In a summer season constricted by the cinder-poke meta, we didn’t often see pros break the mould. But in amongst the Maokais, the Corkis, and the Gragases (Gragi?), there were the occasional off-meta picks that were intriguing, confusing, or just plain nuts. Here’s a look at some of the most interesting off-meta choices from this summer.
LCK, Week 5
SK Telecom T1 vs Incredible Miracle, G1
Strategy: Galio Top
Did it work: Not even slightly
IM’s top laner Apple had the last pick against an SKT squad made up of Rumble, Rek’Sai, Azir, Corki, and Annie. Even with TuSin’s Sejuani in the jungle, it was clear that Apple would need to pick something that could soak up the barrage of magic damage likely to come IM’s way – so with Maokai banned out, why not Galio?
On paper, it was a great choice, if on the paper Apple had so grossly misspelled Galio that it looked like he’d written “Gnar” or “Hecarim” instead. In practice, there were a great number of reasons why Galio was never going to work. And perhaps the biggest one was this guy named Bengi who, if you aren’t aware, is pretty good at League of Legends.
Twelve minutes into a fairly even game, SKT figured that it was about time to, well, do SKT things. With Bengi’s Rek’Sai waiting in the wings, Easyhoon’s Azir pounced on Frozen’s Varus in what would seem like a straightforward gank, followed up by IM’s mid turret. TuSin’s Sejuani wasn’t far away however, and raced to Frozen’s rescue, prompting both Apple and MaRin (on Rumble) to teleport into the fray.
An aside: You know when you’re playing a champion with a really neat or flashy ultimate, like Katarina or Sejuani, and you’re coming back from base with everything off cooldown and a couple of big items in your pocket, and your index finger is hovering over the ‘R’ key in anticipation, and even though a little voice somewhere inside you is telling you not to be overzealous, to exercise restraint and patience, you drown it out because you just can’t wait to make those big plays?
I’m pretty sure that’s how Apple was feeling as he was touching down in mid lane. I’m not even sure if he noticed Bengi’s Rek’Sai, waiting patiently right beneath the teleport.
Apple landed, pressed R, and died.
Bengi had emerged, knocking Apple out of his own premature ultimate. Seconds later he felt the full weight of SKT as they converged on his champion/melee minion.
Without any favorable fights to flash into, Apple spent almost the rest of the game as a farmer and/or mobile vision ward. When they broke the base, SKT didn’t give Apple a second of opportunity, always making sure to save a stun or an un-burrow for whenever he tried to make a play.
If nothing else, the Galio pick serves to exemplify just how methodical and conservative SKT’s play is, even when they’re ahead. Although Apple was all but out of the game, his opponents always had an eye on him, always had crowd-control on hand to quell his play-making aspirations.
EU LCS, Week 9
Fnatic vs SK Gaming & Unicorns of Love
Strategy: Trundle Support
Did it work: 1-1-29 combined KDA
Source: Riot Games
Moving into the final week of the split, Fnatic were a lock for first place, so what better time for them to try out something new on the big stage? That something new was to be Trundle support, the quintessential troll pick, picked alongside Rekkles’s Tristana into Candypanda’s Corki and nRated’s Lulu. An odd choice sure, given the poking power of SK’s bot lane combination, but who am I, a mere mortal, to question the whims of YellOwStaR (praise be unto him)?
The moment Trundle was locked in as fourth pick, the caster table descended into chaos, with Krepo and Pyratechnics grasping for the kind of intelligent and reasoned words that befit their respective job descriptions. On top of the third-pick Fizz and the fifth-pick Jarvan IV, their desperate outpourings of unfounded predictions weren’t too far-off what was simultaneously going on in the chat window of the Twitch.tv broadcast. “I’m just not going to make any judgement on this,” conceded Krepo, finally.
(Meanwhile, Google found itself almost crushed under the weight of Bronze-level searches for “does trundle pillar stop corki w”.)
Fnatic knew they would be sacrificing bot lane farm, pressure, and kill potential with such a combination – and soon enough, Candypanda’s Corki was up almost twenty CS, handily winning trades with the help of nRated. But rather than conserve their lead, SK pushed up a little too far, and Reignover’s Rek’Sai pounced, netting a crucial first blood for Rekkles. Content with letting the cashed-up Rekkles take care of himself, YellOwStaR embarked on a grand adventure, placing wards and netting assists across the map with the help of mobility boots and Trundle’s Frozen Domain.
In what few team fights there were, YellOwStaR made the most of his two relevant abilities, smartly ulting the best targets and raising pinpoint pillars which either split up his enemies or cut off their escape routes.
Though he ended the game on a respectable 1/1/19, keep in mind that it isn’t that hard to rack up assists with Trundle thanks to the AoE slow created by his pillar. It would be interesting to see how effective he would have been if Rekkles didn’t get a lead, thereby stifling Trundle’s roaming potential.
YellOwStaR would once again play Trundle in Fnatic’s next game against Unicorns of Love. While my lip-reading skills are limited, I’m relatively certain this is how UoL brought about their own downfall:
“There’s no way he’ll pick it again,” said Hylissang. “Use the last ban on Janna.”
Vizicsasi hovered over the ban. “Are you sure? Fabian, what do you think?”
Sheepy smirked, but the incessant pacing behind the UoL line-up exposed his nerves. Fnatic were on unstoppable form – the chances of victory were already low, there was no doubt that an incorrect ban would spell certain doom. He would have to play this one perfectly. He looked down at his notes: there was a doodle of Twisted Fate urinating on a TSM jacket, beneath that the scrawled words, “WHAT WOULD KIKIS DO?” He took a deep breath, then said, “Ban Janna.”
Then the Unicorns of Love entered Troll Town, and never returned.
EU LCS, Week 8
Unicorns of Love vs Gambit
Strategy: Runeglaive/Nashor’s Orianna
Did it work: [see image]
Source: Riot Games
While their picks weren’t as diverse as those in their first split in the EU LCS, the Unicorns of Love demonstrated in week eight that they’re still capable of going off the beaten track – if only a little. While Runeglaive’d Ezreals were tearing things up in the mid-lane, PowerOfEvil figured he could maximise the potential of the item on another mid-laner: Orianna. Along with the recently-updated Nashor’s Tooth, he turned Orianna into a leaf in the wind, zipping in and out of fights with super-charged auto attacks.
On paper, Orianna is well-suited to the revamped Nashor’s Tooth, which sports higher ability power in exchange for a slightly lower attack speed than the old version. By adding Runeglaive’d Skirmisher’s Sabre into the mix, PowerOfEvil turned Orianna from a wave-eating greed beast into a mobile duelist, more than capable of taking on Betsy’s Ahri in one-vs-one combat.
Speaking of Betsy, the Swede played the early game smart by staying back and pushing lanes fast, often leaving PowerOfEvil’s low-AP and mana-starved Orianna stuck under the tower. When PowerOfEvil finally did find an opportunity to jump on a low-mana Ahri, she was at max health, and even with the combined ability combo and empowered auto attacks, he couldn’t 100-0 his opponent before he escaped.
But as the team fights began, PowerOfEvil’s auto attacks consistently found their way, his massive last-hits on champions putting him at 6/2 and with enough cash for a Deathcap. From there, there was no stopping the clockwork terror. Zoning the enemy team with the threat of a shockwave while using empowered autos to take objectives made breaking into Gambit’s base a sinch. And with a Ryalai’s added into the mix, Orianna became the best of both worlds: a long-range poke machine and a tower-destroying nightmare, with the power to take down a whole team. And she did, with PowerOfEvil finishing the game with a penta.
LCK, Week 4 & 6
CJ Entus vs SK Telecom T1 G2
KT Rolster vs SK Telecom T1 G2
Did it work: Faker
Source: Riot Games
Although Faker’s mid lane Irelia was beautiful to watch, his two-game stint on Master Yi was by far the most memorable picks in a characteristically eclectic split.
In their second game of week four, SKT were forced to blind pick into CJE’s mid-lane. Given the respective team compositions (so far), it appeared that one of two things would happen: SKT would pick a flexible champion (meaning that Faker could potentially take MaRin’s Morgana pick to the mid lane), or Faker would simply lump with Viktor or Cassiopeia (smart picks given the large amount of crowd-control at SKT’s disposal). The last thing anybody expected was Master Yi.
The casters joked around, suggesting that it could be a Yi jungle (which would push SKT’s Rek’Sai into the top lane), but deep down, everybody knew it: this was Faker’s Yi. CJE knew it too, and last-picked Urgot, because they hate fun.
Faker’s playstyle was an interesting mix between conservative farming and the kind of balls-out diving that wouldn’t look out of place in solo queue. When teamfights started, he would smartly wait for Marin’s Morgana and Wolf’s Annie to burn down some health-bars before diving in and prompting jubilation from the crowd with every Yi-set. Finishing things off with some standard split-pushing, Faker ended the game on a 7/3/5 scoreline.
And then he played Yi again, this time picking him into a very CC-heavy KT Rolster. While his laning phase was standard (one kill and even farm), Faker was forced to spend a lot of time split-pushing, unable to contend against the potential combined CC and damage of Riven, Nautilus, and a 3/0/0 Fizz. An opportunity struck, however, when SKT managed to converge on an over-reaching KTR while out of reach of Summday’s Riven. Now 3/1/4 and with money in the bank, Faker made the smart decision (something really, really disappointing for Yi players and Cowsep fans everywhere) to go all-in on the defensive items, picking up almost an entire Randuin’s Omen to ensure survivability. Returning to the top lane, he would remain there until the rest of his team broke KT Rolster’s base, only rejoining the team in order to pick up a quadrakill – because who is Faker to disappoint his fans?
While for the most part Faker’s Yi wasn’t as flashy and merciless as everybody was undoubtedly hoping for, Faker showed that there is a place for the Wuju Bladesman in Korea – even if in his hands only.
With plenty of time for players to experiment with the new Devourer and the AP item changes, perhaps there will be a new meta in time for worlds. If not, here’s hoping that the top teams come equipped with some crazy pocket picks – just as long as they aren’t Galio.
I’m a guy named Scott who writes about games. Tweets fortnightly @gamesandscott