The Coolest Champion Design in Legends of Runeterra? Lee Sin & New Ionia Cards: First Impressions and Ratings

When I saw Lee Sin, my jaw dropped. His design feels so authentic to his League of Legends character, but it also fits so naturally within Legends of Runeterra game environment. Now that some time has passed since the big reveal, I’m able to collect my thoughts and think rationally about Lee, so let us begin.

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Here’s our rating scale:

  • 5.0: Broken card. (Hecarim before the nerf).
  • 4.0: Meta staple. (Zed, Karma, Deny, Cithria the Bold).
  • 3.5: Good in multiple archetypes. (Stand Alone, Get Excited, Will of Ionia).
  • 3.0: Archetype staple. (Corina Veraza, Anivia).
  • 2.5: Role-player in some decks. (The Ruination, Fae Bladetwirler)
  • 2.0: Niche card. Underpowered card, or tech card or currently from an unfleshed archetype. (Ren Shadowblade, Parade Electrorig).
  • 1.0: Never sees play (Unstable Voltician, Basilisk Rider).

LEE SIN – 3.0, DRAGON’S RAGE – 1.0

Lee Sin is the most synergy-driven champion card out of all revealed so far for the next expansion. He is an epitome of a bulid-around champion – probably even more so than Maokai. Without cheap efficient spells in your deck, Lee offers next to nothing as a 6-cost 3/6. However, once you have a proper list specifically around him, the Ionia Monk will serve both as a win-condition and a utility piece to get there consistently.

So, let’s scroll past his Level 1 version quickly. What it offers will rarely matter, because Lee Sin decks will aim to play him on curve, already pre-flipped by that time. Casting 7 spells by turn six should be an easy enough task to achieve – with the help of cheap efficient removal spells and combat tricks. Ionia has Twin Disciplines and Steel Tempest, but even more importantly, the region has also just received a ton of new cards that perfectly synergize with Lee Sin – we will talk about them in detail, but later.

The region that has probably the greatest expertise in the matters of spell-spamming is Piltover and Zaun. Mystic Shot, Thermogenic Beam and Get Excited/ Gotcha will help stave off early aggression. Jury Rig and Scrapdash Assembly are the tools to add some board presence through spell-casting, while Rummage and Flash of Brilliance are the ways to keep the spell-train going. And of course, one shouldn’t forget about Mushrooms – I have a feeling Lee Sin will befriend Chump Whump and Clump of Whumps very soon.

Given this many tools, a dedicated Lee deck should have no problem prepping his turn 6 appearance in a leveled-up form. This is where things get really wild as the champion now has an ability to kick blockers into their own Nexus. The rules’ text on the card says ‘I Dragon’s Rage enemies that I Challenge’. What it really means though is: ‘When I Challenge an enemy, cast Dragon’s Rage on me targeting that same enemy’.

As soon as you confirm the attack, the game puts Dragon’s Rage spell on the stack, which can be interacted with by all the usual means. An opponent can counter it either with Deny or by fizzling any of the two targets. Dragon’s Rage should also count as a ‘spell cast’ for the cases where it matters – i.e. it advances Ezreal’s quest and buffs up Vi’s attack value.

If resolved, Dragon’s Rage causes Lee Sin to Strike (deal non-combat damage equal to his attack value) to both the challenged enemy and their Nexus. Here I have to agree with those who have noted some flavor inconsistency there. At first glance, presenting the effect as ‘kicking enemy into Nexus’ led me to believe that the Nexus damage is calculated based on the ‘kicked’ unit’s values. After all, it is the unit who ‘hits’ the Nexus, right? Well, it is not. It is Lee Sin who strikes the Nexus in this case, which feels just a bit off.

Anyway, it is still quite great that even if the enemy survives the Strike, it still gets Recalled, which will result in a massive loss of tempo for the opponent. Lee Sin has the ability to kick some really big bombs – such as They Who Endure or Tryndamere – out of the fight, also resetting any buffs on the likes of Scarmother Vrynna as well. Note that while doing all that, Lee doesn’t take any damage in return. Dragon Rage is a pre-combat strike effect! Moreover, if Lee Sin also has Overwhelm through that combat phase, he will then deal a full combat damage to the Nexus – in addition to his Dragon’s Rage effect.

There are still lots of questions regarding the mechanics on Dragon’s Rage card, it is just such a unique effect. For example, we don’t know if it counts as a single Strike (enemy/Nexus as one) or as two separate strikes Strikes (enemy AND Nexus), which is relevant for champions like Garen and Draven. But in any case, it’s  still hard to believe Dragon’s Rage will find its way into any list as a standalone maindeckable removal. It works at Slow speed, it can be disrupted so easily – and mana investment is absurd. But when attached to Lee Sin as essentially free spell – well, there it feels very strong. To be completely honest, I feel like the only reason Riot designed this card to be a spell is because all the possible wordings for a similar Lee Sin skill were incredibly convoluted.

Now, let’s take a step back and discuss what’ve omitted so far – the champion’s ability to gain combat keywords for the round. What’s interesting about his play pattern is exactly that spell-managing aspect of his gameplay. As we’ve mentioned before, it is likely that our main goal with Lee Sin is to always play him as Level 2.  At 6 mana, he really doesn’t provide quite enough in his Level 1 form. So the issue here is that by aggressively spamming spells to prep for Lee’s arrival, we’re also spending those exact resources required to give him keywords later in the game.

This is why the cards that generate spells will be at such a premium in his deck – you will always look to stockpile that one Mushroom Cloud or whatever in your hand to always have the essential ability to activate his Challenger trait. Thankfully, Riot revealed a bunch of new spells and followers that work well with that consideration in mind – we’ll get to them in a second. Also note that you will rarely – if ever – need a second spell in a round to activate Lee’s second keyword – Barrier. This is because it becomes somewhat a redundant ability as he uses Dragon’s Rage to either kill or recall a blocker and doesn’t take damage in return.

On the last note, I just want to express a sincere hope that Lee Sin’s ‘spells matter’ combo deck will find its way into the meta. This champion is, honestly, one of the coolest things we’ve seen in Legends of Runeterra so far. It pays such a great tribute to his League of Legends character; I really believe it to be one of the greatest examples of top-down design in CCG’s.

SONIC WAVE/RESONATING STRIKE – 2.5

Split cards – the concept first introduced by Magic:The Gathering – are making their way into Legends of Runeterra, and I absolutely love it! The game has re-imagined an idea of this kind of 2-in-1 effect by attaching a Fleeting clause on the second created spell. It significantly nerfs the impact of such cards – but in quite a healthy way, shifting the power form general strength to specific combo value.

The two ‘halves’ of the Sonic Wave/Resonating Strike card have the combined cost of 3 mana, which is a notable trait due to spell mana, while the Burst speed on both of them goes a long way. It is a perfect enabler card for Lee Sin – it activates both of his combat abilities while providing a neat combat value by itself. Ideally you would want to give a Challenger to a unit with some other combat keyword – Quick Attack and Barrier are the thinks you are particularly looking for.

In some cases it may be even worth to 2-for-1 yourself with this card if you also have Lee Sin on board (i.e. to use both halves on your 2-2 to trade with their 4 health unit). In those cases,Wave/Strike will still equip your champion with Challenger and Barrier so you that you could easily recoup card advantage by enabling a great trade right then and there.

This card looks like an easy 3-of in a dedicated Lee Sin deck and I hope it also turns out to be his signature spell. However, I don’t believe any other archetypes would be in the market for this kind of effect given that the likes of En Garde saw almost no play so far.

RETREAT/RETURN – 2.0

This one is among the most divisive cards from those revealed alongside Lee Sin. Some have already declared it to be insanely broken – mainly due to Return half, while others have acknowledged only a meme potential on it.

So let’s get our fantasies and dreams out of our system first. Zed summon at burst speed? Quite broken. Slamming leveled up Ezreal from out of nowhere with a bunch of burst spells to finish the job? Pretty insane. An ambush by Ancient Crocolith, previously discounted by Oblivious Islander? Hilarious!

Now back to the realm of mediocrity and common scenarios. Retreat is essentially a reactive spell that you would cast in the same spots where Glimpse Beyond currently acts as a hallmark of efficiency. Once resolved, Glimpse draws you two random cards from your deck. Retreat adds two cards to your hand as well – the unit you’ve just saved from a removal, and a Fleeting Return spell. This effect can be comparable to what Glimpse does – but only if you can reliably provide good targets for Return on that same single turn. Which can be a lot to ask for.

And here comes the main issue with the card: because Retreat is a reactive spell, you’re quite heavily gated from using Return on your own terms – which in turn also limits the ways in which the spell can be truly abused. So here’s the paradox, the way in which the two halves of this split card pull in different directions: we either have a good burst spell gated by the mediocre fast spell, or we have a mediocre burst spell created by the good fast spell.

CLAWS OF THE DRAGON – 3.0

At its best, this follower is a 0 mana 3/2 that doesn’t require an action and can even come down at burst speed. In this scenario, Claws of the Dragon seems pretty insane. The most important question here is – which decks can reliably enable such a scenario?

Well, obviously, Lee Sin deck would utilize her quite well, and I expect Claws of the Dragon to become one of the main tools for that archetype in fighting for the board through early turns. As such, she should be an easy three-of in any Lee Sin build.

However, what worries me is that similar mana-cheating effects are generally extra powerful in card games and can get out of hand quite easily. If – God forbid – aggro decks will find a way to abuse Claws of the Dragon, it will lead to several negative consequences.

Meta becoming toxic and repetitive (do the words ‘Pirate Warrior’ and ‘Patches’ mean anything to you, dear reader?) is not even the biggest payback here. It is the fact that Claws would get hit by a nerf and Lee Sin decks would find it very hard to recover from losing such a crucial piece. So, I really hope this card is a 3.0 and not a 4.0!

CONCUSSIVE PALM/TAIL OF THE DRAGON – 3.5

Even though those are the two separate, both maindeckable cards, I’d prefer to judge them as a one split card with Concussive Palm being the ‘face side’. And honestly, this is a great look for the card!

Concussive Palm almost trivializes Steel Tempest – Ionia now has a Stun effect that can be activated at any point in the game and adds a sizeable 3/2 body on the board. Sure, Palm costs 1 more mana than Tempest – and as such exceeds an important spell mana threshold – but still, the cost-to-effectiveness ratio here is off the charts.

I can’t see myself maindecking Tail of the Dragon for now, especially considering the fact that there are hardly any scenarios where it can be Recalled for value. Navori Conspirator and Solitary Monk both feel like negative tempo plays here, while Retreat/Return has its own problems we’ve already discussed.

SCALES OF THE DRAGON/DRAGON’S PROTECTION – 1.0

Now, this one actually comes as a package – Dragon’s Protection is a token-spell as it doesn’t show a rarity gem on its lower edge. Still, the card is quite bad, and doesn’t offer much even in a focused Lee Sin deck. 4/2 is a mediocre statline for 3 mana, while the Slow speed on the spell half is really laughable.

The only good thing is that you can never get truly 2-for-1’d with Dragon Protection as you try to grant the buff to something. The spell has already been ‘recycled’ as a 4-2 body no matter if it resolves or not – but even that is hardly a redeeming quality.

Thank you very much for reading! Do you disagree with any of the ratings? Let me know in the comments below and stay tuned for more spoiler discussion & ratings at RuneterraCCG.com! Follow our Twitter to receive updates when the new articles come out!

Rainmaker

Rainmaker’s love for Magic: The Gathering and League of Legends is fertile soil for his immense Legends of Runeterra passion. His goal is to constantly get better in and enjoy all the aspects of this game, be it brewing, tuning, piloting, or drafting - and report all of his experiences along the way!