Predicting the Meta for Worlds: Jungle
Continuing my series of Predicting the Meta for Worlds, up next is the Jungler role.(Click to read about Top Lane, Mid Lane, ADC, Support) Even with the arrival of the juggernaut era in patch 5.16 on, I feel the jungle remains mostly unchanged. Skarner is definitely a strong pick, but not as oppressive as he may be in solo queue. Strong junglers have good clear speed in the jungle, some sort of sustainability, good mobility, and brings team-fight utility (usually as CC). With bruisers being more popular in top lane, junglers will most likely be left picking up the slack of being tanks and front-line threats. Even flexible picks like Elise will probably go exclusively Cinderhulk rather than Runeglaive this Worlds. Junglers haven’t been able to carry for a long time and the current meta leaves junglers mainly as tanks and ward bots. The introduction of juggernauts should further push junglers into this role.
If junglers are mainly left to tanking duties, then Gragas and Rek’Sai remain the king and queen of the jungle as they have all of season 5. Gragas has steadily received nerfs throughout season 5, yet remains the premier tank jungler, surpassing Rek’Sai as the top pick. His Body Slam E had its collision radius reduced, but it hardly seems noticeable. The slow on Q was reduced and now the %hp damage on his W is reduced, but overall his nerfs are fairly minimal. I think the real reason Gragas has steadily risen to top tier is because the players are getting better playing him and reaching his max potential. Gragas has always had the potential to be game-changing with his ultimate. His ult is a double-edged sword. We’ve seen cringe-worthy ults that completely whiff and clutch ults that knock the enemy ADC in and knock the rest of the enemy team away. As the season has progressed, I think we’ve seen more plays of the latter showing an overall improvement in gameplay on Gragas. Gragas is a top pick because he’s strong pretty much all phases of the game with no discernable weakness. He has decent clear speed in the jungle and improves greatly with Ranger’s Trailblazer (his most common jungle upgrade), great sustain in the jungle with his passive, and percentage max hp damage on his W. He has good early game pressure by ganking with his body slam (un-cleanseable CC) and potentially game changing ultimates mid to late game. Gragas is a great frontline threat, can initiate team fights with his ult, and is one of the only junglers able to disengage a team fight. He just has it all. While he may not have an “execute” ability for dragon/baron control – he can zone with his ult and has decent burst with his Q/W combo. He fits almost any team comp – good tank/front-line, team-fight initiator, pick comp by singling a target with his ult, peel/disengage comp – you name it and he can do it. I would consider Gragas the overall #1 jungler going into Worlds.
Rek’Sai has slowly fallen off as the dominant jungler since her release. Her steady nerfs has given room for other junglers to surpass her effectiveness. At first it was just damage nerfs which while warranted, didn’t affect her much overall. She then had her base HP reduced, knock-up radius reduced, and less fury generated from unburrowing. The base HP nerf hurt her early game efficiency in the jungle requiring her to back sooner, slowing down her effectiveness. Less fury generation mostly meant less damage, which again doesn’t affect her utility, but potentially affects her sustain (healing from passive) since its based off the amount of fury she has. Smaller knock-up radius usually doesn’t affect players too much; you adapt and get used to how it “feels,” eventually forgetting what the old version was like. Overall though, her utility remains untouched and is still incredibly influential. She has great clear speed and sustain in the jungle, although not as good as before. Rek’Sai’s biggest strength is her great mobility and global pressure. The tunnel network she can create lets her traverse the map extremely quickly, gives her gank potential, and escapability. Her ultimate lets her cross the map instantly to split push, take or defend multiple objectives, and simply be extremely efficient at farming, wasting no time backing to upgrade items. She can even back after team fights to heal up and ult back to take objectives at full health. Her global pressure cannot be understated. Her tremor sense also provides a unique utility in being able to scout the enemy team without having vision of them and keeps track of slippery targets like Evelynn and Twitch. One of her weaknesses is she doesn’t bring much utility to team fights. She should stick to objective control and pressuring the map rather than grouping up for 5v5 fights.
Next up, I wanted to discuss AP champions in the jungle. I think their importance goes up since we’re seeing bruisers (AD) in the top lane, so these champions can be important to round out a team composition.
Ekko is a pick that has seen some professional play, but never became mainstream. I was glad to see him come back in the LCS playoffs/gauntlet after a few weeks absence since his nerfs. Patch 5.15 nerfed Ekko’s based values and made him more reliant on AP so this hurt jungle Ekko. However, the nerfs were only on the shield from W and the healing from his ult so overall I thought he could still be effective, since only the shield affected his actual jungling ability. In my mind, Ekko plays similarly to Lissandra in terms of his presence on the rift. He provides zoning with his W, has mobility with his E, and his ult gets him out of trouble but demands attention. He doesn’t have the greatest of clear speeds, but Ranger’s Trailblazer helps with that. He has great mobility with his E, allowing him to hop over walls. He’s not the best ganker so he really requires vision control to be used optimally to set up his W. He is however pretty good at diving a target. His skirmishing is decent, but he requires vision to really win out – getting the jump on the enemy swings it heavily in his favor. Ekko’s greatest asset is his zone control in team fights and to an extent objective control. Between his W and his ult, Ekko is a champion that demands the attention of the enemy. His ult will occupy time/attention away from the enemy providing a pseudo-tankiness; if they’re stuck watching your movements, they likely aren’t attacking others. His ult can be used as an escape or a way to engage then bait the enemy team in. His incredible mobility makes him really hard to lock down in a team fight and hard to disengage. He does have notable weaknesses however including a lack of true engage, slower clear speed, less objective control, and less innate tankiness (especially if W is misused).
Elise is likely to be a top pick this Worlds with her versatile kit. Patch 5.14 brought Elise back on the map simply because the stun duration on her cocoon was buffed from 1 second to 1.6 seconds at rank 1. She received a few buffs before her rise in patch 5.14, but he subsequently received a few nerfs to her damage. With pro junglers mainly being utility-based, damage nerfs usually aren’t too significant to pro level play. Elise brings a lot to the table: she has good clear speed, has indirect sustainability in the jungle (she can use her spiderlings to tank for her so she doesn’t take damage), high base mobility in spider-form, an untargetable E ability, great gank pressure, great tower diving ability, good skirmishing, good objective control (securing dragon/baron with an execute), decent siege potential (catching someone with a cocoon or using your ranged form to poke tower), the list goes on… Junglers will most likely take up tanking duties, so I expect the grand majority of Elises to build Cinderhulk. Her weaknesses include not having reliable initiation and lack of reliable mobility (no dash compared to other junglers on this list who can hop over walls). She’s also reliant on vision control. Having vision control allows you to land her cocoon more easily which is key to winning skirmishes or getting kills.
Nidalee is the only carry-type jungler I think we’ll see at Worlds. While she isn’t tanky, she brings a unique set of abilities to challenge opposing teams. She has amazing clear speed, sustain, mobility, skirmishing, and some objective control (execute ability to secure dragon/baron). When you have Nidalee on your team, you automatically think poke. With good poke, comes good sieging potential – either offensively or defensively – as poke can wear down the opponents, usually forcing them to back, giving a window to dive with a numbers advantage. A Nidalee usually wins in a poke war because of her healing. While poke comps are definitely not in the meta right now, it can still be useful for taking objectives. She can be a decent split pusher and is OK at ganking. She does provide a lot of presence on the map because of her great mobility in the jungle and through traps. Nidalee’s main strength is her skirmishing. We don’t often hear about jungler match-ups on stream because of how rarely they directly interact, but Nidalee changes that. Nidalee is the type of jungler who will invade nonstop and steal camps right in front of you. A good Nidalee will provide relentless pressure on the enemy jungler; and if you have a weak early game, your laners will have to bail you out or fall hopelessly behind. The best way I’ve seen Nidalee being used is to shut down a team where the jungler is their star player. If her solo lanes pick champions with good wave clear, they can shove in their lanes endlessly forcing the opponents to stay under tower and farm. Meanwhile she constantly invades and 1v1 fights the enemy jungler or steals camps. This will slowly starve out the enemy jungler who cannot get help from the lanes because the lanes get shoved in. This is a team-wide effort and can be a massive swing in the early game. The enemy jungler is shut down getting no farm/xp, the solo lanes are losing in CS due to being shoved in and will take tower damage, and without a jungle presence you now own the map. She can be absolutely oppressive, but requires a team with good drafting and teamwork. Her weaknesses are fairly obvious: no CC, little team fight presence, no engage.
We’re in the juggernauts era which introduces Skarner as a dominant jungler. Anyone who plays solo queue knows the strengths of this champion, but I’d like to highlight his strengths for competitive play. He has amazing clear speed, good sustain (he can spam shield to take little damage because of the ridiculous mana regeneration he gets from spires), and pretty good mobility. The LPL Regional Qualifier (gauntlet) in China is the only competitive play we’ve seen on patch 5.16 onwards and we did get to see some Skarner. While obviously a strong pick, he wasn’t as oppressive as I thought he might be. The spires do give him good objective control, but ultimately vision control is the main objective that determines who’s in charge. Skarner is considered an “ult bot,” much like Vi, Warwick, Fiddlesticks, and Amumu. Without their R, they don’t provide a whole in team fights. Like Vi, once you hit 6 you want to use your ult pretty much whenever its off cooldown. If you’re not using the ult as often as possible, you’re not using Skarner optimally, so it’s a potential downside especially since the cooldown isn’t that long. I think his main strength is obviously his single target lock down. He can pick off or shut down an enemy carry to deal no damage in a fight. Unfortunately, the longer the game goes, Skarner’s effectiveness goes down because people will buy QSS (cleanse won’t work). While it is a bonus that it forces multiple members on the enemy team to waste 1250 gold (even AP carries, which QSS doesn’t build into anything useful), Skarner will struggle to be useful late game. His other main weakness is his lack of true engage. The jungler MUST have flash in order to catch someone out. There are team synergies available to alleviate this. I mentioned Lulu will be a highly contested pick top or mid, and her stock rises for synergy with Skarner along with champions like Orianna and Sivir.
Side notes about Skarner: He makes an interesting combo with Fiora top. If Skarner can catch someone out to start a team fight and Fiora ults the target also, you can begin a team fight with 1 dead opponent and Fiora ult activated onto your team for the AOE healing (since Skarner will drag then back into your team). Teams should be wary in picks & bans with Skarner. Support picks like Morgana and Alistar can really disrupt his effectiveness. Alistar can knock Skarner back so he can’t grab an opponent. I can also see a Skarner going for a flash ult then Alistar punting Skarner further into the enemy team making his grab useless.
Vi is a pick I think may come back into prominence. She’s useful in a lot of the same ways Skarner is. Her clear speed is decent, she has sustain with the shield from her passive, has decent mobility with her Q, and provides uncleanseable single target lock down. With more squishies on the rift, her pick potential stock rises. Her strengths are similar to Skarner, but she has more reliable engage. Warrior enchant being reverted might be viable if teams focus heavily on early game advantages.
One cannot discuss the jungle without mentioning Lee Sin. He’s still a good pick, but isn’t as tanky as other picks and can struggle late game without reliable initiation. Lee Sin excels at skirmishes – fighting the enemy jungler head on or ganks/counter-ganks in 2v2/3v3 fights. He clears well, can sustain with W, and has great mobility around the map between his Q and W. He ganks well, but is skill dependent. Like Nidalee, he can be used against teams that struggle early game to snowball off early fights and contest strong enemy junglers. Warrior enchant was reverted (I refuse to say buffed…) for +5 AD again so this can help Lee Sin set the pace of the game or play safer with Cinderhulk. While he does fall off late game, Lee Sin is always considered a top pick in the jungle.
Side note: I suspect Asian teams may use him in combo with Yasuo for their innate synergy.
Picks I don’t want to see: EVELYNN. I don’t think she’s that great at the moment and the damage nerfs she’s received really put her below other junglers. I think top teams have gotten plenty of practice and know how to deal with her and have proper vision control. As the season has progressed, teams have gotten better at warding their flanks late game to see her approaching and even getting the jump on her, catching her out 5v1. I don’t think she’s that impactful even in team fights. She has been on a downward spiral in terms of effectiveness. Across NA/EU/LPL/LCK in summer playoffs and gauntlet, she is a combined 4 wins and 13 losses equating to a 23.5% win rate. With so many stronger picks and probably less jungle bans, please don’t use Evelynn at Worlds.