The Draft phase – banning and picking champions – is one of the most undervalued aspects of the game by casual spectators, partly because it’s just so damned hard to understand. Today, I’ll try demystify the process a little.
Like any good story, we’ll start in media res. Champion select is almost over, and Najin W Shield is trying to finish up their composition with one last champion. Can you guess what they’ll pick next?
Let’s hop into Najin Shield’s heads. What sort of questions must run through our heads? The main two are definitely:
Now, looking at the 4 champions we have currently chosen, you may think that we’re looking to pick a top laner next. SKT T1 K was certainly thinking that, as they have picked Orianna (a champion who bullies Kassadin in lane) for mid lane and Dr. Mundo (a weak laner) for top lane.
However, from the Najin Shield point of view, we know that we are looking to pick a mid laner. What mid laner? Let’s start by looking at the champions we have already chosen. They are all mobile, with 3 of them having spammable dashes, and Janna adding to the team’s mobility while also inhibiting the opposing team’s mobility with CC. We are going to be looking to out-maneuver the enemy team to isolate a target, burst them down, and then initiate a 5v4 chase. On top of that, the enemy Orianna is going to be looking for constant initiations for Kha’Zix to follow up on. As such, our mid laner should be mobile, both to fit our composition and to avoid Orianna’s Shockwaves.
Let’s review our common mid laners. Most of them are relatively immobile, which leaves us with 4 options:
What are we lacking for their pick/chase comp? Any ability to initiate from range. We have the Lee Sin for initiation, and later in the game, Kassadin can initiate by jumping in and immediately popping Zhonya’s Hourglass, but for now, we have no reliable mid-game initiation. This means that the mid pick also needs to be able to initiate from range. This rules Zed out, as the only ranged CC he has is a slow. He is also banned, to be fair. While Yasuo does have an initiation, and Shield does have two triggers for his ultimate (Janna’s Tornado and Lee Sin’s Dragon Kick), that doesn’t solve our problem. After all, if we have landed either of those abilities, that is our initiation, and the Yasuo doesn’t add much. This leaves Fizz and Ahri. From there, the choice is clear. Fizz suffers in lane against Orianna early on, thanks to his melee nature, so Ahri is a natural pick. In the mid-game, her ultimate will allow her to continually dodge Orianna’s ball. And Ahri it is.
With Ahri locked in, this game showcases so many ways of winning champion select. First, Shield simply had a better composition. SKT wanted a clumped and organized teamfight, and yet Shield only had scattered skirmishers. SKT wanted to hard initiate, and yet Shield had the mobility and disengage to prevent that. SKT needed to shut Kassadin down early, and Shield baited them into misjudging what lane he was going to. Essentially, Shield satisfied all of their win conditions at champion select, and all they had to do to win was execute properly.
We can see the results in game. In this fight, SKT tries to make a pick onto Janna with Thresh’s hook, but focus on the positioning of Save’s Kassadin (on the far left) and GGoong’s Ahri (on the top right). By controlling the flanks, they prevent Vayne from entering the fight from either side, for fear of being destroyed immediately by either assassin. Kha’Zix jumps in, but his back line carries – Orianna and Vayne – are unable to enter the fight for fear of Kassadin and Ahri jumping onto them. Look how far back Vayne and Orianna have to stand from Dr. Mundo, just to be safe! Seeing this, Ahri lands her charm on Dr. Mundo, and Shield follows it up by bursting him down. With a 2-man advantage, they take a free dragon.
Once they are ahead, the twin-pronged assassin assault allows Shield to dive in onto Vayne. Watch goes hard onto Vayne, getting behind her and kicking him into her team, while Ahri and Kassadin dash forward into the team. It doesn’t matter that they have no peel for Lucian, as the damage dealers for SKT are in full retreat. Lucian is off of the screen for most of the fight, using the Culling for long-ranged damage. Once Thresh and Vayne fall in the back, Kassadin and Lucian are able to use their dashes to hunt down the surviving members of SKT, securing the ace.
In the final fight of the game, the damage dealers once again feel they need to stand miles back from Dr. Mundo to be safe and avoid assassination. Unfortunately, this allows for another charm onto Dr. Mundo, and once he is chunked low, the chase begins, as Shield churns out damage onto the fleeing SKT. There is simply no escape at this point, and they clean up the ace, pushing for the win.
It is all-too-easy to chalk this up to an outplay, but the composition is crucial to the victory.
So how did they get here? It starts with the bans. Shield banned out champions with the potential to ruin their day.
These bans are all brilliant because they are also all champions considered to be incredibly strong, making it harder for SKT to divine their strategy, and ensuring that even if they change compositions, they have eliminated strong champions. After a Thresh pick by SKT, they secure Kassadin and Lee Sin.
The Kassadin pick is what makes this perfect draft phase possible. Let’s return to those two questions we asked before:
Kassadin is a generically strong champion who fits into a number of compositions in the mid lane. However, as a flex pick, he also has more matchup flexibility. If countered mid, he can go top, and vice versa. This forces SKT into an even more specific set of strategies, even if they do manage to predict the Kassadin top. Essentially, the Kassadin pick gives Shield a number of options, while restricting SKT’s options significantly.
On top of that, the Lee Sin pick is brilliant. Kassadin’s weak laning phase is balanced out by Lee Sin’s strong early pressure. Moreover, the strong early ganks by Lee Sin would be a strong counter to Kassadin, so by securing Lee Sin, they shore up a weakness of theirs, while preventing SKT from taking advantage of one of that weakness. After that, SKT grabs Kha’Zix and Dr. Mundo. While both of those are strong picks, they aren’t particularly inspired, and SKT’s composition seems less inspired. Shield responds with Janna/Lucian.
Under normal circumstances, this may seem like a strange pick. You want high damage vs Dr. Mundo, or he will become nearly invincible. Lucian is hardly the most damaging AD Carry. However, what Shield has up their sleeve is a third carry pick coming out of the mid lane. The Janna adds to the team’s general mobility, while giving enough peel to Lucian that Ahri, Kassadin, and Lee Sin can all focus on zoning or diving the enemy carries. From there, the team’s composition basically finishes itself, as we saw the Ahri pick locked in earlier.
However, it could easily have gone another way. We see Shield hover over a few picks that could have been made, and would have changed the composition significantly.
Xerath could serve the same purpose as Ahri, as his long-ranged damage could still zone Vayne and Orianna out, and help clean up in a chase. As well, his stun could also function similarly to Ahri’s charm, but he would risk getting caught by an Orianna Shockwave by getting too close, and wouldn’t be able to chase as well as Ahri. Overall, Xerath would simply have to play more perfectly to accomplish the same thing as Ahri.
If Xerath is the far-back version of Ahri, Twisted Fate would serve as the all-in version. While Ahri could use her charm to initiate, and simply back off if it missed, Twisted Fate’s main initiation requires using Destiny to teleport to the opposing team, then using his Pick a Card stun. It could have worked with this composition, but it would have been much more all-in. As well, Kassadin’s weak early-mid game and limited follow-up from the Lucian and Janna lane would give Twisted Fate little support in his trademark ganks.
While there was no Syndra hover, Syndra is one of the best counters to Orianna in lane, and her stun would initiate just as well as Ahri’s charm. However, Syndra’s complete lack of mobility would put her at a huge threat to be jumped by Kha’Zix. A simple Kha’Zix Orianna combo would have wreaked havoc on Syndra’s ability to zone out the carries, while Ahri can simply Spirit Rush in response to avoid such a combo.
What sort of team compositions are you hoping to see at the World Championship? Stay tuned for follow-up articles on the basic team compositions and what competitive champions best fit them!