Riot Games’ digital collectible card game Legends of Runeterra hit its stride in 2021 with the release of multiple expansions and a well-received alternate game mode, Path of Champions.
Through the year’s two sets and six expansions, the card pool was further fleshed out with 88 different champions and a new region, Bandle City. This brought dual-region cards to the game.
The year brought some of the game’s most powerful cards to a constructed field that dramatically shifted with each expansion released. Here are the best LoR cards from 2021.
The Nightfall champion entered LoR at the tail end of the Call of the Mountain set. For the first half of 2021, Aphelios dominated the ranked ladder when paired with Twisted Fate. The Bilgewater and Targon deck fired off several spells each turn to control the board and quickly level up both champions.
Aphelios’ design allows for a great toolbox-style gameplan with his five moon weapons. Each card helps at different stages of the game and creates an interesting gameplay loop of playing and cycling through moon weapons similar to his League of Legends counterpart.
The moon weapons were hit with heavy nerfs, though, by turning them into three-cost cards. The difference between the original two-cost and the extra mana eliminated many of the hard-to-interact lines of play. Since the nerfs, Aphelios hasn’t been a part of the meta, but his design still remains a high point for LoR.
Nami debuted in the year’s final set, Beyond the Bandlewood, and instantly took over the meta. The card’s design is interesting and takes advantage of Attune and banking spell mana. The original level-up condition of gaining seven spell mana was too powerful. Nami could level up by turn three and start giving units +2/+1 for each spell cast.
The buff to her level-up condition to eight spell mana was enough to balance her. Now, she sits in a nice spot as a useful supportive champion and not the dominant force she was at release.
This Shurima spell from Empires of the Ascended is one of the definitive cards from the set. This one-cost Burst spell is solid on its own and gets better in a deck with Landmarks. The original card gave a unit +3/+1 if you’ve played a Landmark in that game. It was an incredibly efficient spell that was almost guaranteed to force a trade in combat.
Reducing the stat boost to +2/+1 helped balance the card while keeping it competitively viable in Shurima decks. When looking back at Empires of the Ascended and beyond as Pantheon decks evolve, Shaped Stone will be one of the key cards released in 2021.
Release day Poppy was a monstrous card. On release, the card gave itself and other allies with power equal or less +1/+1 on attack. With a base power of four at level one, Poppy came down on turn four and enabled a huge attack. At the card’s peak in the weeks after the release of Beyond the Bandlewood, Poppy was by far the most played champion in the game.
Poppy had its power reduced and ability adjusted to only give allies the +1/+1 bonus. This took the card from the best in the game to a solid contributor to two-region aggro lists.
Aggro decks in Runeterra are split between fast-attacking decks and burn decks that use a combination of units and spells. Irelia levels up when 14 allies attack. This can be achieved easily when paired with Azir. The combination of Azir and Irelia make up one of the fastest decks in the game.
What makes Irelia one of the best cards of the year is her versatility. Ionia is a region that falls into several key archetypes and Irelia is one of the better Ionia champions for aggressive decks.
Not every card in your deck is supposed to be a threat. Each list needs several key cards that smooth out draws and help enable your core gameplan. Preservarium is a solid glue card that ties many different Shurima lists together.
Preservarium draws a card then two turns later draws you another card. This card does so much for Shurima decks. The countdown helps trigger Landmark abilities on champions like Ziggs and Taliyah. The card draw finds your finishers or answers for an opponent’s threat.
Ruin Runner was one of the best commons in the game for the summer of 2021. On release, this 6|4 follower entered the field with Spellshield and Overwhelm. It was a hard-to-kill threat that laughed at chump blockers and blanked the first removal spell used on it. Ruin Runner packed a champion-level impact into a five-cost follower.
The card eventually had its health lowered to three, which made it easier to kill in combat and vulnerable to a wider array of removal spells.