I wanted to take some time to break down the key changes in 6.10 now that the Mid-Season Update has found its way to competitive play. For this article I wanted to focus on the EU CS Qualifiers, so I won’t be touching on week 1 of the LPL or LCK. For more information on the various changes brought about in the Mid Season Update, check out this article by OPL and LPL caster Rusty.
1. Lucian + Armour Pen + CDR = Pain
The sweeping item changes of patch 6.9 had some unexpected results once the dust had settled. After 38 games of the EU Challenger Series Qualifiers, the most common (and arguably most dominant) combination turned out to be Lucian’s swish new ‘Ghostblade into Black Cleaver’ build. The combination of Black Cleaver’s reduced cost and Lucian’s ability to very quickly stack its passive paved the way for a different playstyle, with different advantages to the typical Essence Reaver/Rapid Firecannon build. The ability to reduce enemies’ total armour so early in the game allows Lucian to shred through carries that aren’t building defensive items, and dominate small-scale skirmishes.
With 50 extra AD and equal CDR to the Essence Reaver + Rapid Firecannon build at 2 items, the only missing stat is crit chance. This weakness only becomes apparent when facing down mega-tanks like Maokai, or once the game has dragged to the point where top laners & junglers are nearing 4 or 5 items. In that situation, it can be beneficial to swap some items for more armour penetration (in the form of Lord Dominik’s or Mortal Reminder) and crit chance, ensuring you aren’t a victim of Black Cleaver’s slower ramp-up from an armour-penetration standpoint. Some supports are starting to build Zeke’s Harbinger to get around that if it becomes an issue. For further context on the build’s origin, how it works and the maths behind it, check out this article by Shakarez.
2. Mid-Lane Meta
The mid lane meta at MSI in Shanghai was fairly static; Ryze and Azir dominated pick/bans with near 90% pick/ban rates. An overhaul of 16 mages in patch 6.9, from minor tweaks to near complete champion reworks, promised increased diversity in mid. Unfortunately, the grasp of Azir and Ryze was unbroken, and both maintained their pick/ban rate of over 90% for the duration of the CS Qualifiers, racking up 30 bans each.
With the two top-tier midlaners out of the picture for most games, we crowned a new King and Queen of the mid lane in Europe. Viktor and Lissandra were by far and away the next-most contested midlaners, due to their strengths in team fighting and wave clear. They’re also easily blind picked, allowing more flexibility and potential to use counterpicks for the top lane.
In Viktor’s case, his near-unrivalled wave clear being reinstated after previous nerfs, and Chaos Storm’s power being rebalanced, made him a very desirable pick. He still has the incredible burst potential he’s known for, making for some very explosive fights if he’s left unattended.
Lissandra’s general items saw favourable changes, particularly the addition of Cooldown Reduction to Abyssal Scepter and Zhonya’s Hourglass. This allows her to engage hard, and often. The prominence of team fighting is the biggest non-midlane specific factor for Lissandra being a great pick, and with teams needing to contest objectives far more frequently I don’t see her dropping in priority any time soon.
Elsewhere Lulu and LeBlanc are still prominent picks, but they remain at the mercy of rounding out team compositions or fitting a mid-laner’s playstyle. A few reworked faces showed up during the group stages, with Vladimir having the most success winning 2 of his 4 games. His massive damage potential in teamfights via his new Tides of Blood shone through, but his previous flaws (lack of crowd control, inability to hold his own against strong early laners) also reared their heads. Swain was one of the only other updated mages we saw with a couple of appearances in the top lane, but his increased healing couldn’t earn him a win.
3. Dragon Priority
6.9 also brought with it the new elemental dragons. While 38 games from one non-top-flight league perhaps isn’t enough to conclusively weigh each dragon against each other and all other objectives, the most contested Dragon was the Infernal Drake. The boost to AD and AP is a fairly understated bonus for the early portions of the game, but with the chance of stacking up to 24% extra on claiming a 3rd Infernal Drake, the late game power can’t be ignored. Teams are already scrapping for every Infernal Drake that spawns.
The Mountain Drake brings with it a few different nuances for competitive play. Greatly ignored in Solo Queue, the buff provides additional True Damage when attacking Epic Monsters and Turrets; objectives that comprise the metronome of a team wanting to grow a lead. Its buff is especially desirable for siege compositions looking to blitz turrets. Expect the Mountain Drake to be a fairly high priority, but one that will only be attempted provided there’s a large window after a favorable skirmish. Given its increased resistances, the extra time needed to take it down could leave a team open to an engage.
Ocean Drake’s out-of-combat regeneration is not as desirable, however. The regeneration stats are decent when multiple Ocean Dragons have been taken, but on its own it doesn’t really account for much. Rarely are there enough back-to-back skirmishes without recalls outside of the laning phase that the regen of Health and Mana actually helps. It is easy to kill, making it a viable option when there are no higher priority objectives immediately available to take down.
The lowest priority Dragon from what we saw in the EU Challenger Qualifiers is the Cloud Drake. Its 15 flat out-of-combat movement speed buff per Dragon stack is hard to appreciate unless you’ve got an Elder Dragon buff to further boost it. Even still you’re left with the perpetual feeling that late in the game, three Infernals or Mountains would basically have won the game for you. Teams will generally only take down the Cloud Drake if there are no towers available and the Rift Herald is already dead, or to spawn the next dragon six minutes later.
4. Lane Swaps
Lane swaps have traditionally been seen as “boring” play to watch, despite the strategic nuance behind them. Changes to Jungle experience and tower damage in 6.9 were lauded by many as the “death” of the laneswap, unfortunate for those viewers however the lane swap is alive and kicking on 6.10, but the duration of the swap has changed significantly in most cases.
In the Challenger Series Qualifiers, there was a mix of good swaps, bad swaps and downright ugly attempts to carry out dives (one particular Fnatic Academy dive stands out in that respect), but the important thing to keep in mind is that the priority on Dragon changes the swap in such a way that we’re far more likely to see standard lanes settle after the first few minutes than before.
The main reasons for lane-swapping are still the same as ever; get out of an unfavorable 2v2 or 1v1 matchup to get a champion through the early game a bit easier. We’re also seeing a lot of diversity in the types of lane swaps being done; “Australia Lanes”, single tower pushes into standard lanes, and multiple tower pushes are all prominent, with the correct choice depending on various factors.
“Australia lanes” (AD carries and supports facing off in the top lane) mean dragon has little effect on the game’s pace, and the stronger 1v1 and 2v2 lanes will gain an advantage, but towers are slow to fall.
Single tower pushes begin as they did in 6.8, however the consequences after the initial stage are different with the heightened dragon priority. The top side duo cede all dragon control in the early game as the bot duo take the first Drake. In 6.10 it’s possible for the bot lane duo to return to their lane after taking the dragon, leading to what is essentially delayed standard lanes. This ensures the bot lane duo aren’t losing the race on pushing a second tower simply because they prioritised dragon.
Finally, multiple tower pushes a la 6.8 is still a potential option in a situation where the first dragon is a lower priority (Ocean, Cloud). In this case it can be beneficial for the team that ends up in the top side, allowing them to safely take down the Rift Herald for their top laner. However, in the event of a higher priority dragon spawn (Infernal, Mountain), the trade is harder to justify.
5. Rift Herald & The Top Lane
The final takeaway from the CS Qualifiers is that the new Rift Herald has started shifting the top-lane meta back in favor of more carry-focused champions. Glimpse of the Void, the prize for defeating Rift Herald is now a 20 minute buff that persists through death, bestowing 5% Damage Reduction and a Statikk Shiv-like passive to give your next auto attack that extra bit of power.
While it’s not as high in priority as taking down towers or grabbing those Infernal & Mountain Drakes, it’s certainly worthwhile to take over some less important objectives. The key takeaway for Glimpse of the Void though, is that the buff only applies while there are no allied champions nearby, so team fighting isn’t the main focus of Glimpse of the Void (Sorry, no extra 5% damage reduction for you in a 5v5 fight, Maokai).
That allowed for the triumphant return of Gnar to the top lane. Gnar has a very oppressive laning phase when in Mini Gnar, especially against the Melee champions we currently see top, which is amplified in 1v1 scenarios with Glimpse of the Void active. Compared to top-tier picks like Maokai or Ekko though, Gnar’s team fighting is unreliable as ever; teleport timings don’t always line up nicely with a Mega Gnar transformation.
Two further picks returned to the top lane. Trundle once again plays the flex role in champion select for teams on the Red side, before crippling the enemy top laner with Subjugate paired with Rift Herald.
It’s been a few months since we’ve seen Fiora commonly picked, she last shone during the 2015 World Championships. Unsurprisingly, the addition of a powerful buff for split pushers makes Fiora an attractive option to any top lane player frustrated with a tank-based metagame. The jury is still out on whether Fiora’s popularity will reach previous heights, but I’m looking for players like Cabochard to dip their toes into the carry pool once again this Summer.
All eyes are now on the LCS, especially the grudge match between G2 and Origen. I’m excited to see how the changes will translate from Challenger to the LCS stage and how Europe’s best players will adapt to the Mid-Season Update.