What Makes Aphelios So Dominant?
It was not that long ago when Aphelios was nerfed, and yet he remains to be a major part of the current metagame. The amazing thing is that he probably still is in the exact same spot in terms of power-level where he was before – even after losing a health point. Aphelios is still a great champion – and the only one that could challenge Twisted Fate for the top spot in the coming weeks.
What makes Aphelios so powerful is the Moon Weapons mechanic, which gives the champion all its flexibility. Unlike almost every other champion in the game, Aphelios has the tools to shine pretty much in any game situation, and that makes all the difference.
Most other champions want their decks to be tailored to their skill set, which can reduce those decks’ flexibility. What separates Aphelios is that he doesn’t limit but helps the overall flexibility of the decks he is played in. While he still has certain requirements to be used to his full potential, the champion can be slotted into a ton of decks and will find ways to improve any strategy through his Moon Weapons.
In this article, we will try to understand what makes Aphelios so special and why the nerf to his stat line did little to address the problem of his power-level. There were no balance changes in Patch 2.4.0, so Aphelios will keep playing a major role in the meta for the coming weeks. It’s important to learn where he takes his power from – both to properly use him or to try and counter him.
Synergy with Targon
Targon is a great region for Aphelios as it has natural flexibility that complements the champion. Thanks to the Celestial cards, Targon functions very similarly the way Aphelios himself does, generating cards to fit any situation.
Aphelios can play the role of support and slow down the opponent’s threats, buying time for big Celestial units to come down. Alternatively, he can be a centerpiece, supported with cheap spells and small units, helping him generate Moon Weapons and level up.
Another card that players have been calling out as the one that needs a nerf is The Veiled Temple, the best landmark in the game. This card makes Aphelios – and pretty much any Targon unit – better, and it is the reason why the raw stat line isn’t of much concern for the champion.
There’s also a natural synergy going on – ‘Whenever you play two cards’ is the condition to activate the temple, but surely enough, it also is how you activate Aphelios’s Moon Weapon ability.
While Aphelios is often described as a ‘unique champion’ gameplay-wise, he is still very precisely designed to fit the Targon region. There is actually a whole system in place, functioning very similarly as he does.
We were comparing him to Twisted Fate earlier – a champion that feels so lonely in the Bilgewater region so that he had to make friends with Piltover to get access to the card draw ability. Aphelios has everything he needs inside his own region, which means he can pick and choose any other region he would like to pair with, and build the perfect deck that will suit a particular plan.
Just Another Threat
Another very important point about Targon is that the region is packed with threats. Obviously, Aphelios is probably the main target of any deck going against him, but as we stated before, he can sometimes fall back and assume the role of support because of the density of all the other threats he is surrounded with.
Firstly, we have Zoe, and she also is a must-kill target as her level-up ability is often game-winning. At 1 mana, Zoe is great at creating a resource gap with the opponent who usually will have to invest 2 or 3 mana to get rid of her. This is the mana that the opponent might regret not having later when Aphelios comes down on the board.
Then, we have the Mountain Scryer, a 2/3 for 4 mana which also has a great impact if he stays on the board. Through reducing the cost of all Celestial cards, he allows the player to use mana more efficiently and once again create a resource gap with the opponent.
And of course, there are all the Celestial units that can be a nightmare to get rid of because of an Elusive or a Spellshield keyword.
This is very important when assessing the power of Aphelios, as the champion doesn’t need to carry the game by himself – unlike what is asked of Twisted Fate, Fiora, or Nasus, for example. Don’t get me wrong, Aphelios is a great threat, and he will win many games. But still, Aphelios decks tend to have a great chance even if they don’t draw their champion.
This constitutes one of Aphelios’ biggest strengths, as he can just be a flexible tool inside a solid general gameplan, while still being capable of carrying the game on his back when he needs to.
The Back Row Engine
Targon is probably the best region in the game, and Aphelios can probably brag about being the best card within the best region.
The main thing that makes Aphelios a really strong champion is that he doesn’t have to enter combat to carry. It is actually a trait that is common between him and Twisted Fate, another super-powerful card.
Champions are the most important cards in your deck, and every time you send them to battle, you run the risk of losing them.
Let’s take Fiora for example, who is the ‘ultimate battling champion’. She has to go into combat, and if you manage to protect her, you get the biggest possible reward: YOU WIN THE GAME. This alone shows how actually going to battle is dangerous – by design. Most of the time, building your strategy around a champion that can avoid combat will be safer and more reliable.
Aphelios, just like Twisted Fate or even Ezreal, or the newly released Lissandra for example, can win you the game by just staying on the board long enough and providing value. He will generate Moon Weapons every turn, which will build up a huge lead over time and you will lock down your opponent if they can’t pressure you fast enough.
That ability to dominate the game from the back row is usually what separates the greats from the good ones in Legends of Runeterra, and Aphelios also has flexibility on top of that – which separates him even further.
Let’s take an evolved Ezreal for example, a champion that routinely wins games with his passive ability. There still is a clear counterplay to him: healing. As long as you can out-heal the damage Ezreal deals to you, you can exhaust your opponent’s hand, and then Ezreal is just a 2/4 Elusive unit.
Now back to Aphelios. What is the counterplay there, apart from getting rid of him? There isn’t a real one, because he is the counterplay himself. Aphelios is the one that decides which direction is the best to take in any situation, he is adaptable with the choice of the next Moon Weapon – it’s impossible to defend against him properly.
The Flexibility of Deckbuilding
Because of that flexible aspect to him and the Targon region, Aphelios is the champion that sees the most variety of decks built around him currently. Only his pairing with Zoe, for example, has several effective interpretations by itself when it comes to the second region of choice.
So far, the most popular and dominant build is the Shadow Isles with a splash of Atrocity. This card is another one that is routinely listed as a potential nerf target when the community is concerned, and it covers one of the few things Targon is missing: direct damage.
As most of you know by now, the synergy that exists between the 7+ cost Celestial units and Atrocity is one of the best in the game. They grow their attack based on how many Celestial cards you’ve played during the game, and the Spellshield keyword makes them great to target with Atrocity.
But this combination isn’t the only one that has been featured recently, as pairings with Frejlord or Bilgewater also showed some merit.
In this last section, let’s go over the various builds that Aphelios allows and what makes each of them different.
While Targon is in charge of handling the late-game and the general tempo, Shadow Isles here takes care of the situation where we want to change the pace. Atrocity is the endgame finisher we talked about, but The Box is another interesting inclusion and one of the best answers in the game to Fizz TF’s Wiggly Burblefish turn.
This build really shows how the second region has the ability to come in and cover the glaring weaknesses of Targon, allowing for a complete deck. Aphelios here doesn’t necessarily have a strict role to fill, and this is why he is so good in the deck.
He doesn’t need to be defensive as we have Sunburst and The Box to help, neither he has to help push damage because of Atrocity. When he comes down on the board, we can just pick the overall best Moon Weapon, usually Crescendum to thin the deck and then just adapt to the situation with the following phased Moon Weapons.
Boxtopus is the best 2-drop in the game when he doesn’t damage himself coming into play. And Wiggly Burblefish arguably is the highest-profile pressure unit in the game after Fizz TF showed how much it could be abused.
While SI offers a more balanced approach to the game, Bilgewater uses pressure as a primary gameplan. The deck builds an early lead and forces the opponent to be reactive and use more of his resources to keep the pressure at bay.
While Aphelios is usually more exposed in this build, he also isn’t necessary to close out the game as we have the Burblefish and Mind Meld in that role. Aphelios’ task here is to stay on board and create as much tempo as possible. Moon Weapons are spells, which means they boost many of the synergies we have in the deck.
Losing Aphelios might feel worse here than with the Shadow Isles build, as he has a larger role in this deck. He still isn’t required to win the game on its own though, and the removal that is used to get rid of him allows some other threat in the deck to shine and pressure the opponent more freely.
With the Frejlord addition, we take an opposite direction from the Bilgewater build. Here the idea is not to force interaction on the board, but to reduce it so we can enable our many synergies and build huge units.
The Starlit Seer, being the 2-drop summoned with Aphelios, has a similar role as the Burblefish in the previous build. It feeds off of spells and rewards us for playing a ton of them, as we will then draw into beefy units that can fight for the board very efficiently.
This build is probably the one that leaves the opponent the most opportunities to counterplay, which is why it is considered to be the weakest. It can shine against opponents that rely on pure board pressure to counter the Targon region, for example, the Overwhelm builds.
So, while this list appears to be more niche than the other two, it definitely has merits and could be an interesting pick for a tournament where a lot of Fiora Shen or Renekton decks are expected.
Aphelios doesn’t really have a dedicated ‘champion partner’ in the game. Most champions are also flexible enough to be played with different pairings, they also have a clear ‘best duo’ they are identified with.
Aphelios is so flexible that the champion he is paired with usually is based on the current metagame more than the synergy they might have together. For example, in the previous metagame, we have seen him with Twisted Fate, Lee Sin, Zoe, and even Karma during the Seasonal Tournament.
Since Shurima, Twisted Fate has been almost an exclusive partner of Fizz in the tourney lineups, but that didn’t prevent Aphelios from finding new champions to go along with, as his pairing with Zoe currently feels incredibly powerful.
This is the case with this build of Aphelios – Asol which is very close to the one pairing him with Zoe. Except here, the emphasis is put on the late-game to focus on the slower matchups. Aphelios takes the role of an early game threat which helps slowing down the pace of the game to set up for Aurelion Sol later on.
Despite the recent nerf he suffered, Aphelios looks pretty much like his old self in the current metagame. It will probably take a rework of the Targon region or a nerf to some of his best allies in the region (Veiled Temple or the Celestial cards pool) to make him feel weaker.
While I personally do not have a problem with the champion itself, it is true that its potential of taking over a game is second to none, and the overall package surrounding him makes it even scarier.
The fact that you can also keep him in the back row for almost the entire game is something else that might need to be looked at, as just like other best champions in the game, it limits the way the opponent can interact with him and forces to invest much more resources than what Aphelios costs.
Aphelios probably will remain untouched when the next wave of nerfs arrives but he could still be the one heavily impacted by it. His capacity to adapt to the environment could also become his downfall, as the cards surrounding him are very important to the champion’s success.
Overall, the Aphelios card is in the top 5 of the most powerful in the game – he belongs in the conversation with the likes of Twisted Fate, Wiggly Burblefish, The Veiled Temple. And the proof is the number of decks he spawned already and, most of all, the number of matchups where he is the centerpiece of the whole game plan.
I hope this article was informative and helped you understand why is Aphelios such a dominant force in the current state of Legends of Runeterra. As always, feel free to come by our Discord or on my Twitter to discuss and share opinions about the game.
Good game everyone,