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LoR's meta (Alchemy discussion)

2021.12.06 04:43 Sidereas LoR's meta (Alchemy discussion)

I think at this point it is worthwhile to bring up the health of the metagame in Legends of Runeterra, since that's a game which features regular balances in the forms of nerfs and buffs. Of course a lot of people are protesting the idea of nerfs and buffs in Magic, and yes, before everyone piles on, I know that a lot of the protests are related to Historic and not necessarily merely to the idea of nerfs and buffs appearing in Standard. But I've seen enough people saying that the Alchemy structure of regular card updates is 'predatory' toward players that it seems bringing up Legends of Runeterra is worthwhile.
LoR has regular nerfs and buffs and is a digital-only game, and is arguably a competitor which WotC is trying to emulate now. 'Alchemy' is releasing a day after the latest LoR expansion, and the Innistrad championships took place the same weekend as LoR's Between Worlds tournament, which I'll be talking about a bit below. Basically, the question is, is LoR's meta more diverse than Standard, is the game as deep as Magic, etc., and to what extent do regulars nerfs and buffs keep the metagame fun and viable?
I can't go in-depth on this as I've only been playing LoR for a bit of time, so I welcome anyone who wants to comment who is more familiar with LoR's history of card reworks to give a more comprehensive overview. My plan here is just to point out a few things about the metagame of the most recent Worlds tournament, and I'll be using this article to make those points: https://runeterraccg.com/lor-world-championship-2021-in-depth-lineup-analysis/
"As we can see, there are 13 Draven midrange decks (7 – Draven Sion, 6 – Draven Tri-beam), 11 Demacia Rally decks (6 – Poppy Demacia, 5 – Sivir Demacia), 8 Gangplank decks (5 – Gangplank TF Bandle, 3 – Gangplank Sejuani), and 6 Zoe Nami decks. These archetypes are the cornerstones of the tournament’s meta.
Overall, there aren’t any surprises as to which decks were the most popular. The lack of Bandle Tree was too very expected – Gangplank TF Bandle, which rose in popularity in the week leading to the event, is a very bad matchup for it."
There's a couple things to notice about these two paragraphs of analysis:
1) LoR has viable midrange decks. Tournament footage will make this more salient for you, but unlike Standard, LoR is not overwhelmed by a polarizing aggro and control divide, but tends to feature a lot more midrange gameplay. Poppy/Zed is a currently OP aggro deck, but because you are allowed in LoR's tournament rules to ban one of your opponent's three decks, it didn't see a lot of play in the most recent tournament, and wasn't represented in top 8 at all.
2) You'll notice in the last paragraph that a popular deck "rose in popularity in the week leading to the event." I think this in itself is very telling of the health of the metagame. Can you remember the last time Standard had a deck appear the week before a tournament as a counter to a popular deck? This is something that used to happen in Magic which, in my experience, no longer happens; the MTG meta is solved early on and remains static until the next expansion (and sometimes even after that).
" Alanzq, however, was a bit more ambitious and wanted to have a good matchup against both. This is a very difficult task when you stick to meta archetypes – Sivir Demacia and Draven Caitlyn is a good start, but the third deck is harder to find.
GP TF Bandle and Draven Sion both are good into Poppy Aggro decks but are unfavored against Zoe Nami. Poppy Aggro and hyper-aggressive lists like Burn are considered to be the meta answer to Nami – but they both aren’t good if you count on beating Poppy as well.
In this situation, most players would have settled on Sivir Demacia, Draven Caitlyn, and a Poppy Aggro deck slightly tuned for the mirror. But Alanzq was willing to explore off-meta options to enable the exact matchup table he wanted.
This is where Ezreal Vi Shellfolk comes in. This deck works pretty well into Zoe Nami, and has a great matchup against Poppy Aggro decks, fitting the lineup perfectly.
Moreover, this completely unexpected archetype comes with the power of surprise – the other players weren’t as knowledgeable and trained for this matchup as they were for meta decks, and it showed. The deck was banned in 5 of the 6 of Alanzq’s matches, and the only time it wasn’t, it won partly due to the opponent seemingly not being familiar enough with the matchup"
This is from the analysis of the top player in the tournament. This player brought an off-meta deck to the tournament and performed very well. I think the last time I remember this happening in Magic was when PVDDR won Worlds with his UW control deck. Granted, the deck was banned in most of their matchups, but what stands out to me is the phrase 'power of surprise'. When was the last time a Magic tournament, or even the World Championship, had a "completely unexpected archetype" that made a meaningful contribution to the outcome? This kind of thing--admittedly exciting for audiences and players alike--is all but vanished from Magic.
And here is a similarly-toned analysis for the third-best player:
" If you thought it couldn’t get any spicier than the first 2 lineups in the World Championship, you couldn’t be more wrong, as Szychu comes in with the most out-of-the-box lineup of the tournament, bringing Feel the Rush and Zoe Heimerdinger!
It isn’t easy at first to understand how this lineup works – Zoe Heimerdinger is a completely under-the-radar deck, and both the FTR deck and the Draven Tri-beam list are tuned in very specific ways.
This alone might have thrown a couple of opponents off. The power of surprise was definitely one of the core narratives of this tournament, as all podium players brought unique and unexpected archetypes!"
There it is: all podium players brought unique and unexpected archetypes to the tournament. This to me suggests that LoR has a healthy meta. Yes, it has a meta; and there are decks which are thought of as the tier 1 decks. But, as in the old days of Magic, you can actually counter these decks and come out on top. This is an aspect of Magic, at least an aspect of Standard, that seems missing from tournaments and from ranked play nowadays. In the most recent Innistrad Championship, by contrast,
" Birds, extra turns, and cheap aggressive creatures are the decks to beat within the Standard format at the Innistrad Championship this weekend. Revealed by WotC today, 58.3 percent of the 252 competitors are playing either Mono-White Aggro or Izzet Epiphany. Coming in at 9.9 percent of the field is Mono-Green Aggro, followed by Orzhov Control at 5.2 percent. " (https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/esports/mtg-innistrad-championship-standard-meta-is-all-about-control-and-aggro/ar-AARoWwV)
Almost 60% of the tournament is made up of just 2 archetypes. That goes to 70% if you include mono-green aggro, which of course doesn't represent a different archetype. So 70% of the tournament decklists represent just 2 archetypes, aggro and 'extra turns' decks.
This is why WotC is introducing Alchemy as a format where cards can be rebalanced after the sets have been released. It's in bad form for players to denounce this idea as it will obviously contribute to a better meta, even if that meta takes some time to come into its own. This is a far better solution than simply banning cards all the time after metas are broken. LoR isn't perfect and the new expansion contains cards that people are already worrying about. But it is more where a digital CCG ought to be at in terms of giving players options about deck viability and creativity. Magic is getting a reputation for staleness that is hurting the game. Magic needs Alchemy to try to counteract the pretty consistent 2- and 3-deck metas that keep emerging.
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