Hey there, Raphterra here! Today, I’m sharing the first article of The Runeterra Archives, a series where I present the most notable changes in Legends of Runeterra‘s patch history.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at an exclusive group of cards and archetypes that Riot decided to nerf quickly due to their power level. To be included in this list, the card must have been nerfed in the immediate balance update after the patch it was released or buffed. Cards that survived at least one balance patch will not be included in this list.
Starting off the list is the mustache man himself, Braum! Braum was one of the first champions released for Legends of Runeterra, but he wasn’t part of any competitive builds in the early patches. In Patch 1.4, Riot decided to aggressively buff Braum, giving him +1 Power and the ability to summon a Mighty Poro at Level 1.
This new Braum found himself in almost every Freljord deck because his effect and keywords allow him to develop and maintain board presence. The most notable deck where Braum shined was Braum Anivia Control. This deck simply used Braum as a stall tool while waiting for Anivia to come online on Turn 10.
After dominating ranked ladder for about a month, Riot reverted Braum’s power back to 0 in Patch 1.6. While Braum still retained the ability to summon a Mighty Poro upon taking damage, he has not yet found his way back to a high-tier deck since this nerf.
Noxus’ Allegiance unit, Basilisk Rider, was buffed alongside Braum in Patch 1.4. The Allegiance card for Noxus never saw competitive play prior to this patch, mainly due to Basilisk Rider being too fragile at 2 health.
The new Basilisk Rider became a powerful on-curve play for aggressive Noxus decks. This led to the creation of “Darrowing”, a deck that utilizes Noxus’ strong aggressive early units to deal as much Nexus damage as possible, then win games through Level 2 Darius or The Harrowing.
Similar to Braum, Riot nerfed Basilisk Rider’s power in the next balance patch. Way before Ruin Runner, Basilisk Rider was the Overwhelm unit that quickly became a target for the nerf hammer. Currently, Noxus Allegiance decks have not been competitive; at most they are seeing some experimental play in ranked ladder.
The Call of the Mountain expansion introduced Spellshield in Patch 1.8 which included Targon’s go-to Spellshield generator, Bastion. After it’s release, Riot decided to buff Bastion in Patch 1.11 to allow the card to have more value when used proactively.
With Bastion now providing permanent stats and Spellshield, it quickly became a staple spell for the region. This card was most notably used in Lee Sin Targon, where it provided more protection for Lee Sin, a card that was already hard to remove on his own.
The nerf hammer immediately addressed Bastion in Patch 1.12, increasing its cost from 3 to 4. Now, Bastion still sees play in specific decks that focus on protecting key units like Pantheon Yuumi or Poppy Taric.
Azir Irelia / Blossoming Blade
The Guardians of the Ancient expansion and Patch 2.7 included the release of Irelia and her support cards. This expansion led to the birth if the infamous Azir Irelia deck. The Blade Dance mechanic combined with Azir‘s Sand Soldiers can efficiently launch multiple wide attacks on both attack and defense turns.
Blossoming Blade is the deck’s first component to be hit by the nerf hammer. Even after this change, Azir Irelia continued to dominate the meta until Patch 2.15. This update finally balanced the deck by increasing Flawless Duet’s mana cost from 1 to 2. The Shuriman desert was vast indeed!
Yordle Explorer & God-Willow Seedling
Yordle Explorer and God-Willow Seedling are very interesting cases. I decided to group these two together, as they were given hotfix nerfs very quickly right after they were released. Riot released these cards in Patch 2.21 and they nerfed them quickly only 2 days after the expansion went live.
We never saw the full potential of these cards, probably for good reason. Yordle Explorer would very likely just help Bandle City Yordle swarm decks. This archetype was already controversial during this time due to their ability to swarm the board with high-statted cheap units. God-Willow Seedling is a key component of Ahri Kennen, a deck that proved to be a very powerful deck even after this nerf. It took several nerfs to Ahri and Kinkou Wayfinder to finally disarm this infamous combo deck.
This buff popularized decks running Iceborn Legacy with Poros or Spiders. Iceborn Legacy became very controversial because combining permanent buffs with elusive Daring Poros can lead to snowbally, uninteractive play patterns. In Patch 3.2, the devs nerfed Iceborn Legacy to become a Focus Speed spell and to have its cost increased from 5 to 6. This might have been an overnerf, since the card has not been part of any significant decks after the change.
Gnar joined Legends of Runeterra in Patch 3.2 and he was easily one of the best champions in the game during this time. Similar to buffed Braum, Gnar’s effects, stats, and keywords made him splashable into any Freljord or Bandle City deck. Riot immediately toned down Gnar’s Power from 4 to 3 in Patch 3.4.
This removed Gnar’s ability to attack freely into 4 health units on Turn 4, which made it less common for him to level-up early. Currently, Gnar still sees play in Overwhelm decks, but he’s no longer the super-splashable champion that he used to be.
This buff allowed Mono Shurima decks to flip the Buried Sun Disc as early as Turn 6. Most Mono Shurima builds during this period focused on activating the Buried Sun Disc with a combo-focused game plan. Mono Shurima became the most-played deck on ladder and this led to a meta where you either needed to counter or lose to Mono Shurima.
Riot quickly addressed the problem in Patch 3.6, where they nerfed the Buried Sun Disc to slow down Mono Shurima’s win condition by 2 turns. After this nerf, the deck remained to be a viable deck both for ladder and tournaments.
Patch 3.8 and the Worldwalker expansion came with new champions and new support cards for outdated decks. Lissandra Thralls received 2 new support cards in this patch: Harbinger of Thralls and Sands of Time.
Lissandra Thralls quickly rose to the top of the meta. In response, Riot immediately nerfed Promising Future and Sands of Time in Patch 3.10. Even after these nerfs, the new versions of Lissandra Thralls continued to dominate ranked ladder and tournaments. We are very likely to see further nerfs to this archetype in the next game update.
Viego Noxus / Legion Deserter
Legion Deserter came out in Patch 3.8, and players quickly found out that he can be very abusable when used with Viego’s Encroaching Mists. Legion Deserter grows by +2/+2 for every Encroaching Mist summoned. This allows the card become a cheap, game-ending finisher for the Noxus Viego archetype. In this deck, Legion Deserter was a better finisher even when compared to Overwhelm champions like Darius, Trundle, or Tryndamere.
Patch 3.10 brought a huge nerf to Legion Deserter, with its keyword changing from Overwhelm to Fearsome. This nerf unfortunately killed the Viego Noxus deck completely. Sadly, it might take a long time for us to see Legion Deserter back in the meta.
Riot seems to be more willing to aggressively buff archetypes in the recent balance patches. This means we are likely to see more of these immediate nerfs in the future. I had a lot of fun writing this article, and I hope you enjoyed reading too. Looking forward to writing more articles in The Runeterra Archives series!