Tristana's Explosive Rework
On January 13th, 2015, Riot released their champion update of Tristana, the (now) Yordle Gunner. With a fresh new coat of paint and a reworked Explosive Shot, Riot stated these changes would “cement Tristana as a daredevil reset carry who gets bonuses from (rocket) jumping into fights while removing some of the safe strength she had in her kit.”[i] With her changes on PBE being adjusted on a day to day basis, it’s hard to say how strong her update will be, but I foresee this new Tristana as a strong pick in competitive play, based on two critical things: First, her old strengths as an ADC remain unchanged. Second, her changes are buffs to her already monstrous late game. Now, there are factors which impede her potential for competitive play, such as her now weaker early game and potential competition, which could be enough to stop her return to competitive popularity, so this is merely speculation.
Ghost of a Shell
After her play at the Season 4 World Championship, Tristana fell from competitive play when she received nerfs to her ultimate’s cooldown in Patch 4.17, then her Rapid Fire’s duration, and her Attack Speed scaling in Patch 4.18. These changes were made with the direction of “looking for ways to give Tristana more moments of weakness.”[ii] Reducing her safety in the early game, nerfing her base scaling into late game, and making her more dependent on a nerfed attack speed buff saw Tristana ushered out of competitive play after Worlds.
Until the preseason of the LCK hit.
The first professional games after Season 4 Worlds, the LCK has revealed some interesting insights into the landscape of competitive ADC’s. Korea, known for its innovation and respected for its understanding of LoL, is still seen as the land which masters the meta. Although a lot of veteran blood has bled out in the Exodus to China, the infrastructure which developed top tier teams still exists in Seoul, so it stands to assume the region will still innovate.
For this analysis, we looked at the LCK Preseason to record 3 stats with each ADC played: the number of games they were played in to observe popularity; the average KDA they had across their games to demonstrate their team participation; and their win rates to show how successful teams were with them. Note, these only take into account games where the listed champions were played as the ADC marksmen, not in any other role, as Ezrael and Corki both saw play in the mid lane from time to time.
To skirt over small details, most experimental picks failed: Draven, Jinx, Varus, and Vayne were only picked one time each, and only Vayne walked away with a win. Kog’Maw has the highest KDA in the region, but this is an inflated number as he was only played in two games, going 0/0/1 and 11/1/8 in his two games. Sivir, Graves, and Twitch were each played 2-3 games. Twitch is struggling after his nerfs. Graves looks has a good KDA but a low win rate, yet Sivir looks amazing so far. Again, as these champions have a small pool of games to observe, little-to-no conclusions about them can be made in terms of their strength in the meta.
Getting into Lucian, Corki, Ezrael, and Tristana, there are two narratives: the falling popular picks and the rise of the next generation. Corki and Lucian saw the highest pick rates, being played in 25 games and 15 games respectively, but both of them posted below 50% win rates, yet with respectable KDA’s. Meanwhile, Ezrael, being third most popular, shows the most consistent win rate and a massive 9.83 KDA. The only one with a higher win-rate who was played in more than three games is Tristana with an impressive 7.74 KDA.
Looking at specific games, we can see Ezrael posted massive scores in almost all of his games across different teams: 7/0/9 for SKT T1 vs. KT Rolster in Week 1 and 12/1/11 with Incredible Miracle against Samsung Galaxy in Week 2 are just a few examples. Looking at his success, one could argue that Ezrael will claim the title of Strongest Marskmen under the Meta, however there is a rival.
Ezrael only dropped four out of his 12 games. Two of them were against Corki, but Ezrael still beat the old dog-fighter four out of their 6 match ups.
The other two games were against Tristana, the only ADC matchup in the LCK preseason he has a losing record against at 0-2. However, only facing off in two games is hardly enough evidence to define this match up, but further analysis offers interesting insight. One point is in Ezrael’s other 10 games, he only died 15 total times.
In his two match ups against Tristana, he died 11 times.
Now, it’s important to understand context in this case: it’s not as if Tristana killed him every one of those times. However, in both games Tristana posted a massive score: in their first clash, Najin e-mFire fielded Tristana while Incredible Miracle played Ezrael. The scoreboard for the game is below.
Tristana massively outperformed Ezrael in this game, posting an 8 KDA while Ezrael bore a 3.6 KDA which was mostly composed of Assists. Their second encounter tells a similar story, with Jin Air Green Wings playing Tristana while CJ Entus played the prodigal explorer.
Again, we see Tristana massively outperformed Ezrael, posting an 8.3 KDA while her opponent scored a measly 2.16 KDA.
Now, as these two games were played out in two different sets, it does help the case for Tristana’s strength as we can’t say “oh this particular team just clobbered the other team twice with the same champion match-up.” Note in their first game it was Najin, a strong team in this preseason, who played Tristana against IM, the weakest team in the LCK Preseason, and so Tristana’s performance in that game can be argued as a result of Najin’s superiority over IM. However, this point is questionable with the context of the second set: Jin Air and CJ Entus were more equal teams at the bottom of the LCK bracket in the preseason, so we cannot say there was huge mismatch in this game. With these two different cases, it is remarkable how similar Tristana’s performance was in both.
To conclude the segment on Tristana’s performance in the LCK Preseason, bear in mind that as she was only played in six games; we are working with a small sample size of match-ups and players who have used her after her nerfs, but we can see there is potential for her success in competitive play despite her nerfs.
“I want to shoot everything"
The engine of any Tristana Hype Train is her changes to Explosive Shot. Originally a single target magic damage burn which applied grievous wounds, it has now changed to a stack Tristana drops on enemy champions, minions, or towers. After time, the stack explodes, dealing AOE physical damage. However, Tristana can add damage to the stack by auto attacking the target four times, and then explode it by either auto attacking a fifth time or rocket jumping onto the target.
This new E gives AD Tristana more damage in the late game. While her base ratio is laughably weak with only 110 damage at rank five, for the first time in her kit, Tristana now has an AD ratio, meaning she actually increases this spells damage with her items, and the scaling is nothing to laugh at: scaling from about 70% AD, current values place the maximum bonus AD ratio between 110% and 120%. So with an Infinity Edge, Blood Thirster, and Last Whisper, Tristana adds between 220 and 240 damage to her AOE Explosion, totaling to 330 to 350 damage. This damage can abe doubled if she attacks the target four times, as each stack adds 25% extra damage. So a full stack E in the late game does between 660 and 700 damage late game. These numbers do not take into account the amount of penetration she has, or the amount armor her opponents have; they are simple estimations based off her own numbers.
To add another element to her E, and part of Riot’s “daredevil” theme for Tristana, Riot has stripped out some base damage on Tristana’s W, but they gave it the same stacking damage bonus from her E, meaning that Tristana will have to stack her E before her W will do as much as it did before. Those are so far the only two changes in her kit that have stayed, as Riot has since undone additional nerfs to her Attack Speed scaling which they listed in the update’s notes.
What are the results of these changes? For starters, Tristana’s early game trading is effectively trash. Losing half of her damage and the grievous wounds from her E means she’ll apply less pressure in lane; pressure which was already weak to begin with. In exchange, her damage and objective taking potential in the late game has increased tremendously as she now has AOE damage.
These changes signal Tristana struggling more than ever before in Solo Queue and 2v2 lanes, but in competitive play we have a true monster on our hands as she can avoid her laning weaknesses with a lane swap. Consider this; all of the aspects of Tristana’s kit riot has touched were aspects of her kit ADC Tristana never cared for in the late game. Tristana’s E was negligible with 220 or so single target damage, and her W was used either to escape or to clean up fights with the reset mechanic—she never cared for its damage. Stripping out damage from her W does nothing to impact her late game, while her new E increases her damage exponentially with the AOE.
The strengths of ADC Tristana came from her consistently high attack range, her jump, and her knock back ultimate giving her the best self-peel for ADC’s in the game. Consider this: Tristana’s Rocket Jump range is 900, while her ultimate knockback scales from 600 to 1000 distance, and its cast range increases with her Auto Attack Range. Tristana can create a 1900 distance gap with only two spells without burning flash. Now, if she were to do that, she would not be close enough to anything in a team fight, but the fact she can means she can escape from ganks in lane or attempted picks in the late game without burning flash. Even Ezrael, perhaps the most mobile of ADC marksmen, does not have that level of safety in the early game, nor does his damage rival Tristana’s in the late game.
No One Safer
The safety in Tristana’s kit becomes abhorrent in comparison to other hyper carry marksmen, like Jinx, Vayne, Twitch, and Kog’Maw. Jinx, Kog, and Twitch do not have a dash or inherit escape of any kind. Vayne has high mobility with her Tumble and can create distance with her Condemn, but Tumble lacks the disengage that Rocket Jump has, and Condemn can only knock back a single champion, as opposed to Tristana’s ultimate which can knock back the entire enemy team in some scenarios.
Twitch and Vayne have safety in the form of their invisibility, but Twitch’s delay on stealth after taking damage negates his ability to escape with it, and both of their invisibility can be countered by pink wards and oracle’s lenses. To counter Tristana’s safety, you have to disrupt her jump or negate the CC from her ultimate, and only certain champions can do that (Fizz and Morgana come to mind). Sometimes though, you have to do both to get to her, depending on her cooldowns.
Jinx and Vayne have hard cc, but Jinx’s snare takes time to set up, while Vayne’s requires a wall to stun. Tristana can instantly apply her knockback. Twitch and Kog’Maw don’t have hard cc, only relying on an AOE slow to peel for themselves.
Finally, all of these hyper carries, with the exception of Vayne, have range modifiers, but in the late game where everyone is level 18, Tristana’s is available at all time. Jinx does not benefit in her range form from her Attack Speed buff, and requires mana to use. Kog’Maw’s is only available for 7 seconds, and Twitch’s is available for 8 and is reserved as an ultimate. Now, these marksmen do have access to their maximum range earlier than Tristana, so they have increased safety and damage potential earlier than she does.
Each of these factors have their strengths and weaknesses, and these hyper carry ADC’s serve very different functions from Tristana, but it’s the combination of her range, her jump, and her knockback being available in the same kit that make her the safest hyper-carry ADC to play in the late game.
Tristana’s early game has been nerfed, so in Solo Queue Tristana may be negligible. But in competitive play where teams employ lane swaps to give their ADC free farm in a solo lane, bypassing any laning phase weaknesses certain ADCs have, what’s to stop them from picking Tristana?
If It's Broke, Don't Rework it
Riot’s idea of giving Tristana meaningful weakness by gating some of her damage is a nice idea, but to think they balanced her late game, which relied on three factors they never touched, while giving her even more damage potential with her new E is preposterous. They've introduced a “big-red weak point,” but in a plot twist it’s not on her: she throws it onto the enemy team and proceeds to destroy it. The situation becomes a comedy when, in their own update, they explicitly state they know her strengths in the late game: “She had insane range and speed with her basic attacks, and even when she did get caught, she had a decent knock back AND a lengthy jump that let her GTFO.”[iii] They show knowledge of what makes her late game strong, then proceed to say they've changed it by not changing it.
Despite all this evidence and argumentation, there is the possibility Tristana doesn’t return to competitive play. There are unforeseen changes Riot could make to her kit on the PBE. Perhaps other champions who could rise in favor of Tristana, such as Sivir. Tristana’s late game DPS, while safe, doesn't match up with other damage potentials such as Kog’Maw or Vayne. With her weaker early and possibly mid game, perhaps teams will punish her so hard she doesn’t make it to late game. The nerfs to Infinity Edge may see a shift in meta that does not support Trist. Players could just ignore her.
Predicting the future of Tristana is like meteorology: we can gather evidence to make forecasts, but until the storm sets in, we don’t know what we’re in store for.