In this past weekend’s Mastering Runeterra tournament Thresh/Nasus took the most spots in the top 16 being in the majority of the lineups. All of the Thresh/Nasus builds ran atrocity which brought up an old topic the community has discussed since the beta. Is atrocity healthy for the game?
For the uninitiated, Atrocity is a six mana fast spell in the region of shadow isles that reads, kill an ally to deal damage equal to its power to anything. Most of the discussion around atrocity has been around how bad atrocity feels to play against and how unhealthy it is. I’m here to tell you atrocity is healthy and actually needed for the game.
One of the biggest arguments often thrown around when it comes to atrocity is that it does too much damage. A solution that is offered is to cap its damage at a given value. There are multiple things wrong with this perception from both a game design and game theory perspective. Firstly, atrocity is designed to end the game. That’s it’s purpose! The ability to hit anything means it can be used as removal but doing so is suboptimal except for in rare situations, the most common being the scenario where your nexus would hit zero had it not been used in that manner. Limiting its damage would make it a Noxian Fervor in a region where Noxian Fervor doesn’t fit.
This brings me to region identity. Noxian Fervor is in a region with overwhelm and burn as its two focus points. Thus, Fervor is designed for you to use your smaller units in combination with the natural aggressiveness of the region to force through overwhelm damage from your big guys that you naturally play (think Captain Farron or Darius). Being able to win games with fervor is a bonus effect. Shadow Isles on the other hand, has zero overwhelm outside of Hecarim. So, putting a Fervor clone in the region is essentially taking up set space or, in the case of a nerf or rework, it would essentially remove a card from the region. As Shadow Isles itself either has a super aggressive early game with curse keeper and friends or the atrocity and/or harrowing package for the late game. The region has a rather weak midgame. The control package of withering wail, grasp of the undying and the like, alongside the draw from the likes of spirit leech and glimpse beyond is how you bridge the gap.
Atrocity fits right in with the region’s biggest theme: Sacrifice, self-sacrifice specifically. Sacrifice your own unit for a payoff. The aforementioned glimpse beyond being the cheapest example as it requires you to kill an ally to draw cards at just two mana.
“Okay, it’s thematic but how fair is it?” You ask. Well, as I’ve stated earlier Atrocity is designed to end the game and 6 mana seems cheap for a card that essentially reads “end the game.” However, Atrocity actually cost twelve mana over 2 turns, because no unit that cost less than six mana will have stats to kill you. Now there are cards like thresh that make it a one turn play because the summon of the unit is cheaper or in the case of Thresh, free. These workarounds all require setup which makes it even slower, because of this atrocity is very telegraphed through simple hand reading. This is why no one slams down atrocity even if it will kill the opponent you always make your opponent spend mana or a negation first. Why is that you ask? This is because removing the unit that atrocity targets will cause atrocity to fizzle. This contributes to the poker-like feel that is key to the way Legends of Runeterra functions and what makes it such an enjoyable game.
The last point I’d like to cover is the impact on game design. Atrocity is a balancing and design tool as much as it is an identifying piece of shadow isles. It gives the developers a key piece to develop around also known colloquially as staples. It allows designs like those of They Who Endure and Nasus to exist without them becoming laughing stocks because their slow speed makes them outright unplayable because the decks around them do what they do (summon a big unit) better than they do. All Targon players know exactly what I’m talking about, celestials. Celestials, however, is an entirely different subject and a different article for another time. Without Atrocity Shadow Isles is left with the harrowing as the region’s sole finisher which means all Shadow Isles decks either become fearsome aggro decks like Mistwraiths or spiders or on the other end of the spectrum you get extreme late game harrowing decks each of those being a different design pillar that comes with its own set of issues.
In closing, if you think atrocity should be changed that’s fine, but realize that means shadow isles as a whole will likely be going in a different direction. Having said that, I hope this article gave you a different perspective on atrocity and why it functions the way it does.