I’ve tried a bunch of ideas in the first few days of the Rise of the Underworlds expansion, and the bulk of my creativity was spent on Pyke.
Though Ekko might be more flexible as a splash in other regions, Pyke seemed to me like he could have greater flexibility. Not in a deck-building sense, but rather through his play patterns that can yield some very interesting lines, and he feels like somewhat of a novelty for aggro in Legends of Runeterra.
I’ve tinkered with different lists, started refining the standard Rek’Sai pairing, discussed and reviewed other players’ creations and attempts at refinement, and also playtested more eclectic ways of playing Pyke, most notably in Noxus and Piltover & Zaun. Results varied and further down is the sum of my impressions, starting with the Pyke breakdown, followed by two Shurima lists, and finishing with a non-Shurima list.
- How good is Pyke?
As a 4-drop, Pyke is not exactly the best unit ever. Other champions blow him out of the water when it comes to direct impact – a quick comparison with Sivir shows the difference in stats and keywords glaringly. He becomes much, much scarier if he has Lurked and has been transformed into
Playing him on turn 4 as a unit is not horrible, especially if we can leverage his Quick Attack for an easy kill, which will put him closer to a ‘breaking point’ of 15 damage dealt. It pays off greatly to work for Death from Below that will level Pyke and wipe the whole enemy board.
Overall, Pyke is very good at what he does, but there are two pitfalls that I’ve identified.
Firstly, he requires a heavy amount of build-around, which makes him rather inflexible. We do not want to rely on luck of the draw to activate his Lurk, and there are very few tools available to actually put Pyke on top of our deck. In Bilgewater, there is Bone Skewer.
Secondly, while he has interesting play patterns that can majorly pay us off against many aggro and midrange decks, he has a clear weakness against control decks that do not aim to build a wide board. Additionally, Ionia and Shurima decks that include Deny or Rite of Negation can present a problem as they can get deal with Pyke even in his Death from Below form.
So, Pyke is great, but he also feels quite narrow. He has flexible play patterns, but rigid deck-building possibilities. In the end, it is not that big of a deal when it comes to overall competitive viability – many champions only have a single archetype.
Everybody knew it, Pyke and Rek’Sai are an easy match as they both benefit from Lurk to a high degree. The gameplan seems simple: play a bunch of Lurker units and get them to grow stronger until they get too big for the opponent to handle. In reality, the deck is a bit more complicated than that and there is a lot of space for refining and tech choices.
There is one standout card in this deck besides its champions: a little Burst spell named Call the Pack. The archetype would not work as well as it does right now if it wasn’t for this card.
The random Lurker generation on it is interesting but it isn’t the important part. The ability to choose a card to put on top of our deck is incredible despite it looking like a downside at first. It guarantees a Lurk trigger of course, but it also allows us to put Rek’Sai or Pyke on top in order to profit from their respective Lurk effects which are absolutely vital.
Furthermore, Call the Pack can allow us to sometimes unbrick our hand by removing a specific card from it and Predicting, which will shuffle the unwanted card back in our deck. This interaction can seem like nothing, but the deck is full of little intricacies like these.
Now, Rek’Sai is also insane, and a lot of the archetype is focused on making sure she levels once she comes down. With Shaped Stone, she only needs three Lurk triggers to level up – so leveling her on turn 6 is a reasonable expectation, with the occasional high-roll by turn 5.
Pyke is a bit of a wildcard. Rek’Sai is powerful, but her play patterns are straightforward. Pyke can come down as a removal spell, and there is no way for the opponent to know whether or not we have
The later the game goes, the scarier Pyke gets. A midgame Death from Below, even for a humble amount of damage, if it is then followed by a Pyke attack, likely means that the very next Pyke kill will lead to a total board-wipe. That’s nuts, there is no other word for it.
And believe me, finding two Pykes is not as hard as it sounds thanks to our Predict cards and Preservarium – which brings us to the topic of Predict and its importance in the deck. But first let’s take a look at the second iteration of a Lurk deck, a bit leaner than the one above.
There are few differences compared to the first iteration, but they matter. This list is closer to the ground, with Xerxa’reth, the Undertitan being the most expensive card, completely cutting on the Xer’sai Dunebreaker. We are also fielding Bloodbait which synergizes well with Rek’Sai, allowing you to set up an additional Lurk proc for her on your following defensive turn after you’ve attacked with her on the top.
The Predict package is incredible at guaranteeing good draws throughout the game, but it also ensures that Lurk triggers. Feral Prescience does exactly that at no tempo loss, and sure, going down on a card is a heavy cost to pay, but this version of the deck chases the high-rolls by its nature and benefits from them greatly.
To me, the first iteration is good but is still prone to low-rolling in the early turns. Meanwhile, this second list gets in the thick of things starting on turn 1 and never eases its grip until you run out of cards or win the game. And thanks to Call the Pack and Rek’Sai’s level up refilling our hand, we rarely run out of steam.
Of course, neither of the two lists is perfect and they have their downsides. Still, I believe the lists including Feral Prescience have a clear edge over the rest.
I’ve mentioned earlier how Pyke was very much reliant on Lurkers to function. It was pretty clear to most people that Pyke would only ever work paired with Shurima.
I didn’t disagree, but I still wanted to give Pyke a chance outside of Shurima. I won’t bore you with all the lists I’ve tried, but let’s just say there were a lot, and I’ll just leave here the one that highlights the issues Pyke faces when out of the desert the best.
Let me quickly put in a disclaimer by saying this deck is nowhere near being refined, even if it had anything resembling potential hiding within. Try this at your own risk, and please don’t invest wildcards or shards into it if you’re only starting out and are low on resources.
So here’s the issue: there just aren’t enough Lurkers or ways to manipulate our top-deck.
In this case above, I was hoping the lack of Lurkers could be remedied by Noxus’ plentiful damage buffs, but it just doesn’t work because playing Pyke as a 4-mana 2/3 is absolutely horrendous. We’re relying on dumb luck to turn him into
Before you ask, yes I did try with the Predict package in Piltover & Zaun. It didn’t work either, but at least I had a good chuckle playing Ezreal Pyke.
Pyke is a solid champion with very interesting play patterns and interactions. His pairing with Rek’Sai is powerful with many intricacies, though it has an annoyingly wide variance where it can sometimes completely run you over, and sometimes it will surrender on turn 3.
The main issue is that the archetype patterns are super telegraphed and have some glaring weaknesses. The biggest one is Rek’Sai’s hilarious vulnerability to stun effects. I don’t think the current iteration of Lurkers will hold up to scrutiny once the meta settles.
For deck-builders out there though, don’t get too excited. Pyke’s reliance on Lurkers to increase his attack, and top-deck manipulation to unlock Death from Below means he will very much be stuck in a pairing with Shurima.
Until more Lurkers or top-deck manipulation are introduced in Bilgewater or other regions than Shurima, save yourself the headache and stay where the sun shines. Any deck you’ll build outside of the desert will only end up as worse versions of other archetypes.
In the meantime though, you can play the Lurker archetype and Pyke rips it in there. It’s genuinely fun and engaging while also being incredibly powerful, so it’d be a shame to miss out.