Enhancing your basic knowledge; Runes

After reading a thread over on the subreddit /r/summonerschool I realised some people lack the basic reasons for why some types of runes are picked over others. I’ll look at the more common runes for now. These are:
Rune type Reds Yellows Blue Quints
Attack Damage 0.95 0.43 0.28 2.25
Armour Pen 1.28 2.56
Ability Power 0.59 0.59 1.19 4.95
Armour 0.91 1.41 0.7 4.26
Health 3.47 5.35 2.67 26
Hybrid Pen
Magic Pen 0.87 0.63 2.01
Magic Resist 0.77 0.74 1.34 4
Mana per 5 0.26 0.41 0.31 1.25
Scaling AP 0.1 0.1 0.18 0.43
Scaling MR 0.07 0.1 0.15 0.37
Scaling MP5  – 0.065 0.055 0.24

Runes have a primary category, listed in bold above, and provide more stats if purchased as that type. In general Primary Reds (Marks) are offensive runes, Primary Yellows (Seals) are defensive runes and Primary Blues (Glyphs) are magic based runes. Quints seem to be more or less random as to what is considered a Primary Quint but in general Primary Marks are not Primary Quints.

The table listed above doesn’t show all runes but shows many of the popular ones.

What can we get from the above table at face value? Well buying runes in the primary categories is much more efficient than purchasing them elsewhere. For example, you gain 45% more attack damage by using Marks compared to buying them as Seals. Magic resist is 55% more efficient if they occupy the Blue Glyph slot compared to the Yellow Seals. So, in general, you want to max the number of ‘primary’ runes you’re using in a rune page.

Scaling runes:

  • Scaling AP surpasses flat at level 7
  • Scaling MR surpasses flat at level 8
  • Scaling MP5 surpasses flat at level 7

So if you’re currently running flat AP, MR or MP5 and your character’s influence on the game is much later than levels 7 or 8 it might be worth switching rune type to scaling. However, you might be using flat runes to try and assist with a weak early game and if this is the case then switching to scaled runes isn’t a good idea.

In the case of scaling MR this can be point at which many mid laners will try and secure a kill and although you’re only just weaker, you are weaker. This is why many pros running variable blue pages with 4 or 5 flat and the rest as scaling blues. Experiment with what you think is strongest.

Reds – Where does the power lie?

All of the above is relatively simple stuff and you’ve come here for some kind of analysis, so let’s dive in and answer some common rune questions.

Why do people run AD reds over Armour Pen Reds?

AD reds help with last hitting while Armour Pen reds don’t. This is probably where the debate between the two will lie. If you can CS well without the need for AD reds, or have some god given AD scaling (looking at you Riven), then armour pen will be more useful than AD reds.

However, given that most of us can’t achieve perfect CS in every game we play, then giving ourselves a larger ‘last hit window’, the time in which we can hit a minion and get the gold from killing it, helps both our play and our elo.

Armour pen does more damage to champions late game than Flat AD does and this is because of the multiplicative scaling of Armour Pen vs AD. What this means is that:

Armour reduces the damage you take by a % value. If you reduce someone’s armour, you’re reducing the % damage reduction they have. So as your damage increases, your armour reduction is worth more because you’re reducing the % of your damage that they’re reducing. As an example a 10% reduction of 100 damage is much less than a 10% reduction of 500 damage.

AD Carries are late game champions and if the game runs long enough your damage alone can more or less carry a game, if you can survive long enough. Running Armour Pen runes if you’re a competent at last hitting will allow your late game to be buffed without losing a huge amount of early game presence. In Season 3 flat armour penetration is applied after % penetration, making flat pen a little stronger compared to in season 2.

Let us assume someone had 10 flat pen and then purchased a Last Whisper.

In season 2 a 100 armour target would be reduced by 10 and then by 35% to get 58.5 armour. In season 3 it is now reduced by 35% and then has 10 taken off for a reduction down to 55 armour, so you gain additional 3.5 armour pen without doing anything.

In previous articles i’ve spoken about how AD carry DPS works and if we apply it to the above situation of an AD Carry with Armour Pen reds vs one without:

Damage Scaling factor = (100/((1-%ArmourPen)*ArmourFlatPen)

The damage scaling factor is the number you multiply the amount of damage you do in order to find out how much damage is actually done to the target.

Armour Scaling Scaling Scaling
No pen Armour Pen Reds(11.25 Flat) Armour Pen Reds + LW(11.25 flat + 35%)
0 1 1 1
25 0.80 0.88 0.92
50 0.67 0.72 0.80
75 0.57 0.61 0.71
100 0.50 0.53 0.63
125 0.44 0.47 0.57
150 0.40 0.42 0.53
175 0.36 0.38 0.48
200 0.33 0.35 0.45
250 0.29 0.30 0.39
300 0.25 0.26 0.35
400 0.20 0.20 0.28

What this effectively means is if you take the number in the table that corresponds to the armour value of the target, so 0.5 at 100 armour, and multiply that by 100 you get the % damage reduction, or 50% at 100 armour.

But how does this apply to our rune pages?

Well if the difference in the damage scaling factors between the No Pen and Armour Pen Reds column is more than the AD value granted by running AD reds, then Armour Pen does more damage. Now we can only apply this when we know how much damage we do.

Below 90 damage Armour pen is only better against a target who has less than 15 armour. Anything above that and AD starts to win out.

I’ve plotted a loose graph of these values from 100 damage up to 350 damage. This shows that as damage increase the benefit you get from Armour pen increases up to a threshold at which AD runes take over as the more useful.
AD vs Arp

Figure 1, Graph showing where AD runes will beat our Armour Pen runes in damage.

At values of really high damage and high armour, such as 6 item build AD carries, Armour pen will always beat out AD runes. However at lower values of damage and armour then AD runes are stronger for damage against enemy champions. What this might mean is that champions that head for squishy champions, like AD carries, want to run AD reds, while the tank buster champions want armour pen.

Given how frequently games are lost in the early games, and the increase in early AD for last hitting, I’d stick with AD runes myself but late game they are outclassed by armour pen.

Magic Pen or AP Reds?

Now you’d assume that this would follow the same sort of rule as the above AD vs Armour pen discussion but it isn’t quite the same. Firstly you only get 0.59AP per red rune compared to 0.95AD so AP runes are less valuable than our AD reds. However you do only get 0.87 Magic pen while you pick up 1.28 Armour Pen. Even with such a high value of armour pen on the red runes they still aren’t better than AD reds until higher values of damage.

If we look at auto attacks as if they were spells. Every character’s auto attack has a base damage with +100% bonus AD scaling and a cooldown of how frequently you can auto attack, much like a spell that a mage would cast.

Auto attack image

With mages however the cooldown on spells is much longer, except for niche cases like Karthus, and spells rarely have a +100% AP scaling. Additionally the base damage on spells is much higher than the base damage on auto attacks.

At level 1 Ashe has 49AD, without any runes and masteries or items because this would be bonus rather than base AD, while Annie’s Q does 85 damage at rank 1!

So from this we can see that auto attacks scale much better with AD than spells do with AP, which is also why you can get AP values of 600+ while AD values rarely go above 300.

But anyway, what does this mean for Magic pen vs Armour pen? Well Armour pen works better at higher values of damage exactly like Magic pen does. The difference here is that the base damage on spells starts off much much higher than auto attack damage does, as we can see from our Ashe vs Annie comparison above. In addition to this, Magic Resist values are generally lower as you head towards the mid game, where spells start to ramp up in damage.

I could plot a graph showing where AP gets better than magic pen but it depends on the +%AP values that your main spell has and how that spell’s base damage scales. Let me just give this conclusion.

Magic Pen Reds are better than AP reds.

Hybrid Pen vs Armour/Magic Pen

I began to write part of an article here but I realised that TheDiffEnder did a great job on this topic and that it is probably best just to link you to the article. You can find it here.

As a quick analysis, hybrid pen runes are crazy overbudget compared to other runes. If we compare them to the direct penetration runes then hybrid penetration totals have ~70% of the budget of pure pen marks, making them 140% efficient compared to 100%. So if you can make use of both types of penetration, then they are worth it. If you can’t, then pure pen is probably better.

If you’re looking to win the game early, and can auto attack often, then hybrid pen deals more damage. If you’re focused on later teamfights then magic pen will win just because the % of magic damage you do, relatively to physical damage, increases towards 100%.

Yellows – There are non-armour seals?

Its true, armour does have the monopoly on seals just because every character and NPC in the game can deal physical damage so armour is a great defensive stat. Plus armour seals are so efficient early game! With 9 armour seals you almost pick up a cloth armour worth of armour, 12.69 rather than 15 armour. This is around 250 gold worth of armour!

If we compared this to health, then you get 48hp from 9 seals. Comparing this to Ruby Crystal providing 180 health at the cost of 475 gold. So running health seals only gives you 127gold worth of hp around half of the value compared to armour.

What else could be used? For my AP mid pages I run MP5, because I want more spells to bully the enemy out of mid lane early game. I tend to run flat MP5 but with the changes to Doran’s Ring you could look elsewhere and just buy additional mana potions early in the game, on your first back for example, or try running scaling Mp5 to remove your mana problems late game.

Gold/10 seals are available but at 0.25 gold per 10 I personally think they are weak across the board and the stats could be put to better use. If you’re playing a farming mid laner I could see them being useful but i’d rather have the mana regen to shove the wave even harder and then roaming.

Armour seals are the most powerful and efficient seals. I’d consider grabbing MP5 when playing against an AP char and don’t needing the early armour

Glyphs – So much choice, so little IP

Glyphs are the most versatile rune, behind quints, and its here that you may end up making an actual choice rather than following a cookie cutter build. I personally find the variation in most of my pages comes from Glyphs and some interesting choices are available.

Mpen vs AP

I wasn’t even aware there were Mpen blues, so i’ve learnt something from researching this article. On top of this they actually aren’t hideously inefficient, you only lose 0.2 Mpen per rune running them as glyphs rather than marks.

Let’s look at 2 case studies:

Annie using her full combo at 6 (RQW):

Q is level 3, W 1 and R 1:

165+70%AP, 80+75%AP, 200+70%AP

445 Damage + 215%AP

Orianna full combo (QWR):

Q at level 3, W at 1 and R at 1:

120+50%AP, 70+70%AP, 150+70%AP

340 Damage + 190%AP

We’ll look at these 2 characters twice, once with AP blues, granting 10.71AP, and once with Magic Pen blues, granting 5.67 Mpen

In order to kill 2 birds with 1 stone, lets look at 2 characters they could be fighting, one of which has MR glyphs and one of which doesn’t. Every character has a base MR of 30 and gains MR/Lev IF they are melee and not a tank. Magic resist blues grant you 12.06MR. This will leave us with 8 different battles:

  1. Annie with AP blues against 30MR target
  2. Annie with Magic Pen blues against 30MR target
  3. Annie with AP blues against 42MR target
  4. Annie with Magic Pen blues against 42 MR target
  5. Orianna with AP blues against 30MR target
  6. Orianna with Magic Pen blues against 30MR target
  7. Orianna with AP blues against 42 MR target
  8. Orianna with Magic Pen blues against 42 MR target.
  Annie Orianna
445 Damage + 215%AP 340 Damage + 190%AP
MR AP Blues Magic Pen Blues AP Blues Magic Pen Blues
30 360.0 357.9 277.2 273.5
42 329.6 326.4 253.8 249.4

Looking at our table we can see the values of damage from each of the combos. AP Blues win out in every case but it is a close run thing. However, 4 damage may just be enough to get you a kill and this difference will increase if you use additional spells to kill them. The interesting thing that should be noted is that this is the best case scenario for AP blues, except for adding an early Rabadons, which provides you with more AP.

Adding additional AP from items/runes etc will swing this in favour of Mpen because it effects all the damage done. So let’s assume you give Annie and Orianna a Doran’s Ring:

Doran’s Ring Annie Orianna
445 Damage + 215%AP 340 Damage + 190%AP
MR AP Blues Magic Pen Blues AP Blues Magic Pen Blues
30 384.8 383.9 299.1 296.4
42 352.3 350.1 273.8 270.3

Not quite good enough yet but once you get to around 100 AP then MPen becomes stronger than AP.

AP blues are more effective for early damage than MPen blues but are quickly outscaled with Mpen being more effective in mid to late game situations.

MR vs Other Damage Glyph

MR glyphs provide you with 12MR, which we can see from our above examples reduces the damage you take from ~380 to 350 if you’re fighting against Annie and from ~300 to ~270 if you’re against Orianna. So it’s a reduction of around 10% against characters using offensive runes.

Personally I would always run MR glyphs on an AP mid. However if you’re playing an offensive mid, like Kassadin or LeBlanc, who is focused on getting kills rather than farming then MPen and AP blues are a viable choice.

Cooldown Reduction Glyphs

Cooldown Reduction Blues have been around for a long time but they’ve not seen as much play as I think they deserve. Early on, damage tends to be limited by mana rather than cooldowns so in most cases you don’t want to be running cooldown reduction unless you’re one of the lucky champions (Garen, Riven etc) who aren’t limited by mana.

Cooldown reduction glyphs provide 0.83% cooldown reduction per glyph for a total of 7.5% with all 9 glyphs. You can combine this with the 3% provided by masteries to grant you 10% early CDR, which will allow you to purchase 1 less CDR item moving into the late game.

However there are many champions who attempt to use poke to win lanes, characters like Jayce, Gangplank or Pantheon who could benefit from CDR once they pick up enough mana regen to sustain this poke heavy gameplay. I’m not saying that CDR glyphs are the best blues for these kinds of champions but I could see a benefit if you’re laning against someone who is unable to retaliate or heal up this sort of harass.


Runes don’t always provide an interesting choice and the appearance of cookie cutter style rune combos have lead to a stagnation within rune pages. However many people don’t understand why these decisions were made and I hope I have highlighted some of the decisions here.

I’m going to look into Quints in another article because I feel they are a topic within themselves due to how certain Quints can really adjust how the laning phase, and the subsequent build paths, can be changed with versatile quints.

Finally, Riot are looking to change how runes work, so much of this information will change coming into season 4. However the theory behind the above decisions will still be correct though some of the values will be change. I’ll look into this again once the changes are officially announced and hopefully we’ll have some interesting choices to make.

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Esports and Blogs Manager for Cloth5.com. I'm a Plat 5 all around player, I know I should pick a role but it's too much fun playing all of the champions! Add me on Fridgecake or Yawnedeverywhere and i'd be happy to have a game. Currently playing Hearthstone, Gangsters 2, GTA 5 and Football Manager. Follow me on twitter @C5Fridgecake or check out my stream

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