Analysts, casters and players alike are obsessed with the Pick/Ban phase (also known as the drafting phase) of games, convinced that teams can stomp just by out-picking their opponents– or lose wildly as a result of bad drafting. This week, I’d like to break down the drafts of TSM and Coast in their explosive bloodbath that was easily the highlight match of the week.
Team Solomid has one of the most straightforward drafts in the game. If a champion is in the meta, they know how to field it and field it well. Every one of their players has a deep and dynamic champion pool that make it impossible to ban them out. This makes it hard to predict picks, as they have so many compositions to run, and they don’t have an established order for roles getting picked. TSM will first pick a mid, top, or marksman at the drop of a hat, because they believe their laners can withstand even the toughest of matchups. And, best of all, they frequently do. Dyrus locks Dr. Mundo into the stronger Renekton/Shyvana and consistently out farms and outperforms his opponent. Wildturtle was the first marksman to play Sivir, a notoriously weak laner, and frequently does so to the exclusion of other power picks such as Jinx. Bjergsen seems content to take any mid pick into any matchup, showcasing the power of playmaking assassins such as Leblanc and Zed even into their worst matchups. All in all, TSM has a rock solid draft that generally wins them games when they pick defensively.
Team Coast, on the other hand, is almost the exact opposite. Only a few members of Coast’s teams have truly deep champion pools, which leads them to a fairly consistent pick order. Daydreamin locks supports fairly early, along with Wizfujin’s marksman. Nintendude, Shiphtur and Zionspartan all boast strong, varied champion pools that they look for counter-picks with. In Week 5, the counter-picks were given to ZionSpartan so that he can make sure he has a good matchup for Jax. In earlier weeks, however, Shiphtur was allowed to counter-pick his mid lane or Nintendude was given last pick for his jungle slot. Coast has seen the most success when ZionSpartan gets a champion that can hard carry games. Jax, Nasus, and Riven were champions that he dominated the NACL with, but nerfs and meta shifts drove most of those champions into other lanes or out of the limelight. And now that Shiphtur is playing against the best mids in the NA Scene, his ability to carry games with aggressive roaming has diminished significantly. But after two commanding wins with a Jax/Caitlyn/Nidalee split push comp, Coast did seem ready and able to live up to their preseason hype.
Jax is a fairly clear target ban for ZionSpartan, and I don’t think anyone is surprised that TSM started off the series by keeping Jax off the table. Thresh is another targeted ban right at Daydreamin, but this ban actually highlights one of TSM’s greatest strengths; they never ban themselves out. Is Xpecial’s Thresh a threat to any team? Absolutely. But even though Xpecial is known for his Thresh, his plays on Leona and Annie are just as potent and strong. Daydreamin, on the other hand, never seems to perform on the same level unless he plays Thresh. And, finally, Elise, one of the most picked champions in the LCS so far. With a varied kit, tailor-made to dozens of different compositions and situations, it’s hard to let Elise stay on the table. She certainly falls off as teams build MR and teamfights begin to break out, but her ability to turn snowballed games into avalanches is certainly noteworthy. This is mainly due to her ability to unlock the power of her kit by level 3, whereas most champions have to reach level 6 to bring out their complete powerset. On top of this, NintendudeX is one of the most famous Elise players in North America, picking up and playing the champion all the way through the Summer Split, before other junglers had really seen her strength unfold. It’s actually important to note that TSM left all mid laners up in their draft. This is actually pretty common behavior from the team, as their enemies tend to focus ban Bjergsen. This allows TSM much more freedom to shut down power champions for other teams.
Kassadin and Leblanc are both bans that have slowly crept up as Red-Side-must-bans, as the danger of either being first picked is certainly substantial. At the same time, however, we are watching the metagame shift a bit away from Leblanc’s incredible power. With the hyper-aggresive mid lane of one versus one all-ins as often as possible, Leblanc does shine head and shoulders above her contemporaries, as a silence, slow, snare and some of the most incredible burst in the game make it hard to run any other mid against her. At the same time, however, the rise of AP Lulu mid, a champion that hard counters many of her burst assassin brethren, might be the reason to stop Leblanc in her tracks. The Deceiver was actually handed her first two losses this week. The third appearance, Hai playing against Pobelter’s Lulu, was a victory for Cloud Nine, but that win could certainly be seen much more on Sneaky’s 7/1 Sivir or Meteos’ 8/0 Elise. The final ban of Lulu puts a nail in that coffin anyway, as her more traditional playstyle has never quite been in Shiphtur’s wheelhouse.
While TheOddOne isn’t the worst jungler in the NA LCS, he is certainly the weakest player on Team Solomid, and so picking a highly contest jungler such as Pantheon is actually a spectacular first pick for the team. It reveals nothing about their more dominant laners, puts plenty of pressure on the midlane matchup, where Bjergsen and TheOddOne can create kills on any number of champions, and gives high stakes global pressure to the enemy bot lane, where a Grand Skyfall will happily start the ball rolling. The only downside to TheOddOne specifically playing Pantheon, is his reactive, counter-engaging playstyle is not as strong on the champion. Pantheon in the hands of hard engagers such as Snoopeh and IWillDominate have found success when they use the Skyfall ultimate practically on cooldown, and TheOddOne has never showed that level of assertiveness with his team.
Just as TheOddOne picking first protects TSM’s more dominant carries, Daydreamin and Wizlfujin picking first protects ZionSpartan and Shiphtur from weaker lane matchups. Locking Leona/Lucian as two generalist picks also relieve the pools for some of the other players. Leona’s tankiness allows her to frontline in case Zion wants to run something more offensive, and Lucian’s waveclear and sieging power opens up Shiphtur to run harder assassins that don’t play the siege game as well. And what’s more, Lucian has enough viable different build paths to fit him into a variety of situations, and Wizfujin’s choice to run Blade of the Ruined King is actually an excellent example of how mobility-based Lucians can simultaneously kite for days and destroy threatening tanks. And, as a special treat for anyone doubting Wizfujin’s choices, it’s actually a fairly popular Lucian build in Korea against Sivir-based power bruisers, which makes his decision perfect for this particular situation.
With Thresh off the table, Annie is more or less a given. Xpecial, specifically, seems to love running Annie into Leona, which forces the early lane engage onto Annie, or the enemy ADC just gets counter stunned and damaged by Annie. Sivir is fitting for WildTurtle, as it is one of his favorite carries to play in the LCS, even when other LCS marksmen were locking Jinx left and right. Sivir/Annie is a very high pressure botlane as well, one that specializes in pushing waves and pressuring turrets in the early game. With Pantheon locked for their team, TSM has taken the largest counter to high pressure bot lanes and added that strength to diving. With a Sivir/Annie zoning out the front of a turret and a Pantheon threatening to dive behind it, the siege/dive composition from TSM has shown itself to be very strong.
These are by far Coast’s best picks, and a testament to their improvement as a team. When the split started, Coast never would have picked so reactively, but now they seem to flying different colors. The strength in picking up Vi is in her synergy with Leona. The two of them are likely the two strongest pick champions for their roles, and pick compositions that can punish weak enemy rotations are perfect counters to the 5v5 Stampede comp that TSM is setting up. On top of that, picks are where TSM is at its weakest. In 5v5 scenarios, they are the best counter-engage team in North America, but their rotations have never been as crisp or as clear as Cloud Nine’s or Counter Logic Gaming’s. Drafting Vi and Leona allows their team to make the kinds of picks that they need to dig into TSM’s only real weakness as a team.
Shyvana, on the other hand, is both a strong champion for ZionSpartan to run in the top lane, and an even stronger steal from Dyrus. Shyvana’s synergy with Sivir can’t be respected enough, and robbing a Sivir Stampede of one of her core champions is definitely a drafting victory for Coast. But ZionSpartan picking Shyvana is another victory entirely. While Dyrus carries as the most consistent, scaling tank for his team, adding the kind of unkillable teamfight utility that they need, ZionSpartan carries by unrelentingly split pushing and daring one versus one duels. He outperforms most other top laners in those mechanical tests, even if his ability to teamfight is a bit lackluster. Shyvana is almost the best of both worlds. Her ability to duel isn’t quite on the level of Jax, Riven or Tryndamere, but it is certainly respectable. She does, however, also add the utility of a hyper tank, able to dive enemy carries, crate havoc and wreak disruption throughout an enemy backline. Picking Shyvana for ZionSpartan isn’t the best choice if he wants to hard carry a game, but it is certainly a strong compromise between the split pushing Coast of old and the power tanks that the season 4 meta demands.
Dyrus picking up Trundle as a counter to Zion’s Shyvana isn’t much of a surprise. His adoption of Warwick early in the split and the team’s use of Stampede compositions clearly show that TSM looks to the other regions (EU and Korea respectively) for power. But in this specific instance, it also fulfills other required roles. Dyrus has actually confirmed that Dr. Mundo is his preferred matchup against Shyvana, as he believes Mundo’s scaling into the late game matches Shyvana’s, but his global presence and disruption directly counter’s Shyvana’s hard engages. But in this instance, Dyrus knows that Coast isn’t picking a teamfighting Shyvana, which we typically see on players like Nien and Balls. ZionSpartan is going to playing a split-pushing, dueling Shyvana, and Dyrus needs to be able to match that with a more powerful pick than Dr. Mundo. There are two problems with that plan, though. First, Dyrus opts into Ignite as his summoner spell over the traditional Teleport. And while it does indeed give him the dueling power he’s looking for, it loses him the ability to put global pressure on the map in the late game split pushes, especially when ZionSpartan is guaranteed to take Ignite against him. The second is the nature of Trundle in North American teamfights. While the Troll King has seen success in Europe, it is directly related to the nature of European teamfights, which are very clumped, contained affairs (this is why Hecarim and Varus were so dominant in Europe in Season 3). North American teamfights, on the other hand, are incredibly spread out, drawn out affairs, modeled mostly after Cloud Nine’s specific teamfighting tendencies. In these kinds of teamfights, Trundle falls short, as it’s easy to kite him off of his Frozen Domain, denying him a huge portion of his power. What’s worse is Coast hasn’t picked a teamfighting composition at all. They’ve locked the aforementioned dive trio of Vi/Leona/Shyvana, while Lucian is can to kite out brusiers. This presents Dyrus with a fundamental choice; plant Frozen Domain under the carry or the divers, but not both. And, to top it all off, his Trundle is being combined with a Sivir, the queen of long-engage fights that stretch from one side of the map to the other.
Gragas, on the other hand, actually isn’t the worst pick for Bjergsen. While the Bjerger King did suffer his only loss on the Champion, the special case of Teemo isn’t something to be repeated by Coast. Instead, Gragas gives Bjergsen a little of everything he needs in the midlane. Burst, mobility, wave clear, sustain, tankiness and roaming potential. With Lulu banned out by Coast, it’s probably the next best all-around mid lane lock in the North American LCS, with few counters and more winning match ups than losing ones.
Shiphtur, the player almost responsible for returning Ahri to the NA midlane in the summer of 2013, defaults back onto the champion one more time. The Nine-Tailed Fox is certainly an appropriate pickup for Coast, as her levels of single-target burst are the perfect addition to the single-target crowd control of Vi and Leona. Additionally, her innate mobility will be perfect for avoiding Pantheon/Gragas engages in the mid game and Annie’s engages in the late game.
Anytime Sivir is locked, a composition of deadly bruisers just becomes deadlier, and when Pantheon and Trundle are powered by On the Hunt that can be an unstoppable force. When the TSM composition is working well, they’re locking down multiple targets with Tibbers and Grand Skyfall, chasing down retreating foes with On the Hunt, splitting fights and finding picks with Ice Pillar and Explosive Cask, and pressuring minion waves and enemy towers with Boomerang Blade and Barrel Roll. These are the kinds of compositions that TSM plays well. Flexible, straightforward teams loaded with power across all five picks. With only a few fundamental weaknesses, as long as TSM’s spectacular players put up a spectacular performance, they will likely turn even the smallest gold lead into a snowballed victory. That said, Coast have definitely found the Achilles’ heel in the composition, which is its susceptibility to picks. Of all the champions listed, only Gragas has the kinds of mobility that saves his life when he is caught out of position, and if Coast is able to pressure multiple objectives on multiple fronts, as their split pushing style is famous for, they can catch this team unawares. Still, a late game Trundle empowered by a late game Sivir is a frightening proposition, and the fall back of hard teamfights in the late game is a very real one. While TSM wasn’t entirely outpicked, they certainly had a fight on their hands. And though it’s unfortunate to see their eleven game win streak end, it was certainly one of the best games of the split.
Coast, a team renowned for their roaming, their split push pressure and their ability to win small skirmishes, if not larger teamfights, have found the optimal team for themselves. They’ve put three of the strongest dive champions in the game with two of the most mobile carries. Hunting down Lucian, especially a Lucian that insightfully builds Blade of the Ruined King, will always be a difficult endeavor, but doing so when you backline is being assassinated by Ahri, assaulted by Vi, and locked down by Leona is even tougher. TSM have fielded one of the best teamfight compositions they can. But Coast have countered that with a comp built around disengaging, kiting, finding picks, splitting priority targets, and most of all, never getting caught. Leona is the only champion on Coast without a skillshot dash, while Vi and Ahri have multiple at their disposal. The problem with Coast’s composition is that they have no fall back strategy. If NintendudeX and Shiphtur are able to roam and get a gold lead for the team, they can infiltrate the TSM jungle, make the picks they’re looking for and hopefully snowball a victory from there. But they also run the risk of having the exact same thing happen to them. If Bjergsen and OddOne are able to create the same kind of gold lead for TSM, their composition excels at sieging enemy turrets. And with the strength of a farmed Trundle, Sivir and Pantheon, any teamfight fought to save those objectives is stacked in TSM’s favor.
Coast did, however, get themselves rolling and kept TSM’s threats down. Even a Sivir with the gold and experience of WildTurtle couldn’t get TSM out of their hole that Coast dug for them. Once ZionSpartan’s Shyvana could duel Trundle on a regular basis, and Shiphtur could burst down most TSM targets with his off-beat Deathfire Grasp/Lichbane Ahri, they didn’t let the pressure up. And even though they ran into trouble when their weaker siege was forced to teamfight against TSM’s stronger AoE, Shiphtur did secure the base with a well-timed Lichbane proc and Spirit Rush.
If you didn’t check out the most explosive match of the split yet, you can catch it below.