How to Play Legends of Runeterra – Factions, Spell Mana, Keywords, & More

by in Legends of Runeterra | Feb, 2nd 2020

I’ve been playing CCGs since the mid-90s, and I have no intent on stopping now. I don’t play as much League of Legends as I used to, due to the toxic nature of the online gameplay. But now, they have a card game set in that lore-rich world. Would you like to know how to play Legends of Runeterra? Don’t worry. I’m here to help.

I’m going to cover the basics, deckbuilding, how to build your collection, card traits, and things of that nature in this blog. I will be as thorough as I possibly can! However, I didn’t play in the closed beta. I only got in recently. But I’ve played a card game or two in my time.

Here’s How to Play Legends of Runeterra

Simply by downloading the game and signing into your League of Legends/Riot Games account, can you get started. Knowing something about the various factions and champions sure helps a little, but not as much as you might think.

The game board looks like League of Legends’ Summoner’s Rift, in that you have two sides, and each one has a Nexus: One red, one blue. Your goal is to reduce the enemies Nexus to 0, and both start at 20.

Each player will have a deck of 40 cards, with up to two factions represented in it. You can make single-faction decks if you want, but this game doesn’t use Mana like MTGA. The mana system is like Hearthstone, only better.

The goal is to use spells, champions, and attacks to batter down the Nexus to 0. You have two types of cards to keep it simple: Units and Spells.

Units account for champions and followers. Champions are the main characters from League of Legends. They have powerful special abilities, and as of this writing, they can level up once. Each champion has certain conditions through which they level up. Followers cannot level up, but they make up the various soldiers that accompany your champions into battle. There are four rarities for units: Common, rare, epic and champion. Followers can be up to rare. Champions only come in campion rarity. I imagine this could change in the future.

Spells are all the other cards you can play. They do not stay on the board and have one of three casting speeds. These spells include heals, buffs, direct damage, card draw, and all the staples of card games. But what are these casting speeds?

  • Burst: Burst is the fastest speed for a card. Burst spells activate immediately and cannot be reacted to. They’re powerful, but not (usually) overpowered. Save your Burst spells for just the right moment.
  • Fast: Like Burst spells, Fast spells can be played at any time. The difference is your opponent has a chance to react to Fast spells. The other player can drop a heal to save someone from dying to a Fast spell, or sacrifice a creature you’d normally lose so that you can draw cards or something else.
  • Slow: Slow spells are still fun and valuable. Slow spells can’t be cast in combat and can be responded to.

Spell Mana: A Unique Mechanic in Legends of Runeterra

Each round, both players draw a card and receive 1 more mana, with a cap of 10. Below the mana count, there’s also a trio of pips. Unspent mana, up to 3 will go and fill those pips, at the beginning of a new round. That mana is known as “Spell Mana.” When you go to cast a non-creature card, you will use the Spell Mana before you dip into your regular Mana.

That’s one of the best parts of learning how to play Legends of Runeterra. You must carefully consider if you want to play early game cards or save that mana for something bigger. A fine example is the spell “Intimidating Roar.” It’s a Slow spell, with a casting cost of 5. If you store your early mana, you can drop this, in case your opponent is flooding the board with creatures you can’t quite respond to yet. However, Slow spells can be responded to it.

Spell Mana is a new, fun system for card games in general. However, that mana cannot be used on creatures, so you must think about what you do more in Legends of Runeterra on a turn-by-turn basis, compared to other card games.

How to Play Legends of Runeterra: The Rounds and Turns System

The Rounds and Turns system is what makes Legends of Runeterra stand out from its card game compatriots. So, here’s how it goes down. When the match starts, it’s Round 1, and one of the two players will have a Sword Icon on their side. That shows they can declare an attack during this round. Each player receives their Mana and draws a card.

In Legends of Runeterra, players take turns, taking one action a piece. So, on turn 1, if a player plays an Affectionate Poro, it goes into your row of units. Then the next player can cast a spell or play a unit. Now, if it’s a Fast/Burst spell, you can play it on your opponents turn. Units can only be played when it’s your turn. The players will go back and forth, playing spells until both players are out of action or the attacking player declares an attack.

The player with the Attack (Sword) icon can declare an attack at any point during their turn. Why is this important to know? Say you have no units on the field, but you can afford to cast one or two. But it’s your opponent’s turn, and they have an Attack icon. They can attack before you even have a chance to do anything.

That’s what makes rounds tense in Legends of Runeterra. It can be incredibly stressful, even frustrating to be bombarded without a chance to drop units to defend yourself. However, this “only one player can attack” a round isn’t entirely accurate.

After combat, you get another chance to play spells and units as well. Consider it the second main phase, like in MTG Arena.

Rally and Other Keywords

Each card game has its own set of keywords. Keywords are mechanics or abilities that cards have. The Rally ability changes how combat works. If you have a card in play with Rally, if you don’t have an Attack icon during a turn, you will gain one. So, if your opponent attacks and you have a Rally unit, you can attack even though it’s not your Round to. It can turn around a negative situation and turn it into serious business.

There aren’t a lot of Rally cards in the game right now, and most of them only let you do it once. Lucian lets you Rally the first time a unit dies a turn. However, one Rally unit stands above all: Leveled-up Garen. Garen lets you Rally at the start of every Round, which makes the Demacian incredibly aggressive. There are plenty of keywords to be familiar with. Here’s the rundown of what units and spells can do.

Rally: If you don’t have an Attack Icon, gain one this round.

Regeneration: Fully Heal at the end of a Round. If you’re at 0, you still die.

Quick Attack: When Attacking, you strike before the blocker (First Strike in MTGA)

Double Attack: While attacking, Attack both before and during as the blocker.

Challenger: When attacking, you pick which unit blocks the Challenger.

Ephemeral: This unit dies at the end of turn.

Last Breath: When this unit dies, the specified ability activates.

Elusive: Can only be blocked by other Elusive units (flying in MTGA)

Fearsome: Can only be blocked by units with power 3 or higher.

Frostbite: Reduce a unit’s power to 0 until end of turn.

Fleeting: Cards with Fleeting are discarded at end of turn.

Overwhelm: Damage beyond fatal on a unit is carried over to the enemy Nexus. (Trample)

Obliterate: Units who are obliterated are removed completely from the game. Last Breath effects will not take place.

So, there are plenty of new keywords to be familiar with in Legends of Runeterra while learning how to play. But how does combat itself work? It’s simple.

How to Play Legends of Runeterra: Combat

When a player declares combat, they drag unit cards into the battle zone. Creatures with Challenger can drag a specified target to be their blocker. Then the opposing player picks the other blockers, lining them up with the attacking creature in question.

Damage is then dealt with and creatures reduce to 0 dies. Unlike MTGA, units/creatures in this game do not regenerate, unless they have the “Regenerate” keyword. You can cast spells during combat that aren’t tagged Slow, so you can use that time to save or destroy creatures as you need. If you have a unit with Rally and it’s not your turn, you can still attack even if it’s not “Your Round.”

How to Play Legends of Runeterra: Factions and You

Each deck can only feature two factions. There is no “Neutral” faction that I’ve seen. Each faction has its own unique playstyle, champions, and cards to pick from. In a way, I’m glad you can only use two. I can see some filthy plays if you could. Each champion also has a champion skill and a champion spell. You can read them easily by right-clicking on the champions in collection.

However, there are no restrictions on which factions can team up. If you want to put the warring Demacia and Noxus in the same deck, you can! I probably would. Darius and Garren is a rude front line. It’s also important to note that you can only have six units on the field at once. If a card of yours would create or summon another one, and there’s no room, it goes away.

So, here’s what each faction has to offer you:

Demacia: DEMACIAAAAAA! Justice is the name of the game. Demacia is filled with unit buffs, handy combat spells, and creatures that are excellent at surviving. If you like tankiness, the Barrier, Rally, and Regeneration abilities, this is going to be your home-away-from-home. They are excellent at controlling a battle.

The Demacian Champions: Garen, Fiora, Lucian, Lux. Fiora has one of the vilest abilities in the game. If she can kill four different units and survive, you win the game. That’s why you pair Fiora with Shen (Ionia) and stall until you win. Garen’s also incredible here. You can build him and Braum (Freljord) as a near-unstoppable wall of mass.

Freljord: Freljord is basically “Immigrant Song” by Led Zepplin. Welcome to the land of the ice and snow! Freljord has arguably the biggest base creatures in the game. “She Who Wanders” for example, is a 10/10 that destroys all followers with 4 or less power on the field and in players’ hands. Wyrding Stones and Catalyst of Aeons can help Freljord players mana ramp to get these huge creatures out faster. They are also very fond of the Frostbite keyword. Freljord has a mighty mid to late game. The longer it goes, the harder it is to best the masters of the cold.

The Freljord Champions: Who represents the Freljord? Anivia, Braum, Ashe, Tryndamere. Anivia was nerfed right before open beta, but she’s still incredibly strong. That bad bird deals AOE damage to all opposing creatures. Ashe can Frostbite, and Tryndamere gets a real second chance at life. When he dies, he levels up and comes back (once). But my favorite combo so far in this faction is Take Heart+Braum. Braum has Regenerate and is a baseline 0/5. But if you pop Take Heart before the turn is over, you can give him +3/+3. Take Heart gives a damaged ally +3/+3. You can stack this a few times on him, if possible.

Ionia: Ugh. Ionia. They’re strong, but they’re the bane of my existence right now. Ionia has the best counterplay in the game. They have absolute tons of Stun and Recall (return the target to the owner’s hand). In fact, the more you Stun/Recall opponents cards, the better Yasuo gets. Ionia has access to one of the best spells in the game: Deny. Deny stops a Fast Spell, Slow Spell, or Skill for only 2 mana. Ionia excels at illusions and chipping away at opponents bit by bit. They also have lots of damage through Karma and Zed.

The Ionia Champions: Karma, Shen, Yasuo and Zed are the champions coming out of Ionia. Remember above, when I talked about Demacia? Ionia pairs well with them, and it makes sense. Zed can make clones, swap out units in danger with a shadow clone, and Shen can defend with a barrier. Oh, Ionia is brutal to deal with. The Ionia faction can seal the deal before you even know what hit you.

Noxus: Noxus is tied for my personal favorite lore faction. It’s between Noxus and Zaun. Maybe I’m secretly an edgelord at heart. Noxus is an incredibly aggressive faction, with lots of Overwhelm, and creature buffs. Reckless Trifarian, Legion Rearguard, and Brother’s Bond stand out. Oh, and you can pull Draven to the top of your deck with Draven’s Biggest Fan. They can stun weak enemies with Minotaur Reckoner, to avoid chump blockers. Noxus is so good. Sadly, no Swain yet, but I’m sure he’ll make an appearance.

The Noxus Champions: Who represents the might of Noxus? Darius, Katarina, Vladimir, and Draaaaaaaaaaven. Do you like playing fast and loose with other people’s lifepoints? Constantly spamming them with annoying, obnoxious amounts of damage? Darius can dunk his way through a Nexus with ease. Simply having Draven gives you access to his axes. You can give an ally +1 attack for a round by discarding a card and playing the axe. Noxus is all about demolishing everything and leaving nothing behind.

Piltover and Zaun: Piltover and Zaun come together, which is great because neither are massive factions. But the best part about Piltover and Zaun are that they are balanced. They have solid offensive and defensive options, without focusing on either one. They have a lot of janky, frustrating cards. Piltover and Zaun also have Mystic Shot for sudden damage, and Puff Caps. Puff Caps are Teemo’s mushrooms. The mushrooms get embedded onto cards in your enemies’ deck. When draw, they do immediate damage to an opponent’s Nexus. Yes, Teemo is here. Yes, Teemo is annoying. Piltover and Zaun also has Thermogenic Beam!

The Piltover and Zaun Champions: Ezreal, Jinx, Heimerdinger, and Teemo. These champions don’t feel like they have a lot in common, but they do work well together. Jinx does plenty of damage, Ez is Elusive, as is Teemo. This is a faction that’s great at slowly whittling enemies down, so I’d probably pair them with the ability to heal or tank. A few challengers can go a long way. Piltover + Demacia can certainly spell disaster for your opponents. Most of Piltover and Zaun play the long game.

Shadow Isles: The Shadow Isles controls the power of life and death. They’re also the only faction that has access to lifegain. That doesn’t count Demacia’s regeneration. The Shadow Isles have Darkwater Scourge and Soulgorger that both have lifesteal. The Shadow Isles are heavy on the Ephemeral keyword, which creates temporary creatures. When you combine that with Phantom Prankster, you can really seal the fate of an opponent. Phantom Prankster is a 0/3 for 3 mana that deals 1 damage to the opponent’s Nexus each time another ally dies. You can throw lives away and summon waves of Ephemeral units and still win.

The Shadow Isles Champions: Hecarim, Elise, Kalista, and Thresh represent the damned on the Shadow Isles. Demacia + Shadow Isles has been my most successful Expedition (Draft) deck thus far. Elise is very popular in matches I’ve played too. She can keep those annoying Spiders flowing. Hecarim summons Ephemeral attacking units but Thresh has my favorite power. When he levels up, the first time he attacks, he summons a champion that is also attacking, from your hand or deck. I’ve pulled Garen that way and started being aggressive out of nowhere. I wouldn’t make Shadow Isles the main faction of a deck, but they sure pair nicely with everyone else.

How to Play Legends of Runeterra: Picking a Deck and Unlocking Cards

Now, one of the hardest parts about a card game is picking a deck to build. How do you even know where to start? You can YouTube it; you can check our website (because I will be posting deckbuilds), or you can play the Tutorial! The tutorial is a terrific way to figure out where you want to go. Plus, the tutorial for Legends of Runeterra is solid.

It’s done in several parts, showing off nicely what each faction is capable of. So, I highly recommend taking the time to play the tutorial, as it also unlocks several decks to play with. You will get a Noxus/Shadow Isles, a Piltover/Ionia and a Demacia/Freljord deck without too much effort. They won’t’ give you the greatest cards, but they do give you a place to start.

Here’s something else I like/dislike about Legends of Runeterra: They adopted a wildcard system! You have no random packs in LoR. You pick up chests that have a variety of cards in them though, usually based on a faction. But you can only buy a certain number of wildcards a week. I imagine it’s to cut back on people going crazy and spending way too much and slow down how much real money can be spent on the game at once. I mean, it’s a good idea. People can still unlock more cards through gameplay. I hope the number of wildcards you can buy is increased a tiny bit though. I have a deck I can’t complete without serious grinding until the next reset (which will take place before this goes out). Another start for figuring out what you want for the future is the Expedition system.

All About Expeditions

Expeditions are drafts from other games. The only downside: You don’t get to keep the cards you draft. However, you can build decks you normally wouldn’t have access to. You can play up to 3 Expeditions a week, and you are guaranteed at least one champion in your rewards. The cost is 300 Coins, 3,000 Shards, or 1 Expedition Token. Another positive about this system is that by buying one Expedition, you go through 2 drafts. Whatever record is better, those are the rewards you net. You go through 7 matches, or until you lose twice. You only have one shot at the 7th win, though. I went undefeated, 6-0, and lost the 7th in a few of mine.

Sure, you don’t keep the cards you draft in Expedition, but it’s a great way to see what cards synergize well together. You’ll start by picking one of 3 champions and will be offered sets of 3 cards (3 sets of 3). Pay attention, take your time, and pick up new champions and cards as you feel they’ll be a fit for the deck.

Between matches, you’ll also be offered some trades for your Expedition deck. You can choose one, or none. Sometimes they’ll be worth it, but most of the time for me, they were not. I can’t tell you what to do in a draft situation, though.

You do unlock cards, shards, wildcards and other rewards here though, so it is worth participating in. It’s important to note that you don’t have to use wildcards to pick up cards. You also have shards, but those take a bit more than the 1-for-1 that wildcards offer.

But you can focus your growth and unlock cards in other ways.

How to Play Legends of Runeterra: Growth and Faction Chests

You receive a new quest every day, with a variety of objectives. These quests offer you a variety of ways to play the game and reward you in EXP. What’s the EXP go towards, though? Winning matches and completing quests give you EXP for both the weekly vault and region rewards. You can change Regions at any time, and each has a series of rewards in them. Most of the rewards are built around that faction (with the occasional Wild Chest). The game does not state when these resets, but perhaps they don’t. Each faction has 20 levels of rewards.

Weekly Vault, however, is, as it says, Weekly. As you accrue exp, it levels up and changes the rewards it offers you depending on what level you have. The first weekly vault ended this week for the open beta, with my level being 9. I wound up with mostly Common cards across the various chests it unlocked. I did get a pair of epic wildcards and eight common wildcards.

There were a few rare cards added to my collection. Anything I needed? Of course not. But when a card game is new, all cards are valuable. I could have grinded farther and received even better rewards, but I did not. So, I would say it’s still worth playing and grinding exp. The daily quests provide a lot of exp right now, so capitalize on it. I like that you can target the growth of your collection too, with the faction chests. I received a lot of useful stuff in those. I have yet to receive a single thing that was not useful in-game (RE: cosmetics like boards).

Thanks for joining us for a look at how to play Legends of Runeterra! Stay tuned for an in-depth look at potential deckbuilds and more!


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