Immediately after her ultimate ability was reworked in mid 2017, Rek’Sai became one of the game’s preeminent junglers again.
She had languished earlier that year as Riot’s nerfs to tank junglers—notably the changes to the Cinderhulk enchantment—meant that her old builds were dead. Rek’Sai players used to be the smart veterans who could control the pace of the game with her global ultimate, initiate teamfights, and soak damage. Unable to do that last part, she languished on the sidelines of competitive play.
This year, Rek’Sai’s back at around the same time. Heading into MSI, she’s again one of the queens of the jungle, but it’s a whole new breed of players who take her onto the Rift. New Rek’Sai is in-your-face powerful, with one-shot potential well into the later stages of the game. In fact, she might be too powerful, which means Rek’Sai nerfs might be on the way.
How we got here
The funny thing is, after Riot removed her old ult in 2017 and replaced it with the current dash-and-damage version, it was still tank Rek’Sai that ran the show. The first time she was played at all in 2017 was in week eight of the LCK Summer Split, when Afreeca Freecs jungler Lee “Spirit” Da-yoon tried a Cinderhulk into Knight’s Vow build.
Just seeing Knight’s Vow on a jungler like Rek’Sai hurts. If anyone would try it, it would be someone like Spirit—to put it kindly, he’s not really a carry player. But it really was just another painful vestige of the Ardent Censer meta that made 2017 really, really boring.
In that meta, Rek’Sai was a band-aid for junglers who loved her forgiveness in pathing and the easy AOE knockup she possessed in her kit. Sure, more experienced types like Ming “Clearlove” Kai and Jake “Xmithie” Puchero tried her some. But the junglers that played her the most were younger, less-experienced players like Mike Yeung and Juan “Contractz” Garcia. Rek’Sai slowed the game down for them, allowing them to keep up against more expert jungle minds.
Riot’s much-needed nerf to Ardent Censer following Worlds 2018 came as an unexpected nerf to Rek’Sai, too. People started building damage items like Black Cleaver and Titanic Hydra to help her stay relevant. But for most of 2018, she was forgotten by all but the most loyal of her adherents.
Hail the Queen
Bruiser Rek’Sai didn’t make much progress in professional play because there are just better champions out there. Xin Zao would eat her for lunch. Jarvan IV could match her early and do more late—if the jungler is wise enough to use him.
But people are picking her up again because of a bug fix in Patch 9.2 that allowed her to synergize the Hail of Blades keystone rune with her unborrow passive, which gives her a surge of AD. That’s a lot of burst damage, especially when she hits level 6 and can chain it with her ultimate.
Hail of Blades Rek’Sai was absolutely busted. But as people started playing her more and more, it became apparent that she’s far from a one-trick pony. Conqueror is really good on her as well, and it makes her relevant in even later game fights. Hail of Blades cracked open a Pandora’s box—now it’s hail the queen.
She’s now one of the game’s two preeminent junglers alongside Jarvan IV. For less-experienced players, she’s still more forgiving than Jarvan, especially around level six. For those that want to fight constantly, like Gao “Ning” Zhen-ning of Invictus Gaming and Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski of G2 Esports, she lets them do that. She’s a one-woman wrecking crew that can come at you from weird angles and make your life hell.
So expect to see plenty of Rek’Sai at MSI this week. She does have counters—you can still play for late game with champions like Skarner. But the fact that she can take down more experienced junglers playing Jarvan with regularity means that her numbers are probably overtuned. She just does too much damage, and by the time she falls off, it may not matter anymore. For that reason, there will probably be some Rek’Sai buffs following MSI. But just be glad that she’s back and we’ll get to see some really good players pilot her in the upcoming tournament.