I was too intimidated to build my own decks for a very long time. Being introduced into CCG genre fairly late with Hearthstone, I have never really experienced the age of kitchen table card gaming and for me the netdecking culture was the norm that I’ve never even questioned.
I’ve restricted myself to just piloting the decks created by top players. I’ve had a lot of fun, but at the same time I was irrationally scared to change even a single card in a list. Who am I to mess with this perfection, I’ve always said to myself, greatly admiring the talented deckbuilders, but never having the confidence to start learning the craft myself.
This habit continued for some time even after I switched to Magic: The Gathering. By the time Legends of Runeterra became my passion, I finally confronted my attitude. This article is intended to become a remedy for the same lack of confidence in those of you, who feel the same way I did. This is the ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Brewing’ step-by-step-guide.
Step 1: Entering the Right Mindset
Well, there’s no good way to say it, so let me just put it out there rather bluntly – the overwhelming majority of your decks will likely suck. Like, 95 per cent of your attempts will fall flat in one way or another. Most of them will still be playable, and hopefully enjoyable, but the chances are they will not stack up well against the meta decks out there. However, the important thing here is to keep repeating to yourself – all of that is just completely okay.
Deckbuilding is a craft that takes a lot of perfecting. One can’t expect to get into Legends of Runeterra and immediately start brewing successful decks on the level of Swim’s, Mogwai’s, BBG or AlanzQ’s. Those players, talented as they are, have also spent years upon years of building, testing, tuning and thinking about decks, across various card games. And even so, most of their brews and ideas initially suck as well! Only by carefully weeding out the best ones, once in a while they may stumble upon something actually special and influential.
What we will eventually come to call ‘meta decks’ are often a product of pooled effort of thousands of top players – tuning, testing, adapting the initial idea to the specific environments. The ‘alienation’ of the deck towards its initial creator is unavoidable as it becomes the part of a bigger collective conscience.
So, what I’m saying that as a deckbuilder, especially as a beginner deckbuilder, it is best to leave all ambition at the door when approaching the craft. Aspirations – yes, it’s useful to have those, but not ambitions. Trying to make your own brews work should be exciting, and the feelings of pressure or anxiety that often come with ambition must be eliminated.
It’s all easier said than done, but definitely within reach! First and foremost, the aspiring deckbuilder should really learn how to be completely okay with losing. The brewer will suffer defeats time and again at the hands of opponents piloting well-tuned tier decks. It can be difficult to acquire the resilience needed to withstand it. Focusing on results rather than the process is the crucial mental leak here. Remember – the losses are not necessarily the signs of your failures as a player – they are useful pointers to specific deckbuilding problems you should tackle next.
Practical, down-to-earth, attentive to details and as un-tiltable as a veteran poker grinder are the perfect suit of qualities to have as a deckbuilder.
Step 2: Searching for the Spark
Now that we are done with important mental aspects of the thing, let’s get to the meat of it. So, I want to build the first deck to truly call my own. Where does one start? Well, first one does need an Idea, something to get the creative juices flowing.
A deck is often born from a singular particular synergy of cards/mechanics that could enable a coherent gameplan.
Let me explain it using an example. What is the seed from which the popular Heimerdinger Control deck was born? Obviously, it’s all in Heimerdinger and his ability to generate turrets while controlling the opponent with spells. Elusive turrets are the best ones to close out games, and Flash of Brilliance is essentially the free spell to generate those turrets. Add a bunch of other efficient 3-cost spells into the mix – and there you have it, the synergy that have started it all. Heimerdinger Control went through a lot of iterations and changes to get all the pieces into the right places. After a while, it has finally emerged as well-tuned top-tier deck, but, much before that, everything started with that Flash of Brilliance, a card named so aptly.
It is a good exercise to go through the Meta Tier List, browse through all the decks there, attempting to pinpoint the initial ideas behind each. For some of those, it would an obvious and very particular one (Karma/Ezreal Combo), for others it would be a bit more generic (Midrange Bannerman, Corina Control). Nevertheless, every deck has had a spark from which it was born. And it is an important skill to have as a brewer – to recognize those sparks-ideas when they come to you. Or even better, generate them at your will.
Legends of Runeterra has actually something very valuable within its core rule set that makes the process of searching for those ideas quite easy. I’m talking about Champion Cards and how they serve as natural build-around pieces for their decks. As a beginner deckbuilder in LoR, it’s actually very handy to just choose your two favorite champions, mash them up and see what comes of it. Compare it to classic CCG’s like Hearthstone of Magic – with massive card pools and no clear signposts, a newbie wouldn’t even know where to start with building decks there.
Alright, now let’s put theory into practice and start our deckbuilding ‘guinea pig’ experiment that we’ll be returning to throughout the article multiple times. Let’s start building a deck to illustrate the point made! So, for some time now, I have had an idea to use Karma to enhance Keg synergies. The most exciting combo that makes me want to explore this deck goes like this: Level 2 Karma + More Powder + Dawn and Dusk on a Keg + Warning Shot equals 38 direct damage to opponent’s Nexus. Is it janky and improbable? Sure! Will I rest until have successfully pulled it off? Absolutely not! And so the “Karma KEGW” spark was ignited.
Step 3: Building a Core
After you’ve had a more or less clear concept of what it is you’re trying to achieve with your deck, it’s time to select the most essential tools that will do the job. The way decks in card games work – and I mean there’re really no exceptions to this rule across the genre – is that each one of them has to rely on some cards more than others to carry the gameplan. There’s no hard rule for the number of cards that constitute ‘a core’ – but it is there, every time. These pieces are like the poles that hold the building – tear them down and the whole construct starts to crumble.
Enough with the metaphors, let’s get into some concrete examples right this moment. Back to our Heimerdinger Control list from the previous section – which cards do constitute its core?
First of all, it’s Heimer himself and the spells that enable the Elusive turrets’ spam strategy in the most efficient way: Flash of Brilliance, Thermogenic Beam, Get Excited, Twin Disciplines, Deep Meditation. Additionally it’s also the efficient control tools that are absolutely irreplaceable, even though they don’t generate the 3-cost turrets – Mystic Shot and Will of Ionia. And finally, Claws of the Dragon and Solitary Monk who are exceptionally synergistic with the rest of the deck – both feel like essential inclusions in this current iteration.
So, this what the Heimerdinger Control’s core looks like – put together, these cards define and carry the gameplan forward. The list only needs a few support pieces to make the deck complete. By the way, you’ll notice that most of the cards considered ‘core’ are maxed out at three copies – a pretty self-explanatory fact.
Now, let’s build a core for our own “Karma KEGW” idea. So, our main aspiration was to pull off a crazy combo involving Dawn and Dusk and Warning Shot. We’ll max out the more universal of our combo pieces – namely Karma and More Powder while including Dawn and Dusk and Warning Shot both in 2 copies. We’ll want to reliably stumble into a single copy of each by turn 10, but don’t really want to get stuck with any of those in our hand for too long.
Our gameplan also wants some additional ways to generate Powder Kegs and use them for value before we get to our combo. Dreadway Deckhand and Petty Officer both provide those Kegs we crave for, so we’ll hire both of them, three copies each. As for ways to make good early use of the powder, we unfortunately are limited in options since we chose to play Bilgewater/Ionia instead of classic Bilgewater/Shadow Isles alliance. Make It Rain does the job fairly decently in that department, and the other damaging effect that can be enhanced by Kegs comes from Twisted Fate. For this reason, I’ve had to even give up Gangplank as our champion, which seemed counterintuitive at first.
So, this is the Core – cards that will be treated as the mainstays for our archetype, as janky may it be. I don’t expect to cut any of them without radically changing the idea and gameplan behind the deck.
Step 4: Filling the Flex Slots
After the key cards of the archetype have all been determined, it’s time to fill in the last few cards – the missing pieces to the puzzle. There are a few general areas almost every deck wouldn’t mind strengthening. So, if you have some Flex Slots available after you’ve finished up with the Core, you could look into these ways to enhance your list:
Some decks are just so linear in their gameplan that they don’t really care about things their opponent is doing. However, this approach is very rare and not quite supported by Legends of Runeterra design (this is particularly why Burn got hit by a nerf hammer). LoR philosophy encourages back-and-forth interaction through spells and abilities, and successful strategies often employ a ton of supporting cards responsible for that area of gameplay.
Simply put, often it is who has access to the most number of cards throughout the game, wins. It may not be true in all cases and matchups, but Card Advantage is still a crucial concept – even more so in Legends of Runeterra, that seems to put the design priorities on midrange and control battles more than on aggro. Given that, it is often a good call to include more of efficient draw spells/effects if your deck can make use of card advantage well. For some combo-oriented decks, Card Selection (the ability to cycle through the deck, ex. Rummage) can be just as useful as pure Card Advantage.
Some cards that are narrow in their effects can become better or worse depending on the ladder environment. Deny is a prime example here. In a meta filled with aggro/tempo decks that use mostly Burst-speed combat tricks, even one copy in your deck can feel like a liability. In another time, when greedy control lists are defining the meta, you will go with a full playset of Deny. Another vivid example from a time not so long ago is the Healing package (Grasp of the Undying, Vile Feast, Withering Wail). Before Patch 1.2, some decks were teching in a whole Shadow Isles region just to keep up with the meta full of Burn. This are just the most straightforward examples though – Meta techs are probably the hardest to illusrate as a concept. There’s really no limits to the creativity with the ways players can tech and tune their decks for specific environments.
Now, putting theory into practice, let’s resume our “Karma KEGW” brewing and fill its Flex Slots. First, we actually need more interaction in order to have a chance to reach our turn 10 threshold. This is why I’ve included a nice value challenger Jaull Hunters, that can force a profitable trade while generating Sea Monsters (some of them can even serve as additional wincons!).
Will of Ionia is a premium interaction spell for the region, and it’s actually so autoinclude I can’t imagine a deck without at least one copy of the card. I like the idea of Concussive Palm in our list because it has the ability to occasionally protect our Vulnerable Kegs from being challenged.
Retreat should play out well in the deck as its flipside spell Return has a lot of great targets – all of our followers cost 3 or less and have relevant summon effects. A single copy of Deny falls somewhere between ‘meta tech’ and ‘interaction’ categories, and it’s important to make the opponents play around this card without dedicating too many slots to it. Even after you’ve used and showed them your only copy, they wouldn’t know that was the extent of it.
Now that we have just a few remaining slots left, we certainly could look into some additional card draw options. Both Ionia and Bilgewater have some great offerings. I’ve decided to go with Deep Meditation over Salvage because of the spell semi-tutoring of the former and the ‘feels bad’ interaction when Tossing our combo pieces with the latter. Ki Guardian is a neat cheap cycler that can help with protecting Karma and discounting Deep Meditation. Shadow Assassin is just a very efficient unit, another autoinclude from Ionia.
So that’s it, the first version of our brew is finalized and it’s time to test it out against the field. This is also the spot where I will wrap this deckbuilding guide as I’d argue that tuning is a completely separate process from brewing. It requires a separate set of skills and so warrants a proper deep dive – but that’s probably a topic for another time.
For now, I will leave you with some very basic advice. Unless you don’t care about your rank in Legends of Runeterra at all, restrict your initial stages of testing to Normal games. Both the skill competition and the dedication to meta there is significantly lower, so it’s a perfect environment. Once you get a feeling for your fresh brew and start showing some consistency – feel free to break the ladder meta!
Another tip is to never be ashamed of adopting other player’s ideas and putting your own twists on it. The culture of blind netdecking can be very boresome, but smart intelligent netdecking is a tool that every deckbuilder should use.
So thank you very much Runeterra crowd for checking out this guide. If you have any questions feel free to put them in the comments below or ask me directly on Twitter. Now go and bring to life those wild janky ideas I know you’ve had, and don’t let anything stand between you and creativity.