Pass Mechanic: The Finest Skill to Master
Legends of Runeterra is different from many other card games in the way its core gameplay is designed. A match of LoR is structured around players taking alternate ‘actions’ instead of ‘turns’.
When the game is built on the premise of ‘turns’, it means that one player whose turn it currently is decides when the turn ends. When we deal with ‘actions’, a turn (in LoR it is called ’round’) ends only when both players choose to do so by skipping their action.
The trick here is that if the first player skips his action but the second one doesn’t, the first player gets to act again. So skipping an action doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to finish the current turn. This particular interaction is called ‘passing’ and it is what we will discuss in this article. It is one of the most important mechanics to understand on your journey to mastering Runeterra.
In this article, I will try to highlight how a player can use passing to gain an edge over their opponent, showcase some examples of passing, and leave you with fun ‘pass puzzles’ to test your skills and knowledge of the mechanic.
Passing vs Playing On-Curve
There are two resources involved in the process of passing your action: cards and mana. Whenever you skip your action, you essentially forego the possibility of using the mana you have left to play a card that is in your hand.
By spending mana on cards a player creates ‘tempo’ in the game. They use cards to present ‘questions’ to their opponent, and if there is no ‘answer’, this ‘question’ will transform into ‘pressure’, leading to Nexus damage and eventually a win.
When you start learning card games, one of the first general rules you assimilate is that you usually want to play your cards on a ‘curve’ (1-cost card on turn one, 2 cost-card on turn 2, and so on). This way we are using your mana efficiently and develop a threat each turn, spending all the mana we have available. However, in LoR the pass mechanic existing means oftentimes it is correct to forego playing strictly on-curve.
For example, if I am playing a Fiora/Shen deck, my curve will demand me to play Fiora on turn 3 and Shen on turn 4 every single time I get to do so. And if I’m lucky, I will also have a 1-drop (Greenglade Caretaker or Fleetfeather Tracker) and the Brightsteel Protector on turn 2.
This on paper looks like a great opening and should net a ton of pressure on my opponent. However, this also means I have used all my mana on developing units and I have no way to protect them or answer my opponent’s threats with spells/interaction.
This ‘curve-out’ play can net great results if my opponent cannot interact with my board. However, often I will find myself at a disadvantage because they have full information on what they need to answer every single turn, and I have no mana to react.
From a pure resource-management standpoint, I did great and developed as much pressure as was possible with the cards and the mana I was given. But a game of Legends of Runeterra is not about who spends their resources faster. It’s about how effectively and timely you use your resources.
Attack Token and Passing
Have you ever wondered why it so common to see players attacking as their first action while they have a lot of mana available and could instead create a much more threatening board before the attack?
Well, most of the time, it’s because attacking is a free action that passes priority – but not the round. And if you are not actively pushing for lethal at that point in the game, you place yourself at an advantage this way. Your opponent is the first one required to use resources in order to not pass the turn, putting you in a situation when you’re the one reacting to your opponent’s actions.
There are two types of questions a player needs to ask to obtain the information needed to make efficient decisions during the game. The first one is: what resources are available? It is a piece of information that you can gather using only your side of the table. And the second one is: what am I trying to do with my resources? To answer this, you need to account for your opponent’s possible actions and plans.
So when your attack is not likely to accomplish a lot this turn, or when you are not actively looking for damage, using that attack token to deny your opponent some crucial piece of information before they have to act can be a good move.
Keep Your Opponents Guessing
Whenever you deliberate whether you should pass or not, try and imagine your opponent’s point-of-view. After you’ve passed, they will have many questions to answer.
“Do they have nothing?” “Are they banking mana for some crucial turn?” “Are they waiting for me to play a unit so they can cast a spell on it?”
All these questions and the uncertainty that has arisen have resulted from me merely my passing action. The pressure is on my opponent to interpret my pass, which complicates the game state for them a fair bit.
Now let’s do another example with a Fiora Shen deck. Here we’ll break down two scenarios.
- Scenario 1
Here I played strictly on-curve, using all mana available to me on every turn. On turn 1 I played Greenglade Caretaker, on turn two I followed it up with a Brightsteel Protector, and on turn 3 I developed Fiora. As a result, I have a very imposing board.
However, because I have no mana banked, the situation for my opponent is very simple and ‘face-up’. All the decisions they have to consider can be made without any guessing or complications whatsoever.
- Scenario 2
This time, I played Greenglade Caretaker on-curve in round 1. On turn 2, I didn’t play my Brightsteel Protector, saving its Barrier effect for a better time. On turn 3, I have 2 spell mana in my bank, and I played Fiora with the 3 regular mana I have.
I have fewer threats on the board in this scenario, but now my opponent has to consider whether I have Sharpsight or not! This added uncertainly significantly changes the complexity of the situation for them.
My opponent is now forced to play a ‘guessing game’ and can’t inform their decisions merely on the state of their own hand. Banking 2 mana on turn 2 reduced my aggression, but I put pressure on my opponent to make the right decision in the circumstances where they have incomplete information.
Be aware, that while I’m seemingly presenting the second scenario to be better than the first one, it isn’t true that you should play that hand that way all the time. The matchup and your role in it will play a huge part in whether you want to be the one taking risks or leaving those mostly to your opponent.
To solidify and test your passing skills, let’s play a little puzzle game! Below are the two screenshots of specific game situations. In both of them, it is your turn to act, and you have to make a decision – take an action or choose to pass.
My answers and explanations are hidden under the spoiler, so you can check in with them after you’ve come up with your own answers and reasoning. Also, keep in mind that the logic of your thinking while doing these puzzles is more important than anything else.
- Puzzle #1
- I’m playing against Ezreal/Draven.
- My hand consists of: Single Combat – Radiant Guardian – Aurelion Sol – Mountain Goat – The Grand Plaza – Solari Sunforger.
This is a classic early game situation – I have to decide if I either should bank my mana for use later in the game or develop a unit.
I should pass.
Turn 3 is a very important for my opponent since this is when they want to develop Draven.
I attack on odds, so there’s no difference between playing Plaza on turn 3 and on turn 4 – either way, I can’t attack with the buffed unit earlier than turn 5. I have to also consider that Ez/Draven plays Scorched Earth and Draven + Scorched Earth next turn would be a disaster for me.
So, my focus here should be on answering a possible Draven from my opponent, as they will likely open-attack with it on turn 4. Single Combat is my answer to Draven, but I need a unit of my own in order to cast that.
Goat + Single Combat is a possible option, but playing my Mountain Goat before they play Draven makes it vulnerable for removal.
The difference between playing Goat on turn 2 or 3 also comes up when considering the Thermogenic Beam, as if I play my goat now, they can beam it, and on the next turn play Draven. If I play my goat on the next turn, they would have to empty their mana in order to cast Thermogenic Beam, and wouldn’t be able to play Draven.
As I cannot beat Mystic Shot + Draven in this situation, so I’m not considering playing around it and will try to beat the next worst scenario.
I will pass now, then open my turn with the goat. If my opponent kills it, I will still have mana to use Single combat with my Solari Sunforger on turn 4 if I feel that this is better than developing the Plaza.
Playing the Goat now on turn 2 reduces my possibilities, and if it dies, I will be forced to play The Grand Plaza next turn, opening myself to Scorched Earth or an unopposed Draven for my opponent.
- Puzzle #2
- I’m playing against Fiora Shen.
- My hand consists of: Sharpsight – Island Navigator x2 – Miss Fortune – Quinn – Riposte.
My opponent just skipped his action and I have to choose between ending the turn and developing something they might be able to answer with 5 mana available. Should I risk my Miss Fortune here or should I pass the turn?
I shouldn’t pass.
Here, I would develop Miss Fortune for two reasons. Firstly, if I play MF and he plays Fiora, I will at worst have a trade of equal value. I can also try to protect my MF with a Sharpsight and make my opponent have this same trick as well.
The second reason is that I am the aggressor in the matchup, especially since The Grand Plaza is nowhere to be seen, so planning a long-term win looks like a losing bet.
I can already see that I have a great turn 4 play (Island Navigator) to go with my Miss Fortune on my attack turn. I can also see that if my opponent doesn’t have Fiora and happens to pass again once I played my MF, I will have a great edge for the coming turns.
The only big punishment here would be a Brightsteel protector on the Greenglade Caretaker into a Single Combat to kill my Miss Fortune, but this looks a bit far-fetched for me to make me pass my turn.
The pass mechanic is actually fairly complex and may seem intimidating if you are new to the game. It is nonetheless a very important skill to master as you climb the ladder and shoot for higher ranks.
A lot of things have to be taken into account when making a decision about passing your action or not, and there probably will never be a general rule that can solve every situation. The idea of this write-up was to show the different information that can be taken into account and help you make more educated decisions when it comes to passing
So, if you had to take one thing from this whole read: think about the situation and ask yourself who benefits from stalling the most. This is the one question that helped me or the players I’ve coached the most so far.
Once this feels natural, try to use and integrate more information in your thinking process – like planning resources for next turns, what can my opponent do if I let him have another action. Also, feel comfortable to throw in a bit of mind-game into the mix from time to time for the fun of it!
With much hope that this piece could help some players, and being very glad to start my experience as a writer for RuneterraCCG,
Thanks for reading, and see you in Legends of Runeterra.