How I would learn TFT (if I could start over)


Set 9 is going to change TFT forever, and this is why right now is the best time to relearn how to play the game completely.  Here’s why: TFT used to be a game where you could do the same thing over and over.  This made templates and guides very easy to create and follow in a short amount of time.  People always talk about how important fundamentals are in TFT, but no one wants to learn them.  People just want an easy way through an instruction manual, but that is about to change.  In Set 2, I made a leveling guide that is still relevant today, and it gave people a template to level up and hit whatever rank they desired.  How did I make it?  I watched the very best players play and recorded all their leveling intervals and then copied it.  It’s not rocket science.  However, games in Set 2 were essentially the same every game, but games in Set 9 have a whole new dimension.  

Portals, Legends, Augments.  These all make each game unique and it will be a lot rarer to play the same game you did previously.  Now I know what you all are thinking–we’ve already had these mechanics before.  Set 3 galaxies are essentially portals and forcing a certain playstyle could still be done without legends, and augments have existed since Set 6.  Players can just study the same exact way they did before, right?  Well, probably not.  In the past most players got better just by reading guides, analyzing stats (albeit mostly incorrectly), and watching streams.  However, I think now the best way to improve is just to play and use your own brain and creativity.  Before when just one or two major mechanics existed, many players could just memorize what to do in every situation or just play 1000 games and figure everything out by brute force.  Now that might be different because there are so many major mechanics that change the game drastically.  For example, one Portal called Stillwater Hold removes augments from the game.   What are the best comps in this scenario?  Can you force a lose streak like you normally do then spike back at 4-2?  Should you level up to 7 on 3-5?  Is Demacia stronger than Piltover on this portal?  What do I do if I have a 2 star Caitlin but have only AP items on stage 2-1?  What’s funny is that we as players have become so accustomed to augments that we probably don’t know what to do if they were removed.  One example is that we have a lot less economy, items, and effects that we would need to relearn the meta for that specific game only.  If the game only existed on that portal, everything would be back to normal, but there are around 30 portals and they may add more.  Playing a ‘vanilla’ game is already hard enough but if even 10 of those 30 portals are drastically different, it’s as if you are playing a different game and can’t simply just follow a guide.  This is why I would recommend following principles instead of rules. 

Now, what about stat checking?  Can’t we just check stats if we don’t know what to do?  Many players do this when they don’t actually know how to play, myself included.  With so many portals, your stat checks will have such low sample size that the data will not be accurate.  What is the best in slot items for Aphelios?  Perhaps it’s known to be 3 items.  But what is his best in slot in Yuumi’s Zoom Zone where Overtime comes faster?  Is it still the same 3 items?  Then as a simpler example, how do you know when an “acceptable” but not best item is good to slam on Aphelios?  It changes when you are on Hearth-home where you get a radiant item upgrade or Scuttle Puddle where you get tons of items which allows you to easily build BIS items versus Glasc Industry where item slamming is encouraged, meaning you may not need BIS items to win with Aphelios.  Then you have to ask how does that change with Lux, Kai’sa, Urgot, Yasuo?  What if you get an early Aatrox one of those games.  Well again, this normally isn’t a big issue in previous sets, but we now have augments and 30 portals.  Again, stat checking doesn’t fully work because the sample sizes would be too small for exact data and disregarding portals gives you a higher sample but it becomes a lot more inaccurate.  

So I’ve stated a lot about what won’t work as well anymore, but what about what will work?  Well, learning the actual mechanics of TFT and using your brain will work out a lot better.  Theorycrafting, while still important, will become more broad rather than specific.  Wide knowledge is preferred over specific knowledge.  Just playing the game and figuring things out yourself is another option.  Some people call this “playing by feel” and is used by many top players.  A lot of the top players who compete don’t actually use stats because the stats we have don’t have a high enough sample size to be applied to the top level.  Next, you will have to forget every TFT related advice that is outside of your specific situation in your game and start practicing thinking actively.  This means that after you learn all the basics such as when to level, what comps are good, what units are in those comps, what you need to do is look at your actual game and decide what is best in each scenario.  It sounds simple on paper and it’s what we should have been doing for the past 8 sets, but a lot of players don’t play this way.  A lot of players pull up a guide on an internet browser or a stat website and then just go for the units and items listed there.  Nothing wrong with this, but this method won’t get you as far as it did before.  Instead you will need to make more in game judgements and decisions in order to climb.  For the people who never did this before, what does that mean?

Well here are the basics of every TFT comp. 

  1. Damage
  2. Tank

It’s that simple.  Now what are the intricacies of these?

  1. Damage
    1. AD/AP
    2. Attack Speed/Mana
    3. Crit
    4. Resistance Shred
    5. Anti-heal
    6. Damage amplification (GS/GB)
    7. Ableness to do damage (Range or QSS/EoN)
  2. Tank
    1. Health
    2. Resistances
    3. Healing (on your damage dealer)
    4. Anti-damage (crowd control or backline access)
    5. Debuffs (AS slow, Disarm, etc.)

You will notice that every meta comp had almost if not all of these conditions.  Note that some of these conditions are a yes or no and others are scalable and can go as high as you want.  For example you can have a lot of AD/AP or a medium amount, but you either have or don’t have anti-healing

How do we get all of these? Very simple.  We get it from 

  1. Traits
  2. Champion abilities/stats
  3. Augments
  4. Portals
  5. Items

Here’s an example of one comp:

Next, let’s look at how Portals and Legends affect this.  Portals can give you a lot of items so you can fill things like Sunfire cape for antiheal, Shiv for shred more easily.  More gold portals or prismatic augments can make it easier to access higher tier champions to get more AD/AP or stats in general.  

Some comps are able to access all of these conditions very easily but they don’t go very deep into them. Maybe they have everything, but are low in AD/AP or HP/Resistances.  These comps would likely be better in the Stillwater Hold Portal.  Comps that have a difficult time accessing all these conditions but have very high stats would work very well in a full prismatic lobby on the other hand.  

Now what about in game decision making?  If we are going an AP comp and have a Rod, should we build a Rabadon’s Deathcap or Archangel Staff off the carousel?  Some comps like to delete people really quickly, so items like Deathcap would be better than Archangel’s Staff in a shorter fight.  Some comps like to scale and do the opposite.  Generally if you have lots of tankiness, you want to scale.  If you don’t have tankiness, you want to end fights quickly.  

Let’s look into another example.  Let’s pretend Akshan’s best items are Last Whisper, Infinity Edge, and Hextech Gunblade and we are using Shurima and Deadeye as his traits.  We have some

  1. Damage
    1. AD/AP Some
    2. Attack Speed/Mana Shurima
    3. Crit IE
    4. Resistance Shred LW
    5. Anti-heal No
    6. Damage amplification (GS/GB) Shurima, Deadeye
    7. Ableness to do damage (Range or QSS/EoN) Range
  2. Tank
    1. Health
    2. Resistances
    3. Healing (on your damage dealer) Shurima, Gunblade
    4. Anti-damage (crowd control or backline access) Deadeye
    5. Debuffs (AS slow, Disarm, etc.)

From this unit with 3 items alone, we have almost everything.  We are just missing utility such as anti-heal and debuffs, and then tankiness from a tank unit

However, if we go into a game and we see Harmacist which gives healing.  Would we still need Gunblade if we get healing from both Harmacist and Shurima trait?  Probably not, so we would adjust our build.  Maybe we go bigger into AD with a Deathblade or we get more attack speed with a Rageblade.  

Lastly I want to mention that comps are good and bad based on how easily they can meet these conditions and how deep they can go, and the differences are always closer than they seem.  This is because there are very specific circumstances that can make comps work.  Some games you just get a lot of Jhins, and even if Jhin reroll is a bad comp on that current patch, you can still win games or top 4 with that comp if it’s given to you for free.  Then, even if you’ve never played that comp before because it says “C tier” on a tier list, you can still make the comp work by filling in all the conditions with the rest of your units.  

Let’s move on into actionable steps now.  What would I do today to learn TFT?  First, I would learn all the basics.  Watch a leveling guide and then look at a tier list so that you know what goes where and when.  After that, just play.  Simple as that.  Practice using your brain every single game and every single round.  Don’t look at stats and pick the augment that helps you reach the conditions listed above.  Next, look at your draws in that game.   Make the most of the units that appear in your shop.  Just because you get a champion that doesn’t show up normally in a certain team comp doesn’t mean you can’t use it.  It can be temporary or permanently too.  Also realize that this is a game of luck and the only thing we can do is increase our odds.  That’s what the top players do.  They know when to roll and how much to roll and it makes their gold use much more effective than yours.  A lot of players comment on my videos saying “i’m never at this much gold and health at stage 4-1” and the reason why is because they simply are not using their gold effectively.  They may have 5 pairs and not roll.  They may have 0 pairs and roll 40 gold to get 1 upgrade.  There are too many misplays to count.  I know this process is going to be hard, but it’s the best way now.  Even in the most recent sets stat checking has become more difficult because of lower sample sizes because the games are just different.  

Your brain is only as good as you make it, and the more we use it, the more used to processes it becomes.  If we practice from day 1 how to actually play TFT, over the long run we will improve more than just checking websites or mindlessly following instructions.