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Legends Of Runeterra's mushroom man fills my heart with glee

...and the decks of my enemies with mushrooms

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There is a man in Riot’s new card combat game whose job is to throw mushrooms into my opponent’s deck. He is really, really into it. “Have a mushroom!”, he shouts. “Have three!” Whenever my opponents draw a card with a mushroom attached, their nexus takes direct damage. This is a sneaky and deplorable way to win matches, as evinced by the smug expression on the Puffcap Peddler’s face.

He is also lonely. His cheery quips about being ‘a fun guy’ mask a life of agaric isolation. “Oh, if mushrooms could talk,” he opines. We can dream, Puffcap man. We can dream.

Legends Of Runeterra is OK. It’s growing on me.

It’s like if Hearthstone and Magic The Gathering had a baby in the world of League Of Legends. Each round, one person has a chance to attack while the other defends. The goal is to take down your opponent’s nexus, which starts at 20 health. You go back and forth within each round, playing minions and spells, until the attacker sends in their units. The defending player chooses which of their units they want to block with (if any), and you keep doing that until one player’s nexus has fallen over. All of this will be deeply familiar to anyone who has previously dabbled with a card-me-do.

Many of the cards, in fact, have exactly the same effects as those in Hearthstone. Not an overwhelming number, but still enough for me to initially dismiss Runeterra as overly familiar. Emphasis on initially.

It’s grown on me, partly thanks to mushroom man, who played a big role in a deck I’d jammed with spells and units who like to see spells cast. I also had a Funsmith increasing spell damage, various spells that created spells, and Karma, a special Champion unit who popped a random spell into my hand each turn.

I don’t mean to downplay my mushman, but Champions are a big deal in Runeterra. They start off as extra powerful units, and can get more powerful if you fulfill certain conditions. So once I’d levelled up the magic-focused Champion Karma by starting a late-game round with ten mana, she got a stat buff, and, more importantly, swapped her ability to one that made all my spells trigger twice. Other Champions level up under more exciting circumstances, like seeing their friends die or doing damage to the enemy’s nexus. They give shape to the board, often demanding that you play around them. I’ve found Katarina particularly spicy, even though she is far too naked. She lets you attack twice in the same round, which can be devastating.

Runeterra has wormed its way into me. Matches are moreish. I keep playing them between sentences.

Through them all, I’ve had Puffcap Pat spewing mushrooms like a highschooler on his first trip. The mushrooms have my back. It’s always a thrill when my enemy whips one out at the very end, either killing them outright or dropping them into range of spells that can target their nexus. I am just about getting away with things, and that is how I have fun in videogames.

Sadly, I built that deck in the mode I hardly ever get to play. I always gravitate towards the ‘gauntlet’ type mode in card ’em ups, where you draft a deck from a series of random choices and play against people who’ve done the same. Runeterra calls them Expeditions, and they do indeed level the playing field. My odds of getting good cards are exactly the same as people who’ve invested intimidating amounts of time or money. It’s also a much less intimidating way to build decks, especially with Runeterra’s bells and whistles.

To speed things up, you draft clumps of cards rather than individual ones. That also makes it harder to mess your deck up altogether, while leaving plenty of room to create something clever. I like how you get to tinker with your deck as you play, too, swapping out a card after every match. The problem is the entry fee.

In a way, it’s more generous than equivalent modes in other CCGs. You get to keep playing games until you lose two in a row. Then, once you’ve failed, you do that again, and earn rewards based on how many games you won on the better of your two runs. Those rewards will be some combination of cards, materials to craft cards, or – if you manage to win seven games – another entry ticket.

I earned a free ticket after playing for about two hours, but that was a special treat. To play again I’ll need to stump up a fiver, which is the minimum amount you have to spend on currency, and use most of it on that entry fee. Even if I splurged, I’d only be allowed to play that mode three times a week, which is bonkers. Restricting access to the best bit makes no sense.

If you’re more interested in standard play, where you bring your own decks to the table, Riot have made things much more enticing. The key is regularly handing out cards you might actually want. Some of the rewards you earn just by playing are ‘Wildcards’, which you can turn into any card of the same rarity. You also get to pick which faction you’re unlocking cards for, which means you don’t get inundated with useless stuff. It’s a good way of curtailing disappointment.

Gah. I think they’ve got me. I can’t stop thinking about completing my daily quests, which leapfrog you towards unlocking more rewards by fulfilling simple goals over multiple games, like doing a certain amount of damage or attacking with expensive units. I can see another Expedition entry ticket on the horizon, and I’ll soon have enough Wildcards to make a mushroom deck in standard play.

Runeterra doesn’t do anything revolutionary, but it’s alluring nonetheless. I’m allured. I’m itching to toss more mushrooms.

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Matt Cox

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Matt is the founding member of RPS's youth contingent. He's played more games of Dota than you've had hot dinners.

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