Well, we can't talk about a card battler without discussing the cards and actual matches now, can we?
Let's talk about matches first. Unlike Hearthstone and Shadowverse, where you have the option of just "farming" cards and waiting for the decisive moment to unleash a barrage of minions or spells, LoR features an inherent "card for card" rule of sorts.
Essentially, this means that for each opportunity you get to play a card, your opponent gets to play one as well, so you can't just toss seven damaging spells at your opponent without them getting a chance to do anything.
This system ensures that each game never really feels completely passive, and that's a great call on Riot's part considering you wouldn't want to spend your entire thirty-minute train commute just to get wiped off the board by a single barrage of damaging cards. That's a pretty lame way to go, if I do say so myself. But if you're always forced to stay on your toes since your opponent has a chance to respond to whatever you do, the game will start to feel less like a match and more like a "conversation", and I think there's some measure of fairness in knowing your opponent is forced to play by the same rules.
Compared to the competition, LoR's cards don't seem too fancy or overly special on paper, since they just pack the usual attack-health conventions we're used to, but once again, there's more to account for.
This is where LoR's keywords come into the picture. Conceptually, they might be similar to their counterparts in other games, but having the attacker-defender system actually gives twofold benefits. Not only does this "additional phase" of sorts open up more options for them to play with, but it means that even the ones we are familiar with have different levels of usability from other games.
For example, the "Quick Attack" keyword in LoR is functionally similar to Magic: The Gathering's "First Strike". But in LoR, the keyword only works when YOU are the attacker and not the defender, instead of both ways like in MTG. So, there's already a clear difference in how useful the unit will be as an attacker or a blocker.
This is one of the best examples of how the attacker and defender system really adds value and increased tactical edge to Riot's card battler. Conceptually, they might look the same, but having that extra "space" to work with really makes all the difference.
Still, for all its good points, even Legends of Runeterra's system has its flaws too. After all, there are certain types of cards and keywords that are nothing short of tiresome to deal with, and that can be really demoralising, especially for beginners. For example, let's say you were to fight an opponent who's brought nothing but Elusive units. Units with this keyword can only be blocked with other Elusive units, so if they were to dump one on the field each turn, you'd eventually run out of your own Elusive units and it would literally be a one-sided game from there. That's no fun, and it would most certainly put people off the game entirely.
Sadly, there's not really a definite solution for these situations, and we can only count on Riot to nerf or adjust these "cheese" strategies appropriately to maintain a healthy metagame, regardless of a player's skill level. Counterplays might certainly exist, but if players are demoralised from the start, chances are they probably wouldn't have any motivation to think about them anyway.
Of course, that's just us playing the pessimist. Legends of Runeterra might still suffer from one or two of the common setbacks for card battlers, but it's not like they didn't try to mitigate said issues. Between their easier card acquisition and generally refreshing gameplay outside of these aforementioned situations, I think I can afford to close an eye. After all, there's still quite a lot that Riot seems to have gotten right on the first try, and I'd say they've done a pretty good job for a studio that's just jumped over from working on a MOBA.
All things considered, Legends of Runeterra is a great game for anyone looking to fill in that extra spot of time during your brunch, daily commute or bathroom break, especially so if you're a League of Legends fan. Speaking of which, the mobile version of the game has already released on the App Store and Google Play Store, so why not head over and give it a go?