Is the tank meta returning to League of Legends?

Changes to League's top tanks suggest a new era of durable frontliners.

League of Legends goes through its fair share of metagame shifts. There was the age of wombo combos, where you’d grab Amumu and Karthus and Galio and just wait for the poor enemy team to group up. In darker days, there was the out of control Blade of the Ruined King, an item so good everyone would buy six of them and then proceed to dish out obscene amounts of damage. AD carries used to swear that there was a meta where they were allowed to shine, free of the oppression of the other classes, but everyone ignores them these days. Then, of course, there’s the infamous tank meta.

In the new patch, three of League’s tanks are getting an overhaul that should allow them to shine once again. Sejuani, Zac, and Maokai have all gotten little reworks that bring them up to date... and, incidentally, make them a heck of alot stronger.

Fury of the North

Sejuani is, by far, the most interesting rework. She received a minor tune up with her 2013 visual update, but this modern changeup goes way deeper—and starts with her ultimate. Her old ultimate had a strong case for being the best team fight ability in the game. It was a ranged skillshot that was very generous at determining when it hit that encased everyone around the explosion point in ice, and slowed everyone outside of the detonation area. That is, in a word, ridiculous... and it kept the rest of her kit relatively simple, so that she didn’t become overlord of the jungle.

Sejuani is now built around the frost mechanic. Her new passive, Fury of the North, basically turns her into even more of a tank if she hasn’t been hit in a while. Her resistances spike, and she’s immune to slows. Small monsters and minions don’t remove this effect, so Sejuani can come out of the jungle as an unslowable, tanky-as-heck beast. Her passive has a second component, where her first basic attack against a target she’s stunned chunks them. This becomes important later.

Here’s how it works: Frost is no longer just a passive slow that Sejuani applies to people and they quickly shrug off. Now, her abilities (and those of her allies) apply Frost, which stacks. When a target is at full Frost stacks, she can apply Permafrost, which does damage and stuns. Her ult now stuns and damages the first person it hits, but she can have it do AOE damage if it travels 400 distance over the Rift. In short, she can still lock down an entire team through Frost, and then her ult is reserved for really screwing over one guy. Not only does she stun her unlucky enemy, but she also uses her passive to hit them for a massive chunk of damage.

Add in a little extra mobility on her Q, and a less clunky W, and Sejuani’s looking to be more of a warlord than a borelord.

Strengthening Zac’s stick

Zac lives and dies by his Elastic Slingshot, and it’s by far his most iconic ability, but otherwise he just kind of swings his arms together. Even his ult, Let’s Bounce!, is a Wukong ult with a different coat of paint. Zac still gets a little bit of play, and he’s still a prized pick for junglers like Meteos, but he’s missed a little oomph. As more tanks come out, each with increasingly unique skillsets, Zac basically has his passive (which is unchanged), his elastic skillset, and then he just throws his limbs around until he dies.

While Riot have patched up his ult, they also gave his Q some love. Now Zac can grab one enemy, basic attack to pick up another... and slam them into each other. Also, his ult now has a charge system. If he lets it go early, he knocks people back. If he fully charged it, he sucks up all enemies around him and carries them with him to his target direction, and he can travel 1000 direction with this. Goodbye, enemy team, we knew ye well.

Maokai branches out

Maokai is the tank on the list who’s receiving the lightest touches here, which makes sense, as he’s a strong character who is popular in pro play. Turns out that’s the problem: he’s a little too strong. His ult, an AOE damage dampener that explodes based on how much it soaked up, is gone now. The rest of his kit largely remains the same, although there are tweaks and number changes throughout each ability.

Now, Maokai’s ult sends out a wave of five branches that head in a straight line. They can be launched from any point, to anywhere, and any enemy they hit gets caught up in their path. Think Zyra’s E, but on a Nami’s ult scale and speed. The lockdown is a little more appropriate to Maokai’s identity as a tank, and if you’re playing Meowkai, he shoots out springy, murderous kittens, which is always great.

It’s always a risky choice to rebalance a strong character instead of just hitting them with the nerf bat, but Maokai is a good candidate for a rework because he’s been a solid choice for so long. In order to appropriately nerf him, you’d need to hit his numbers so hard he’d be rendered unplayable. Riot have employed this knee-cap method with characters before, but Maokai isn’t as problematic as an old-school Evelynn or Yorick. Hopefully his new ultimate and numbers tweaks make him more of a situational pick, instead of the Ur Tank against which all other tanks must be measured.

Tanks are one of the most dangerous classes to balance in League. Too strong, and you’re begun a new tank meta which feels awful and is characterized by meaty, unkillable monsters wet noodle fighting in top lane. Too weak, and AD carries run rampant over everyone else. These new character reworks seem like a good compromise, focusing on fun hooks over strong base stats. Of course, we’ll have to hold judgement until these reworks are live and hunting all of us down with their new, wild abilities.