On October 27, Legend of Runeterra's Live Design Lead, Steve "RubinZoo" Rubin, joined the #gameplay-discussion channel on Riot's official LoR Discord for another impromptu Q&A session very similar to last week's discourse in Alanzq's Twitch chat. He revealed his thoughts about the upcoming nerfs to Lee Sin and Make it Rain, hints about buffs to Shyvana and nerfs to Trundle in the next patch, and more.
Below is our summary of what he discussed with lightly edited for spelling and formatting.
- I will say Lee Sin in particular has a frustrating play pattern -- which I personally deem as unhealthy.
On whether the upcoming 1.13 nerf will be enough:
- He'll be pretty close to how he existed before -- which had the same play pattern and was never a problem.
- I'm not saying it's the perfect change, or the perfectly timed change either -- but I disagree that it's meaningless.
- Protecting Lee will be much harder. Also, for Lee Sin's quest you often level him up by casting several spells on him in order to get the required attack/overwhelm. Which means his quest is actually harder now. Generally, a large portion of your spells are cast onto Lee Sin himself in order to simultaneously level him up and get the attack needed for the kill. Now that happens one turn later, costs you more mana, and leaves you with less mana to protect him.
On Lee Sin's synergy with Targon:
- Totally agree [that Lee Sin gets indirectly buffed with every new Targon card or buff]. I think that if we had known how strong Lee would become with Targon, our rework to him might have gone a bit differently.
- But "indirectly buffed" is not really a metric. Different cards have different additions in expansions, as well as different metas.
- I saw many players saying that Lee got indirectly buffed by Crystal Ibex for instance.
- I think [the landmark cards] are going pretty well. Obviously, they are not all meant to be competitively viable.
- After next expansion, each region will both have a landmark and landmark removal spell of its own which will complete the cycle.
On Vaults of Helia and the possibility of reducing a mana reduction:
- I think it would be busted at 4 mana. It's one of those cards that will only get better with more cards in the game.
- I think there is actually a viable tier 3-ish deck that plays vault. You use vault to go Swiftwing Lancer - > Genevieve Elmheart - > The Rekindler -> Tianna Crownguard -> Brightsteel Formation. And then play like a classic Lucian/Kalista playstyle.
- Also, TealRed, one of the best players and deck builders has had success with Vault in Deep, in order to ensure you get Nautilus every game.
So I don't think it's unviable.
- I think one of the tricks to Vaults of Helia is to not overbuild your deck around it, if that makes sense. You want a functional deck when you don't have Vault.
Make It Rain
- I think players often overreact to our changes generally, but the Make it Rain change is one of the bigger nerfs we've ever done that's for sure.
- Remember also that Make it Rain is a champion spell, so baseline all Miss Fortune decks will be ever so slightly weaker [even if they don't main-deck Make it Rain].
Why they changed its mana cost instead of another change:
- Functional changes, especially to core cards, is really difficult to do. We thought about & tested both changing it to slow speed and changing it to Weakest/Strongest/Nexus instead of random.
- Ultimately, Make it Rain is both a highly effective card and provides bilgewater decks with a bit too much effective board clear. Given this card has the RNG attached to it, I think it's healthy for it to be more of a niche card that can't be ubiquitously played.
- Not sure about Pirate Aggro. I'd bet that they will replace the card and be totally fine, but now have more weaknesses they didn't have before.
- TF Swain might not have an easy replacement, so will be a bit worse.
On whether the Make It Rain nerf will improve Nightfall's winrate:
- I think Nightfall is one of the only decks I don't want to play against when I'm playing Pirate Aggro -- Fearsome, Drain, Diana, and Nocturne just farm you.
Shyvana & Dragons
- For 1.14, we'll be making a small adjustment to Shyvana at least.
Regarding Shyvana's initial release:
- I do think that Shyvana came a bit under.
- This is where it's tough -- players have pointed out how is X/Y/Z card balanced? Well, we did some internal balancing to Dragons before release so that it would be a more fair deck, and that may have actually left the deck outside the meta. It's hard to both have exciting champions and new decks while also pleasing the type of player who calls out an imbalance.
On dragon decks:
- I think they are a bit weak, yeah.
On dragon decks not having any good 3 drops besides Herald of Dragons:
- Hmm, I'm not sure if I agree. Laurent Protege and Mentor of the Stones are both really good fits. Jerik [(Dragonguard Lieutenant)] into Mentor of the Stones is a game-winning curve if unanswered.
Buffing Specific Champions
- Yeah, remember that we have I think 42 champions right now. They aren't all going to be in top tier decks unfortunately.
In response to a suggestion of changing Katarina's champion spell:
- [Steve's department, Live Design] actually doesn't change champion spells normally. This is because the champion spells have extra visual realization that really help our champions resonant, and when we make those type of changes our champions don't hit the quality bar that we would expect. We hold ourselves to a high standard in that regard.
Regarding Ezreal and his recent nerf:
- We're putting in a spicy change to Ezreal soon. I agree that we went the wrong way.
- This was a tough one because it seemed like players initially really wanted this change, but once it happened the script was flipped.
Yasuo and stuns:
- I think Yasuo is actually super close to being super strong. We want every champions gameplay dream to be realizable and to have a home, which he does. He's just not competitive, and maybe more stun cards will help?
- Sky Ferrets [(Sneaky Zeebles)] did stun 3 or less at one point, and Yasuo/Ferrets was just so disgusting we had to nerf it in the final design phases...
- Targon has stunning as one of their core mechanics, so Yasuo will probably get more stuff slowly.
On Quinn and the possibility of increasing her L1 stats beyond 3|4:
- People have talked a lot about Quinn buffs, but there is basically no way that's going to happen at least at the moment.
- 4|4 and 3|5 are both way too much.
Patches, Metagame, & Balance
On whether the current metagame is balanced:
- How would you define a healthy metagame? Right now we see Aggro, Control, Combo, Ramp/Midrange - and in terms of certain decks or champs being over I'm not sure if that is represented by any Data.
- "Balance" is a huge buzzword. Believe it or not, we have [internal] balance metrics in terms of if decks are winning too often or not. In general, if we "balanced" the game strictly [to those metrics], players would not be that happy with that (and haven't been when we've done it before).
- I think that if every deck were 50% winrate that would not be fun. Because then deckbuilding wouldn't exist right? Metagaming, practicing matchups, etc would not matter.
Regarding top-tier decks:
- There will always be "best decks". Even if we do more nerfing - if you cut off the top 5 cards, then the top 10 cards become the top 5. That's one of the reasons we greatly prefer buffing, and only nerf is there is a gameplay health or winrate problem.
- Totally agree [that overbuffing isn't the way]! I think we should be a bit more careful with buffs.
- That said -- players have expressed a huge interest in a fresher metagames that are shook up more, which is where buffing comes into play.
- From decks that we consider "meta" (at least 3% of the metagame), Scouts actually had the 2nd highest winrate of any deck yesterday, trailing only Nightfall.
- If you like this type of data, we'll be releasing more data with our 1.14 patch notes which will include some playrates and winrates of top decks. We've observed players crying a bit foul on decks being OP or underpowered that has not been reflected from our end - so we'd love to clear that up!
- We usually see a trend where a deck gets nerfed, and the playrate goes down but the winrate does not.
- When we nerfed Cursed Keeper and They Who Endure, the deck went from a 20% metashare to a 3% metashare -- but the winrate actually went up (probably because people were playing fewer counters). And that was 2 nerfs!
- Often times winrates of nerfed popular decks go up, because of the meta shifting.
- Lee Sin's winrate might actually go up [after Patch 1.13] because people might stop playing as much frostbite for instance.
- Winrate is VERY breathable in LoR since there is so much interactive gameplay.
- Remember winrate is not really a great indicator [of power level], especially for card changes. Just look at Lee Sin & Heimerdinger.
About the possibility of rewards for ranked play:
- Ranked rewards are tough - because I think in general ranked rewards force players to play ranked in order to cash in.
- Which I don't necessarily think is that good of a thing. For instance in League of Legends, many players force themselves to get gold every year, and then quit.
On disrupting the metagame:
- Players want more disruption to the metagame -- they often call out metas that don't change. However, small reworks that don't really push the needle don't accomplish that.
- The struggle is what players want is metagame disruption, but that can make the game a bit more unbalanced (at least through perception). Can't really provide that without spicy change. In general, doing more card releases (splitting sets/KDA) is one attempt at providing players with this thing.
- That said -- I think one thing I'm personally discovering is when we release cards so frequently, it's REALLY hard for Live Balance. Like for instance, cards like Aurelion Sol & Star Spring being balanced, but frustrating players. If we do change those cards, by the time we change them it's settled down etc and there are new cards out anyway.
Upcoming changes to patches:
- [Repeated from earlier:] We'll be releasing more data with our 1.14 patch notes which will include some playrates and winrates of top decks.
- I think we should use our Odd patches in between [the larger Even-numbered patches] to do micro-adjustments to reworks. For instance, Braum and Lee Sin coming in over [after their original buffs]: the idea would be to do solid changes (not as absurd as Braum or Lee), and then use the 2 week period after that to preload "nerfs" in case they go haywire. That way, we get the type of metagame disruption (that lee did well), but we get a nerf in 2 weeks rather than 6.
- We are going back to [the original Big Balance Patch Every Other Month] model (hopefully). If all goes well with this patch and next we'll be skipping [any balance changes in Patch 1.15], especially with [Riot's official tournaments] coming up.
- [This Discord session] has been fun. I think that communicating like this with our changes is much better. I think for 1.14 I might do a short stream/YouTube review of the patch notes like Mort from Teamfight Tactics does. I really liked when I got to do this on Mogwai's [now-defunct "Progress Day"] podcast.
- So, the short answer is that every card in our game is on the "watchlist". We've been doing "patch previews" every patch - where we reveal what some changes will be in the next patch - which we've found pretty successful to get players excited and also help us address player concerns sooner.
- Though lots of players don't read the patch notes, so it might not be the best medium for us to discuss stuff like that.
On reverting nerfs & buffs:
- Yes, I used to feel bad about doing reverts. But as you see with Flash of Brilliance and some other cards, we're more willing to do it now. Given certain metas, cards can be unfair but sometimes that [later] changes, and a revert is fine.
- [In response to a request for hints on next region:] Absolutely not, and if I did, I should be fired.
- The leaks, especially the champions of Set 2/3 are extremely harmful for us.
- It would've been so much more exciting if y'all didn't know all the champions and regions before spoilers right?
- Even the K/DA spoilers today hurt, but I'm glad people have seemed to be more excited by them than they expected.
- I like the deck. My only problem with the deck is that because of Soraka/Star Spring it's often correct to just not attack when you play against it -- which I would consider a tad unhealthy.
On Pale Cascade:
- I think [Thresh & Karma] are both fine. Playrate isn't always the best indicator. Challenger units, in general, are all sad because of Pale Cascade - which is something we might want to adjust in the future.
- I'm not sure if we will [change Pale Cascade] -- it's not easy to adjust without killing the card.
- We could probably adjust it in a way where it's still good but only in Nightfall decks. But it would suck for Targon to lose its main combat tool.
- I personally think that Mentor of the Stones probably gives one too many Gems. Though I'm quite pleased that Mentor is seeing a ton of play since that card really highlights some of what Targon is strong at -- supporting, buffing, and healing.
- I really like where Hush ended up. I think our last change was more of an "adjustment" then a nerf actually - as it's better in many situations, but less toxic when it's going crazy.
- I think Astral is fine. The fact that you don't get attack off of it really limits is usability.
P&Z and Ionia
- We need to buff P&Z for sure. So we actually look at underplayed regions instead of overplayed ones when it comes to health. I think the fact that Bilgewater has like 5 different decks is actually not indicative of unhealthy. It's super healthy if a region has that many decks (and some of them like Tahm use completely different cards).
- P&Z and Ionia are desperately underplayed in competitive play. They basically only have Jinx decks and Lee Sin decks (which should go down now), and we haven't released [the Piltover champion] for Call of the Mountain yet. So actually, Ionia is potentially in a worse spot than Piltover.
Trundle & Freljord Ramp Decks
- The live team needs to always consider what's coming out in the future, which is one of the reasons we didn't really touch Freljord/ramp since we knew about Trundle.
Even though players wanted it.
- Trundle will get his... in 1.14. Nerfs incoming for sure! DISCLAIMER: He will still be good.
- I actually really like Trundle. He's just a bit too good at stalling and being unkillable.
- I played a Warmother's Call deck on Master Ladder to see what all the fuss was about, and [lost severely to] Scouts a bunch.
- I think Demacia is fine. If anything they will get some small buffs.
- I think when Demacia is good, it's really healthy for LoR since the decks are generally pretty linear and one dimensional which means they are counterable.
On Genevieve Elmheart's nerf:
- I think really the timing on the Genevieve nerf was poor, but I'm super glad where she landed.
- We probably should've held that change, or done that instead of the War Chefs nerf at the beginning of COTM.
- It makes absolutely no sense that Genevieve is better than Cithria the Bold in Elites, or that she's better than Inviolus Vox in Dragons.
The New K/DA Cards
- It's only 5 cards, and they are all spells (not followers which is a big difference for thematics). Each spell is also very fitting for the region that it's in terms of our Region Pie - which is really important.
- If you removed the card name and art they would fit well into those regions, which is really important.
- The battlepass [for the K/DA event] is optional.
- The development pipeline for something like K/DA is different from something like a whole expansion.
- Also, K/DA is much more around our Personalization Team, and the Design Team (the team I'm on) is a bit less involved. But we did put a good amount of work into the K/DA Spell.
- I even set up goals with the [K/DA spells'] Lead Designer of how impactful we want to be on the metagame, which is something I do for all our products as the Live Design Lead.
- These are really hard cards to balance. They are synergy cards [for Elise and Vladimir, respectively] but, due to the nature of our game, when they are "good enough" they get abused by non-synergy decks, so they are probably resigned to stay as-is.
- I think Brood Awakening needs to cost 5.5 mana, so yeah it's gonna stay. We know that Corina Veraza-style decks will abuse it at 5 mana.
In response to why Dreg Dredgers got nerfed despite already having worse stats than other 1-drops:
- Dreg Dredgers was nerfed specifically to add more counterplay to the early game of Deep - since fundamentally Toss is an uninteractive mechanic. We think it's healthy if decks like Deep/Ramp have early game weaknesses, and Dreg Dredgers -> Thorny Toad -> Deadbloom Wanderer is just a bit too strong of a curve at being Anti-Aggro than we would consider healthy.
On Tortured Prodigy & infinite combos:
- I see it asked in Reddit all the time "Why is Cloud Drinker so bad?". And the answer is: degenerate combo cards being a bit bad is completely healthy. Y'all have seen the Hush Lock deck right?
- I think cards like Tortured Prodigy are in a similar state, where they enable some infinite combos and it's okay for them to be a bit under.
- We're actually working on turn timer improvements which could allow us to have more infinite combos and to revert the Zephyr Sage combo, which we think is balanced.
Those are the highlights; you can join the Discord and see them for yourself or write down your own feedback for the devs (warning: while the devs do hang out in that Discord, it is very atypical for them to be as visible and interactive as Steve was today). And another big thanks to Steve Rubin for spending so much time engaging with fans!