Breaking Down: GE Tigers Kuro's Mid Sion
I think I can speak for a lot of people when I say that the appearance of a Mid Sion building Banner of Command in the competitive meta was a surprise to almost everyone who watched this week's Game 2 between the GE Tigers and CJ Entus in the LCK Region. Furthermore, the questions and implications behind this pick and the fact that GE managed to win this game are huge as teams and analysts across multiple regions will look at the Mid Sion pick itself and ask: "Is this something we can play?" In this article the concept, build, and actual results of Kuro's mid Sion will be evaluated in a hope to shed some light on this fascinating development in the LoL competitive scene.
The GE Tigers are no strangers to innovation itself in the LoL competitive scene, for the mid Sion pick comes from the team that has previously brought us the likes of the now widely renowned "Juggermaw" composition and who brought the return of Viktor to competitive play. Just from a purely theoretical standpoint, we can look at the mid Sion pick and make some initial conclusions based on what we know about the champion itself.
For one, looking exclusively at the pick/ban phase, Sion is taken in the second round rotation and at this point, CJ has drafted Maoki, Nidalee, and LeBlanc, whereas GE has already taken Sivir and Jarvan. With their last round pick of Kennen on red side still left to go, GE takes the Morgana and Sion, using it as a flex for CJ who will think Sion is going top lane. At this point, GE can conclude that CJ is looking to build a teamfight/pick composition with early game presence from Nidalee jungle. In addition, the Sion is picked after the LeBlanc, so Kuro is able to receive the counter match-up into LeBlanc, a supposedly favourable matchup later on in the game coinciding with GE's team composition strategy.
The Sion pick itself has some strengths in this match-up as the inherent hp scaling from his W, along with his high early game base AD, allow Sion to farm in lane safely with his Q in a LeBlanc lane in the mid-game when she would normally be able to exert a greater degree of pressure. In this instance, the zoning threat of LeBlanc's W is nullified by the danger of walking into the large range of Sion's AoE attacks and Sion is able to effectively trade some damage with his E. Also, the position of mid lane optimizes the ability of Sion's ult as he can run directly through the north or south river, ending up in a side lane in a matter of seconds. Not only does this provide a larger degree of map control from a single lane (in the same way Rek'sai does) but it further offsets LeBlanc's strengths in her ability to roam to get kills by being able to show up in a side lane seconds after she appears.
However at the same time, mid Sion does have weaknesses. These are most notable in the early game, especially in lanes where the other midlaner offers a large degree of kill pressure. It is quite easy to kill Sion pre-6 by exploiting his lack of mobility and late-game scaling stats. Yet despite this, by providing a strong presence both in lane and around the map, a mid Sion that reaches mid-game without falling too far behind seems to offer at least a theoretical sense, to be a strong pick into the right team composition.
From a broader, team-play perspective, we can see from the GE's picks that mid Sion is meant to be the heavy, frontline tank that is played out exactly as it normally is in the toplane. GE's team composition of Kennen, Jarvan, Sion, Sivir, and Morgana is reliant on a heavy teamfight/objective control focus that reaches its strongest point in the mid to late game, after Sion and Kennen have had some time to ramp up their damage/tankiness and Sivir's ult can be used to its' full effect. As we will see later on, these strengths are compounded upon with the purchase of two Banner of Commands, adding a strong siege element to the team. In essence, GE's team comp is designed to win neutral objective team fights and with the help of Baron, create constantly pushing minion waves and an unbreakable siege situation.
Looking at the build itself, Kuro runs mid Sion with AD Quints, Hybrid Pen marks, Scaling HP seals, and Scaling MR glyphs with full tank 9/21/0 masteries (points fully filled out in MR and 1 point in Armor). These runes and masteries fully correspond with our understanding of Sion's role in the team as a frontline tank that reaches his powerspike after scaling into the late game.
As for Kuro's build order, we see the game begin with him taking a Crystalline Flask in order to not get poked out by LeBlanc's early harass in order to farm safely for an extended period of time. This is added upon by a Banshee's Veil and Aegis in order to shut down the heavy AP damage CJ has on their team with AP damage on all five of their champions: Nidalee, Maoki, LeBlanc, Nami, and Kogmaw. This Aegis is built into a Banner of Command at 30min and consequently a Frozen Heart and Thornmail are built to reduce some of Kog'maw's damage when he begins to play a major role in teamfights. Kuro's build is augmented by a second Banner of Command that is built on GorillA's Morgana at 40min to create even more siege potential for the team with two super cannon minions in every siege attempt.
The game begins quickly when at 3 minutes in, GE take objective control by securing the first dragon despite taking first blood on Kuro as CJ correctly identify his weaknesses in the early game. Continuing on into about 10 minutes, Sion's strengths are clearly used with Kuro ulting into the bot lane to protect Morgana from a Nidalee gank.
At this point it is still fairly early in the game and CJ is able to exploit GE's power trough by taking the second dragon of the game and getting another kill on Kuro. Furthermore, at 19 minutes CJ is able to take a good fight in the bot lane and get several kills however it is critical to note that at this halfway point in the game CJ are only ahead by less than 1k gold, not nearly enough of a lead to close out against a GE team growing increasingly stronger by the second.
The critical turning point in the game arrives at 26 minutes with Kennen and Sion reaching the appropriate thresholds in order to teamfight against CJ (MR/Tankiness on Sion and Zhonyas on Kennen). From this point on, the fights begin to turn in GE's favour with all of their AoE zoning and damage. Here, the Kuro's Banner of Command comes into play and its effects are immediate as GE are able to begin taking the last ring of outer turrets and neutral objectives.
The second critical juncture in the game occurs at 37 minutes when CJ, gaining vision control over the Baron pit, attempt to start a Baron but are quickly discovered by GE. In the resulting fight, Smeb is able to steal the Baron with his slicing maelstrom damage and the rest of the team run over CJ resulting in a 3-2 exchange. From this point on, GE is able to abuse their Banner of Command cannon minions with a second Banner of Command on GorillA and with the Baron buff to utterly annihilate CJ's first inhibitor and outer defenses. For the rest of the game, GE is able to use their advantage to control the neutral objectives and siege with their Banner of Commands to continually apply enough pressure on CJ's lanes to close out the game.
The information we can gather from Kuro's mid Sion win over CJ Entus is really interesting as there are so many elements that we either have never seen before or have not seen in a long time in competitive LoL. Here are some (not all!) of the pros and cons that I have personally gathered from writing this article on Banner of Command Mid Sion:
- surprise factor/flex ability in draft (who the hell plays mid Sion?!)
- excellent minion wave control/pressure when used properly
- has global map pressure in form of Unstoppable Onslaught (R) in mid lane
- reliable teamfight tank mid-late game
- close to unbreakable sieges if you ever get a Baron
- requires fairly safe and heavy scaling to become effective
- necessitates strong teamwork communication and objective/wave control from all members
- removes a normally large damage threat from the mid position (needs to be replaced in another position)
With these things in mind, I strongly believe that if we consider the similar global expansion of the "Juggermaw" composition, it will be a long time before any team outside of the LCK even considers running Mid Sion, let alone Banner of Command comps. Even in this game, I feel that without Smeb's amazing Baron steal on Kennen, GE would have had a tough time trying to get an advantage over CJ. Again, this type of team comp requires a strong understanding of its weaknesses and strengths and how to play them out on the map, and a level of coordination that we see in very few teams around the world. However, I am excited for what this means for the meta. The fact that a Banner of Command Mid Sion game was won paves the way for other objective/wave focused strategies (Zz'Rot Portal *cough*cough*) to emerge and highlights a level of creativity that should make competitive LoL even more fun to watch in the near future.