Certainly, many players will agree that Ryze has changed a lot over time. This rework is arguably our third or fourth attempt at redefining the Rune Mage, and players have rightfully called us to task for not getting him into a better spot sooner.
Champion designer David "RiotRepertoir" Capurro has done a lot of thinking about this problem. A year ago, RiotRepertoir worked on a gameplay redesign of Ryze with the goal of giving him "windows of power" to play within. The idea was his passive and ult would (after careful management of stacks) combine at key moments to make Ryze incredibly powerful. To get the most out of Ryze, players needed to carefully manage their spell stacking and implement combos that reset their cooldowns. With the Rune Mage currently sitting at around a 50% winrate, some might argue that the last round of changes turned him into a more-or-less balanced champion. So why rework him again?
But winrate doesn't tell the full story. The Rune Mage had three major problems: he's too difficult to learn, too strong once you've mastered him, and too confusing to lane against for players who haven't memorized the nitty gritty details of Ryze's stacking and spell-combo gameplay. The Rune Mage is sometimes unbearably strong for reasons that aren't necessarily clear to his opponents. The windows of power we'd imagined for Ryze have, in practice, acted more as two-way mirrors of power. The knowledgeable Ryze player sees and understands what's going on with his kit, but other players see only darkness.
Historically, the problem with strong Ryze players has been that they're hyper reliable and impossible to deal with when they're ahead. All they really do is deal tons of damage and instantly root you—with the last set of changes, we didn’t fix that.
It’s not that we have a problem with high skill-ceiling champs, or that you shouldn't have to put in effort to learn them. Deep, challenging characters are actually vital to League's long-term success—they're often the most rewarding ones to master. The problem is when champions feel impenetrable for those learning the champ and for people playing against it.
So, how do we apply this thinking to Ryze? First, we killed the stacking/cooldown mechanic on his passive, but reworked some elements of it into his other abilities. The idea is that Ryze players (and their opponents) will have to spend less time keeping track of nearly-invisible stacks and think more about their very recent actions. Ryze's buffs and debuffs are now tied to a three or four second duration, which means that generally speaking, there are specific, memorizable combos that Ryze players will have as options at any given point.
"Ideally, Ryze's skill ceiling is similar to before, and the skill floor is now higher," says RiotRepertoir. "Anyone can pick up Ryze and have a general idea of what you’re supposed to do with him, and then get better from there."
PASSIVE: ARCANE MASTERY
Ryze’s spells deal additional damage based on his bonus mana,and his maximum mana is increased by a percentage of his ability power.
Passive: Casting Ryze's other spells resets the cooldown of Overload and begins charging a Rune. Cast another spell (not Overload) within this window to fully charge the Rune, or cast Overload to cancel the charge.
Active: Fire a runic blast in a direction, dealing magic damage to the first enemy struck. If Ryze has a Rune fully charged when he casts Overload, he is shielded and gains a temporary movespeed boost.
W: RUNE PRISON
Ryze’s spells deal additional damage based on his bonus mana,
and his maximum mana is increased by a percentage of his ability power.
E: SPELL FLUX
Deal magic damage to a target and marks it with Flux. Ryze's next spell on targets marked with Flux will deal bonus effects:
Overload deals bonus damage and bounces to nearby enemies marked with Flux.
The root duration of Rune Prison is doubled.
Spell Flux applies Flux to all nearby enemies.
If a target marked with Flux is killed by any champion, Flux is applied to all nearby enemies.
R: REALM WARP
Open a portal to a location a short distance away. A couple of seconds later, all allied units within the portal's sphere are warped to the target location. It cannot be self-cast, because warping to your own location would be silly.
Legend has it that an unkillable demon king once said "Ryze is the champion to learn when you want to understand the importance of hitting the right keys at the right time and in the right order." Ryze is about combos, and this rework isn't changing that. At his core, the Rune Mage is still a mean purplish-blue dude who uses dynamic combinations of spells to lay the whoopass on his opponents.
So let's get into it: what combos should Ryze players know when they're in the laning phase?
WAVECLEAR OVERLOAD (E > W > Q) Drop Spell Flux on a minion that's near-death, then finish it off with any other spell to spread Flux to all other surrounding minions—Cannon minions are a perfect target for this, since they tend to sit near the center of waves. You've now got a powerful way to wave clear with a bouncy Overload.
PRIME THE WAVE, STUN SOME BABES (E > E > W > Q) Flux-infected waves pose a threat to your lane opponent, since Ryze can recast Spell Flux on fluxed-up minions to spread the effect to nearby targets. If Ryze catches an enemy champ with Flux in this way, he can instantly root them for an extended period with Rune Prison. An added strength of the E > W portion of this combo is that it fully charges a Rune, ensuring that his next Q grants him a shield and a brief movespeed boost to help him chase down a kill (or kite away from a bloodthirsty opponent).
TEAMFIGHTING AND LATE-GAME
When full teams clash, Ryze players have to rapidly compose spell combos that solve the problem at hand. Do you need to burst down one specific target? Are you better off applying damage to as many targets as possible? Or are you cleaning up after a successful engage? Bad Ryze players pop open a can of ability spam. Great Ryze players choose their combos wisely.
FLUX ME ONCE, SHAME ON YOU... (E > E > Q) Ryze may not be able to burst down tanky frontliners, but that doesn't mean he's useless—he'll just have to temporarily play as an AoE backline mage. Sting a nearby champion with Spell Flux, then hit them with it again ASAP to apply the effect to any and all enemies nearby. You'll then only need to hit one of them with your Q to deal damage to the whole crowd.
NO ESCAPE (E > W > R > E > Q > FACEROLL ON KEYBOARD) The scariest thing about Ryze's ult is his ability to reposition himself and his team mid-fight. Nothing prevents Ryze from moving about freely and casting his other abilities after the initial cast of Realm Warp, so if he or an ally lands a stun (like an empowered Rune Prison) on a low-health opponent, he can immediately begin casting Realm Warp and aim it behind them. While Realm Warp channels, Ryze can unload the remainder of his spell combo on his opponent, then immediately afterward warp his entire team behind them to cut off their escape. When his cooldowns come back up after the warp, somebody is gonna go down. The best way to stop this if you're up against Ryze is to tag him with a crowd-control ability—that'll cancel the warp altogether.
These combos are just a starting point, and the hope for this rework is that players smarter than us will figure out more surprising ways to combine the tools in his kit.