After winning less than 50 times, SKT1’s mid laner Faker entered the NA Challenger tier just days after arriving for the Season 3 World Championships. Simultaneously, he created a big uproar about his mid lane Riven play and his insane aggression; he seems to snowball very hard in every game and generates plays that swamp General Discussion and Reddit.
As a long time mid player and fan of Riven, I decided to look a bit more into Riven as a mid lane force and try to make it work for players without Faker’s insane mechanics. The results were actually quite positive – Riven’s kit has everything a midlaner needs nowadays.
How Faker makes Riven work
SKT1’s midlaner Faker is well known for his mechanical skill – the best example could be seen in his 1on1 Zed play vs Ryu. Riven has a kit with a lot of synergy in between her active skills, passive and her positioning. Faker was able to pick up on her very fast – he is able to abuse her extreme damage potential in every possible situation. This is not only due to his knowledge of his own champion, but also due to his expertise with all other champions: when you know exactly how much damage the enemy midlaner deals, you also know exactly how long you can stay and deal damage. This is extremely important due to Rivens rather unreliable nature: after laning phase, catching the targets you want to reach can get really hard. Riven is therefore often called a “snowball-based champion” because being in the advantage makes it much easier to deal with the enemy-but Riven can work well even without snowballing hard, its just more difficult.
Why Riven Can Fill a Mid/AD Caster Position
While Riven is mostly played in the top lane, I never quite understood why almost no one ever ran her mid. Riven has an incredible scaling with attack damage, both in aggression and defense, of which she can better control in the mid lane.
So let’s talk about some of the important characteristics of Riven.
Wave Clear and Lane Control
Waveclear is an extremely important and substantial part of almost every competitively used champion at this point in time. Every top, mid, AD-Carry and even most of the junglers have some way to clear minions fast. This is needed to defend turrets and get as high of a creep score as possible without spending too much time away from your team. It is also important for midlaners to control the lane: you want to push when you leave for a gank, objectives or when recalling while losing the smallest amount of minions possible. This is the reason why champions like Poppy or LeBlanc do not see much competitive play: they need gold, but they also need too long to farm minion waves; therefore they rely on champion kills heavily.
Riven’s wave clear is quite strong. It is in my opinion even more effective than Zed’s clearing potential because of her skill set: all of her damaging abilities are AoE and big enough to hit both caster and melee minions. In addition to that, the high damage scaling and relatively low cooldown of both Broken Wings and Ki Strike allow Riven to clear minions even faster. In comparison, Zed needs to wait about 20 seconds for his shadow to have AoE large enough to hit all minions and he needs to use Shadow Slash at least two times to clear all of the minions, draining a lot of energy. Riven just needs to wait for her cooldowns once. She can counter push when the enemy tries to push for a recall or gank. Riven can also start taking wraiths as early as level 3, especially when the player is running Life Steal Quintessences. She can also leave for ganks regularly. In mid and late game, her fast clearing helps secure a lot of farm without spending too much time on uncontested lanes. And for all that, she does not even need blue buff; I found myself pushing the lane to leave more often than actually trying to trade with my laning opponent, racking up very high amounts of gold just trough farm – this gives Riven a lot needed reliability.
Trading in lane
Trading is the most basic thing in lane: while going for minion last hits, you also have to try and get an advantage over your enemy – you do this either with denying him minion last hits or with killing him.
Trading as mid Riven takes some time to get used to and understand. While Faker is extremely aggressive from level 1 on, it is hard to know the limits of the enemy champion well enough to attack them this early. Personally, I try to abuse actions or mistakes by the enemy. A good example of this is a Lux or Orianna match-up. These two champions are very dependent on their skill shots; Riven has an easy way to dodge these with her E or Q while being able to counterattack right after, using her Q and W for damage.
I found initiating trades a little bit trickier. Riven needs either E or Q to retreat safely after damaging and stunning the enemy when they still have their control abilities avaiable, but she also needs either of these to close the gap. You do not want to waste too many jumps of Broken Wings to get to your enemy since it is your most important damage skill, but you need to use it for a trade. Utilizing the knock-up on the third strike of Broken Wings, an auto attack, Ki Burst, and another auto attack before retreating deals a large amount of burst damage which can hardly be stopped by slows since Riven uses so many dashes. The best way to force a trade is to use one or two Qs to get close, the third Q with the mentioned combo to deal damage, and then E if the enemy counterattacks to retreat. When you have the chance to all-in the enemy, opening with E guarantees the most damage since you may get the chance to hit more Qs.After lvl6 you can also activate your ultimate mid-dash while using your E to take your enemy by surprise.
Escaping and Roaming
Mobility is also an important thing right now. Almost all played mid laners have some kind of dash or other escape past level 6, or earlier. Since a lot of junglers utilize gap closers together with crowd control, squishy mid laners should try to avoid contac with junglers at all cost – fast escapes like Zeds Living Shadow, Ahris Spirit Rush or Kassadins Rift Walk can be found on almost every played midlaner. Additionally, midlaners can influence other lanes easier when they are able to cross the map swiftly.
Riven has four dashes on relatively short cooldown with one crossing terrain in the latest patch. This gives her the opportunity to move across the map very fast; she can return to lane or roam relatively quickly even without boots. The cooldown of her dashes is not too big. While Zed for example needs to wait ~15 seconds early game to escape or close a gap, Riven has mostly short cooldowns depending on the rank of her abilities.
Sustain goes hand in hand with trading: when you are not able to outdamage your enemy in a ability trade, you need to be able to heal back faster than the enemy or to block more damage.
Riven can do both. Her passive scales well with life steal, giving her a good option to sustain through damage from jungle monsters and in lane. The only disadvantage here is that she needs to push to get back health. Another strength is her shield; it works very well against harass on lane when you time it properly. A really underrated thing that AD casters utilize is in-fight sustain: the likes of Riven and Zed lifesteal huge amounts of hitpoints due to their extremely high AD, even when ignited. This is also the reason why you can fight an enemy, mostly disregarding your and their current HP, as long as they have no crowd control or you can avoid it.
While a strong laning and game control are nice things to have, laning phase ends at a certain time. At this point, fast and flashy assasins like Zed and Kassadin have an easy time exploiting positioning mistakes made by the enemy to assassinate them without their teams intervention.What you need for that is guaranteed damage – reliability. Zed is strong in this point due to his ultimate being single-targeted, and Kassadin with his huge AoEs can apply his damage relatively easy too; and both of them can, if properl positioned, escape after the assassination to return for the cleanup at a later time.
This is a little tricky for Riven.
With her incredible AD scaling, Riven is a huge damage threat to the enemy team. She is able to burst constantly; her ultimate and her low cooldowns on Q and W give her both a very strong burst rotation and constantly high DPS. While this is her strongest characteristic, Riven has a bit of a problem with reliability. You can’t always close the gap to the squishy targets. Riven is easily stopped by hard CC; she scales greatly with AD and life steal, but if she cannot attack, she dies pretty fast. Therefore, Riven needs to wait for the most important CCs to get blown before she can get into action effectively.This is due to the fact that Rivens dashes cover only relatively small distances; she also has a short internal cooldown while the animation of Broken Wings is ongoing, forcing her to wait for a split second before triggering the next dash – and don’t forget, her Q is the strongest damage she has as well.
Another problem is the fact that, if you are not extremely far ahead, you will most likely not be able to one shot your target during the knock-up provided by Broken Wings and the stun provided by Ki Burst. Mobile carries like Ezreal can escape then, especially when they had help (like a shield or a heal), and barrier often denies the possibility of a snipe with your ultimate. Put simply, Riven is by no means easy to play since you need to keep track of as many cooldowns as possible; other assassins can be a little bit more “fire-and-forget.”
My Mid Lane Experiment: How I Succeeded with Riven
After presenting Riven’s strengths, I would like to give an example of how one could use Riven in mid lane to fill the role of an assassin/constant damage threat.I picked her versus all sorts of midlaners with most success against melees: while assassins like Fizz have a lot of damage as well, Riven has lower cooldowns and much more accessible early game damage – a game versus a Fizz went so well that I was able to zone him away from his minions and kill the jungler appearing on my lane with just one kill advantage.
Riven does best against low range or melee mids (Fizz, Zed, Gragas) and can lanel versus mages with crowd control that can be evaded (Orianna, Lux, Brand,Xerath,Cassiopeia, Karthus and the likes). Be wary of targeted stuns and silences (Annie, Kassadin) though, these can make it really hard to outplay your opponent!
Runes and Masteries
I really like playing mid champions with as much damage as possible, and experience with positioning helps a lot here. I just adapted Faker’s runes for Riven; he is running flat Attack Damage marks, flat armor seals, flat cooldown reduction glyphs and lifesteal quintessences.
Alternatives would be Attack Damage Quints for a more all-in play style and Magic Resistance Glyphs for a little bit more safety from lane bullies and harass. I recommend this if you are not confident in your dodging skills.
Another alternative would be flat health seals for a more magic damage oriented lane, but more health hurts your lifesteal potential since your lifesteal will be lower in relation of your maximum health.
In addition, I used aggressive 21/9/0 masteries focusing on physical damage and some resistances.
Based on my midlane matchup I tend to switch the armor and magic resistance around.
For starting items, I used the following item sets:
- 2x Rejuvenation Beads, 3x Health Potions: This is a safe start with a lot of HP sustain if you just want to stay safe and get farm until level 6. I recommend this start for players starting out on Riven and when the enemy has a strong jungler like Vi or Lee Sin which could help the enemy mid laners snowball against you.
- 1x Elixir of Fortitude, 3x Health Potions: This start is very strong for early all-ins on levels 1, 2, and 3/4. Riven’s damage has a huge spike on each of these levels with one or two points in Q and one point in W. The slightest positioning mistake by your enemy could net you a fast first blood. If you fail to get a kill, you will have no bonus stats after the elixir runs out, making this build pretty risky; you should only use it when you are confident in your Riven skills.
- Long Sword, 2x Health Potions: This start provides another strong damage start, but also brings some sustain to the table. In most cases, this start forces you to recall early though because the two potions will be gone fast. This start could provide a good middle ground between sustain and damage, especially with Life Steal Quints and good use of Rivens E.
On AD Casters, I always try to buy a Brutalizer as a first item. The armor penetration makes your damage stay relevant even against Seeker’s Armguard and the cooldown reduction provides a lot of trading opportunities. You can wait with your boots since most of your mobility comes from dashes which are independent of movement speed, but when you get boots, buy either Ionian Boots of Lucidity when you are ahead and confident in your positioning, or Mercury Threads to make CC less of a threat.
Depending on my farm and feed, I get Bloodthirster when I am ahead and Ravenous Hydra when I am behind; both provide high AD, while Hydra helps even more in farming and does not lose damage when you die.
After that, I always get Last Whisper. The natural armor scaling that almost every champion has gives them more and more resistance to Riven’s only damage type. The enemy also should get armor to counterplay your AD-Carry anyways, so you want the armor penetration at this point.
After that, I tend to get a Guardian Angel due to the revive effect. You need to dive deep into the enemy team every fight and getting bursted is Riven’s biggest weakness. Additionally, her shield scales best Attack Damage and resistances, making Guardian Angel the best defensive item for Riven.
As a last item I tend to get another Bloodthirster to ensure as much damage and survivability trough life steal as possible. Somewhere in between I finish the Black Cleaver. The timing for that is different ever game and depends on the enemy’s itemization as well; when they get a lot of early armor, a fast Black Cleaver could be even better than Last Whisper.
Efficient alternatives would be Maw of Malmortius or Mercurial Scimitar for magic resistance, the second option being a little bit more risky but possibly more rewarding: a quicks kill while standing right on top of an enemy carry could net you a fast and unsuspected kill.
Late Game Role and Team Fighting
Riven falls off – or better: is a lot harder to do well with – once people start to fight as five. The reason for that is that it gets much easier for the enemy team to stun and burst you when they are grouped as a team. To get around this, you have got two options:
- Get around the enemy and attack their back line once the big CCs are on cooldown. This can be very hard to do since you need good vision and ward clearing to get to the enemy carries without them fleeing or getting back at you. When you are able to burst the AP and/or AD carry you can focus on the more tanky targets; they should not be able to do much about your damage and life steal, but be aware of fed tanks and bruisers. With a lot of armor, these can still be problematic. Try to run away while your abilities are on cooldown if you are in danger.
- Try to peel for the AD Carry. This does not work if the enemy front line or AD Carry are fed because you either can’t kill their tank or they have an easy time killing you. Though, if neither of the two are fed and you can evade the damage of the enemy mid laner, you should be able to abuse Riven’s extreme damage to get rid of the champions invading your back line.
People often expect you to initiate fights as Riven. While this can be done, it often results in a one for one trade. When you jump and stun a champion, you can almost always kill the one you intiated on, but afterwards you will be an easy target for the rest of the enemy team. You should only initiate smaller fights with a maximum of three enemies.
With some training, I was able to enter Riven into my list of available mid laners. I like to pick her against skill shot dependant champions like Orianna and Lux because I can evade their most important skills with good timing, or against melee mids like Gragas, Zed, or Fizz because they need to come close to farm, placing them in my immediate damage range. Riven for sure is a “viable” and actually a good choice for mid lane in my opinion, especially because I do not think that there is an absolute counter against her laning; the worst thing that happened to me was that I went even and farmed the lane passively. The game after laning gets a lot harder, but you can benefit from enemy mistakes easily due to your extremely high damage and mobility.She is also a lot of fun to play due her massive damage output – you can melt pretty much everything that crosses your path and it is really easy to catch up do to her farming.
Keep in mind that this small guide to mid lane Riven is just the way I like to play her. I wanted to show that Riven always was a good choice mid when you are able to utilize her kit well. Riven is by no means an easy champion; she has a high learning curve and a somewhat high skill ceiling, but she also has a very big potential-big enough that she may help SKT1 to advance even further at Worlds when Faker is able to snowball with her.