By multiple authors, September 25, 2020
Team Aretuza members mtuck and Zinc bring you an article introducing differences between ladder play and tournament play. They will also be talking about how they prepare for tournaments in order to find success at the game’s highest level of play
How To Prepare a Tournament Line-Up
In this article, Team Aretuza competitive players mtuck and Zinc cover the differences between ladder play and tournament play. They cover how they prepare for tournaments in order to find success at the highest levels, and why this necessarily means a difference in the cards and decks they choose.
As a brief introduction, mtuck is the Event Lead for the r/LegendsofRuneterra Discord, has won multiple r/LoR tournaments, and has peaked at number two on ladder. Zinc is the winner of DoR 12 NA, has been invited to multiple Fight Nights, and has made the top cut in multiple high-level events.
The insights covered here mainly cover how to prepare for a 3-deck, 1-ban conquest tournament (either region-locked or card-locked) since this is by far the most common tournament format: for example at the upcoming Aretuza Summit tournament. However, many of these same lessons apply to other formats, as well.
How are Tournaments Different from Ladder?
In most tournaments, players bring a lineup of three decks that either do not share regions whatsoever (in the case of region lock) or do not share cards whatsoever (in the case of card lock). Additionally, having an efficient MMR-per-hour does not matter in a tournament setting; the only thing that matters is the win rate. Because of this, the tournament meta is generally slower than the ladder meta, and there are decks that are great in a tournament setting that may not be as suitable for ladder.
One of the most notable examples of this is Karma Ezreal - a deck that often hovers at a sub-50% win rate on ladder (according to Mobalytics stats), but is a relatively common sight in a tournament environment for its polarized matchups against most control decks. Karma Ezreal is also a deck that features complex decision trees, and while that may be daunting to some players, their existence also allows skilled players who can navigate these decision trees effectively to “outplay” their lesser-skilled opponents. While many ladder decks will often do well in a tournament environment, players who are new to the tournament scene should learn to understand that there are a variety of decks that might not see play in ladder that do see play in tournaments due to the unique region/card limitations, as well as the tournament meta generally being slower than the ladder meta.
Potentially the most impactful difference between ladder play and tournament play is that tournaments make use of open deck lists. This means we can see our opponent’s deck list while we are playing them. This makes both players’ ability to play around cards, make accurate hand reads, and bluff specific cards much more potent, whereas in ladder a player must attempt to play around the entire pool of cards that could be in the regions represented by their deck. One of the first tips given to new tournament players is to constantly look at the opponent’s deck list and think about what they could play on any given turn.
Open deck lists also increase the power of having cards as a “one off”, or having one copy of a specific card in the deck. The most obvious way to explain this is that if a player knows their opponent is not playing The Ruination in their Nautilus Maokai Deep deck, then they do not need to play around it at all and they are free to develop before attacking on most of their attack turns. If the opponent even has even just one copy of it in their deck, they now have to play around it and constantly think ”Do I lose if I play into it and they have it?”.
The final thing that open deck lists allow players to do much more effectively than on ladder is bluff. A bluff is when a player is playing like they have a specific card in hand when they actually do not have that card in hand. Bluffs are not common at all in ladder for a variety of reasons, but in tournament play they are relatively common occurrences. Bluffing works very well in open deck lists because if the opponent has Deny in their deck and they are constantly holding 4 mana, you must respect the Deny even if they do not actually have it. Bluffs are a complicated topic and would require their own article to really dig into, but for now just know that open deck lists create many bluff spots that, once learned, can really help make the opponent’s ability to hand-read much more difficult. We would also like to add that the strongest bluffs are the ones that your opponent cannot call out and are forced to respect.
In most tournaments, players get to ban one of their opponent's decks in each set they play. This is extremely impactful both on how players build their lineups as well as how they build their individual decks. With the introduction of a ban, a player can ban whichever deck they are weakest against. For example, if someone brings Shadow Isles/Freljord Warmothers Control, Swain Twisted Fate Control, and Lux Asol Control, they can ban Ionia as all three decks have weaknesses to Will of Ionia and Deny. The ability to ban a specific counter to a line-up creates a lot more flexibility in what players can bring. This concept will be explored more in a moment when talking about how to build a line up for a tournament.
Bans also allow players to tech their decks differently than they would for ladder play. Using NautilusMaokai Deep as an example again, players often include two to three copies of Withering Wail and/or Grasp of the Undying in order to help stabilize against aggressive strategies. In a tournament environment, players have the liberty of banning aggro decks instead, which may lead to Deep decks that are not teched to beat aggro whatsoever and instead feature more Toss cards that allow the Deep player to hit Deep faster. They may also opt to play copies of Vengeance and/or The Ruination if they are expecting Swain/Twisted Fate to be popular. In summary, players can tech their decks to have slightly more favorable matchups against expected opponent decks, and can remove cards from their deck that are used to deal with whatever they are planning to ban.
Want to explore more Legends of Runeterra decks? Visit the Team Aretuza Meta Snapshot.
Building a Line-up
There is no single correct way to build a line-up for a tournament. Part of what makes the tournament scene (and the Team Aretuza backrooms!) exciting is that no two players agree on what the optimal line-up is, and thus we have a healthy amount of diversity and a metagame that changes week-to-week. Any article that tries to explain the best line-up for the moment will very quickly become outdated as other players adapt. Instead, we'll talk through the five strategies worth keeping in mind as we decide on our line-up. It isn't possible to follow all five of these, but the more you keep these in mind the better your chances will be.
1. Raw Power
This should almost go without saying, but to win a tournament we need to bring good decks. Decks with high winrates that have a good number of positive matchups against common decks are ideal. While this does go deeper than just “what’s at the top of the meta snapshot”, it’s certainly something to take into consideration. If a clever strategy of targeting a certain deck or line-up makes sense in theory but requires playing 'Dark Horse' and 'Honorable Mention' decks, it may not be worth the trouble.
2. Target Ban
When selecting a line-up, one of the first questions to answer is: “What decks do I want to ban?”. Some strong decks struggle against particular matchups or cards, such as They Who Endure getting shut down by Hush, or KarmaEzreal doing poorly against most aggro decks. Building a lineup featuring decks that share a common weakness is very beneficial, as you can eliminate a potential counter to all three of your decks with the single ban you have at your disposal. Decks with mixed weaknesses can cover matchups better overall, but you run the risk of your ban being less useful depending on which deck of yours they ban.
3. Target Deck
In the conquest format, it is necessary to win with each of your decks once. This means you can target a single, very popular deck (or archetype) and plan to beat it with each of your decks if needed. For example, my win from Duels of Runeterra 12 was during the height of Karma Ezreal’s popularity. As such, I brought three decks I was confident of beating Karma Ezreal with: Scouts, Darrowing, and Karma Ezreal. The first two are strong matchups into KarmaEzreal, and the last is a mirror I was confident enough to win. This strategy paid off, such as when I started off 0-2 in grand finals but won 3-0 against Karma Ezreal to reverse sweep and win the set. This strategy also combined with the raw power strategy above, as my entire line-up was top decks of the format.
Keep in mind that this sort of line-up requires a strong read of the meta more than any other, as we run the risk of having a suboptimal line-up if we are wrong about the popularity of the targeted deck.
4. The Third Deck
A common mistake many new players make is to start with two decks that they feel very confident with and then just picking a third deck based on the regions/cards left, often choosing one that is not as strong or with which they are less confident. Because of the 3-deck, 1-ban conquest format, taking the titles means winning with (what the opponent thinks are) the worst two decks of any line-up. Two amazing decks cannot carry a poor third deck that struggles to win. Ideally, all decks should be relatively even in power level, as the "third deck" is actually the one we will play most often in a tournament.
5. Play Decks You Enjoy
At the end of the day, Legends of Runeterra is a game, and it is meant to be fun. As a result, it is ill-advised to spend the day playing unenjoyable decks. However, even from the perspective of trying to win, familiar decks will tend to do better than decks which have only recently been picked up purely because they are part of a theoretically “better” line-up. I would not recommend replacing a comfort pick with something new simply because it counters a targeted deck, at least not without playing the deck and matchup a bunch first.
The last piece of advice I have to share is to have fun and look at every tournament as a learning experience. Learning how to read the meta (and how to counter it) is just as much of a skill required for winning tournaments as actually playing the game. Enjoy the tournament scene and do your best!
Mtuck has played a variety of card games such as YuGiOh, MTG, and Pokemon and has now come to Legends of Runeterra to help support a team, talk startegy, and work on developing meta breaking stategy. Mtuck has acheived masters every season so far of LoR including the open beta season and doesn't plan to stop doing so!
Zinc has been playing card games competitively since Magic the Gathering in middle school. Since then he moved on to Hearthstone and is now looking to make his mark in the Legends of Runeterra scene. He's also a competitive Smash player, but he's much worse at that than he is at card games.