Meet Your Meta- Support Maokai
Welcome to Meet your Meta, where I analyse some of the more unconventional professional picks from around the world and tell you how you can use it in your everyday LoL games, and potentially even ranked!
This week, we're looking at a pick so odd it threw off the casters of Week 5 of the LPL, who couldn't understand how the Twisted Treant could be a support. Usually featured as a top lane tank in high ranking competitive play as well as making a appearances as a jungler in solo queue, the fact that OMG's sub support Luo not only believed but knew that he could uproot the Tree and place him in the bot lane was outstanding to see. LPL caster Chris "Papasmithy" Smith said he thought he'd see Maokai in the middle before a support, proving just how odd the pick is.
Whilst the LCS in both Europe and North America are far more rooted in "traditional" support picks, the LPL and LCK are far more adventurous with their support picks, with support Veigar and Syndra being seen in recent times, both picks which may be analysed in future editions. OMG in particular have had a history with more left of center picks, with such picks as Support Leblanc coming out in the past. However, as cheesy as it may seem, OMG, and Luo, maintain a 100% win rate when Maokai is their support. Although this may be down to the surprise factor, it remains extremely impressive.
Despite his popularity in professional leagues, Maokai is a surprisingly low priority pick in solo queue, being picked in around only 4-5% of games and only maintaining slightly below the all important 50% win rate. He's a far more popular top laner than a jungler, with nearly 70% of games seeing him in the top lane as the remaining games see him in the jungle.
At first glance, Maokai doesn't seem like an extremely viable pick for support. However, upon closer inspection, he is not the worst pick for a support champion. He brings very strong engage and laning, and late game he can become a monster tank in the front line. He scales very well with health items, making the Face of the Mountain line of items surprisingly good on him. However, in the support role he loses a lot of potential gold that he would otherwise gain in the top lane, which means that his base stats on abilities suddenly become far more important.
Among many other things, one thing that really helps Maokai thrive in the unfamiliar bot lane is his passive, Sap Magic. With two extra champions he can use to draw spell energy from, the Tree's sustain in lane is not a problem. In fact, the biggest problem Maokai has in bot lane is his range- as a melee champion he becomes extremely limited in 2v2 skirmishes in ways that supports such as Janna and Sona are not.
However, despite this apparent weakness, Maokai's laning is surprisingly good. Unlike some other melee supports, he has a poke ability in his Sapling Toss, which can be used not only to slow any potential stragglers on the enemy team but to scout and help provide cover in the same way Jinx's Flame Chompers or Zigg's Hexplosive Minefield might, cutting off the most direct route. Along with this, he has a more reliable gap closer in his point and click W, Twisted Advance, which also roots the target, allowing his allies to poke. His Q, Arcane Smash, provides some reliable melee disengage with the knock back it has at close range and also helps push the minion wave out.
Maokai should not be played as a passive supporting champion- he does not have the sustain that Sona or Nami has, nor can he provide the reliable and safe engage a Morgana or Thresh can provide. He is very much an all in support, like a Leona, and should be played with a very aggressive lane bully as his partner such as Sivir, Miss Fortune or Caitlyn. Like a Leona, Maokai needs to commit fully to an engage, or it's a long walk back to safety within the range of any marksman's (and often their support's) attacks and poke.
In the support role, Maokai cannot be expected to put out anywhere near the sort of damage his top or even jungle counterpart can. With the potential supply of gold being far lower in the support role than in any other role, he has to make do with some more basic builds with far less AP. As such, rather than building as an partial tank, Support Maokai will almost always have to build full tank. Without the AP he would otherwise be able to build Maokai has to rely far more on his utility and his innate tank nature to be useful as the game progresses. In many games you may not be able to finish building nearly the same amount of items so your itemization is in many ways far more critical.
Utility is not something that Maokai lacks in any way. Each of his abilities provides something for his team, be it the slows or roots on his Arcane Smash, Twisted Advance or Sapling Toss, or his ultimate's ability to soak up damage for his team.
The root of Twisted Advance, coupled with the knock back of Arcane Smash, makes Maokai a surprisingly good roamer, allowing him to create picks for his team out of any enemy champion out of position. As he is such a good roamer it would not be unreasonable to rush a pair of Mobility Boots on Maokai to promote this pick taking style.
With a Vengeful Maelstrom he can launch himself into the middle of a team fight without a second thought, creating mayhem and allow his team to follow up. However, if this is done without enough tank stats, he can easily be forced out of the fight. Maokai can build both armour and magic resistance depending on the enemy composition, but he should build for items with flat health on them where possible. This makes the Face of the Mountain line the obvious choice as a gold sustaining item. Of course, he could start Crystalline Flask for the extra sustain or Doran's Shield if he doesn't need the extra gold and is content to settle for less farm.
As a support, a sightstone is a must on Maokai as one of his jobs will be to provide vision for his team and deny enemy vision, along with giving him a slight boost to his health points. If Maokai finds himself against a heavy AD composition, a Frozen Heart is a surprisingly good option for him- the boost to armour and mana, along with the cool down reduction and slowing of auto attacks against him makes it a highly useful item. A Randuin's could also be built for the extra health if the cool down reduction and mana are seen as less important, but only if it is absolutely essential, as the Face of the Mountain also provides flat health points.
Against a heavy AP team, a Spirit Visage means that Maokai can stay on the Rift for longer with increased health regeneration, along with the flat health, magic resist and cool down stats that it provides. A Locket of the Iron Solari also provides even more utility for Maokai as it provides passive magic resist and health regeneration to all nearby minions and champions on his team as well as an active shield for himself and nearby allied champs. The Locket is a better choice against Area of Effect comps where the Spirit Visage is better for diving and engaging solo.
Whilst damage should not be a priority on a support Maokai, if you find yourself snowballing it should be considered. A stacked Rod of Ages provides a ton of health and AP to Maokai, making him a true threat from support. A more defensive option is the Iceborn Gauntlet, which as well as giving him armour, magic resist, AP and mana, gives him the Icy Spellblade passive, which deals bonus damage to enemies from auto attacks after using abilities as well as creating a field of ice which slows enemy champions within. Coupled with the root on his Twisted Advance as a free activation, the Iceborn Gauntlet is great for setting up ganks and preventing enemy's escaping his grasp.
As a support, Maokai should take summoner spells based on both the opposite support and marksman as well as his own. Exhaust provides vast utility with a slow and damage debuff on enemy champions. Ignite can be taken for a more aggressive all in. For its vast utility, Flash should be taken for both engaging and disengaging with the enemy. In terms of utility, Exhaust is more useful the longer the game goes on, but Ignite can be taken without too much trouble as Maokai has in built slows.
Although he may appear to be a troll pick, Support Maokai is surprisingly viable as he brings vast engage and disengage potential throughout the game as well as bringing a genuine tank line to any team. Strong throughout laning and in the mid game, a Support Maokai in the right hands can cause chaos throughout an enemy team and the sheer unexpectedness of the pick can shock your opponents, bringing you the element of surprise which could be the tipping factor to victory.
All stats obtained from champion.gg and lolking.net
VODs of Maokai Support in game are here- skip to 7:00:00 to see it in action in both of OMG's games against King
Armyx is a League of Legends fan with an eye for the unexpected in competitive play. He follows both the NA and EU LCS and keeps a close eye on the LPL, LCK and OPL across the world. He plays both meta and slightly off meta champions on a rotating basis.