Salutary Neglect: Teamfight Tactics Set 7.5

Teamfight Tactics Set Seven YouTube Videos Playlist

Time to do our traditional retrospective looking back at Set 7.5 now that three months have passed and it's about to be resigned to the dustbin of history. I'm going to keep this article shorter than most of the other retrospectives that I've done for TFT since there isn't too much to say about the second half of Set Seven. The developers were clearly prioritizing the more ambitious Set Eight and didn't invest as much time or effort into Uncharted Realms. This actually turned out to be a positive thing, however, as Set 7.5 benefited from avoiding the endless patching and tinkering that characterized many of the previous sets. The simple fix of removing the dumbest rule from the first half of the set (only one Dragon unit per team) and not having an absurd amount of hotfixes was enough to make Set 7.5 a major improvement over its predecessor. I'd encourage anyone stumbling across this article to read my scathing take on the first half of Set Seven to provide an appropriate context for comparison purposes. While this wasn't an amazing set of TFT, it was a clear step up from Set Seven and rates somewhere in the middle of the tier list rather than sitting down near the bottom.

Positive Changes...

The single biggest improvement in Set 7.5 was the removal of the idiotic restriction from the first half of the set that limited each team to one Dragon unit at a time. Instead, the Dragon trait gained a series of stacking benefits similar to the Guild trait which offered additional rewards for stacking multiple Dragons onto the same board. This was a massive improvement to rectify a limitation that never should have been in the game in the first place. Set Seven restricted players to an absurd degree because each Dragon couldn't be run at the same time with any of the other Dragons, barring the rare case of hitting the Dragon Alliance/Horde augments. As soon as anyone chose to play Sy'fen or Shi Oh Yu, every other Dragon instantly became a dead weight in the shop with no flexing or pivoting between different potential options. This was especially bad for a tank Dragon like Idas or a support Dragon like Aurelion Sol as they locked out all of the carry Dragons as soon as they were picked. To this day, I have no idea why the developers included such an obviously bad idea into the gameplay for the first half of Set Seven.

Therefore Set 7.5 took a major step forward simply by not making the same mistake of its predecessor. Now players could run Idas for frontline and still make use of Daeja or Ao Shin or whatever units they wanted as back line carries. This opened up vastly more flexibility and allowed players to build entertaining boards featuring Shi Oh Yu and Sy'fen played together for a pair of tanky bruisers, or mix Shyvana along with Idas or Terra to cap out Ragewing teams. It was also a good idea to add more Dragon units into the second half of the set, most of which were splashable to some extent. Zippy's three ranks of Guild trait could be played in a number of useful situations while Terra's role as a traitless tank Dragon could be quite strong to cap out lategame boards. Nomsy having three different traits that changed from game to game was an interesting idea as well, and although it didn't quite work out in practice (since the non-Mage versions were rarely played), it was fun having Nomsy as an actual unit after she was the extra unit from the Trainer trait in the first half of the set. Sohm was the only Dragon to be part of a big vertical trait and even his inclusion filled a hole from the inital Set Seven, providing an actual Mage Dragon (something curiously missing before) at the 4 cost instead of the 5 cost tier. Having 12 Dragons instead of 7 Dragons turned out to be a great change once they could actually be played together without penalty.

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Set 7.5 also featured noticeably better gameplay balance as compared to Set Seven. Whereas the first half of the set needed an insane amount of hotfixes and "B" patches to address bugs and poor developer patching decisions, Set 7.5 was relatively well balanced throughout most of its lifespan. The developers wisely changed the Astral trait so that it no longer affected shop odds which fixed a lot of the worst abuses associated with the trait, then removed the opportunity to find emblems for some of the most broken traits. No more Whispers emblems getting slapped on Daeja and then breaking the gameplay in an unfair way. I'm certainly not going to pretend that everything was perfect throughout the three month length of the set, as the Dragonmancer trait in particular caused a lot of problems. First it was Dragonmancer Nunu causing an overpowered interaction with his true damage, then later Kaisa and Karma proved to be overtuned and dominated gameplay for long stretches of time. With that said though, the gameplay balance was still MUCH better than the utter disaster that was Set Seven. If the first half of the set was a burning train wreck with bodies sprawled everywhere, the second half of the set was a no-frills commuter train that delivered its passengers where they needed to go while lacking anything glamorous or luxurious.

I also firmly believe that the gameplay balance was better in Set 7.5 for an unexpected reason: the developers largely left the game alone while they presumably worked on the upcoming Set Eight. The developers for TFT are one of the most micro-intensive groups that I've ever seen in all of my years of gaming. They never make five changes when they could make 55 changes instead and TFT's gameplay tends to be characterized by endless tinkering to units, traits, items, etc. I've repeatedly noted that my favorite periods of playing TFT have coincided with the holiday season when the TFT developers are locked out of releasing patches for a few weeks because the Riot offices are closed. Set 7.5 simply had far fewer patches released than most of the other recent TFT sets and this was very much a good thing, not a bad thing. There was actual stability to the gameplay for more than a few days at a time and players didn't have to relearn the game constantly. This is what I mean by using the phrase salutary neglect: the developers mostly ignored Set 7.5 but that was beneficial to the gameplay instead of being a detriment. The development team was its own worst enemy in the first half of Set Seven and by simply getting out of the way and leaving things alone we ended up with a superior second half.

...But Still Ultimately A Flawed Set

Even with these improvements, however, Set 7.5 was still a flawed experience that failed to match the heights of the best previous TFT experiences such as Set Four and Set Six. The biggest problem remained the Dragon units themselves as it was never quite possible to properly balance the concept of one unit taking up two slots on the board. Turning the Dragon trait into a stacking benefit was a Band-Aid that helped patch over this issue without solving the fundamental problems. It was always going to be nearly impossible to balance around someone hitting a 4 cost Dragon at 2% odds on Level 5, or the player who hit a 5 cost Dragon at 1% odds on Level 7. In either case, they would land a massive power spike equivalent to getting TWO such units from previous sets, and it doesn't require a mathematician to understand that hitting a single double-strength unit at low odds was far more likely than hitting two such units. It was also much easier to cap out a lategame board by two starring a handful of legendary Dragons than two starring six or seven legendary units as in previous sets. The two slot nature of the Dragon units was a balancing nightmare from the very start of the set that Set 7.5 was never entirely able to resolve.

Another major problem for Set 7.5 was the inclusion of too many economic traits which combined together to make the game virtually unplayable for anyone not running an econ-heavy setup. The first half of the set had two economic traits that worked very differently: Shimmerscale which printed money through its items and Astral which altered shop odds and dropped gold/items after five shop refreshes. The Astral stores had so many problems that the developers changed the trait so that it provided a small amount of gold every round and no longer changed the shop odds. Given the abuses associated with the old Astral trait, this was a positive change! However, it also made Astral fundamentally similar to Shimmerscale in terms of how it operated, dropping a few gold every round in a slow trickle over time. The new Lagoon trait also worked in a similar fashion as well, yielding various gold/item rewards in a slow trickle as the Lagoon seashell stacked up over time with ability usage from Lagoon champions. And there was even another fourth trait that did the same thing when the Mirage trait rolled as its Pirates version in one out of seven games, injecting even more income into the gameplay. This was too much money to have available and it distorted the gameplay in noticeable ways, turning much of the set into an econ-heavy race to Level 8 or Level 9 where everyone tried to cap out their boards with as many Dragons as possible. The developers were aware that this was a problem and noted it in their excellent retrospective on Set Seven but it wasn't something that they cared about enough to address. Given their poor record with Set Seven patching, the odds are pretty good that they would only have made things worse if they had tried.

The econ-heavy nature of Set 7.5 was further exacerbated by an over-buff to the Dragon trait which resulted in all of the lategame boards looking virtually identical. This was a deliberate patching decision made about halfway through the lifespan of Set 7.5 where the developers deliberately scaled up the benefits of running 4 or 5 Dragons at the same time and even added a new 6 Dragon trait category. The developers wrote at the time that Dragons were the central theme of the set and they wanted the lategame boards to feature lots of Dragon units. Previously it had been rare for players to run more than two or three Dragons at a time because the benefits of Dragon 4/5 weren't worth investing that many team slots on Dragon units. That certainly changed as Dragon 5 switched over to 40 HP regen/second while Dragon 6 caused all Dragons to "ascend" which gave them so many stats as to make them virtually invincible. This certained achieved the goal of making endgame boards feature Dragon units to a much greater extent... at the cost of crowding out most other team compositions.

These problems reinforced one another and combined to make the second half of Set 7.5 notably less interesting than the first half. There was a very clear strategy to follow: push max economy with Astral or Shimmerscale or Lagoon or Pirates Mirage trait into fast Level 8 or fast Level 9, then roll for the legendary Dragons and play all of them to cap out the endgame board. The final team compositions tended to be extremely similar from game to game, some combination of Ao Shin + Shyvana + Terra + Idas with Bard or Rakan or Jayce thrown in to fill out the last remaining trait combos. These boards were still beatable when the Dragons were 1 starred but stabilized way too hard as soon as any of them hit 2 stars; someone who was lucky enough to get two Ao Shins and have a Champion Duplicator on hand was essentially guaranteed a top three finish no matter what the rest of their team looked like. And of course these boards were virtually unbeatable once they managed to 2 star their units, even worse if the player had the +1 Dragon augment to push towards Dragon 5 or Dragon 6 trait. The fast Level 9 strategy was so dominant that the developers had to remove the Level Up and High End Shopping augments from the patch on which Set Seven worlds was played as they were effectively auto-win augments in the hands of expert players.

Now of course it did take skill to preserve health while pushing to higher levels as quickly as possible running econ traits. Over the course of many games, the better TFT players could still showcase their superior ability through successful management of the game's random elements. However, there were way too many games where someone played super greedy and simply got lucky at hitting Dragon units before they bled out of health and then turned that result into a top finish. This was again due to the fundamental nature of the Dragon units: players only needed to get lucky and hit two or three of their endgame units instead of the six, seven, or eight units that would be needed in other sets. And finally, at a more basic level, it was just boring to watch the same team composition be the "exodia" board and win so many lobbies over and over again. I know that I lost interest towards the end of Set 7.5 because it wasn't very interesting to watch the same Dragon teams be so dominant all the time. It was only in Double Up mode where it was much easier to 3 star other units that a bunch of alternative teams were playable, and as a result that's where I spent most of my time. I think that this was the only set where I played as many Double Up games as Single Player games since I was having so much more fun in the co-op mode.


Overall then, Set 7.5 was a solid set that served as a nice bounce-back from the disastrous first half of the set. I give the developers credit for recognizing that their core Dragon mechanic wasn't working properly and pivoting in a different direction to salvage what they could from the second half of the six month window. I enjoyed Set 7.5 enough to complete all of the associated pass rewards but not enough to take the effort of grinding out a bunch of ranked games. I was similarly able to reach Diamond I 50 LP a couple different times in Double Up mode without ever managing to get over the hump and reach Masters tier. (The Double Up competition starts getting extremely difficult near the top of the ladder!) Given the absolute mess that was the first half of Set Seven, I have to consider Set 7.5 to be a successful midset update that made the best of what was available. A good comparison would be would be the Reaper of Souls expansion for Diablo 3 which salvaged the truly terrible release version of Diablo 3 and made it playable once again... but without turning it into a game as good as the first two Diablos. Although Set 7.5 was never going to be as enjoyable as Set Six, it made the most of the limited resources that it did have. And the fact that the developers were mostly ignoring this set was honestly a good thing so that they couldn't screw it up further! This was the gaming equivalent of eating dinner at an Outback Steakhouse: nothing too fancy but you're probably going to go home feeling reasonably satisfied.

Set Eight is a considerably more ambitious set which could be good or bad with the new champion augments. We'll see what happens! Thanks as always for reading along.