How to Identify and Play to Your Win Condition

Hi, Random7HS here.

Last season, I made it to the finals of the NA Seasonal Tournament. I was originally thinking of writing a tournament report, but I felt that it would be more helpful to write a ‘level-up’ guide about the ‘win condition’ concept, borrowing examples from the games I played during the Seasonal.

3 Common Mistakes

Often I get asked for advice on how to improve in Legends of Runeterra. The number one defining trait I see top players have is that they always try to play for their own win condition while also trying to disrupt their opponent’s win condition as much as possible.

Most players when playing a game will make moves without really having a good reason to do so. Every time a move is made, you should ask yourself the question: “How does this advance me towards my win condition or how does this delay my opponent’s win condition?” Every pass, attack, summon, or spell-cast should have a purpose.

One of the most common mistakes I see players make is playing cards on-curve without saving spell mana to either disrupt their opponent’s win condition or advance their own. For example, oftentimes Thresh Nasus players will tap out of Rite of Negation mana, leaving them open to opposing Atrocity or removal spells. Lee Sin players will sometimes cast Zenith Blade on Lee Sin without leaving spell mana up to protect their Lee Sin.

Another most common mistake I see players make is using cards to disrupt their opponent’s win condition at the cost of ignoring their own win condition. The best example of this is Trundle Lissandra Control. This deck’s most basic win condition is to summon Lissandra on their opponent’s turn and then follow it up with two Ice Pillars and Spectral Matron on Watcher on their own turn to attack with it for the win. However, even in Seasonals, many players would summon an unnecessary blocker in this situation in order to keep their life total high. They either miss out on Lissandra or end up crowding the board space needed for their combo, preventing them from being able to combo off on a key turn.

A third mistake I see is not passing enough, especially with slower decks. Slower decks with late-game win conditions want to pass a lot unless they are put under tremendous pressure. For decks like TLC and Deep, passing advances their win condition by moving closer to the key Watcher turn, or towards Deep.

Multiple Win Conditions

It is important to note that most decks have multiple win conditions. For example, TLC’s primary win condition is to level Lissandra and summon Watcher to obliterate the opponent’s entire deck. However, this is not always viable.

In some games, the TLC player won’t draw Lissandra. In these scenarios, the TLC player will often have to resort to beating their opponent down with Trundle and Spectral Matrons. Against aggressive decks, the TLC player can often win by simply surviving until their opponent runs out of cards in their hand and board.

Against Targon specifically, the opponent will often have enough silences to deal with multiple Watchers, forcing the TLC player to concoct a plan of how to summon enough Watchers in order to win with the damage rather than through deck obliteration.

Zoe Lee Sin is another good example to use. Zoe Lee Sin is a deck that traditionally has a pretty mediocre win rate outside of tournament play. At first glance, the win condition of Lee Sin is pretty obvious. Level up Lee Sin, get 10 power and Overwhelm on him, and OTK your opponent. Slowing the game down with Eye of the Dragon, Concussive Palm and Sparklefly advances your win condition by getting you closer to the turn in which you can safely summon your Lee Sin.

However, Lee Sin also has a couple of less-obvious win conditions. Against Thresh Nasus and other aggressive matchups, a buffed up Sparklefly can win a game on its own. Against decks that cannot kill Zoe, she will often win the game once she levels.

In order to correctly pilot Zoe Lee Sin, Lee Sin players will need to be able to correctly assess which win condition to go for. Generally, if Lee Sin is drawn, he will be the primary win condition. This means saving buff spells (Pale Cascade, Sonic Wave, Gems) and protection spells, (Nopeify!, Deny, Bastion) for Lee Sin combos. In certain matchups and hands, leveling Zoe will often be the primary win condition.

  • Example #1: Deep vs Ashe LeBlanc

Here my opponent has a leveled Ashe and a big board of units attacking me. I have 14 cards left in my deck and two Jettisons in my hand would level my Maokai.

Here, I ended up casting Jettisons, blocking the Ashe with the Sapling, blocking the Enraged Yeti with Abyssal Eye, and blocking Avarosan Hearthguard with the leveled Maokai. This left me with 3 mana and 6 HP and my opponent with 5 attackers.

My thought process was that with this block, I would be left with 6 cards in the deck, 3 of which were all copies of Nautilus. With the Abyssal Eye I had on board, I would be likely to draw my Nautilus, summon both it and my Abyssal Eye that I have in hand. This would leave me with two Abyssal Eyes, Nautilus, The Beast Below, and Devourer of the Depths as blockers. Then, if I drew another Sea Monster or a Nautilus’s Riptide, I would essentially have 6 blockers to survive one more open attack from Ashe. If I live through that, I would be able to either Atrocity on Nautilus or attack with two Abyssal Eyes for lethal.

However, this line does not account for my opponent’s win condition very well, which are board dominance and Ashe’s level-up. Even if I drew Nautilus, unless I also drew a Devourer of the Depths or a second Nautilus with the Abyssal Eye, I would lose to my opponent having one additional unit and any freeze spell.

The best play in the game state captured by the screenshot above would have been to not level the Maokai and instead use the mana to play the second Abyssal Eye. This would let me open-attack with 2 Abyssal Eyes to bring my opponent down to 5 HP. If my opponent had a freeze spell for one of the Abyssal Eyes, I would still have the chance of drawing two Nautilus’ or a Nautilus and a Devourer of the Depths. If my opponent did not have a freeze spell, Atrocity would have won the game.

  • Example #2: Zoe Lee vs Zoe Diana Atrocity

Going into round 7, I had the attack token with a Zoe and Lee Sin on the board while my opponent had The Destroyer. I knew that my win condition in this matchup was to close out before the opponent won with either Atrocity (which still was costed at 6 mana during that tournament) or Destroyer’s overwhelm damage. On my board, I had two separate win conditions. I could try to level up Zoe or try to win with Lee Sin.

I knew my opponent had a 50% chance of invoking a Falling Comet with Solari Priestess. I could pass to try and wait until I draw a Deny. However, the opponent ran 3 Atrocities, while I only ran 2 Denies. If they had the Atrocity in hand, I would lose on the next turn to the Destroyer + Atrocity. If they did not have the Atrocity and I kept passing, The Destroyer would win in two attacks.

Another option was to keep up Bastion mana at all times to force my opponent to have both Hush and Falling Comet to remove my Lee Sin. At this point, my opponent had 3 Hushes and 1 Moonlight Affliction left in his deck. Note, so long as I kept 4 mana up, it was not possible for my opponent to kill my Lee Sin right away because he only had 7 mana – but he would be able to kill it on the subsequent turn.

In the situation captured in the screen above, I ended up playing a Mentor of the Stones in order to try and match the opposing board. They responded with The Sky Shadows. I responded by passing. Here, if they had the Atrocity, all they had to do was to take the pass, attack with The Destroyer, and cast Atrocity for lethal. However, the opponent did not have the Atrocity and played a Spacey Sketcher. Note that even without Atrocity, if they passed, I would have had to block with either Zoe or Lee Sin next turn to survive.

I realized that in order to protect my win conditions, i.e., Zoe and Lee Sin, I would need to start clearing the opposing board. I played my Spell Thief to grab Moonlight Affliction to give Lee Sin Challenger and I attacked with Mentor of the Stones, Lee Sin, Zoe, and Dragonling, with Lee Sin challenging The Sky Shadows.

My reasoning behind this play was even though I would be tapped under both Deny and Bastion mana, the opponent did not have the mana up to kill both Zoe and Lee Sin. If my opponent played Hush or Moonlight Affliction on Zoe, they would not have mana to kill my Lee Sin and would have one less silence for Bastion. If my opponent let the attack through in order to Falling Comet the Lee Sin, I would still have Zoe.

In both cases, with another Dragonling coming from Eye of the Dragon next turn, the 2 HP I gained from Dragonling would heal me enough to live through their open attack without sacrificing my Zoe or Lee Sin, even if they had another small unit.

However, this play forced me to rely on only one of my win conditions – in this case, Zoe. A better play might have been to open with Spell Thief and pass. Then, I could use Pale Cascade on my Lee Sin to allow it to safely remove one of the opponent’s units while keeping mana up to either play Bastion or Mentor of the Stones depending on what even with my opponent did. Doing so would’ve kept me with the two win conditions I started off with, allowing myself more flexibility in future turns.

  • Example #3-1: Zoe Lee vs Zoe Vi

Going into turn 4, I had a Sparklefly with 6 mana up, including spell mana. At this point, I did not have a Lee Sin, so my primary win condition was now winning with Sparklefly. I opened with Zenith Blade and my opponent responded with his second Solari Priestess, leaving me with 3 mana and them with 4 mana.

The opponent could deal with my Sparklefly with Hush, Thermogenic Beam, or multiple removal spells. Because Sparklefly was my only win condition at this point, I should have either played a Zenith Blade to buff it out of thermo-beam range or save mana to bluff a Pale Cascade. Instead, I played the Mentor of the Stones and lost the Sparklefly to a beam. 

By summoning Mentor of the Stones, I allowed my opponent to remove my only win condition at the time without fear of any answer. This forced me to rely on drawing a Lee Sin, which I was never able to do, and that cost me the game.

Yes, in this scenario, my opponent did also have a Hush in their hand, so Bastion can only guarantee one Sparklefly attack to go through, but if my opponent did not have Hush, I could have potentially won with Sparklefly.

  • Example #3-2: Zoe Lee vs Zoe Vi

Same game, going into turn 8, I still did not draw my Lee Sin – but played a second Sparklefly. Here I cast my Guiding Touch and Pale Cascade in an attempt to find Lee, but I only drew a Hush and an Eye of the Dragon. I attacked with my Sparklefly and it was answered by a Hush. My opponent then proceeded to summon a copy of The Warrior that was generated by Iterative Improvement.

At this point, my only win condition was drawing Lee Sin on the next turn and trying to OTK my opponent. I did not have enough life or units to survive without Lee Sin winning the game immediately.

I ended up summoning my Eye of the Dragon and passing. This was a mistake. I should’ve played Spell Thief to try and find Iterative Improvement and copy Solari Priestess. This would then give me a 50% chance to find Written in the Stars, which in turn would give me a 50% chance of finding Lee Sin.

However, I did not play towards my win condition and ended up using my cards to simply try and survive a few extra turns and lost the game without ever drawing Lee Sin.

Closing Thoughts

Although most of my examples focused on specific turns, playing to your win condition can also mean setting up for future plays across multiple turns.

For example, in the top 32 against TippyTipz, I was playing Deep versus Thresh Nasus. I knew that my win condition was to eventually win with Abyssal Eye, so I made sure to deal poke damage early and eventually won with 3 Abyssal Eye going face.

Learning how to play to your win conditions is probably the most direct way to immediately improve in any game; Legends of Runeterra is no exception. Carefully planning out turns and forcing yourself to think about why you want to make a certain play will often mean the difference between a loss and a win.

Thanks for reading! I hope you found this to be helpful. If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, I’d be happy to answer them in the comments below or on Reddit, where I’ll have a post dedicated to this article.

6 Responses

  1. POTATOTARAT says:

    Really useful!

  2. Kassadin says:

    Wow! This is very insightful. I have to admit I rarely put this much thinking into my plays.

    • random7 says:

      Yeah, it’s a bit hard to get into the habit of doing, but once you do, you’ll start noticing an immediate difference in your gameplay.

  3. harvest277 says:

    Very well thought out article. It looks like you carefully reviewed VODs to analyze things because it’s very difficult to make optimal plays especially under pressure like the Seasonal finals and also generally while in the game itself due to weird or not well understood matchups, tech cards in ladder closed lists, etc.

    You also played against and used some of the most difficult to pilot decks (Lee Sin vs. Zoe Vi and Zoe Diana) which kind of hits on something I’ve been struggling with: I hate playing linear decks with basically only one optimal line at any given time (e.g Spider Aggro), but can probably win a lot more and a lot faster using those decks on the ladder. So far, I’ve just stuck it out and just played the higher complexity decks with a modest 55% WR and eventually reach Masters. Your article is really wanting me to review my VODs in more detail and evaluate “Did I play to my outs?” on every single turn of every single game to take my play to the next level.

  4. A.Ahmadreza says:

    actually , this was an amazing article.
    very useful for ones who wants to improve in the competitive scene.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *