The Rise and Fall of the Assassin Meta

From xPeke to Faker, everyone’s eyes were on the mid lane during this year’s League of Legends World Championships. Assassins stole the show with their high mobility and absurd damage. Ahri, Zed, Fizz, and Kassadin were heavily contested each game by being banned or picked nearly every time. Their popularity in the competitive scene quickly carried over to solo queue as well. Players soon learned that you either ban out champions like Kassadin or you lose–much like Cloud 9 did in the quarterfinals to Fnatic.

Fortunately, the most recent League of Legends patch is a direct answer to assassins and their recent rise in the meta. But before we cross off these four champions off our hit list, let’s take a look and see the patch’s impact on Summoner’s Rift.

As it turns out, these assassins may still have some fight in them yet.

Ahri

Ahri has a history of walking right on the line of viable and overpowered. Since release, her damage has been overtuned and her mobility has made her survivability high. But after a series of nerfs during the previous season, Ahri went largely ignored in the next until players demonstrated how powerful a reworked Deathfire Grasp would be on her. After that, there was no going back. Thanks to DFG, Ahri could effectively miss both of her skill shots and still burst any target down.

Riot’s approach to this problem was to completely rework her. Every single skill was changed. Because rushing Deathfire Grasp was what pushed Ahri into the realm of overpowered, Riot chose to acknowledge this in her balance by adding a DFG-esque effect to her Charm while simultaneously gutting her other abilities. Her AP ratios were decreased and her mana costs were increased to offset her Charm’s buff with the hopes that it would make her more rewarding to play correctly.

The end result is that Ahri became a champion that can’t afford to miss a single skill shot. While increasing her skill cap might initially seem like a good idea, the most competitive champions in League of Legends are the ones that aren’t overly punishing. If Ahri doesn’t land her Charm or chooses not to open with it, she now does next to nothing.

It doesn’t help that these spells cost more to use, either. Along with a strict and narrow rotation, the increased mana costs and nerfs to her passive make her early game weak. Ahri essentially went from doing too much to doing too little.

While the jury’s still out on Ahri’s viability, she’s underwhelming in comparison to other mages now. She won’t have a huge showing in any scene until her numbers are revisited. Champions she kept in check such as Orianna, Syndra, or Nidalee will also become frequent visitors of the mid lane thanks to her decline. Her win rate from LolKing is below–expect it to decrease significantly over November as players adjust to her kit’s significant changes.

ahri

Zed

Despite lots of attention throughout season 3, Zed was never balanced correctly. Riot adjusted almost everything except the true source of his power: his kit.

Zed’s mobility and the fact that he uses energy as a resource makes his lane phase a safe one. Few champions can duel him after level six and even fewer champions can successfully pin him down in either a gank or team fight. To make matters worse, his damage output is overtuned as well. A large part of this is because of the burst Zed gets from Blade of the Ruined King; champions that are defined by their first purchase can use it to snowball early. With a BoRK, Zed annihilates any high priority target in his path.

The biggest issue with Zed, however, is that he changes the entire atmosphere of a game. Zed is able to assassinate any target without much counterplay involved. If Zed wanted you dead prior, there was only one way to stop it: building around his ultimate. Whenever Zed appeared, players were forced to rush a Zhonya’s Hourglass if an AP carry or a Quicksilver Sash as an AD carry. Changing people’s build patterns changes their damage output significantly–all because he’s simply in the game.

This round of nerfs was one of the first to target Zed’s kit. Making his Living Shadow slower changes his mobility significantly; it not only hurts his ability to be aloof in a fight, it also allows people to actually react to him targetting them.

Ultimately, these changes are a deceptively large nerf that will make him less popular. Zed will decrease in popularity significantly in both solo queue and competitive play. He’s still very strong in lane phase because his ratios weren’t nerfed, but his team fighting ability is effectively neutered. Zed’s not quite dead, but he’s not too lively either. His win rate from LolKing is below–expect it to decrease a few percentage over the month of November.

fizz

Fizz

Fizz came as somewhat of a surprise pick in this year’s world championships to NA players, but if you watched other regions, it wasn’t shocking. Players internationally have known for ages that Ahri’s biggest counter in lane was Fizz–as such, a lot of his popularity was a reaction to how powerful she grew recently.

Still, Fizz is a beast on his own. He can burst down a carry in a second. Much like Ahri and Zed, nobody is escaping him once he’s locked his sights on them; similarly, he’s also another champion whose first item increases his strength disproportionately. A Lichbane amplifies his damage immensely and makes him unbeatable in duels. With his intense damage and high burst, his mobility also grants him far too much power. He’s hard to gank and even harder to peel off of carries.

Regrettably this patch barely touched on these points. While they nerfed him a little, he is still hard to control in team fights and has ridiculous damage at all stages of the game. His early laning phase was hurt, but he’s going to be able to dive deep into a backline to take out a high priority target during team fights just like before with ease.

If Fizz does decrease in popularity, it will be because Ahri is going to fall out of favor. However, it’s more likely that he will see further play instead–especially in the European scene. If Zed and Ahri succumb to the nerfbat as predicted, Fizz will assuredly rise in popularity. He’s incredibly strong and it wouldn’t be a shock if he receives future attention from Riot solely because of how impactful his burst is. His win rate from LolKing is below–expect it to remain consistent over the month of November.

kassadin

Kassadin

Kassadin has been a feared name for a long time in Summoner’s Rift. He’s been the very definition of losing lane and winning game. Beating Kassadin in lane is a common place, but having that fact actually matter is a rarity. His roam is unparalleled, his damage scales incredibly well, and he can kill nearly anyone. There are two truths to any good Kassadin player: he’s going to get kills no matter how far behind and he’s going to destroy carries once he gets those kills.

Much like Ahri, Kassadin was forgotten about at the start of season 3 by the majority of players.

And then, almost magically, he started to be picked up again, quickly becoming the definitive AP carry he was in S2–both in competitive play and in solo queue, the latter in which he frequently would manage to achieve nearly a 90% ban rate in platinum and diamond ranked queues. At World’s, the audience watched in horror as entire teams banned and picked around him.

With this recent patch, Riot aims to make Kassadin have a higher risk versus reward just like Ahri. By making his magic resistance nonexistent, they attempted to take his weak early laning phase and exploit it; by taking some power off his Null Sphere, they hoped tone down his burst.

However, these nerfs weren’t enough. While they nerfed two components, they also buffed a third: Riftwalk. Because his ultimate defines him, buffing it in any form helps Kassadin far too much. He now does slightly more damage while refunding mana with each cast–and going out of mana from Riftwalk used to be one of his only fears. Likewise, Null Sphere’s nerfs were mixed in with buffs that made him stronger: a lower mana cost means he can spam it more in lane for harass and its silence duration lasts even longer. With silence, there is little counterplay. Champions that rely on their spells for their damage output can’t trade well with Kassadin, even if his Null Sphere now hurts less.

These changes ensure that Kassadin will still see a lot of play until further adjustments are made. There may be an initial decrease in his popularity, but he’s going to make a reappearance once players realize he’s just as strong. It turns out that Kassadin is as hard to balance as he is to gank on Summoner’s Rift after he gets his ultimate. His win rate from LolKing is below–expect it to decrease slightly then go back up to where it was as players adjust to his changes over the month of November.

overall

Overall

At the end of the day, balancing champions isn’t easy. We all know this. But these nerfs and their results were extremely mixed. Champions like Fizz and Kassadin still remain kings while their counterparts Ahri and Zed were hit hard, leaving the mid lane with a power vacuum.

From the ashes of the recently nerfed assassins, other champions will indelibly rise. In particular, both Orianna and Gragas are looking like strong contestants to become new flavors of the month. Despite being a huge powerhouse in both season 2 and 3’s world championships, Orianna has not been nerfed recently. Likewise, Gragas has been a solid champion for multiple seasons yet has escaped any changes for quite some time. Both of these champions were picked in World’s to answer the assassins and they more than held their own. Without assassins to question their authority, they will be the new stars of mid lane.

It wouldn’t be surprising if champions like Syndra, Annie, and LeBlanc became prominent either. With Ahri and Zed on the bench, there’s a need for champions that can take out carries easily. Syndra even received recent buffs on the range of her Scatter the Weak to make it much easier to land.

All in all, one champion’s nerf is another’s buff–and it’s clear that many mages have a lot to gain from the downfall of the assassin meta. We’ll just have to see which champions the competitive circuit picks up first.

Charts credit: LolKing.net