League Stuff Explained: A Pokey Preseason

In terms of balance state of the game, Preseason is infamous for being rather chaotic. Players are more willing to try things when there A) are new things to try and B) when their ranked rewards have already been received or missed. This Preseason, Riot overhauled the Rune System. I’m sure many of you have tried your own wacky experiments as far as preseason goes. As we get closer to the start of the legitimate season, one strategy is emerging above the rest: Poke.

What Makes Poke So Strong?

Along with Riot’s overhaul of the rune system, champions were given adjustments to their base stats to match many of the things that old runes used to cover. For example, Midlaners would run scaling health, as such would give them good defense against their bursty or poke-orient opponents. Almost all midlaners, as of preseason, received a buff for the exact amount of health per level they got from these runes. Similar buffs were distributed across the league as well. One thing that was not accounted for was Magic Resistance Glyphs.

Many have attributed the rise of the poke meta to the loss of ability to run Magic Resistance Glyphs. I’m here to tell you that through my analysis, I too, believe this to be part of the problem. However, I believe it is ultimately just that: Part of the problem. Most midlaners would prioritize scaling CDR over a full set of MR blues, there was always the option to receive at least 4 MR. As I mentioned earlier, scaling health provides good defensive against poke and burst, which is why it was used almost all the time by midlaners. Ranged champions also received a buff to their MR per level, receiving 0.5 per level instead of the initial 0. This isn’t as much as the 1.25 per level received by melee champions, but it’s still decent.

Magic Penetration

As you can see above, Sorcerer’s Shoes received a buff in its Magic Penetration to 18 from its former value of 15. Void Staff also received a buff in its Magic Penetration from 35% to 40%. You might wonder why Riot would give us less MR and more Magic Penetration in the same patch. The buff to Sorcerer’s Shoes was to compensate for the loss of Precision which gave 3 to 6 magic pen based on your level. Flat Magic Penetration is more useful against targets with less Magic Resistance. You see, the way the equation for MR works is that each point you have is worth progressively less and less than the ones before it. Even with this buff, Sorcerer’s Shoes penetrates less than you would have been able to with Precision. Problem is, targets have less MR to penetrate, so it takes less flat magic penetration than before to reach those levels of near-true damage.

In the case of Void Staff. Well, not everyone is getting less MR. The new rune in the Resolve tree “Conditioning”, gives 8 armor and 8 magic resistance 10 minutes into the game, and increases your total values for both stats by 5%. For tanks, this is a rather significant extra amount of MR. Additionally, Void Staff has become progressively more and more of a core item. As opposed to Last Whisper, which now only penetrates bonus armor, Void Staff penetrates all MR meaning it’s more valuable against targets with less MR than people think. Void Staff reaches a decent level of efficiency against only one MR item whereas Last Whisper needs to be against two or more armor items to reach such a threshold. Rabadon’s Deathcap would still be better if the level of MR isn’t a problem, but the issue is, it’s so expensive. Deathcap is generally saved for being built at the end of the game. “Whenever I see a Deathcap in my game, I know something went wrong,” says former professional midlaner and popular streamer William “Scarra” Li.

The Sorcery Tree

The Sorcery Tree also has many compliments to poke. Mainly, the Keystone Runes “Arcane Comet” and “Summon: Aery” have pretty high synergy with poke. Arcane Comet does more damage, but it’s a bit harder to land unless you have some kind of CC to help. Even a slow will go a long way. Summon: Aery does less damage, but it has a much lower cooldown. It only takes 2 seconds after Aery goes to a target for it to begin to return to you. Some of the minor runes, like Scorch and Manaflow Band, are also quite helpful. Ironically, the Sorcery Tree also contains what I’m guessing Riot thought would be a substitute for MR runes: Nullifying Orb. Problem with Nullifying Orb is that the shield is simply too small early in the game without the levels and the required resources to scale it. It also doesn’t do very much against poke. The shield can easily be triggered and then simply waited out.

Lethality Buffs

Lethality items also received a buff to compensate for the lack of lethality runes and masteries. Those items have now returned to the former values they once had when all you saw in the ADC role was Varus and Jhin. Those ADCs best with lethality are those with the long range abilities allowing them to find angles to shoot past the tanks and get damage onto the backline. While lethality isn’t as good against targets with higher MR, it doesn’t matter if you can find those angles.

So, What Do I Do?

Well, if you want to contribute to the poke meta, you have a fair deal of options. Lethality ADCs like Varus, Jhin, and Miss Fortune were already mentioned. Ezreal, as well, has been doing well although he has been nerfed. Midlaners like Xerath, Azir, Zoe, Taliyah are strong contributors. Xerath has even been seeing some high-level play in the support role (you still need a Sightstone). Comet seems to be the preferred avenue for poke. Zoe, in particular, is quite the problem champion in high ELO. It’s a mystery how this champion has such a low winrate. I’m afraid the best anyone can offer is their own theories. Basically, Zoe’s E applies a long-duration CC and doubles the damage from your next spell. Not only that, it can travel over walls. The result? Zoe one-shots from out of vision with actually no counterplay.

One could argue that the 2nd spell could just be body blocked or that people should have better vision. If your tanks weren’t in a position to block the E, which is unreasonable to expect given that it comes from outside the range of vision, then they probably are not in a position to block the Paddlestar. No matter how many wards you buy, it is impossible to have perfect vision. Plus, if you simply don’t go near places where you don’t have the vision, then you are conceding large portions of the map to the enemy team. Despite the low winrate, enough people feel threatened by this champion that her banrate nears 70%. It’s important to remember that winrate is not the only statistic from which analysts derive important soloqueue information.

It’s important to remember that Poke comps don’t just need poke. While poke comps can often stop an engage by chunking the enemy team down to a point where the engage is not an option. If they do get engaged upon, they are quite vulnerable. Having some good disengage can help a tremendous amount. Another thing that’s helpful is ranged CC.

“Screw the Meta”

Such as the curse of the analyst, I guess, I am often told that I don’t give enough time of day to “off-meta strategies”. Problem is, when people are talking about their “off-meta” strategies, they’re not really talking about playing a champion that may not be seen as in the best state right now. Usually, they’re talking to me about full AP Malphite. With that said, I want to devote this section to talk about the best ways around the poke meta.

It’s important to remember that poke and the utility to support it are not the only things that are good. Assassins also seem to be doing quite well. Games are pretty short and very “snowbally” right now: the perfect atmosphere for an assassin. One assassin in particular who I want to talk about is Kha’Zix. Although I am not a jungler, if I was, I would play Kha’Zix. I like this champion a lot and the flavor surrounding him. Not only that, but he’s one of the best fits for the current state of the game, in my opinion.

Not only can Kha’Zix contradict the poke meta with his natural assassin lifestyle, but he can contribute to it very well. Kha’Zix’s W, if you evolve it 2nd, can hit three people, slow them, and can be spammed somewhat with enough CDR. Beyond that, if it hits an isolated target, the slow will be for 80%. This can essentially guarantee that the rest of your team’s poke will land. Even if they’re not there, you may be able to go in on the unlucky target yourself and execute him.

Kha’Zix is not the only strong non-poke champion being played at the moment. Another strong anti-poke meta champion is Jarvan IV. He recently received some nerfs as well, but Jarvan IV tends to be very good when the meta involves a lot of immobile carries. Immobile carries cannot escape from Jarvan IV’s ultimate without a flash. This makes his long-range guaranteed engage very scary. The best part about Jarvan IV is that he’s very flexible in how he builds. That’s not something I can say about many champs. J4 can build full tank, bruiser, and sometimes even full AD with lethality. I want people to understand. This may be a poke meta, but poke is not your only option. There’s a lot of stuff that is quite good right now.

Let’s say you want to play a champion who’s not necessarily a contributor or someone who goes against poke meta. This might make things a bit harder for you. Thankfully, I have a few suggestions. I won’t go as far as to call these “solutions”, but they will help.

Sustain

Sustain in general is a pretty good answer to poke for obvious reasons. Now that it’s been buffed to the point the healing will actually do something, Fleet Footwork is a great option for ADCs. Legend: Bloodline is an option for anyone who dives into the precision tree. It stacks up pretty quickly in lane. My fellow analyst and friend, Brian “BadLuckBrain” Chatfield, who plays jungle, tells me that it also stacks at a respectable pace in the jungle. Lifesteal tends to be more effective when you have more DPS. Unfortunately, this means it’s less of an option on Varus and Jhin. This is nothing new for Jhin players, though. He is well known for being pretty bad with lifesteal. As an ADC, it may also be wise to build a vampiric scepter after your first two crit items. You may even want to consider a full Bloodthirster. Prior to this preseason, I would never almost never suggested this. Perhaps, I might even have never suggested it. Things change. It’s important to see how those changes can impact other changes. The worst part about a full Bloodthirster is the price. If you’re going IE > Zeal Item > Zeal Item, those zeal items are only 2600 gold. Bloodthirster is 3,700 gold and won’t actually make you as strong. This one reason I suggested Vamp Scepter into your zeal item. Essence Reaver users obviously want Infinity Edge third, making this even more problematic. This is why I’m very happy at the Fleet Footwork buffs. I’ve been taking it on almost all crit building ADCs.

If you’re not an AD champion, sustain may be harder to come by. Not every AP champion is going to be viable with Hextech Gunblade. Lifesteal isn’t exactly what all AD champs want either. So let’s get into some things that are more accessible to lessen this poke.

Health. Health is a great thing to have against poke. Liandry’s Torment as a 2nd item after Morellonomicon is becoming increasingly more popular. Resistance items will also be pretty effective. If you’re against 3 or more AD champions, consider Ninja Tabi. That goes especially if they are heavy autoattackers. An early Cloth Armor, Negatron Cloak, or Null-Magic Mantle will go a surprisingly long way in a lane where you’re getting poked out. Even if you sit on it just that piece and don’t complete it, it’s worth it if it makes laning easier. Mercury’s Treads are something I want to put an asterisk on. While Mercury’s Treads have their value in this meta, it is not the MR they gave. Upgrading your Null-Magic Mantle into Mercury’s Treads does not even get you a single extra point of magic resistance. Mercury’s Treads are a better purchase for when you need the tenacity. 30% is a significant amount. Aiden “Zirene” Moon believes that these are must buy against Zoe.

There’s also some masteries you can take that might lessen your bad experience against poke. I already mentioned Fleet Footwork and Legend: Bloodline. There’s also Taste of Blood, Ravenous Hunter, Iron Skin, Mirror Shell, Conditioning, Iron Skin, and Biscuit Delivery.

The Fix

Our final question in this article will be what Riot can do to fix this poke meta. It’s important to remember that game balance will always be a process. The game will never be completely balanced. Previously, I have opted out of giving my thoughts on how to fix the problems of a certain meta. Primarily, this because I am not a part of Riot’s balancing team. I may have better ideas than most as an analyst, but mostly I try to explain the meta-trends that are already in effect. It makes it much easier since I am stating facts rather than opinions. That being said, I think there’s a chance I could improve my skills as an analyst if I do offer these opinions. The worst thing that could happen is that my ideas are so dumb that Riot wouldn’t give them the time of day even if they saw them. With that being said, let’s begin.

Buff Sustain

Legend Bloodline: 0.8% lifesteal per stack, 8% when fully stacked —> 1% lifesteal per stack, 10% fully stacked. This will help ADCs a lot. Not having the attack speed from Legend: Alacrity will still suck, but this could be worth it. Especially if it lets you get the items that will actually make you do damage instead of having to get lifesteal early. My biggest concern is this could end up being oppressive on champs who do build lifesteal early, like Draven of Fiora

The Bloodthirster (Price): 3700 –> 3500. For an item that is going to cost you 3700 gold, I want to get as much bang for my buck as stats are concerned. However, The Bloodthirster is only 95.95% gold efficient minus its shield.

The Healing/Shielding buffer items on supports are being nerfed from providing 10% to 8%. Or in the case of Mikael’s Crucible, 20% to 15%. Forbidden Idol’s multiplier is going down to 5%. These nerfs should not happen. Right now, we have stuff like Xerath support in the botlane poking us out of the lane. The ability to shield and/or heal should be available counterplay to stuff like that and to poke in general. We even heard pro players at all-stars talking about how Ardent Censer was no longer a problem. These nerfs will make it very difficult for champions like Lulu, Karma, Janna, Nami to have any sort of effective build.

Nerf Enabling Factors

Riot is already ahead of me on this one actually, taking Lethality items back down to 18 Lethality. Flat penetration allows early spiking necessary for poke comps to come online in the mid-game. It also provides a nerf to some of the overperforming assassins at the moment. You may want to also look into taking Sorcerer’s Shoes back down to 15 magic penetration, as squisher targets have less MR to penetrate. Manaflow Band may also receive a nerf to its cooldown. The Sorcery Tree itself might grant less Adaptive AD/AP.

Nerf the Champions

Personally, this is my least favorite way that Riot balances the game in most scenarios. Sometimes, in my opinion, they fail to account for the fact that it’s the meta making the champion strong. Nerfing the champions has the effect of “punishing champions”, which is an idea many are in favor of. However, I do not believe it’s good for the long-term balance. It is necessary in many cases. Often, it results in a champion feeling incredibly weak once they encounter a meta that does not favor them. On the other hand, nerfing the enabling factors alone has the effect of punishing those champions who were benefitting from those factors in a way that was actually fair and balanced. An “indirect nerf” so to speak.

More Magic Resistance!

I believe Mirror Shell was recently buffed, but I’m talking about some other options. First of all, you could replace Nullifying Orb with something that gives you magic resistance, but only if your magic resistance is below a certain amount. This would make it pretty desirable for midlaners and ADCs and would lessen the poke from the Azirs and Xeraths right now. It would also prevent it from benefitting tanks who will actually want to build MR. This probably my craziest idea. Nullifying Orb was clearly the alternative to having a small amount of defense against magic damage. It is clearly not living up to that role, so why not trade it for something that can?

Another idea would be another global base MR buff. This could be very risky, as it could result in tanks having simply too much MR for mages to deal with. However, I believe that’s a problem you could address by simply nerfing the MR on those items, should it become a problem.