Dote Night: Runes And Masteries With Riv

Spending all my IP, don't mind me.

Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart. THIS WEEK, however, she will be glaring at the runes and masteries of League of Legends!

In a few minutes of downtime at the recent MSI event League of Legends expert and caster Rivington “RivingtonThe3rd” Bisland III sat with me for a beginner-friendly Q&A focusing on Runes and Masteries. Both are ways to give a little boost to your Champions which you set up before a game starts. Runes provide little bonuses which you can stack in order to increase their effect. You put the runes into pages in order to set up slightly different builds, then pick one of these pages to use when you go into a match depending on how you want to play. Masteries are similar but rather than you just selecting the bonuses you fancy and plugging them into vacant spots you’ll need to follow a progression tree, adding points strategically in order to access particular bonuses further down the line.

“Overall they have a slight impact on the game but they can definitely make or break a situation where you both come down to about 10 HP and you’re trying to win that battle,” is how Riv sees runes.

At their most basic, runes divide into four types – marks, glyphs, seals and quintessences. Marks are offensive, seals are defensive, glyphs deal with magic-related stats like spell cooldown and mana regeneration and quintessences offer utility. They’re colour-coded red, yellow, blue and purple/gold respectively. You can also get runes which offer several effects but they’ll have a primary option. Matching the outline colour of the rune with the spot you place it in means you get the primary benefits which are usually better, if you match the colour slot with the secondary benefits those can be significantly lower although still useful if you want a hyperfocused rune page.

Once you’ve started to fumble your way towards a build, one of the questions you might have is about flat runes versus per-level ones. Per level runes are also called scaling runes as their benefits grow as the Champion levels up meaning they’re more effective in the later stages of a game while flat runes give you the same benefit throughout the game meaning their impact is felt in the early stages and then falls off.

“If you want to trade early usually you want flat because it will give you stats right away,” says Riv. “If you go for scaling stats you get a little bit less at first then you have more at the end. So if you know you’re going to be skirmishing right away – you’re going to be a rush down champion and in your opponent’s face – flat all the way. Flat armour, flat magic resistance and damage. Just don’t expect to explode late game.”

These are the rune pages - you unlock the spaces as you level up

The quintessences are beefy runes which occupy the three big spaces on a rune page and tend to offer bigger bonuses in terms of power and stats. “You really need to fill the quints mostly with your damage,” says Riv. “That’s what you’ll [usually] find there whether it’s ability or attack power. Sometimes you’ll see some HP in there or movement speed for junglers – there’s a lot you can put in your runes that will them complement the items in your game.”

The idea of complementing your item choices is a significant part of using runes effectively. In the example Riv gives, say you have 10% cooldown reduction just through your rune page alone – that means you only need to build items that give an extra 30% of cooldown reduction before you hit the game’s 40% cap. That means you can focus on another stat or benefit with your item building earlier. Runes give you these nice little benefits, but they also give you wiggle room and inventory options.

I should confess I didn’t touch the rune pages until relatively far into playing League but didn’t think I was losing noticeably more often than after I started tinkering. Are runes particularly important, then? “We’ve had pros in the past actually forget runes and it does make the game a little more difficult,” says Riv. “But if it’s not a mix up by the computer system you kinda have to play with it. It does make it harder but you can still win without runes.”

When you start playing you’ll unlock rune slots as you level up your summoner profile, right up until level 30. It’s a system of progression which means you can dip into runes without being particularly overwhelmed at first but, ultimately, with so many runes at your disposal the pages can get a touch unruly. Riv recommends keeping an eye on your own playstyle and picking the runes which augment what you like to do in a game.

“When you’re leveling your champion in the first place and getting used to the game you’ll see what you like,” he says. “If you want to sit back and poke a bit mana regen and cooldown will be more efficient. Cooldown a lot of times also means more damage. Some of the mages will focus cooldown not damage because that’s the way they get it out.”


That’s one of the more basic errors or assumptions – you have a mage so you amp up the magic damage. If your power comes largely from the spells you cast then by going for cooldown reduction and mana regeneration it means you should be able to get those spells off more often and increase the amount of damage you do by increasing the number of spells you cast rather than the damage of each individual spell. In a fight it could be the difference between getting off a single spell with slightly augmented damage versus double the damage by casting one spell twice.

If you want to see what runes the pro players are building, you can go to the player builds section of the match analysis page and take a look. Riv advises against taking these wholesale, though.

“A lot of times someone like Saintvicious [a former pro player who now coaches Team Coast] would get people coming on his streams and saying ‘How do you build this?’ and he didn’t want to tell them straight up because that’s how he plays it.” Riv likens the situation to admiring a professional musician – you can look at what they do and try to figure out how it works but ultimately you’ll have your own style. “You should never just try to replicate something. Nobody’s ever going to be Faker even though we can all try.”

That said, he’s not exactly without guilt on that front thanks to a rune page Taipei Assassins’ jungler Lilballz made for a champion called Olaf.

“I took his Olaf page – it was the first one I ever used because I didn’t know. In the end I modified it a little bit but damn did that page work well! It’s awesome to see what the pros use. Last year we found out the junglers were using a crit rune for 1-2% crit chance.” It’s a tiny chance to do a lot of damage so the point in using it was that it didn’t sacrifice much in the way of other stats and power but it did give you a tiny chance to turn a 1v1 encounter into a kill or at least force your opponent to return to base to heal.

Then we come to the masteries – those Offence, Defence and Utility trees which you fill out using points earned from taking your summoner profile to level 30. Unlocking the bigger benefits means putting points in at earlier levels, fulfilling certain requirements. For example, Martial Mastery on the Offence tree gives you +4 attack damage but to use that option you’ll need to have at least 8 points in other options on the Offence tree and 3 points in a specific lower tier skill called Brute Force.

“You’ll see a lot of supports going utility. Mid laners as well if they want to get the biscuits. They’ll give you back mana and health.” Biscuits come via an option called Culinary Master. To unlock it you need 8 points already in the Utility tree and 1 point specifically in a skill called Alchemist. Culinary Master converts your health potions into biscuits which offer additional mana and health instantly on consumption. Mastery points cap out at 30. As biscuits are 9 points down that Utility tree and big benefits tend to get unlocked around the 20/21 point mark on any tree one of the builds you’ll commonly see is a 21-0-9 Mastery build – the focus here is on offence but you can also nibble the biscuits.

Another mastery you can see easily in-game and which has an obvious power to turn fights is Dangerous Game. “Somebody dies and you’ll see the other health bar go up just a little bit. That’s a mastery taken called Dangerous Game.” As per the mastery page, Champion kills and assists restore 5% missing health and mana. “We’ve seen that small percentage save people from an ignite death or something like that.”

A cookery class

The key to masteries is understanding that you very rarely want to be a Jack of all trades.

“You want to choose something, you don’t want to just be an amalgamation of all the trees – you want to get that 21st point,” says Riv. “Sometimes you’ll see a 12-18-0 or 18-12-0 just because that’s the way it works for a tank. They won’t focus on the damage stats that come from [points at] 19/20/21, they’ll focus on a bit of cooldown from the beginning of the attack tree, ability power or attack damage and then they’ll go to the defensive tree. No real cooldowns for the tank there so they can stay out of the utility tree and just get whatever they get out of their items. Supports will go more for the utility tree, mana regen, cooldown and then their items complement that cooldown.”

According to Riv, “Having masteries and knowing what they are is definitely pertinent to the game. They give more than the runes. Getting those mastery points – you get one every level [until 30] – use it when you get it, it’s definitely helpful.”


  1. CMaster says:

    Feels odd to talk so much more about Runes which are, as said, kinda marginal stat bonuses, compared to masteries which make or break a build. The right masteries make doing your role – be that support, damage, jungle, whatever so much easier.

    • Evilpigeon says:

      Rune pages have more impact early though, they can really fuck your day up, especially jungling.

  2. Senethro says:

    I’m playing HotS with some MOBA newcomers and it is such a relief to just be able to play the game without worrying about an over-designed and marginal progression system. A much easier introduction than I had.

    • anHorse says:

      HOTS has marginal progression though, all those character abilities that you have to grind games with the character to unlock.

      Meaning that in some cases you have to drag your team down with some rubbish skill choices in order to complete the game and make progress toward the good ones.

      Nowhere near as annoying or lengthy as building rune pages but still unnecessary padding

      • Kitsunin says:

        At least you aren’t forced to play for like fifty hours before you can properly act in one of the game’s most important roles. Idiotic, needing runes and masteries to jungle. It’s the reason I’d never, ever start my account over, even though I have to if I want to play since you can’t migrate your account.

        • Kitsunin says:

          Incidentally, I had to revise this post twice so it wasn’t just a rant filled with swearing, because the topic really pisses me off. League is atrocious with how many different servers it has, every last one of them segregated. Just gross and awful, the game is fine but I wish everyone would stop playing it because that is just…just…just freaking garbage.

          • Kitsunin says:

            As context, I moved from the US to Taiwan. All the people I know who game play League, and I would like to play with them, but…I would have to start all over again, and for about 40 hours I would be unable to play my favorite role (jungler) and my friends won’t want to play with me because I can’t do ranked. It’s just not what I’d consider worth it, but it’s so frustrating because if they’d only play dota or any other game it wouldn’t be so bad, sigh…

          • Kitsunin says:

            Oh yeah, and everything would be in Chinese too, because for some reason letting you toggle your local language is too much work, so I’d have to freaking memorize all the stats and such. It’s just utter crap.

          • Apocalypse says:

            When you start your league of legends client, right at the launcher screen, before the login, there is a drop down that shows your currently selected region. You click this and can change the language and region there.

            In the store, under the account page there is the option to transfer your account.

            Neither of those options might help you, because I think your taiwan client is part of the south east asian lol clients, which seem to be separated from the ‘western’ regions.

            You might want to try the oceanic region, maybe you get a decent enough ping there to play, and you should be able to transfer your na account to that region.

            Besides all that:
            Runes are a freaking pain. They are the only reason why I would pay literally money for IP boosts if I had to restart my account.
            For all I care they should keep the runes, but make them free, should give them more money in the long run, because it so freaking painful to grind all the runes you want. They are one of the current really down-sides of the game and a real turnoff for new players.

      • iardis says:

        Blizzard changed that a bit in the last patch or so. From some player level onward (30 I think) you have always all talents available – whatever the character level or your current hero. I am still not sure what the idea behind making talents unavailable is but I don’t have to bother with it anymore so I don’t care too much anymore… :p

    • iardis says:

      That was my thought exactly. After having stopped playing Lol for some time now I had completely forgotten about that system and can’t say that I miss it at all – very much the opposite. It is just nice that you don’t have to bother with masteries und runes (which, honestly, most people just look up in builds anyways…) and can just concentrate on playing the game.

  3. MrNash says:

    Runes was one of the big things to make me lose interest in playing LoL. The grind ahead just didn’t appeal to me, especially because I played a lot of different supports, so stubbornly clung to the idea of getting the best possible ruins for each character, which could get pretty nuanced.

    • iardis says:

      You need maybe 2 or 3 rune pages – even when totally fanatic about it – ap support and tanky support and maybe mana regen support or something. I did well enough with two (mana and tanky).

      • OmNomNom says:

        I had 10 because i felt i needed them for the extra competitive edge and people could be so snarky if they thought you weren’t using optimal runes

    • Asurmen says:

      What grind? A grind implies you’re doing the same dull repetitive action over and over again for some sort of goal. However as pointed out runes make a very small impact on the game, and if you were enjoying the games while getting the currency to buy runes then you haven’t been doing a grind.

      • Cinek says:

        Yep. What happens in LoL precisely feels like a grind.

        • Asurmen says:

          Then if they’re not having fun during the game itself to attain things that honestly aren’t that big a part of the game, they should stop playing.

          • Apocalypse says:

            It becomes a grind because it no fun to spent all the IP for runes and rune pages. Spent the IP for a new champion and you are happy. Spent them for runes and you feel grumpy about it. Something seems to be quite off-turning.

            And as you need to play a lot for all for all those 80,000 or so IP that you can easily spent on your runes it becomes grindy in itself, no matter how much you enjoy the game, it feels grindy because it takes ages to have all the rune pages and all the runes you like.

            Besides that: Runes are anything but marginal. I dare you, just try a BOT game without runes and you will notice a difference. The finer sides, outside of the cookie cutter, AP, AD, Jungle and Tank Runes, sure those are marginal, but 15 missing AD, 72 missing hp or the missing armor, etc … a decent opponent will abuse your early weakness to snowball. League laning phase is all about searching and finding your advantages and using them to win the game. No runes or wrong runes usually means that you get bullied the whole laning phase and dragging your team down for at least the first 15 minutes of the game.

            It is not big enough of a difference to make a good player lose against a bad player, but if the matchups are close you will get punished super hard … well at least in ranked games and with competent players involved. Bronze and Silver have their own rules. :D

          • Asurmen says:

            Runs are entirely marginal because their bonuses are so small. Skillful play can negate them, and they’re quickly overwhelmed by item bonuses.. That’s the point of them, nor do you NEED to have that many rune pages are spend anywhere near 80k. Runes are not a goal to be achieved so if you’re playing to get them so wonder it’s going to feel grindy. You’re playing it wrong if you’re doing that.

          • Apocalypse says:

            I am not playing to get them, I have them since years ;-)

            And if you consider 15-30% damage increases marginal than by all means be my guest in my lane and watch like I snowball. You can not trade effectively in lane without runes, you need those runes, at least the basic sets for ad, ap, etc
            Without the basic runes you get either out-traded, out-zoned and out-csed or outright killed and there is no magical outplaying basic number issues, except when your opponent heavily failing at the basics.

            The rest as marginal it might be, is the typical completionist issue that arise in all games that offer you the option to spend resources on marginal better stuff. Most Players will do so everytime.

          • Asurmen says:

            By you I’m obviously not speaking precisely at you, it’s just a general term for a player.

            I’d like to see where you get that math from seeing as that contradicts Riots point (unless you’re talking 30% increase of the pathetically tiny damage every does at the start at which point big whoop, it barely makes a difference), and just how long runes are contributing that kind of damage before being completely replaced by items. As for basics, no amount of runes can help if you get out zoned, out ranged, out skill shoted, out warded.

            It still doesn’t change the fact that runes are not an end goal, and you’ll get plenty of IP just by playing if you’re enjoying it. If you’re not enjoying it then it’s a grind and you should just stop playing.

  4. OmNomNom says:

    Yeah i played lol for a good few years and the runes and masteries system was always bullshit and badly balanced. Every few months they’d come out with a revamp that would upset the balance once more so you’d have to fork out some pennies to get ‘just one more’ rune set you didn’t have.

  5. OmNomNom says:

    As an aside, is it worth having a separate section of the site for LoL and maybe MOBA games as a whole? With dote night every week or two and a post about LoL every 3 days it almost qualifies as enough content for its own separate site.

    • Asurmen says:

      Why? There’s other articles that are weekly and exaggerating the number of Lol posts hurts your argument.

      • OmNomNom says:

        If you search for League of Legends, Riot Games or Dote Night tags you will see they really are quite frequent.
        I don’t particularly mind other than the often non-news articles knock the actual news articles about other games off the front page, which is annoying sometimes if you don’t check back very often.

        • OmNomNom says:

          Even with a 1280 width screen (half of my 2560 monitor) there is a lot of wasted space in the site design.
          They could have a LoL column that fills up this remaining space.

        • Asurmen says:

          I didn’t say they weren’t frequent, but they’re certainly not every 3 days.

          The site never has and never will be a purely news site. Not seeing a need for a MOBA only area than any other type of game.

  6. Razumen says:

    Weird how DOTA is said to be so complex, but something like this is not what I’d want to see in the game, items alone do a good enough job for making each build unique without the grind.

  7. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I like League, but that’s in spite of runes. They’re utterly unnecessary wastes of space. The fact that they exist in itself makes it more difficult to play your role well (because everyone assumes you will use them) if you don’t have them or the ideal set up. It reminds me of the unlock systems in fps games like CoD, as it skews the balance in favour of experienced players and makes it harder for new players to keep up.

    The sooner they get rid of them or replace them with something else, the better.

    • Apocalypse says:

      Totally agree on that.

    • Asurmen says:

      I wouldn’t say they’re unnecessary at all. It allows you some small customisation of your hero from the start, which is especially important for those that can fill multiple roles. It encourages flexibility.

      I don’t see how they make doing a role more difficult though if you don’t have them. It makes certain roles easier but that doesn’t mean not having them makes it difficult.

      Don’t see how it skews the balance either. You always play with people of similar levels, and at 30 you should have a few core champs you like and the rest can go into runes, and if you really must min-max there’s plenty of guides.