It looked like a troll pick, or a mistake. In the second half of the draft phase against Team EnVyUs last week, FlyQuest locked in a Mordekaiser and Nautilius bot lane. To say it was a shock would be a huge understatement. Still, it was against EnVy, who are tied with Team Liquid for the worst record in the league. FlyQuest was clearly not afraid of losing.
Then yesterday, in a match against a Phoenix1 team they are tied with in the standings, FlyQuest did it again. What the Teemo is going on?
A counter, but not the way you think
FlyQuest are the first team to pick Mordekaiser at all this year, in any region. He was banned in nearly all games of the Season 5 World Championships due to an ill-conceived juggernaut patch prior to the tournament, and he’s been solidly out of the competitive meta ever since. So why did FlyQuest pick him at all, and why in the bottom lane?
The basic answer is that with both Mordekaiser and his support starting with Targon’s brace as a duo, they can somewhat match the minion pushing power of a single AD marksman. Also, Mordekaiser’s passive allows them to slingshot ahead in total experience. He gives ADC Johnny “Altec” Ru, not one of the region’s best at that position, a chance to surprise people in lane. But that still doesn’t fully explain the strategy.
Only a larger sample size will tell, but the way FlyQuest played around Mordekaiser indicates that he’s being used as a very specific counter pick. Unlike most counters, he isn’t being used directly against his lane opponents in the duo lane. Instead, the Mordekaiser pick is meant to counter what’s happening in the lane furthest from where he starts—top lane.
The two top laners FlyQuest has picked Mordekaiser into are Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong (EnVy) and Derek “zig” Shao (Phoenix1). Both of those players have demonstrated their champion diversity in the season seven meta of tank top laners. But both clearly prefer a damage-oriented split push style, having picked champions like Rumble, Jayce, and Kennen far more than other top laners in NA. While both have put in work on pure tanks like Maokai and Nautilus, they pick these champions with much less frequency compared to their peers.
A question of resources
Why is Mordekaiser such a good pick against split push top laners? The answer lies in FlyQuest’s established play style. As a team they like to create aggressive early power plays with a preference for parties in the bot lane, where they have the option to bring four, or even five members with teleport. That preference has paid off—the team is second in both first blood and first dragon, and third in first tower destroyed.
On the opposing side Phoenix1 has more options to send their resources, but EnVy very clearly like to camp the top lane for Seraph. He has the second-highest first blood rate among top laners in an era when, unless you’re Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin facing Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen, solo kills in lane are rare.
In the first game between FlyQuest and EnVy, EnVy did a great job reading FlyQuest’s intention to play the bot side of the map. EnVy won the first skirmish victory in FlyQuest’s bottom side jungle, which also helped Seraph get ahead on split push Renekton.
But FlyQuest’s continued devotion to the bot lane would eventually pay off, getting a couple of drake ghosts via the Mordekaiser ultimate that helped them bust turrets. Their duo lane advantage helped cancel out Seraph’s early gains. Even though EnVy held a kill and gold lead for much of the game, it didn’t feel like they were in control.
A tank with AOE damage
That unlocked the second part of FlyQuest’s Mordekaiser strategy—two tanky members in the duo lane gave FlyQuest a front line in team fights. That allowed their own top laner, An “Balls” Le, to pick a squishy champion in Rumble without compromising the team’s ability to fight as a group. FInally, Mordekaiser’s magic damage allowed jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate and mid laner Hai Lam to play attack damage carries that are en vogue at those positions.
As the Mordekaiser began to scale and support Daerek “LemonNation” Hart’s Nautilus got tankier, FlyQuest started winning every teamfight. Fights started by EnVy turned into FlyQuest advantages, including the last one that ended the game.
EnVy leveled the series in game two with more traditional team compositions on both sides, but FlyQuest went back to the Mordekaiser in game three, this time with Blitzcrank support. A series of misplays by EnVy created a Mordekaiser snowball that could not be stopped as FlyQuest rolled to victory.
How do you stop it?
EnVyUs lost both games against FlyQuest’s Mordekaiser, but they are also the worst team in the league right now. Picking the Mordekaiser forces FlyQuest into a pretty predictable play style—if they lose the early game and the other team can group, there aren’t a lot of ways back.
Facing the FlyQuest Mordekaiser in their first game yesterday, Phoenix1 showed us how to defeat it. They picked Ezreal for No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, a champion with a mix of poke and mobility. They played around the bottom side of the map, with both mid laner Yoo “Ryu” Sang-ook and jungler William “Meteos” Hartman both heavily favoring that side, trusting that Zig could stay safe by himself on Gangplank.
When new support William “Stunt” Chen landed a Thresh hook for the all-in, the rest of P1 was there. Each member got involved in a two-for-nothing trade.
FlyQuest’s Mordekaiser strategy was basically over at that point. They could try to scale for fights, but Arrow would be a constant problem. He completed his Tear item in under 10 minutes while Altec was sitting on pieces of resistance items, hoping to just survive.
Moon wisely turned his attention to the other lanes, but even leads on Balls and Hai wouldn’t matter. P1 was much better equipped to split push, they won every dragon, and even the teamfights went their way.
FlyQuest had no way to reliably get to the P1 carries. Altec was covered, making the fights very difficult. That’s what happens when your pocket Mordekaiser pick doesn’t get off the ground.
It will be interesting to see if FlyQuest go back to the bot lane Mordekaiser pick in future matches. After all, Arrow is playing as the best ADC in NA–maybe it was just a bad individual matchup against him. They won’t face him again. But the strategy of camping bot and picking champions with high mobility and global pressure can be reproduced by other teams. P1 showed that with the proper game plan, you can turn the tables on Mordekaiser.