While they used to be just a small gold bonus for the team that killed them, today you get permanent bonus stats that are a lot stronger, especially in the late game. In season 3, a dragon was worth roughly the same gold as a tower, so it was often used to trade these objectives.
Today, however, a dragon brings practically no gold, but bonus stats that can be really worthwhile: More damage, armor, regeneration or haste. But more on that later.
By the arrangement of the rocks in Summoner's Rift, the red team (top) has an advantage in killing dragons compared to the blue team (bottom). This makes it easier for the red team to approach the drake pit without sight. The blue team has to take detours and is much more at risk of falling into a trap if they have to face-check into the river.
Drake Spawn Mechanics
Four different elemental dragons can spawn in the game. The first dragon spawns at minute 5 and has a random element. As soon as that one is killed, the next dragon appears after another five minutes with one of the three remaining elements.
Immediately after the kill of the second dragon, the timer (press tab) and the map shows, which type of dragon will spawn from now on. One of the two remaining elements is randomly selected, which will now change the map. With a death timer of five minutes, a dragon of this element now always spawns until a team has killed four dragons.
As soon as this is achieved, the elemental drake no longer spawns. Instead, the elder dragon spawns after 6 minutes.
Bonuses from Dragons
Depending on how many of the same dragons your team has killed, the bonus of this elemental dragon increases linearly:
- Infernal Dragon (+4% AD and AP each)
- Mountain Dragon (+6% armor and magic resistance each)
- Ocean Dragon (2,5% health regeneration every 5 seconds each)
- Cloud Dragon (+12 ultimate haste each)
While these bonuses do not matter at the beginning of the game, they can become decisive later, especially in combination with the Dragon Soul.
As soon as one team has killed four dragons, it receives the passive effects of the dragon soul, which changed the map before:
- Infernal Drake Soul: Attacks and abilities trigger an AOE explosion on the target.
- Mountain Drake Soul: You will receive a shield as soon as you are out of combat.
- Ocean Drake Soul: If you cause damage to enemies, you heal yourself for a short period.
- Cloud Drake Soul: After you cast your ultimate, you will get a movement speed buff for a short time.
Aspect of the Dragon
This buff is granted to the team that slays the ancestral dragons. The ancestral dragon spawns after a team kills four dragons.
A champion with the aspect of the dragon inflicts a burning effect on the opponent, similar to igniting. If the opponent's life points fall below 20%, he is executed.
After the second dragon has been killed, it is decided which elemental dragon will always spawn and at the same time change the map. Depending on the element, this will have different effects on Summoner's Rift:
- Bushes burn and walls collapse
- More blast cones spawn
- New rocks will spawn on the map
- Some bushes grow or spawn new
- More honeyfruits spawn
- Around the buffs and in the drake pit, movement speed is increased
- More scryer's blooms spawn
Priority of Dragons
Not every dragon is worth the same. Depending on the team composition and scaling, the focus can be on other drakes, because there are champions that can utilize some bonuses better than others.
For example, carries benefit more from infernal dragons, while tanks can make better use of mountain drakes.
This results in the following priority for elemental dragons:
Infernal Drake > Mountain Drake > Ocean Drake > Cloud Drake
As the first dragon in the game, the cloud dragon can be quite interesting if your team has important ultimates with a high cooldown. Since the ability haste values are still low at the beginning of the game, the ultimate haste of the cloud dragon is even more effective.
If your team is playing against a full AD composition, for example, it is very important to get all mountain dragons in order to make it as difficult as possible for the opponent.
So you see - there is no direct answer to the question of which dragon is the best. It always depends on the situation.
The elemental dragons' bonus stats are nice, but not decisive for the game. Especially in the early game, the bonuses of a single dragon are negligible.
In comparison, a destroyed turret in the early game can turn the whole game around. Therefore, it can make sense to trade a dragon for the Rift Herald. If it is placed well, it not only gives you the bonus for the first tower of the game, but also opens the map for your team.
In the late game you can also consider to give your opponent a dragon in order to secure Baron Nashor for yourself in this short time window. That would be a very good trade for your team that could decide the game.
Delay Dragon Soul and Elder Dragon
After a team has killed four dragons, only the elder dragon spawns from now on. The buff that this dragon brings is extremely strong and most of the time decisive for the game, however it is questionable whether you should even play for such an objective.
It may be, for example, that your team dominated at the beginning, and was able to secure the first three dragons. Now you have three different dragons that bring you small bonuses, but only the dragon soul would give you the necessary boost to close the game.
Then the opponent has a comeback, through individual outplays, but also through item and champion power spikes. In this case it would be fatal to greed for the dragon soul, because after that the elder dragon would spawn. In the current situation, your team would not be able to win a fight for the elder dragon. If the opponent gets the elder drake at this point of the game, the game could be over quickly.
Instead, it's better to give away the elemental dragons until the team has recovered. This delays the spawn of the elder dragon and meanwhile, the damage caused by the elemental dragons should not be too high. So it always depends:
- When does the opponent have his power spike?
- How much do the elemental dragons help the enemy?
- Can you win the game without the dragon soul and elder dragon?