Patch 5.5 : Jungle Tanks and Split Pushers
Patch 5.5 marks the end of Riot's Beta period with the Summoner's Rift visual update and the embarking of the "S.S. Buff Barge." There are some huge changes coming into play which may drastically shift the solo queue environment and competitive scene in their own way.
Rather than doing a trivial "patch recap" or full breakdown, I'm going to touch on what I consider to be the most impactful changes of the patch and how it might affect casual and competitive play. I'm not trying to call anything nor do I 100% think I am right - I am simply trying to identify things we can expect to see from this patch and explore the hypotheticals. Only once testing has been done by players of all ranks can one truly say something happened.
But let's see if we can foretell the future.
Aside from a touch-up to his visuals, Kassadin has received a small bit of love after Riot blew his knee caps off in the last patch. With his CD on his Riftwalk reduced by 1 sec at each rank, an extra 50 range given, and his mana cost reduced by 10, Kassadin is following Lucian into the realms of close-quarter-yet-hyper-mobile champion. With 40% CDR, his ultimate's cooldown at Rank 3 is going to be 1.2 seconds with a range longer than Flash. The mana cost buff is further going to enable his Riftwalk by giving him a larger effective mana pool since you save more mana exponentially on each jump. Whether or not this returns him to his OP status, fails to remove him from his helpless state, or somehow places him into a healthy state has yet to be seen. Kassadin has always been hard to balance, but I like to think Riot has a stronger focus on where to shift his strengths to.
Tanks in the Jungle
Tanks in the jungle and the diversity issue has been fuel for the community's riot. If you wanted to make the front page of Reddit, all you had to do was come up with some cute buff to tanks in the jungle and you would soar to the front page. Safe to say that while specific messages haven't gotten through, the overall goal has and Riot is trying to give tanks some love in the jungle.
Hopefully it's not too much.
With the new Bami's Cinder item, Riot is trying to help tanks' clear and give them some damage in teamfights by giving them an AOE aura which deals magic damage. Costing 1,000 gold, this item will do nothing to help real early clear, but help them in the mid game once they can secure the item. My philosophy is this: if tanks' clear is suffering in those levels before they can get the item, this will accomplish nothing. However, if tanks begin to fall behind bruisers in clear speed at the point bruisers are buying their components for warriors, then this item will help level the playing field.
The Cinderhulk enchantment is replacing the Juggernaut enchantment, returning some old features of Spirit of the Ancient Golem by giving less health but a percentage of bonus health. This change has been received lukewarmly before, with some junglers preferring the tank item to give tenacity rather than bonus health, but we'll see how this plays out, especially given the Righteous Glory buff which has some people agast.
Several tanks have their disruption buffed (Nautilus and Zac) while others have slight damage increases (Xin Zhao), which leads me to one particular concern given the nature of Riot's changes: if tanks are given enough damage to the point where they do the same as bruisers but are also tankier than them, then we have failed to widen the champion pool and merely shifted it. To refer to stonewall, if tanks come to meta simply because of their damage, then we will have the same problem with a different champion pool. I personally don't think that will occur with this particular patch, but if Riot's design philosophy continues to give tanks more damage, rather than buffing their unique individual strengths (being able to tank more damage with less items, loads of disruption), then we'll be stuck in another vicious cycle. Based on some of the buffs we see in this patch (Nautilus E and Zac's knockup duration), that won't be an issue.
Another thing to consider for competitive play is the limitations of champion pool due to lane swaps. I've discussed this before an an earlier article of mine, but I believe that because the top lane is reserved largely for utility mages and tanks, that the jungle pool is constrained to rely on bruisers due to balancing out team compositions and to provide early play making potential. Having said that, carry top laners such as Kennen and Hecarim are seeing play and doing fairly well in competitive play, so perhaps with the coming of this new set of top lane champions, tank junglers may see more play than just the odd Diamondprox game on Sejuani. Hopefully the lack of rewards in the jungle don't limit this too much.
That said, I do like the nerfs to jungle monsters - I think that change, while enabling the already strong junglers, will also help lower tier junglers in all categories clear. I wouldn't mind see Kha'Zix jungle or another damage oriented jungler show up occasionally and do well simply for the sake of seeing new bruiser blood alongside the possible tank junglers arrival in the meta.
I think Riot is beginning to understand what adjustments need to be made in the jungle, and if not, at least they are willing to experiment and say they messed up. As a player and viewer, this excites me to see how Riot's changes will impact the meta.
Split Pushers and Poke Lords
If I had to identify one set of changes which could turn the entire meta on its head, it would have to be the changes to towers: not the change regarding the gold and exp the Inhibitor and Nexus Towers, but the changes to the Inner Towers. The Middle Inner Tower has lost its shield completely, while the Bottom and Top Inner's have had their shield reduced to a measly 30. Those towers have a buff of 300 health to compensate.
These set of changes enables two particular compositions - split pushing and poke. With the side towers losing most of their shield, split pushers efforts will be more rewarding than before because they don't have to continuously burn through 250 shields before they make progress on the tower - this can enable teams to threaten the base more quickly utilizing champions like Zed, Yasuo, or Irelia, should those champions be in meta or come more bearingly into the meta due to these changes.
Poke compositions also gain a boost from these changes because of the disappearance of the tower shields. Losing free defenses in the mid lane, teams can force down the mid lane easier with a strong poke composition, and the side towers' shields can be broken with one auto attack to completely destroy the shields on champions. With some teams playing poke compositions incredibly well (Jin Air Greenwings) and with Nidalee being incredibly strong as a jungler, we could expect to see poke compositions end games faster. The minion health changes which make them more tanky as the game goes on also facilitates this because they will be able to take more damage from the enemy champions (not the towers: their damage to minions has been buffed), improving the amount of siege time a team has and therefore allowing more damage to be dealt to towers.
However, we still have to keep in mind the pull of Dragon and Baron in games: those two buffs are still incredibly strong assisting a team to destroy the enemy's base, so I don't think we'll be saying goodbye to the heavy team fighting meta we have currently; I hypothesize other play styles and compositions being more rewarding and therefore seen more. It's almost like Riot is actually expanding strategic diversity...
The new AP item Riot has introduced is interesting and I can see it becoming strong on certain champions, and potentially having those champions being balanced around Luden's becoming a staple for them (Ahri). We can't say for sure it will either bring champions into the meta or that it's going to drive some over the edge, but I don't think it's out of reason to assume that somebody is going to build it and it's going to have some impact - not necessarily game-breakingly so.
Enjoy downloading the patch tonight folks. I await its competitive debut.