Runeglaive Nasus: the next Keane thing

Breaking down the theory behind the Gravity mid-laner's latest surprise pick.

The Capcom Cup is quickly becoming a fixture of the esports calendar.

All in all, this has been a fairly good year to date in League of Legends in terms of innovation. The meta’s been remarkably non-stagnant for the most part, and every item change seems to have blossomed into five new things for coaches and analysts to consider. 

The most recent change has been the inclusion of the Runeglaive jungle enchantment in the game. We’ve already seen the immediate effects of adding a cheap, AP-based, resolutely pro-on-hitters item to the game with the return of AP Ezrael to pro play, and we’ll likely see an upswing of junglers who can best make use of it in the coming weeks. 

It usually takes a few weeks before the really interesting uses of an item come into play. However, we may be seeing it in less than 24 hours. Enter NA LCS, and enter Gravity’s mid laner, Keane.

What makes a ‘Keane pick’?

Anyone who’s watched NA LCS in the past year knows about Keane’s penchant for unusual mid-lane picks. He first caught that particular eye of the NA community when, in game 5 of Curse Academy’s promotion tournament series against CLG, he brought out a mid-lane Hecarim as part of a speed and assassination-centric comp aimed against Doublelift’s Tristana.

While ultimately unable to carry that game out, it was much more effective in Game 4 of the winner’s bracket finals in the expansion tournament, going 12/4/9 in a LCS-sealing win against Team Fusion. There was a significant amount of buzz around it going into the ensuing LCS split, and Keane kept it in rotation in solo queue, but – in spite of it becoming pick-ban as a top laner – we actually didn’t see it again from him until Gravity’s win last week over Team Impulse.

The other well-known Keane pick is Urgot. He’d wheeled him out now and again in solo queue in 2015, and when Urgot received buffs on patch 5.5 – buffs that, while modest, were enough to make him viable again – Keane was the first to play him competitively, allowing Gravity to shut down Bjergsen’s Zed and exploit a poor TSM comp on the way to an upset victory. Urgot would go onto be a contested pick throughout most regions’ spring playoffs, usually as a mid-laner.

Apart from those, Keane has also pulled out – in the summer split alone – mid-lane Malphite, Rumble, and Jarvan IV. While not quite as innovative as the aforementioned picks (with all three having prior competitive pedigree), they’re also hardly usual – and, in fact, with the more famous picks, they show up some common elements of what makes a Keane pocket mid:

  • All five picks have some level of weakness in terms of their farming laning phase. In pro play, even the mid picks that are characterised as having underwhelming waveclear (in general, think ‘assassin’ – Ahri, LeBlanc, etc) we see generally have some fairly safe ways to farm and quickly wave-clear from a distance. Four of the five champions listed are melee, and all of them are auto-attack reliant for their clear patterns. The only one with any farming tool with over 600 range (Urgot E asides) is Jarvan IV. That’s a major weakness for a mid-laner, but it’s one that Keane – the ‘anti-carry’ who’s content to miss out on gold if his opponent misses out on even more – seems unconcerned about.
  • All five picks don’t need continuous gold in aeternum, and have flexible build paths with the ability to itemise for offence or defence as the game goes on. Hecarim needs Trinity Force and whatever follows is just gravy, Rumble and Malphite spike hard off Abyssal Scepter, Jarvan IV can start putting on pressure as soon as he has Tiamat, and Urgot can hit three items and fully stack his tear at a combined cost of just 6950 gold. In addition, all are dependent on one to two damage items, and then have the freedom to build resistances, health, and CDR as necessary – and, due to their quick starts and the relative cost of damage vs tank items in general, can stay a step ahead of their opponents.
  • All five picks have game-changing teamfight ults. Four of them put down considerable AoE damage and CC with their ults. The only one who doesn’t – Urgot – can stop a Zed or LeBlanc in their tracks completely, and turn that would-be 4v5 into a 5v4.

So, what’s next? Enter Nasus. Keane has been spamming it since the most recent patch on two smurfs – in the same manner that he portends most of his off-meta picks, but even more thoroughly than usual. What’s particularly interesting about it is that this is a completely different style than the Nasus we’re used to seeing in solo queue (and the odd competitive game) – this is an entirely AP Nasus, without Trinity Force, and making use of Runeglaive.

In terms of strengths, and in terms of permissible weaknesses, Runeglaive AP Nasus is a classic Keane champion. While his waveclear actually becomes decent offensively at least later on (rank 5 Spirit Fire does 430 damage with a 120% AP scaling, which should be enough when building AP to burn down casters at all points of the game), clearly, his early game isn’t great, and as a mid-laner in particular he’s going to have some problems with being pushed in early on. He’s not a champion that’s going to get every CS – although, given he’s being skilled REQW, he’ll probably be able to stack his Q at roughly the same rate as he would otherwise even with the threat of harass. His build-path is classically low-econ and tank-inclusive – more on that later – and, with the AP he builds, he’s able to put down a hefty 6% or so AoE percentage health damage per second just by being in the vicinity by level 11.

How it works: Nasus, but completely different

So, on the surface, we see some things that line up with Keane’s typical pocket picks in mid-lane Nasus. However, the combination of those factors, and our traditional knowledge of Nasus, only scratch the surface of what’s going on with this pick. Runeglaive Nasus is a very different beast to regular Nasus, and while Keane’s acceptance of its weaknesses makes it viable, there’s some other things that actually make it good.

What do we think of when we think of Nasus? We think of Triforce. We think of splitpushing. We think of destroying towers. If we’re thinking NA, we probably think ZionSpartan’s Nasus from summer 2014 playoffs. We think of a guy who’s taking down things on his own, either at the cost of his own life or with the help of a mass of peel and/or engage from his team.

That’s not Runeglaive Nasus. Yes, he’s eventually going to get a lot of Q stacks, and yes, he’s going to be able to finish out games in style. But the strength of Runeglaive Nasus is that, once he gets his two items, he’s an incredibly strong teamfighter who’s able to win fights or force disengages by his mere presence. The key to this is the typical two-item core that Keane has tended towards over the past few days – Runeglaive and Will of the Ancients.

Let’s break that down into both parts. First, the Runeglaive. There’s a few different reasons that it’s so instrumental to the AP Nasus build:

  • Access to Smite (particularly blue Smite on a dashless champion) without any extra cost is always a welcome bonus.
  • The existing Sheen items are all substantially more expensive than Runeglaive, with the cheapest (Lich Bane) coming in at 2900.
  • Two of the three existing items don’t have any AP scaling on the proc, and two of the three don’t have any of the CDR that Nasus needs as early as possible. 
  • The application of on-hit effects making the second part of the core build work.

Now, Will of the Ancients. It’s not an item we see particularly often, because it slips through the cracks on most champions’ build paths – yes, 20% spell vamp is nice in theory, but it comes at the cost of no mana regen (for utility and poke mids) and no tank stats (for AP tank tops) – hence, we only really see it on Vladimir, who doesn’t need mana regen and can become untargetable while making use of the spell vamp. In truth, the latter’s a concern for Nasus too – or it would be, if not for Runeglaive’s apparent ability to make use of that spell vamp on basic attacks (a possible bug), as well as on Spirit Fire and his ultimate.

For just 4900 gold (i.e. a point at which, assuming even gold, most other carry champions will be halfway through their second item), a level 11 Nasus has around 150 AP, 40% CDR (10% Runeglaive, 10% WotA, 15% runes, 5% masteries), does 5.5% of maximum health per second with ultimate up, and has substantial life steal and spell vamp available (there may be an interaction allowing the two to stack, but that’s unconfirmed right now). To make matters worse, he has blue Smite to prevent kiting, and he’s able to put down over 600 damage and apply a 40 armour shred every 7.2 seconds with Spirit Fire. Even for the most organised and professional of teams, taking down Nasus at that point is an incredibly daunting task.

While that power spike is the high point of Runeglaive Nasus, he can still scale well into late. He can make good use of tank items like Spirit Visage (which will itself stack with his passive and WotA) and Thornmail, he can use Zhonya’s in a Rumble- or Swain-esque manner, he can build Void Staff to keep the pace ahead of his opponents’ third items and force an early finish, or he can even make use of Luden’s Echo to work against kite and make his wave clear all the more potent.

Caveats and conclusions

Runeglaive Nasus is an enticing pick for pro play, and it fits so well with the style that’s made picks like Malphite mid and Rumble mid work. That said, it’ll need a little more help in the comp around it than other picks. While a Nasus focused around AoE is slightly less kiteable than the Triforce-Q style in fights, it’ll still need realistically to be paired with at least one pick like Sivir, Lulu, Janna, or Zilean (yes, Zilean; we’re unlikely to see it this week, but former Gravity coach Lastshadow has publically talked the pick up on stream, and KaSing and Lustboy both have multiple recent games in solo queue after months of complete radio silence from pros, which would suggest its competitive breakthrough may be coming).

Alternatively, with the duration of the ultimate, it may be enough to run hard lockdown to keep opponents in range long enough to make up the difference. In any case, this is a speed comp pick, and to a much greater degree than several other Keane picks – while they benefited from those auxilaries, AP Nasus probably needs it.

For vulnerabilities, the obvious thing that stands out is that a) as much as it’s Keane, that laning phase is still incredibly weak, b) it’s vulnerable to patient disengage, and c) it’s extremely vulnerable to percentage health shred because of the lack of resistances early in most cases (though Spirit Visage 2nd is an option). In terms of lane matchups, Varus is the perfect counter to all three points, and Morellonomicon users in general (Lulu is a name that immediately comes to mind) would be a problem.

The big question is: will we see it this week? It’d be surprising if Gravity weren’t at least intending to play it, given Keane’s practice on it, its unique suitability to 5.12 (the 5.13 Will of the Ancients changes probably won’t kill the build, but it’s hard to say how well it’ll play out – at the least, it’ll hurt the stacking with the passive and Spirit Visage), and the fact it’s just such a classically Keane pick. The smart money would be on it showing up. However, so much can go up in smoke in a pick-ban phase before a team even gets a chance to pick, so it’s hard to say for certain.

The other, also fairly big question: will Runeglaive Nasus get the ubiquity that Runeglaive Ezrael is destined for? Well, most likely not, in much the same way that we’ve seen so many other weak-lane mid picks (hello, Master Yi…) emerge but only end up used by very particular hands in practice. Yes, it’s an interesting choice, but it’s a very particular one with specific powerspikes and discernible weaknesses that need to be planned for and can be planned against. It’s more likely to go the Malphite or Rumble route than the Urgot.

But, hey – to poorly paraphrase someone’s mother somewhere, every new competitive pick is a blessing.