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How to play Legends of Runeterra

(Image credit: Riot Games)

Legends of Runeterra is a League of Legends card game with more than a passing resemblance to Hearthstone and Artifact—but it isn't just a simple clone. During its surprise announcement, Riot Games made it clear that Legends of Runeterra is an attempt to solve some of the bigger gripes people have with digital card games, especially when it comes to microtransactions. It's also a lot of fun to play.

But getting used to the slightly different pace and structure of slinging spells and summoning monsters is challenging. In this guide I'll teach you how to play Legends of Runeterra while also explaining how turn order works, what keywords do, and how to level up champions.

How to play Legends of Runeterra 

If you've played Hearthstone or Artifact, you'll immediately get the gist of Legends of Runeterra. The goal is to use your mana each turn to cast spell cards and summon allies to deal damage to an opponent's nexus. Each player starts with 20 health points and when that’s reduced to zero, they lose.

At the start of a match you draw four cards with the option to second chance any number of them. Each round you draw a new card. To play cards you have to spend mana, and each player only has a set amount each turn. As the game goes on, mana increases, allowing players to use more powerful cards or cast multiple cards in a turn.

Allies are like minions in Hearthstone or creatures in Magic: The Gathering. They have attack and health values and can be used to attack one another or your opponent's nexus. Spells have effects like buffing allies with more health, dealing damage to enemy allies, or using special keywords like stun.

Below: A video showing the entire length of a LoR match.

So what's different about Legends of Runeterra? 

The biggest difference with Legends of Runeterra is how rounds play out. Each round, players alternate between being the attacker and the defender, but every time an action is taken the opposing player almost always has a chance to respond. This means you cannot quickly cast a series of spells and allies like you can in Hearthstone. Here's an example of how turn priority works: 

  1. Each player draws a card. The defender goes first and can play any spells or allies in their hand assuming they have the necessary mana. If that player plays an ally, the turn priority goes to the attacker.
  2. The attacker can then play any of their spells or allies. Let's say, in this case, the attacker plays a spell to deal damage to the defender's newly summoned ally and destroy it.
  3. The turn priority goes back to the defender who now has a chance to save their new ally from destruction. It just so happens they have a spell to buff that ally with more health. They play that spell.
  4. The turn priority returns to the attacker who has no further options. Because the defender's spell was played last it resolves first, giving their ally more health. The attackers spell then does damage to that ally. Now, if the attacker has any summoned allies, they can move onto combat.

And here’s how an entire round could play out:

  1. A round begins and the defender and attacker take turns playing cards.
  2. The attacker can choose to initiate combat by dragging allies into the center arena.
  3. The defender assigns blockers and both sides have an opportunity to cast additional spells.
  4. Combat resolves.
  5. Both sides have another opportunity to play more cards until both sides have passed.
  6. The round ends and the attacker and defender switch.

(Image credit: Riot Games)

Legends of Runeterra combat 

Combat in Legends of Runeterra is when opposing allies face off and destroy one another. The attacker has to initiate combat by dragging their summoned allies into the arena in the center of the game board. The defender then chooses which of their allies will defend which enemies. Once both sides have organized their forces, each attacking and defending ally will exchange damage and any that have their health reduced to zero are destroyed.

There's a lot of keywords and special abilities that can affect combat which we'll get to in a second.

Legends of Runeterra mana 

Just like in Hearthstone, every card you play spends mana. Each turn you're given a set amount to spend and that number increases by one each successive round to a total of ten. But, importantly, up to three unspent mana becomes "spell mana" during the following turn.

Spell mana is a special secondary pool of mana that spells will draw from first before using your regular mana. By not spending all your mana during a turn and converting some of it to spell mana, this effectively gives you more mana in the next turn to cast spells. 

(Image credit: Riot Games)

Legends of Runeterra spells 

Spells in Legends of Runeterra work much the same as they do in any card game like Magic or Hearthstone but with one major difference: Every spell has a speed property that determines when that spell can be played and whether an opponent can respond before its effect resolves.  

  • Burst: This is the fastest kind of spell. Burst spells can be played at any time and resolve instantly so your opponent cannot react.
  • Fast: These spells can also be played at any time but your opponent can react by playing Fast or Burst spells of their own.
  • Slow: These spells can only be played outside of combat and the enemy can respond.
  • Fleeting: These spells are temporary and will disappear if unused at the end of the turn.

Legends of Runeterra Champions 

Another unique aspect of Legends of Runeterra are Champions, special cards with powerful effects that each represent a League of Legends character. Champions are often your most powerful cards and entire decks are built around exploiting their abilities to destroy your enemies.

Like allies, Champions have attack and health values. They also have keywords—examples of which can be found below—that change how they interact with other cards during combat. Champions can also level up if you fulfill specific conditions that are unique to each Champion. Let's use Braum as an example.

(Image credit: Riot Games)

Braum is a Champion with zero attack and five health. He has two special abilities: Challenger lets you assign who blocks Braum when he attacks, and Regeneration heals Braum to full health each round. His level-up condition requires him to survive 10 total damage. So, the strategy here is to attack with Braum and force him to take non-fatal damage from enemy allies that he'll regenerate each round.

Once Braum levels up, he'll become even more powerful. He'll now have 7 total health and gain a new ability that summons a Mighty Poro each time he survives damage. Mighty Poro is a card with 3 attack and 3 health that has a special Overwhelm keyword.

In addition, you can only ever have one type of Champion summoned at a time. If you draw a second Braum while the first one is still in play, that second Braum will be transformed into a unique and powerful spell. In this case, it'll become Braum's Take Heart which grants an ally +3 attack and health. These unique spells will always shuffle a copy of that Champion back into your deck when used. 

Legends of Runeterra keywords 

Allies and Champions can have keywords that give them special abilities, like Braum's aforementioned regeneration. To see what these abilities do, you can always right-click a card and mouse-over the keyword to get a quick tooltip explainer. Here's a list of them: 

  • Last Breath: When this unit dies, this triggers an effect.
  • Support: Gives an effect to the unit on the right of this ally when it's attacking.
  • Lifesteal: Damage this unit deals heals your nexus by that amount up to 20.
  • Overwhelm: Extra damage dealt to blockers is passed onto the enemy nexus.
  • Elusive: Can only be blocked by another elusive unit.
  • Nexus Strike: Gain a specified effect when hitting the enemy Nexus.
  • Regeneration: Heals lost health at the start of a round.
  • Challenger: You get to choose which unit blocks this ally when it attacks.
  • Strike: Gain a specified effect when attacking an enemy.
  • Can’t Block: Can’t block enemy attacks.
  • Frostbite: Unit's attack becomes zero.
  • Tough: Take one less damage from all sources.
  • Enlightened: Triggered an effect when you reach ten mana.
  • Ephemeral: This unit dies after it attacks or when the round ends.
  • Fearsome: Can't be blocked except by enemies with three or more attack.
  • Double Attack: Attacks twice but cannot defend.
  • Barrier: Nullifies damage once.
  • Quick Attack: Strikes first when attacking, dealing damage and potentially killing an enemy ally before it has a chance to retaliate.
  • Play: This triggers the associated effect when a card is first played.
  • Stun: This prevents you from using an ally to attack or block for a round.
  • Recall: This triggers the associated effect when a card is returned to your hand.
  • Stop: This will cancel a spell.
  • Drain: This heals the Nexus for a specified amount.
Steven enjoys nothing more than a long grind, which is precisely why his specialty is on investigative feature reporting on China's PC games scene, weird stories that upset his parents, and MMOs. He's Canadian but can't ice skate. Embarrassing.