Welcome to TLG’s latest meta snapshot for Legends of Runeterra, a series in which we give you our insight on the finest decks in the higher ranks of the ladder.
Every Monday, we discuss the decks that are part of the week’s meta and rate them on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. We also look at the evolution of said decks’ ratings across weeks and draw conclusions regarding the current state of the game, all of this so you can delve into your own ranked journey with a head start.
Since we’re all in anticipation of the upcoming balance patch, we decided to add a modest tournament meta review into the deck spotlight, focusing on three different lineups. Nothing else has changed last week, so enjoy this insight into the mindset of our pro players. We’ll see you next week, where we should have a bit of a shake-up to process for you.
If you have any questions, feel free to drop by our Discord. Best of luck on your climb!
Editing: Wusubi, Sebodunum
Writers: Den, Ultraman, Othal
The first ever 5 stars in our snapshot had to go to the strongest deck in the history of the game. If I’d told you 2 months ago that Fizz would be part of the best deck we have ever seen, you’d have laughed at me. Yet, here we are. Fizz-TF is crazily unbalanced, being able to cheat the mana system, level-up TF in one turn, make an untargetable Fizz a big 4/4 and never run out of options thanks to the high amount of card draw.
That being said, let’s review the possibilities we have to counter that annoying fish and the card dealer. The Box, Withering Wail, Ice Shard, Avalanche, Blighted Ravine and even Death Lotus! So many options to stop the fish from crushing your Nexus. Wait, what are you saying? Wiggly Burblefish cost nothing? While all the AoE costs mana?!
So they can force the removal out by pushing the boundaries with Fizz-TF as they level-up, the Ballistic Bot eroding your Nexus, then use the Burblefish to kill you in one turn, as you don’t have enough mana to defend yourself?
Well, forget everything I said prior. Play defensively, don’t ever use mana, and if you have to, pray to whatever you believe in that your opponent doesn’t have all of the Burblefish and ways to duplicate them. Slow spells won’t help you if the opponent knows how to play, fast spells can’t deal with the 4/2 Burblefish if you don’t have multiple copies of them.
Your opponent will be able to use up to 6 mana a turn while you’ll be stuck not using 8 to 10 of yours (if your deck even has the required answers). So how to beat Fizz-TF? Be patient and wait until the opponent makes a mistake that you can finally punish. If they don’t make mistakes, they’re going to win the game, and there’s nothing you can do about it. (Write-up by Ultraman)
In a brand new environment, being able to rely on evergreen concepts is a major help, and of course this is where Fiora-Shen comes in. Probably still the best pure tempo deck of our top 5, Fiora-Shen is one of the few decks that still aims at winning the game through combat instead of back row synergies.
The small difference now is that, with the arrival of Shurima and much more Vulnerable tags to go around, Shen looks to have grown in importance in the deck, as the Barriers are one of the best ways to prevent a unit from falling prey after gaining the Vulnerable tag.
While the deck didn’t receive a lot of help with the last expansion, one card has found its way into the deck, and it might be a difference-maker. Golden Aegis looks to be miles ahead of Relentless Pursuit in terms of flexibility, as the former can be used in a much wider variety of situations than the latter. One extra mana isn’t always something we want to pay for the card, but the added Barrier effect can be worth the investment.
It allows Fiora to be even scarier and creates more awkward situations for the opponent, who has to decide what takes the hit; the Nexus or a unit. Against control matchups, the card is great as we want to pressure as much as possible, so added attacks are always welcome. The Barrier keyword in this case helps mostly to level-up Shen, who’s the real star in the slower matchups. His +3/+0 bonus to allies with Barrier helps to push for significant Nexus damage.
The meta is much faster than before, so Brightsteel Formation is too slow to stay in the deck. Instead, our favorite angry lady is included: Tianna Crownguard. The deck functions the same way as before against most opponents. The multiple Rally effects are needed to pressure highly-synergistic decks like Lissandra-Trundle or Aphelios-Zoe, which you should encounter frequently.
Still a deck to account for in this new environment, Fiora-Shen looks to be a solid top 5 pick for now, although it still has a clear gap to cover to reach the top. Lovers of tempo gameplay and pressure strategies should find a reliable way to climb the ladder with this deck, which, once again, has found a way to be relevant. (Write-up by den)
Every meta has a damage-based deck that punishes anyone who forgets to play in the early game. In the Shurima patch, that deck is Azir Burn. With a straightforward game plan and a Slay-based explosive start, it’s capable of dealing a ton of damage early on before attempting to finish off with direct damage.
However, the deck isn’t just a one-trick pony. It excels at punishing decks that would leave it alone and it’s great at keeping a high damage flow for a long period of time, making significant healing the only reliable option against it.
The small units in the deck are what make it flexible, as they deal damage early and later on help blocking the opponent while we drain their Nexus with Doombeast, Phantom Prankster and the many cards we have to support them. Crucially, these two cards will help deal direct damage even if the board is lost and our attack turns are worthless.
Given the high amount of draw the deck is packing, trying to outlast it like most decks attempt to do against Aggro strategies isn’t the best way to go about it. While the deck should lose some potential over time, it’s already facing erosion in the meta due to the increasing prevalence of healing (e.g. Aphelios decks, Fiora-Shen and Lissandra-Trundle all have some form of it).
Tier 2 decks can still be pounced on and outpaced as more board-centric decks should give us enough time to set up enough damage to close out the game before they can kill us with their units. The gameplay of this archetype might take a little bit of time to grasp, as the general concept isn’t to deal as much damage as possible, but try to put your opponent to 0.
This is more subtle a nuance than it might appear. If you go for the maximum damage output each turn, you also become very predictable for your opponent, who can focus on solely defending and wait for you to draw until they can be more aggressive. Instead, try to keep a regular damage flow and go for the kill when you’re sure it will actually result in a win.
That patience aspect is what makes the deck really scary, as the opponent will usually assume a defensive stance against you, giving you the time you need to set up properly and plan ahead for even more potential damage. Once you have this mastered, you’re ready to be a real terror on the ladder. (Write-up by den)
This is a slower version, with multiple control tools layered around a powerful core of drawing mechanics and Thresh. With so many removals, Thresh will level-up rapidly, allowing you to “let the dogs out” as soon as Turn 7 most of the time!
The removals also help with stacking Nasus, making him grow big and strong enough that your opponents will struggle to find answers for him. Your low mana minions can handle early game aggression while also serving as tokens for the suicide mission. This allows you to keep a full hand with many options while also activating some cards, such as Black Spear.
If some of your low mana minions are on the board when Thresh comes in play, they’ll now act in a triple role of a) keeping the opponent in check while pressuring them with damage, b) Thresh stops them from using AoE and trades to get rid of them and c) at the same time, they get used one by one for drawing purposes.
Finally, a decent-sized Nasus hitting anything will often result in him leveling-up, and that Spellshield obviously works wonders with Atrocity, allowing you to hit a surprise lethal. This is especially strong given that you now have access to Rite of Negation. (Write-up by Ultraman)
Despite being popular in the first few days of the expansion, Azir-Lucian has since lost a lot of momentum. When compared to the feared The Grand Plaza archetype that Miss Fortune and Quinn formed, it looks like this deck might follow the same route of the other Plaza deck: Lucian-Hecarim.
In a similar fashion to the deck we’re comparing it with, Azir-Lucian can bulldoze its way to victory, leaving no chance for your opponent who can only do so much against the army of cheap minions. Lucian and Azir are both perfect in the deck, making the various synergies stronger while gaining a direct advantage from it.
Lucian acts as the immediate threat that the opponent has to remove to prevent themselves getting overwhelmed with board pressure and multiple attacks each turn, while Azir is a long term investment, keeping the deck relevant as the game goes on.
But the downfall of Lucian-Hecarim came from its unilateral nature, being able to only produce pressure through the board and having limited ways to interact with the opponent outside of its attack turns. This leaves the deck with a very predictable game plan, and experienced opponents will know exactly how to punish you, if given the tools to do so.
While raw power can be a good thing, the current meta is dominated by very flexible decks. These can orientate the game to leverage a good position into a winning one. As good as Azir-Lucian is at what it does, the deck doesn’t give the pilot enough room to manoeuvre and thus isn’t flexible enough to be relied on at the highest ranks.
It gives the opponent a way out if they know how to approach the matchup, which makes it easier to punish the higher up the ranks you go. For those reasons, we can’t consider this deck to be a reliable pick to climb the ladder once past a certain point.
The deck performs quite well in the lower ranks, though, as players there don’t necessarily plan ahead of time and may not have mastered the fundamentals of the game. This is also true for the Azir-Hecarim deck, which is basically the other half of the split Lucian-Hecarim archetype from the previous meta. (Write-up by den)
For the third week in a row, the meta is dominated by Fizz-TF and we might have reached a critical mass, as more than 70% of the top ladder players are currently playing the deck. While different counters have emerged, this hasn’t stopped the deck from continuing to suffocate the ladder, which is why we decided to take another direction in this week’s deck spotlight and explore the tournament meta instead.
Featuring 3 different lineups, you will be able to see the different takes and possibilities one can have when entering a tourney. Each of our writers picked a lineup to highlight in the current format. These are the “Bring best decks” approach and then two lineups that target tournament favourites - Fiora-Shen and Fizz-TF.
With a patch likely coming this Wednesday, we doubt you will have time to enter a tournament before that, but this spotlight is mostly to highlight the thinking process behind each lineup and why tournament players don’t all end up with similar lineups.
Just like on ladder, tournaments have a “best overall decks” lineup, which is simply 3 of the best ladder decks combined into the same lineup. In this logic, we’re looking for raw power level more than overall synergy between each deck. Usually, such lineups are the ones that aren’t looking to counter anything in particular, instead focusing on decks that the pilot is comfortable with and has played a lot on the ladder. (Write-up by den)
While in tournaments with a small number of players you can focus on trying to read and counter the current meta, the more players that are involved, the harder it is to predict what the popular picks will be. This is usually where we see much more of the “Bring best decks” lineup, as by definition, the strongest decks tend to have a broadly positive matchup table and are more flexible than other decks that we would bring with specific matchups in mind.
Because of this general approach to the lineup, you will see decks without many tech cards included. Since the goal isn’t to go after a specific opponent, pilots can build their deck to let them play freely and focus on their level of play instead of a perfect decklist for the envisioned situation.
Why play it?
There are tons of reasons to play this lineup really, as it’s usually one of the most popular in tournaments. First, there’s comfort; most players who can’t practice outside of playing the ladder will usually rely on the decks they’re familiar with. This means that the best ladder decks are the foundation of a lot of lineups.
Another reason to choose this approach is a meta that doesn’t fit your playstyle. When in doubt on what to bring, it’s natural to go with what’s considered to be the best pick overall. It can also make the player feel better to know that they should be able to compete in any game, even against bad matchups, simply due to the raw power level of the decks they’re bringing.
The main reason to play those decks, which is the case with the two current best decks (Fizz-TF and Aphelios-Zoe) is that their counters haven’t properly been identified and, therefore, there’s no reason not to bring them. Of course, there will always be partially negative matchups, but in the grand scheme of things, those aren’t enough to make these decks risky or scary picks.
Fizz-TF is the perfect example of this, as the deck is crushing the ladder week after week and it’s also an auto-inclusion in most lineups at the moment. Yet, despite this very high playrate, it has retained an incredible winrate because a reliable counter is yet to be found.
What to ban?
Maybe the best thing about the “Bring best decks” lineup is that it has the best ban strategy of them all: be flexible. When you see a counter lineup coming at you to target one of your decks, you can ban that deck’s worst match up to protect it.
If you see another BBD lineup, you can ban the deck that annoys you the most on ladder and play against the matchups you feel most confident with. Against an exotic lineup that you wouldn’t really know much about, you can just ban the deck you understand the least or the one that looks the strongest against you.
Most of the time, players that can be considered “ladder monsters” have a lot of data on the decks they’re bringing and that flexible ban aspect is really important to them. This is because they will usually have to answer the opponent’s strategy, since they basically didn’t commit to a specific strategy themselves.
As you would’ve guessed by now, bringing such a lineup is generally because we don’t think the counters are strong enough to make us regret our choice. When bringing 3 of the best decks in the meta, it’s rare that all 3 decks have the same weaknesses, forcing our opponents to choose which one to target instead of being able to have good matchups across the board. Currently, there are different approaches to trying to counter the “Bring best decks” lineup:
A) Trying to counter Fizz-TF
Fiora-Shen, Lissandra-Trundle and other very strong decks on the board have a shot at beating Fizz-TF, as they can remove TF on the spot and either survive the Elusive units or win the game before they come onto the board. While over time, good Fizz-TF players have shown that everything is possible with the deck and those matchups aren’t as unfavored as previously thought, these decks never fell below a 55% winrate against the best in the game.
B) Trying to beat Aphelios-Zoe
Aggressive decks tend to do best against Aphelios-Zoe, as Aphelios can win slower matchups all by himself if unanswered, so Fizz-TF is usually the start of the lineup when going this route. Other decks that can punish the slower approach that Targon can have when generating Celestial cards tend to do well, so Discard Aggro, Overwhelm decks and other damage decks are good at forcing an early battle onto the board, which Aphelios-Zoe doesn’t particularly enjoy.
Lately, because Fizz-TF has become the staple of almost any competitive lineup, Aphelios-Zoe tends to not be seen as much in a tournament setup. The deck packs one of the highest power levels in the game, but it’s more difficult to pilot than Fizz-TF.
“Bring best decks” lineups will always be one the most popular in larger tournaments and the most impactful one in players’ thinking processes when building their own lineup. There’s always a reason for some decks to be the best, so it’s up to each player to see if they want to be on the side that aims to abuse it or the one that tries to counter it.