ionia still had its tier 1 deck in Heimerdinger + Vi with Ionia at the time. The fact that Deep Meditation at reduced cost actually was 3 mana, might even have been a buff to the deck as Heimerdinger generated a 3/1 Elusive turret which was very strong. Kinkou Elusives was also coming back into the meta after having faded out for a little bit. Later on, Ionia even saw an Elusive deck using Noxus for the first time. It played more aggressively than Kinkou Elusives and focused on some burn damage as well.

Patch 1.5: The Noxus Elusive deck turned out to be a real contender winning out on Kinkou Elusives. A very small patch which changed Solitary Monk from a 4/3 to a 3/3, which mostly just impacted the Elusive Noxus deck.

Patch 1.6: Shadow Assassin got changed to a 1/2 from a 2/2 and Will of Ionia got increased from 4 mana to 5 mana. It should also be noted that Heimerdinger got reworked, pretty much killing the original Veimer archetype. All those changes made a huge shift in the identity of Ionia. At this point in time, Ionia has received nerfs to 4 Elusive cards, it was so weakened now that Bilgewater probably was stronger for Elusives. With the nerf to Will of Ionia, the region lost another card which decks wanted to include from this region in combo/stall type of decks. Ionia would not see much play for the coming month as it was desperately waiting for new cards from the Call of the Mountain expansion. 

Patch 1.8: The new Targon Expansion did not bring that much unfortunately for Ionia. It did have a new archetype in Fiora Shen hanging around, but Fiora Shen to me always felt more like a Demacia deck in terms of playstyle than Ionia. 

Patch 1.10: This was the patch Ionia needed to bring new life into the region. Lee Sin was changed from 6 mana to 4 mana. All of a sudden Ionia was the Lee Sin region as this deck was a force to be reckoned with. Most commonly paired with Zed, the deck allowed Ionia finally to have an identity again and a new fresh playstyle, however, this feeling would not last very long as people were unhappy with how strong Lee Sin was at the time.

Patch 1.11: This probably was one of the biggest mistakes yet, as Bastion got buffed to be ‘grant’ instead of ‘give’ and an increase of +1/1 while staying at 3 mana. The Lee Sin Zed deck also made use of the newly buffed Mountain Goat. Overall Lee Sin was stronger than ever while other decks got weaker. The outrage was real and people were crying for a nerf to Lee Sin. 

Patch 1.12: Bastion got nerfed by 1 mana which was supposed to nerf Lee Sin. Lee Sin also got Nopeify! at this time, which probably overall resulted in Lee Sin becoming even stronger for another patch. Overall this did establish Lee Sin as an identity to Ionia over this long period of time. 

Patch 1.13: Lee Sin got changed from 4 mana to 5 mana. This left Lee Sin in a fair state in my opinion as Lee Sin has since stayed a contender in most metas while not dominating any in a noticeable way. Overall Lee Sin has been an interesting playstyle since this patch. 

Patch 1.16: Lee Sin decks got Zoe to replace Zed.

Patch 2.1: Lee Sin decks have to pay more mana for Hush and lost 1 attack on Pale Cascade. Aphelios also was released which can be included in Lee Sin alongside some of its support cards.

At the time when Open Beta started in January 2020, Ionia was one of the stronger regions. While we have 9 regions now, Legends of Runeterra only started with 6. The early days of the meta were mostly dominated by midrange/control Shadow Isles decks and Ionia Elusives decks.

This is where the original identity of Ionia started. Ionia was ‘The Elusives region’. It mostly revolved around buffing your Elusive units with Inspiring Mentor early on. Despite nerfs to Inspiring Mentor, Deny, Navori Conspirator, and Kinkou Lifeblade Ionia still kept its identity as an Elusive region.

These changes led it to start developing a second identity as a ‘Combo region’. Usually, this would involve Karma and the generally good cards at the time, such as Deny, Will of Ionia, and Shadow Assassin. Near the end of the Open Beta Swim have also popularized Fiora Zed Stand Alone. I would personally put this in with combo tendencies of Ionia, albeit it being a different style of combo deck. 

Ionia mostly kept this identity throughout the Rising Tides expansion that introduced Bilgewater. Lee Sin was seen as terrible at the initial mana cost of 6 mana. Karma and Deep Meditation both did get nerfed.

While combo decks got significantly weakened Ionia still had Heimer Vi, which used plenty of the region’s cards. Heimer Vi had a midrange playstyle, but with combo elements – so it still felt Ionian in nature. Near the end of the expansion cycle, Will of Ionia, Solitary Monk, and Shadow Assassin got nerfed, this came alongside a rework for Heimerdinger

This pretty much led to Ionia dying out until Call of the Mountain set. With some of the staples of the region nerfed and more Elusives nerfed as well, both ‘Combo’ and ‘Elusive’ identities started to fade away. No Ionia decks were present anymore and this was the end of the region’s identity that we knew since Launch. Call of the Mountain brought Lulu, who was just another weak Ionia champion.

Shortly after Lee Sin got buffed to 4 mana, it led to a Lee Sin-dominated meta. The champion even got multiple indirect buffs in Bastion, Mountain Goat, and the release of Nopeify. This was one of the most annoying metas of all time in opinions of many players – it lasted long and Lee Sin was just everywhere.

An eventual nerf made Lee Sin 5 mana but Ionia still pretty much revolved around that champion since. Lee Sin included Zoe and Aphelios for a small shake-up, but the overall deck remained the same. Throughout this time Shen Fiora did get enough buffs to become viable, but I do not consider it here as it feels closer to Demacia than Ionia in terms of playstyle and identity.

As we’ve seen, since the launch of Legends of Runeterra Ionia had four core components to its identity: Elusives, Combo, Lee Sin, and Deny.

While Deny isn’t exactly an archetype, sometimes decks would only put Ionia in to be able to run the card. This spell was unique enough as a card, that some decks (especially in tournament lineups) changed direction just to gain access to that one card. This spell is also something heavily associated with Ionia, so I think it is fair to include it as part of their identity.

This brings us back to the present day. With the launch of Empires of the Ascended Ionia only gained two new cards: Shadow Apprentice and Field Musicians.

While Field Musicians has a great payoff, the card just seems too hard to enable at the current time. Field Musicians will be very good most likely in the future, but for now, it seems very unlikely we’ll have it hearld a new deck for Ionia.

Shadow Apprentice seems less of an enabler and more of a card capitalizing on an already strong archetype – an Ephemeral deck, possibly with the inclusion of Elusives. The problem is that this currently also seems unrealistic. While Ephemerals see occasional play, none of those decks would look to change any of their regions to Ionia as it just offers less.

This leaves us in the same state – it seems we will have to play the same decks we have had for a long time when it comes to Ionia. 

Shurima also introduced Rite of Negation which makes Ionia lose even more identity as they are not the only region anymore which has counterspells. The fact Ionia was able to deny effects in the game actually was crucial as part of their identity as a region so far.

This matters because if a deck is looking for Deny to be included, they now have another option available. If a deck is looking to run Deny, but doesn’t mind the cost of Rite of Negation it can easily decide to run it instead. And the Rite comes with the bonus of possibly stopping multiple cards at once!

It also opens up access to Shurima’s cards as there might be something that is good for the deck that Ionia can not provide (which is very possible as Ionia just doesn’t have many great cards at the moment).

One of the biggest needs Ionia has is a good new champion.

Lee Sin and Lulu both were weak champions on release. If Lee Sin had remained at 6 mana, it is likely that he never would have made an impact on the meta. Luckily lore-wise Ionia is one of the regions which has the most champions to pick from, so this should allow for flexibility and a lot of design options.

Champions overall give a lot of identity to their regions. At this point it doesn’t even matter if the potential new Ionia champion would be a key card in its deck or serve a supporting role – even just seeing it when you queue into opponents would make for a huge difference already. 

With or without a champion, Ionia still needs to find its identity regardless. There are different directions for it:

  • Elusives

I know not everyone is a fan of Elusives, but it was a big part of their original identity and I do think Ionia should be the region associated with Elusives. I think the game has changed a lot since we saw strong Elusive cards in Ionia. Bilgewater and Targon both have plenty of good Elusives to be able to contest the board. Demacia and Piltover and Zaun both could be having a bit more of an Elusive splash or more cards similar to Sharpsight could be handed to a few regions. If this would happen I think it is fine to give strong Elusives back to Ionia which would restore this identity.

  • Recalls and Stuns

While we have quite a few recall cards, most are quite weak. I think many people would want to see better recall-based cards in Ionia, but it could be annoying to get your cards recalled all the time. This is why I would suggest it to be more of a self-recall style rather than directed toward the opponent’s cards. If there are a few cheap units that are worth being recalled and played again it would be a step to this identity. Ionia already has Yasuo, but he never saw a lot of play in top-tier decks. Adding more stun-related cards could definitely give new hope to Yasuo and a new identity to Ionia.

  • Spells and Spell mana manipulation

Cards like Eye of the Dragon, Deep Meditation, Field Musicians, and Rivershaper could all be cards that support this type of identity – an ability to draw spells and restore spell mana. It could also be included with a slight ‘summon’ theme involving Field Musicians, and Eye of the Dragon is also great for this as it summons the Dragonling.

  • Counterspells and Disruption

With Shurima having their own Deny now Ionia could get more of this identity back by getting more cards that stop or weaken your opponent’s plays. This could be for example a unit that on summon weakens the next enemy spell in some way or a card which gives the last unit your opponent played Ephemeral.

  • Ephemeral

While mostly a Shadow Isles identity, Ionia has had its fair share of Ephemeral-related cards. They could get some stronger ones, which would see play and result in a smaller fringe identity for Ionia. Personally, I would like it to involve interesting things such as the Death Mark to give opponent cards Ephemeral.

Closing Thoughts

Ionia is in a weird spot. They have only Lee Sin and Shen Fiora as representatives in the meta. Both have been here for a long time but Shen Fiora doesn’t even feel Ionian, leaving only Lee Sin to carry Ionia nowadays.

We will have to wait for a new champion to see a shake-up. Ionia had weak champions in expansions released so far, so it would be great if this new champion coming in the next expansions of the Shurima set took a new direction towards any of the possible identities that I suggested.

Ionia has dominated the early metas of Runeterra, but now it is in a state I think most people are not liking as much. Hopefully, Riot Games can correct this soon as Ionia has so much to offer in Runeterra.

Thank you for reading and feel free to follow me on Twitter. Till next time again Runeterra,



Spaiikz is a high level Runeterra player who is consistently high up on the ladder rankings and has finished top 8 in the seasonal tournament. Now he is also looking to share his knowledge about Runeterra by writing articles and coaching. The first card games Spaiikz competed in was Hearthstone, in which he managed to finish Rank 1 Legend.

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