Riot has not stopped their regular reveal of new champions for the current 6 regions and therefore, it’s time for me to once more delve into the universe of Runeterra. In order to explore the next two champions revealed after Quinn and Sejuani, we will take a boat ride too a mysterious chain of islands, where a living but twisted tree fights against the never ending tide of murderous ghosts and will also take a look at the grand general of the arguably most powerful empire in all of Runeterra. Their names are Maokai, the new Shadow Isles champion, who introduces the brand new ‘Toss’ keyword to Runeterra and Swain, who will lead the Noxus region too victory by burning down the enemy Nexus with his unrelenting assaults.
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We will first start with Maokai, the twisted treant. The Shadow Isles have been home to many half-dead, malicious individuals and creatures, since they were freed from their mortal coil by the magical cataclysm knows as the ruination. However, not all that were transformed into monsters on the fringes between alive and dead seek to bring ruin too everyone. Some like Maokai wish to restore the Isles too the state before they were renamed into the Shadow Isles.
THE ORIGINS OF MAOKAI, THE TWISTED TREANT
Long before The Ruination destroyed the civilization on the Blessed Isles, as the Shadow Isles were once called, even before the isles were still a beautiful paradise, a nature spirit was born on a island, that had just risen from the ocean. His name was Maokai and he took physical shape in the form of great treant. For a long time he spend his time in complete solitude on the isles because they were still devoid of any life, no plants or animals, just a chain of barren rocks in the middle of the ocean. Maokai wandered the Isles for a long time, not able to escape his loneliness, until he sensed something of great power. Deep below the ground was a source of magical, live giving water. Maokai extended his roots until he reached the source and started drinking from it, filling his wooden body with energy. With the help of the water, he was able to produce saplings from his body, which he planted all across the isles.
The once barren land were now transformed into a green paradise, covered in dense and magical forests home to all kinds of wondrous animals. It didn’t take long until humans also discovered these fertile lands and settled down. Maokai was first suspicious of these outsiders but warmed up to them because they made great efforts to not disrupt nature as their tiny settlements blossomed into a advanced civilization. All was good and well on this green jewel in the ocean, which makes what followed even more tragic than it already is.
One day, soldiers and a king stricken by maddening grief landed on the Isles. They were carrying the dead body of a woman, the wife of the king. They attempted to revive the dead woman by bathing her in the life giving waters, that Maokai had also once used to bring life to the isles. The plan backfired horrifically however. The magical water returned a flicker of life to the woman’s body but also unintentionally cursed her soul by binding it to a decaying corpse. The Frankenstein-esque result pleaded to be freed from the living realm again, making the king realize his grave error. He then conducted a ritual which was supposed to fix his mistake but instead, it doomed everyone, human or not, on the isles.
A massive wave crashed over the isles like a tsunami infused with dark and foul magic. Everyone who was caught in The Ruination was transformed, no matter if man or beast, into something wretched and otherworldly. Their souls were denied a easy exit out of the living world, twisted into the stuff of nightmares, doomed to roam the isles for eternity. Maokai sensed the ruination approaching his sacred water below the ground, threatening to corrupt it. He made a last ditch effort to save some of the water, absorbing it into his body and then severed the connection the water was fully tainted by angry spirits. Even Maokai wasn’t spared by The Ruination and had his form twisted into something monstrous but the water prevented him from becoming a part of the tide of the undead. Now the natural paradise he created was transformed into a murderous garden from hell. Maokai had to retreat but swore that he would eventually turn the Shadow Isles back into the green garden he once knew.
THE LORE INSIDE THE CARDS: MAOKAI
Like in League of Legends Maokai is able to generate little token units called saplings. However these are not the same saplings that Maokai used to spread the gift of life over the former Blessed Isles, these were twisted just like him in the ruination and have become impish plant creatures. In LoR the saplings have the Ephemeral and Challenger keyword, which is a good translation of how they work in League of Legends, where they stay put until a enemy comes close enough, at which point they then chase them down and explode upon impact.
Fitting for Runeterra’s version of the classical fantasy trope of treants, all of Maokai’s supporting cards so far follow a theme of nature and plants, come to live in monstrous forms. As is mentioned in his lore, the ruination affected all living beings, no matter what species they belong too. This concept of the natural world being contorted into murderous hellspawns is still wholly underexplored in the current set of LoR, mostly featuring the former human occupants of the Shadow Isles. With Maokai and his followers we will now get to see this aspect of the ruination, through units like Thorny Toad or the Overgrown Snapvine.
Together with Kalista he forms the section of the Shadow Isles champions, who actually have good intentions and want to undo The Ruination. Unlike Thresh and Hecarim, who are straight up evil and want to spread the horde of the undead around the entire world. Another cursed denizen of the Shadow Isles, who could be considered one of the good undead, is Yorick. He belonged to a ancient religious sect and has command over the revived corpses he had once buried. Yorick survived for the same reason as Maokai, by carrying some of the magical water with him, and now uses his newly aquired power to fight back against The Ruination, just like Maokai.
When it comes to the restoration of former glory, Maokai could probably learn a thing or two from the master tactician Swain. He is one of the three leaders of the Noxian Empire but arguably singlehandedly molded the current Noxus with his own demonic hands, being the mastermind behind most of its policies and campaigns. He is one of the big reasons why the Noxian Empire is so successful but behind all the glory, war and the noxian fervor for strength, lies a complex net of intrigues and secrets that are just as influential in the success of Noxus as its powerful armies.
THE ORIGINS OF SWAIN, THE NOXIAN GRAND GENERAL:
The Noxian Empire has a meritocratic spirit, where personal strength trumps over family ties and even slaves or foreigners can achieve greatness, as the recent cinematic about Noxus showed us. However, Jericho Swain’s story is not exactly a tale of racks to riches. Swain was born into a influential noble family from Noxus, one that helped the former emperor Boram Darkwill into power. He could have easily lived a life of luxury, using his proud heritage to justify leading the empire and scheming against Darkwill too amass more power for the noble families. One such secret group which plotted against the emperor was the Black Rose, of which Swain’s parents were a part of. Swain’s patriotism was stronger than his family ties however and he mercilessly exposed some of the conspirators and also his parents, who were then all executed but not before Swain first heard of a so called ‘Pale Woman’ from them and something about ravens in the Immortal Bastion.
Swain’s show of absolute loyalty towards the Noxian Empire earned him a high ranking position on the many frontlines of the empire. There he experienced first hand how dire the position of Noxus actually was, with their military spread too thin over a vast amount of senseless wars, that Boram Darkwill instigated out of sheer greed for exotic treasures. Nonetheless Swain gained a reputation for his good work in the empire’s outer provinces – particularly, in the western wastelands and Shurima. Eventually, he was sent to help Noxus secure Ionia during the first invasion. Officially, of course for the glory of the empire but in secret, for supposed magical artifacts which the increasingly mad Boram Darkwill was seeking for selfish purposes.
It was in Ionia where the current form of Swain took shape. In the battle of the Placidium the Noxian forces were routed in a battle that was supposed to be a clear victory for them. Swain also didn’t escape unscathed, having his knee shattered and his left arm badly wounded. He laid on the ground and a carrion raven landed on him, who were always present wherever Noxians laid slain in the dirt, about to rip his flesh out. When he looked into its eyes a sudden realization washed over his crippled body. In the eyes of the raven he was able to take a glimpse at a familiar darkness that had followed him too every battlefield. It was powerful and radiated from something inside the ancient immortal bastion, does it have a mind of its own? He was meant to die in this battlefield, to be claimed by a dark power that also the still active Black Rose, who may have convinced the emperor to invade Ionia, seeked. And what about the pale woman, were the Black Rose and the emperor all just her puppets in the end?
Swain survived that day and would return back to Noxus with a plan in mind. He went to the Immortal Bastion and faced the darkness he had sensed on the battlefield. There he encountered a demon, who consumes the dead to learn their secrets and Swain did what not even the Black Rose could, he tamed it. The raven demon became a part of him, restoring his body and giving him his demonic left hand. Then, after years of intriguing, Swain and his allies killed Darkwill and reformed the Noxian Empire. Swain wouldn’t lead it alone, even so it was his vision which would restore the glory of Noxus, instead he divided the leader position among himself, Darius and the mysterious Faceless. Each one of them represent a important aspect of what Swain considers true strength, Vision (Swain), Might (Darius) and Guile (Faceless). This government would be called the Trifarix and once more Noxus pointed its sword outward, now more powerful than ever.
THE LORE INSIDE THE CARDS: SWAIN
Besides the Trifarix being a obvious allusion too the way the real life Roman Empire was governed during the triumvirate period of its long history, there is a lot of other lore connections inside the Runeterra universe to unravel. Swain is deeply connected with a number of characters inside and outside of Noxus, through all his intrigues and military campaigns. Jericho Swain and his giant machines of war will tear down the health of your opponent by striking it directly each round, until Swain levels up and unleashes hell using his demonic powers on your opponent, damaging all enemies by 3 when he strikes the nexus and stunning the strongest enemy unit each time your opponents nexus is damaged outside of combat.
If you look at the card art of Swain and his supporting followers, you will quickly notice that the setting isn’t Noxus but actually another region that is currently featured in the game, the beautiful Ionia region. Large ionian trees give it away in the Citybreaker art, who’s beautiful pink petals are being overshadowed by the aggressive red radiating from the noxian invasion force. Their intimidating aura and the brutalist architecture of their war machines seems like a omen of the doom that is about to befall Ionia again. In Swain’s leveled up art this becomes even more obvious, as he is unleashing his ravens and other dark powers on soldiers wearing ionian uniforms. Because of this it only stands to reason that the art of the new champion for Ionia and his followers might show the opposite side of this looming war.
The second war between Noxus and Ionia and the introduction of Swain could serve as a staging ground for several Ionians. Irelia for example was the one who cut of Swain’s arm and was a important factor in Ionia’s victory over Noxus in the first invasion. Now her resistance fighters might have to take up arms once more. Lee Sin was another fierce opponent to the Noxians. In order to defend one of the most holy monasteries from the invaders, he invoked the spirit of the dragon and drove of the attackers with a hail of bone-crushing punches. The dragon spirit didn’t leave his body unscarred however, taking his eyes as a sacrifice and so turning him into the blind monk he is now. Now that Noxus is invading again, there is no question that Lee Sin would once more help defend his home.
Then their would also be the other big aspect of Swain, intrigues, assassinations and hidden societies. Even so noxians seem to value strength and glory through combat above everything else, there is also a more sly and subtle side to Noxus. Currently, this darker side of Noxus is represented through followers from the Crimson Circle but the Guile card shows as another important representative. LeBlanc, also known as the pale woman from his backstory, a mysterious and ancient sorceress, who seems to be deeply interwoven with the fate of Noxus and the Black Rose society since its very beginning.
Swain considers her and the Black Rose to be one of the greatest threats to his authority, which is no surprise since she is constantly plotting to depose him while always staying out of Swain’s own grasp. However, Swain also sometimes benefited from them. Having aquired the champion Sion from the Black Rose and possibly having a affair with LeBlanc once. A new set might introduce some more underhanded tactics or followers, who are part of the hidden forces controlling the fate of Noxus like the Black Rose, but it could also be that the developers will wait until they introduce LeBlanc, before they cover this important element of Noxus.
Thanks for reading the second part of our new lore series! Expect more of these deep dives into lore as more champions from the new Legends of Runeterra set get unveiled! Follow our Twitter to receive updates when the new articles come out!