Tankbuster technologies in League of Legends

I've written two strategy interviews for Riot's LoLesports recently, and both of them have pro players complaining about the Cinderhulk Problem. It's getting a bit ridiculous: even after nerfs, the newest jungle item's profoundly slot-efficient—a decent amount of area-of-effect magic damage on top of a +25% bonus HP modifier, making tanks scale ridiculously well into the game. All tanks—even those in top lane, where the new strategy du jour is to go Smite/Teleport for Cinderhulk access, in lieu of Flash, and just farm until you're leveled like a mid-laner.

Obviously, Cinderhulk needs another retuning. Because of its universal efficiency, there's literally no reason to go pick up Sunfire Cape, which was intended to be the laning equivalent. The burn aura doesn't stack anyhow, and it lacks Cinderhulk's HP scaling, making it the inferior choice come the long game. There might be some workarounds—if Sunfire was the more optimal choice for scalding champions, for example, it would make it a higher priority for teamfight-oriented tanks. Alternatively, Blade of the Ruined King can be made more efficient or cheaper, as its percent-based damage ignores Cinderhulk's advantages but is blunted by Sunfire Cape's armor.

But whatever the choices made by the balance team, the tank meta's staying. It's better for the game, really. Juggernaut was such an awful jungle item in comparison that it effectively locked out anybody that wasn't Jarvan, Rek'sai, Nidalee or Lee Sin—three-quarters of the viability options being beneficiaries of Warrior and Brutalizer's strong early-game stats. Nidalee as the only exception due simply to how overpowered she is. Given the jungle's foundational role in team composition theory, expanding the viability pool greatly expands the strategic options in League of Legends as well.

So the tank meta's not going anywhere. That means we need to learn how to deal with them again.

Armor piercing spittle

If you've been paying attention to competitive League lately, especially with the eastern hemisphere circuits, you're probably familiar with the Juggermaw. Take one adorable oozing void puppy in the form of Kog'maw, take a whole bunch of shields and buffs, and send him happily frolicking over the corpses of your enemies! Lulu is a necessity here, as well as Janna; Nunu might also be key to maximize Koggy's damage-per-second. The stacks upon stacks of shields makes it difficult to take Kog'maw down before he blasts through at least two or three victims—more than enough to win the fight.

The strategy has the advantage of scaling at the same pace as Cinderhulk tanks: both expect to hit their strongest peaks later into the game, which implies an early- and mid-game tradeoff for the tank-centric strategy, or when Kog'maw is at his weakest. By the time the enemy's forces are at their peak, the advantages brought about by Cinderhulk are outright canceled out by a kitted Koggy, devastating their ranks in fights.

If there are any particular weaknesses to the strategy, though, it's that it's so heavily focused on anti-tanking that it doesn't do particularly well versus anybody else. Tanks, at least, don't die so readily to burst effects so early into the game, and while Corki's slid out of popularity because of all the beef in his way, he takes care of Kog'maw easily enough. So there's a definite danger in selecting Juggermaw's core components too soon—while it's a great counter-strategy, it's just as easily countered in turn.

Can't touch this

Of course, tanks do have an obvious weakness: they're designed to be melee-range, and need to be all up in your face to be effective. Solution: don't let them get close!

...were it only that easy. Sadly, while they do have a range limit, most of them tend to be very good at maintaining it. Zac and Sejuani both have reliable ways to get up close and personal, and on relatively short cooldowns too.

But that doesn't mean they can't get kited, merely that kiting them requires deliberately engineered picks and builds. Janna, for example, is considered the queen of keepaway—slows and knockups make it difficult to close on targets in the first place (to my chagrin, whenever I bust out my Leona). Morgana, too, is a great support or even mid lane pick, as Black Shield outright cancels out a lot of the hard engage used by tanks to get on top of a target—nothing sadder than seeing Sejuani miss Glacial Prison except for it to actually hit and still mean nothing.

But it isn't just the support. "Blue Ezreal" is a powerful kiting pick for both mid and bot lane, abusing Iceborn Gauntlet and Mystic Shot's on-hit effects to keep opponents slowed, while also providing map-wide lane pressure management with Trueshot Barrage. Match with some decent wave-clearing, and just take turrets and forget about actually fighting. Not the most exciting way to play, admittedly (unless you're MonteCristo), but skill-intensive and rewards good team synergy.

But while Janna and Nami are solid supports in general, and both lend solidly to poke comps, there are issues to watch out for with tactics like these: you are inherently assuming that you won't fall behind so far that they can't just bullrush you anyhow, shrugging off your barrage of ranged deterrence to smack you in the face with Cataclysm, or Solar Flare, or other lockdown spells. Or at least that you'll survive long enough afterward to punish their deep engagement. There isn't a whole lot of ways for poke comps to recover from a bad start, and it's even worse if the players can't land their skillshots, of which the strategy naturally calls for a lot of.


Thanks for the stats

Of course, when all else fails, you can just take away the tanks.

Trundle is seeing a resurgence in China's LPL, due significantly to the stats-theft uniquely available to his kit. Subjugate outright destroys tanks, stripping them of health and resistances to supplement Trundle's own, and without tanks they're just a really squishy damage comp—hit them back!

This is also why we're seeing the return of Urgot, as Noxian Corrosive Charge greatly supplements Attack Damage reliant teams by burning away at the armor of afflicted champions. While the bonus health from Cinderhulk's nice, no amount of bonus health's going to be very useful when critical hits go unchecked by armor.

On the other end of it, magic resistance reduction is kind of hard to come by, and all this extra Cinderhulk health is an indirect nerf to mages anyhow—anything reliant on burst execution to remove threats isn't going to be too happy facing health pools in the 3000-4000 range, even if they haven't built any real resistance items. That's not to say there aren't options, though: I think some feasibility studies on Wit's End Kayle might be necessary in this meta. She has the advantage of sustained damage instead of burst, and Wit's End complements her build naturally to weaken targets for other mages and burst damage champions on the team.

Horrifyingly, it might also justify playing Teemo, who also benefits from on-hit strategies and builds.

Harder they fall

All that said, the meta's still very much hinged around Cinderhulk and how absurdly good it is—veteran summoners might remember Wriggle's Lantern in a similar position a couple years back as a high-efficiency jungle item that also eventually ended up everywhere else. We can fully expect the meta to shift in some future patch as the focus goes back towards flashy assassins-oriented, Corki-friendly play.

We just can't expect it for a while.

If you hate the current meta, sad to say, we're stuck with it until after May. The Mid-Season Invitational is coming up soon, and it is highly doubtful that the patches until afterward will make any major changes to the game.

And to be fair, most might actually want the status quo to stick around for a while. Tanks are enablers: a solid front line gives all champions more room and time to work with, so if all that's sought after's champion diversity, there's no better time to play.

It's just gonna suck for the AD carries, is all, since everybody's focusing them first. Good luck, summoner! ...you're gonna need it.

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