Xmeik's Wednesday Long Read: A Look at Power Picks and Bold Predictions
It’s been two long weeks without a Wednesday long read, and after the brief hiatus, another article is finally ready to go. Unfortunately, I'm not talking about professional games much this week. The only truly competitive games played since the last article were those at IEM San Jose, which is now completely irrelevant for looking at how professional games will be played due to the sweeping preseason alterations. The NEST tournament in China recently took place, but it was a pure chaos of changing rosters, so I'm not counting it. Bah-humbug, Scrooge McXmeik.
Therefore, I'm going to break my usual mold of looking at competitive games, take a long sip of coffee, and attack some of the new champions and masteries we are seeing early on in this preseason. Predictions are no fun if they aren't bold, so after I break down why some of the current highest winrate champions are so powerful, I'll throw in some thoughts on to who else could rise up and become top-tier in the current meta. Some of the picks are pretty out there and wild, so buckle up, turn up Michael Bublé's Christmas music, and get ready for the newest Wednesday Long Read.
Top and Jungle
What I would give to look this good at work before my first cup of coffee.
The data gathered on the top and jungle present some clear trends. Tanky champions seem to be dominating the current meta. This is largely due to the revamped masteries this season. In the defensive mastery tree, nearly all of the various masteries grant bonus stats based off of whatever tanky stats are already being built. There is only one mastery, “Veteran’s Scars”, that grants flat stats (+45 hitpoints). Everything else is based off of what items one is already building.
As a result, mega tanks are enjoying a revival. Champions such as Dr. Mundo, Malphite, and Shen are becoming dominating fixtures in the top lane while juggernauts who build Black Cleaver first, such as Fiora and Darius, have fallen off. Fiora and Darius need those flat tank stats that are no longer present in the mastery tree to not worry about building a damage item first, and with the removal of these flat stats, they are no longer able to do so. In essence, the bruiser-type champion has been heavily nerfed with these mastery changes. The arrival of mega tanks has naturally led to the revival of Trundle, due to his ability to steal the tanky stats of other top laners.
Looking at the tank keystone masteries, both “Grasp of the Undying” and “Strength of the Ages” have been powerful picks on these tanky champions. The 3% max health lifesteal from “Grasp of the Undying” has excellent synergy with Dr. Mundo and any champion that prioritizes a Spirit Visage. In a large teamfight, used in conjunction with a Spirit Vision, one of these hypertanks could easily regenerate over 18% of their maximum health.
On the other hand, “Strength of the Ages” has been a common pickup on junglers, and it is not hard to see why. Granting 10 permanent health per large jungle monster, the mastery will ultimately grant about 300 flat health. With some simple calculations, we can find out the value of that health by comparing it to a Giant’s Belt:
300/x = 380/1000
380x = 300,000
x = 789.47 gold
Considering how junglers earn considerably less gold than laners, the value of the flat stats provided by “Strength of the Ages” serve junglers well. Finding such value in the jungle can be difficult to find, so “Strength of the Ages” seems like an outstanding pickup on the current top junglers, who to no surprise are tanks like Dr. Mundo, Rammus, Volibear, Amumu, and Trundle.
However, as games progress and these 300 additional health are acquired, how much of an advantage is really given by “Strength of the Ages”, especially in comparison to “Grasp of the Undying?” For the sake of these calculations, we’ll use a recent SoloQ build by former WE jungler Spirit on Dr. Mundo. Excluding masteries, he ended the game at 3,472 health via levels and items. The other key factor will be how, earlier in the defensive tree, Spirit opts for the Runic Armor mastery, which gives him +8% on all healing and lifesteal. For functionality in combat, let’s look at the bonus health given over the span of a twelve seconds in combat if he took the “Grasp of the Undying” keystone mastery:
(3472 x 0.03) = 104.16 Hp per keystone proc
12 seconds = 3 procs = 312.48 Hp
This is the base health bonus granted over 12 seconds of combat. The 12 seconds, however, would mean that the “Grasp of the Undying” would be being proced at maximum efficiency. Due to the fact that champions in all likelihood will not be auto attacking the moment that “Grasp of the Undying” comes off of cooldown, I think that 14 seconds would be a more reasonable estimate in how often one could proc “Grasp of the Undying” three times.
Now, in this game, Spirit had selected the “Runic Armor” mastery, and additionally purchased a Spirit Visage. This grants him a 28% bonus to his healing.
312.48 x 1.28 = 399.97 Hp gained
399.97/14 = 28.57 Hp/second
It appears as if “Grasp of the Undying” does indeed grant more stats in fights than “Strength of the Ages,” provided that a fight lasts long enough for at least three procs of “Grasp of the Undying.” If a champion cannot get these three auto attacks off in such a timeframe, then “Strength of the Ages” grants better stats.
Additionally, for the sake of junglers, who earn less than laners, a Spirit Visage would be a much later purchase than it would be on a top laner. Here’s the math if one only has the 8% bonus from the “Runic Armor” mastery:
312.48 x 1.08 = 337.48 Hp gained
All in all, one has to remember the likelihood of procing “Grasp of the Undying.” “Strength of the Ages” is a much more reliable mastery, and for junglers who are able to constantly stack the mastery, “Strength of the Ages” is a much better option. At the same time, top laners probably want to lean more towards taking “Grasp of the Undying” due to their more ready access to gold for Spirit Visage. Furthermore, top laners will find themselves having a much harder time stacking their “Strength of the Ages” because their only avenue to do so will be through taking the siege minions that come once every three waves. In a sense, it’s actually much more reliable for them to take “Grasp of the Undying.”
In considering champions that could make a major impact but have yet to really shine, I think that tanky champions with great healing in their kit need to be considered. My two predictions for champions that could really burst out onto the scene are accordingly Maokai and Zac. Maokai is certainly not a far-fetched prediction, as he was a dominating fixture in both SoloQ and competitive League of Legends this past season. He has a well-established kit that serves him well in all phases of the game. Zac may seem a little bit outside the norm, but when it comes to tanky champions that perform well with healing and regeneration, Zac does it better than anyone else. A team fighting monster, the current masteries are marvelous on him. Furthermore, the utility provided by his Elastic Slingshot is astounding, and in talented hands, he could become a true menace.
Banning me yet?
Looking at the top performers in the middle lane, it appears as if we are seeing a return to control mages, once again in no small part due to the recent mastery changes. Simultaneously gutting the power of assassins, champions such as Brand, Malzahar, Anivia, Lux, and Twisted Fate have benefited greatly from the “Deathfire Touch” mastery. In the attack-focused ferocity mastery tree, this keystone has given control mages much more damage and power than their assassin contemporaries. Simply put, there really is not a great keystone in the ferocity tree for assassins, and the “Stormraider’s Surge” mastery in the cunning tree really feels underwhelming. If an assassin falls at all behind, it really just becomes useless.
Looking into the future, Riot has just nerfed “Deathfire Touch”, but nevertheless, until assassins are buffed, these control mages should be comfortable with where they are. I would expect a shift back into Xerath becoming a strong champion. Ziggs would also benefit from the power of “Deathfire Touch”, and if it does not end up being nerfed into oblivion, he should be able to benefit from its power too. Since it’s boring not to be bold, I’ll go out on a limb and claim that Ezreal could eventually find play in the middle lane again. He has more opportunities to outplay and abuse the immobility of these casters than the current lowly bunch of assassins. He’s currently in a little bit of a weird spot, especially in the middle lane, but after these “Deathfire Touch” nerfs, he should be able to make a mark on the middle lane. Ability power has already been nerfed by the price increase of several core AP items, so the nerfing of “Deathfire Touch” should make the middle lane much more manageable for Ezreal. Furthermore, with Quinn’s arrival in the middle lane, it’s clear that a marksman can find success in the center of Summoner’s Rift.
That being said, the other option for these mages if “Deathfire Touch” is nerfed too much is to opt into the cunning mastery tree and take the “Stormraider’s Surge” keystone mastery. Used for ability-based champions with more burst, some of these strong control mages are already deciding that they prefer it to “Deathfire Touch.” A great example is Lux, who can proc “Stormraider’s Surge” with her E and an auto attack. Usually, if a champion can be bursted down in under roughly 7.5 seconds, “Stormraider’s Surge” will provide more benefit than “Deathfire Touch” anyways. So while I do see a potential opening for Ezreal, I think that the upcoming weeks will still be dominated by those same control mages as they simply swap from “Deathfire Touch” to “Stormraider’s Surge.” A great example of another champion who could see strengths increased by “Stormraider’s Surge” who counters some of these mages is Kassadin. Already a strong pick, his win rate should increase dramatically as “Deathfire Touch” takes a nerf. Kassadin’s ability to deal large damage in quick amounts of time means that he can really take full control of “Stormraider’s Surge”, and with the additional CDR granted in the cunning tree, it’s really a matter of time until we see Kassadin ruining SoloQ games once again.
Formerly in obscurity, I just want to know who found the genie in the lamp.
Okay, I have managed to ignore the topic so far, but I’m finally forced to address the issue of Quinn. She has far too much damage and mobility with too little counter play. The moment she hits an opponent with Q, one has to start praying that she does not perform an all-in. Her base damages are so high that she’s being played in every role except support. Heck, I did not even address it earlier because of her being such an outlier, but with a 57.47% win rate, she’s currently the best top laner. It’s absurd, and while she is clearly the best pick in the moment, I fully expect her to be nerfed out of contention. Riot has thankfully just punched out some damage from her Q, so it will be interesting to see how often – and where – Quinn will be played in 5.24.
After Quinn, Miss Fourtune has seen a quick ascent into the top five marksmen. After being slightly reworked, her Q and W have been providing excellent damage in lane, making her a fearsome foe in those SoloQ 2v2 lanes bottom. The recent item changes have also synergized well with her kit, as Rapidfire Cannon provides her nice boosts across the board. She is also the recipient of the nerf hammer this patch, so it remains to be seen how useful she will be.
Once one moves past those two, who should hopefully be nerfed in the next patch, we’re back to the same champions that were quite powerful during worlds. Vayne has become stronger with the new items, but really she has always been a fine SoloQ champion. The final two in the top five, Tristana and Kalista, have been there for a while. Once Quinn and Miss Fortune are nerfed, these three should find themselves once more atop marksmen’s SoloQ priority lists.
In looking towards the future of marksmen, Twitch interestingly sits at 6th place. If a team wants to run an assassin, Twitch may actually be one of the few viable options. Once Miss Fortune and Quinn are nerfed, we could see much more Twitch play. Furthermore, the ability for his stealth to now reset upon kills only makes him more lethal. An assassin who builds the new attack damage items and has a reset…it sounds really powerful, and that’s because it is. Graves was the Quinn of patch 5.22, and while he was nerfed out of every role but marksman, he still holds decent power in lane. Sure, he is weaker than last patch, but that’s not to say Graves fell into irrelevancy. I think the nerfs he received were good, as he still clearly has a powerful identity as a close-range marksman. Maybe once Quinn and Miss Fortune come down from their heights, he could find himself as a more balanced mainstay in the bottom lane.
Of course another picture was going to be Christmas themed. Can we get Eggnog Zac?
The top support champions in SoloQ are all a far cry from what has been prevalent in recent competitive games, with Janna, Sona, Taric, Blitzcrank, and Brand all boasting win rates higher than 53% among players platinum and higher. To make explaining this phenomenon even more challenging, these five champions encompass five different categories of supports.
While each unique category of support champions have different things for them that really “make them work”, the big similarity between these five champions is the buff received from the mastery in the cunning tree granting an additional 5% cooldown reduction while simultaneously increasing the CDR cap to 45%. Janna and Sona are better able to spam their poke and shields, while Taric, Blitzcrank, and Brand all have their cc abilities more readily available to them. While other champions naturally benefit from this change too, these five are able to take great advantage of the 5%.
First we have our mages and AP users in Janna and Sona. Make no mistake, the preseason mastery changes has done these two champions wonders. Diving deep into the utility tree, the “Windspeaker’s Blessing” keystone mastery provides a huge buff to Janna’s E and Sona’s W. The mastery, granting a 10% bonus to healing and shields and an armor and magic resistance bonus to recipients of healing and shielding spells, really empowers these champions. The shield and healing bonus is nice in the early game, but as games progress and the supports fall off, the armor and magic resistance bonuses will still retain immense value. With proper Sona positioning for a W or a Janna ultimate, the added resistance bonus can affect their entire team. Riot has addressed the need to nerf “Windspeaker’s Blessing” and want to convert the 15% bonus armor and magic resistance to flat stats. Even if that goes through, these enchanter-type supports will still be quite strong.
Seeing the power that this mastery is giving these champions, I would expect Karma to be a powerful pick. While she has rarely been a favored pick outside of a brief period of time in season four, an empowered Karma E could easily bestow the “Windspeaker’s Blessing” to an entire team. Furthermore, with champions such as Janna and Sona re-entering the meta, her strong poke with her empowered Q could easily win a lane at level one. Soraka also is a natural fit into the “Windspeaker’s Blessing” mastery, as by simply using her ultimate near the beginning of a fight provides a no-miss chance of giving her entire team the armor and magic resistance buff for the ensuing brawl. With her heals also being more effective than other champions, Soraka has become incredibly powerful with the bonus “Windspeaker’s Blessing” provides to healing. However, she has been crushing games in lower elos, and Riot has responded with the nerf hammer once more. She’s still worth keeping an eye on for the future.
In looking at Taric and Blitzcrank’s power, I really feel as if these two manage to have high win rates every preseason. Despite his win rate, I think Taric is far too binary to be used at higher level SoloQ. His actions are far too predictable, and in general I think that tank supports became nerfed heavily with the preseason mastery changes. Going back to the issue bruisers have in being unable to find flat stats in the defensive mastery tree, tanky supports rely on those same flat stats that are no longer present. I think there are many better picks than Taric. However, Frozen Heart has become a powerful item, and both Taric and Blitzcrank reap major benefits from constructing it. Strong Blitzcrank players have always found success at higher elo, so Blitzcrank’s high ranking is really no surprise. However, the power of Frozen Heart is really what is currently fueling his strength.
Finally, we have our oddball pick in Brand. Formerly a “support” pick where players would pick him and only build damage, Brand has found himself a powerful mainstay as a regular support. He serves as a natural counter to these squishy supports coming to the bottom lane. Equipped with a low-cooldown stun enhanced with his 5% CDR from the cunning mastery tree, he is easily able to both damage and all-in opposing bottom lanes. Building Rylai’s Crystal Scepter, he becomes a damage dealing CC machine. If any other champion were to return to prominence in Brand’s role, I would have to look to Annie. Bringing strong initiation and burst against these squishy enchanter-type supports, she would seem to naturally have a place in the meta against these supports. With tanky supports fading out of the scene, Annie should slowly become a power pick once again.
If you enjoy this content, you can follow Xmeik on Twitter (@lolXmeik) or on Facebook for updates on future articles. For more of "Xmeik's Wednesday Long Read" series, be sure to check out articles from previous weeks:
November 18th, 2015: IEM San Jose Power Rankings
November 11th, 2015: Kindred in Competitive Play
November 4th, 2015: SKT vs. KOO and the Anatomy of a Lane Swap
October 29th, 2015: Comparing Marin, Smeb, and Ssumday