The group stage of the 2017 Mid-Season Invitational starts tomorrow. Thirteen teams will descend on various venues in Brazil, hoping to prove their relevance on the international stage. Fans will hope to see flawless champion mechanics and pristine macro as their teams vie to be the best.
But before the teams load onto the Rift, they must first pass through the draft phase. Drafts aren’t exciting—they’re mostly camera shots of players talking into their headsets and coaches staring at their notebooks. But those who understand League know that the few minutes spent picking and banning determines what type of game will be played. Sometimes, the draft even determines the winner.
As we look ahead to MSI, we took a look at what teams have prioritized in recent weeks and what we can expect from Patch 7.8.
Bot lane staples
The first thing that jumps off the page when looking back at Patch 7.6 is the high priority of the Lulu/Ashe bot lane. Lulu especially has come into play once again as a strong support champion with an even power curve through the late game. SK Telecom T1 used Lulu to great effect in their LCK Final victory over KT Rolster, even rolling out the mid lane Lulu in the final game. That was the most dominant victory for SKT in the series as Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok dominated his lane opponent—Heo “PawN” Won-seok’s LeBlanc—and then saved people around the map with his ultimate.
Ashe has been a competitive staple all season as teams value her early-game utility combined with late-game hypercarry potential. But Lulu is a more interesting case. She wasn’t a high-priority pick early in the year, but her contest rate jumped in Patch 7.4 and then cracked the top 10 in Patch 7.5. What happened?
First, a series of Varus and Jhin nerfs decreased teams’ reliance on those champions. Jhin isn’t as valued with Lulu as his combination of long-range engage and low reliance on attack speed synergizes poorly with her kit. Varus is still highly prized, though more for his ability to dish damage with auto attacks and less for his ability to poke with Q.
A second catalyst to the rise of Lulu were the Patch 7.5 changes to Blade of the Ruined King. BotRK is now being built on a whole host of marksmen, especially high-attack-speed champions that like to fight in close quarters. The exact type of champions Lulu is best with. Twitch, Lucian, Kog’Maw, and Ezreal are all making comebacks, and Lulu is a great partner for them.
Don’t expect any of this to change at MSI. BotRK is set for a mid-season nerf, but nothing has changed that would make it less valuable in Brazil. If anything, slightly lower priority on Malzahar after a small nerf in Patch 7.7 may increase Lulu’s priority. There might, however, be a change to the support meta depending on what teams do with the lane furthest from bot.
Cruising for a bruising
We had a Camille problem. The Riot buff, known for how Riot Games tends to over-tune new champions to encourage people to play them, was in full effect on the leg-bladed top laner. She dominated the top lane meta all split, primarily as an insta-ban. Her nearly un-matched mobility, dueling ability, and teamfight capability made her a menace in the top lane.
And it wasn’t just Camille. Renekton rose as a soft counter to Camille, someone who also wants to sit in lane and shove. Shen is prioritized for his global ult, but also his ability to split push. The top lane meta swung from pure tanks early in the year to one heavily focused on bruisers who can push—unless you’re Nautilus, then you can have the best of both worlds.
But after a series of nerfs, it seems like Camille has finally come back to earth. The LPL, which concludes its playoffs later than the other leagues, is finishing in a couple days on Patch 7.7. Camille’s sustain and ultimate were both nerfed in that patch, and her contest rate has tumbled to 11 percent, according to League stats site Champion.gg, though in a very small sample.
That doesn’t mean the bruisers have gone away. Fizz and Shen still topped the Patch 7.7 list, though Shen will also see a hefty buff in the yet-unseen Patch 7.8 that MSI will be played on. Competitive teams value his game-altering ult more than casual players, and his sub-50 percent win rate in ranked games shows this difference. The ultimate nerf doesn’t sound huge (cooldown was increased), but will definitely have an impact on his priority.
The bruiser meta has resulted in a state where many games are decided by split pushing. The only question is what kind—either a 1-3-1 with three strong lanes and vision control, or a 4-1 that seeks to set up power plays around objectives. Even SKT, the world’s premier teamfighting team, preferred in the LCK Final to stick in a 4-1 until their opponents made a mistake.
Who blinks first?
Of course, that’s not the only way to play, and TSM was able to beat Cloud9 in the NA final by grouping and winning teamfights. It will be interesting to see if anybody goes all-in on teamfighting by picking engage supports. Alistar got a decent buff in Patch 7.8 and came out of the woodwork to surprise people at last year’s Worlds. Another teamfight engage champion that got a recent buff is Lissandra. Her laning phase should be stronger now that one of her cooldowns has been reduced with levels, so she can throw out more spells.
Thresh, Tahm Kench, and Braum have all steadily sat as fringe picks who can start fights. But with how good Lulu has been and the preference teams have to win bot lane, it will take a lot of gumption to pick something that’s weak early. Games are ending fast these days, and teams are getting better and snowballing advantages and running their opponents around the map.
That fact is also supported by this season’s jungle priority, which has favored snowball champions like Kha’Zix and Rengar. Kha’Zix has gone down in priority lately, with Graves rising, but recent nerfs to Graves’ durability in Patch 7.7 led to a tumble in his play rate. In his place, a couple familiar early-game junglers have risen: Elise and Lee Sin. The classic counter matchup should see a lot of run at MSI from teams looking for creative gank opportunities.
With more regions than ever participating in the MSI, the likelihood increases that we’ll see more variations in the meta game and more individual teams playing their own style. That diversity would make for a more exciting tournament. It’s always fun when teams like Albus NoX LunA ignore the meta, pull out a Brand support, and burn the favorites to the ground. Let us know on social media who you think will be this year’s surprise team at MSI.
Images via Riot Games