Is there anything better than unconventional play? No. The unpredictability and innovation that pushes the meta forward is one of the most exciting components of League of Legends. Without ambitious and daring picks like jungle Karma, we never really know what our beloved game is capable of. For that reason, solo queue loves the abnormal pick. Who doesn’t want to be the next trend setter?
But there’s a reason that these picks are crazy, and for that reason too many games are ruined by someone trying something new without understanding the full consequences of their choice. Today, we’ll take a look at how to fit unconventional play into a malleable meta so that the next time you want to play jungle Sona. That way, you’ll have a little knowledge under your belt and can evaluate whether you’re helping or hurting your team with your selection and what you need from them to make your composition work.
What Makes Crazy Pick So Darn Crazy
There is a standard meta-game for a reason. Design choices by Riot and millions of hours of play have narrowed down the many possibilities at each position and given us some “best practices” of sorts. What makes crazy picks so crazy is that they either achieve the same goals desired of their position in unconventional ways, or are missing some component of a standard pick in that position that require compensation by the rest of the composition.
Since the unconventional goal-achievers (nope, can’t come up with a better name) like AP Tryndamere, AP Yi, or AD Kennen are frequently nerfed or modified by the Riot design staff, we’re going to focus on picks that are missing a vital component. Evelynn, for example, can be a tricky pick in the jungle since strong initiation/tanky junglers are the norm at the moment. But team compositions have developed around her, allowing her to do her job, add a new dynamic to a fight, and do so without sacrificing key elements of a good draft.
The Team Comp Checklist
There is a simple way to look at team compositions that allows us to make crazy picks in solo queue without damaging the integrity of the composition. It does require communication with your teammates to discuss the requisite champion picks, but we’ll discuss that later. In the mean time, let’s take a look at a list of vital pieces of a sound composition that you should get out of any draft.
Pure HP and/or armor. Something to keep the team going in a long fight and someone who can take hits for the team without needing to retreat.
Some kind of mechanism that allows your team to pick an engagement and jump on it. Helps set tempo and represents the “tip of the sword” of your offensive drive.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. You can jump in with all the HP you want, but if you can’t remove your opponents from the map, you’re fighting a losing battle.
Any mechanism that allows your team to escape. It can be Janna’s howling gale or even Jarvan’s Cataclysm if you don’t mind a sacrifice.
Each of these components is necessary. Having the full set gives a balanced recipe of offense and defense. Each one can be obtained by different champions in different ways, so consider the potential of each of your picks as the draft proceeds.
That is the bread and butter of a team, but it represents the aggregate capability of each of your members as a whole. Janna can provide tons of peel, but so can other members of the team. The next thing to consider is what each individual champion requires. For example, mid lane champions often have burst damage and some kind of mobility mechanism. Junglers frequently carry the initiation and tankiness of a team. And there’s good reason for each of these. The mid-laner needs an escape in case no one is available to help and a top-lane pick needs HP to withstand ganks and the constant bashing of his/her opponent.
That is truly where team synergy becomes important with a crazy pick. If you lack mobility in the mid-lane, you need plenty of initiation and stun/lockdown from the rest of your team to ensure your safety. If your top is not tanky, you need that HP to come from somewhere else. Let’s take a look at two games from the League Championship Series: one where a crazy pick did not work and one where the crazy pick worked to great effect.
When Crazy Picks Don’t Work (Voyboy Mid Kassadin vs Team Coast)
To begin with, I will mention that a lot of the advantage of professional teams running unconventional picks comes from the fact that their opponents have spent several days preparing for their “standard” game. Stepping outside of this can and does lead to confusion and a botched plan for opposing teams. However, since we have no match history in queue (and therefore there’s no such thing as a “surprise” per se) we’ll instead stick to looking at team synergy.
Voyboy’s Kassadin pick mid was a surprise pick indeed. Since Nyjacky had already selected Lissandra, this meant that either Kassadin had to go top against Riven (a tall order considering Kassadin’s weak early damage and Riven’s strong harassment potential) or Lissandra had to go top (not a terrible choice considering her mobility and poke damage). Curse instead try to pull a real bit of trickery by swapping lanes and sending Lissandra solo versus the duo of Coast bot. By pushing the top lane with Nasus and their duo of Ezreal and Thresh, they hoped to get an early tower kill and then swap back.
Where this composition falls down however is in the failure to counter the aggressive top in Riven. By sending the duo top against a tanky Riven and tanky Jarvan, Coast are happy to simply defend the turret and push aggressively in the 2v1 bottom against the squishy Lissandra. Running standard lanes would not have fared much better either. Lissandra’s farm and poke against the early shield and tankiness of Riven would’ve been equally difficult to deal with. The draft has effectively left Curse high and dry.
But why is this? Simple. The lack of a solid tank line (only a slow-rolling Nasus to absorb the damage) against the strong early game damage relative to Curse’s composition means that lane pressure was inevitable. Looking at the checklist, Curse’s composition has initiation, damage, some peel, but is lacking in the fourth category. Furthermore, a low-initiation jungler like Nasus prevents them from taking advantage of Lissandra’s mobility. Without initiation, the 2v1 bottom can simply push, which they do, forcing Curse to swap back and giving Riven the favorable matchup top. The crazy pick of a Lissandra top fell flat because it picked the team out of a necessary component of a good composition.
When they do work (Alex Ich Annie vs MYM)
Alex Ich’s Annie pick versus MYM, however, was a stroke of genius. Heading into this matchup, Annie could only be considered a “crazy” pick. What does Annie bring to the team? Damage and some big stuns. But what does she lack that a mid-laner in the current meta should possess? Mobility. Furthermore, the evil little girl was poised to go up against a Twisted Fate mid and a Jarvan in the jungle!
But the Russians had a plan. The team surrounding picks included Aatrox top, Udyr in the jungle, Varus in the bottom lane, and Sona on support. As soon as the composition unfolded, it became clear: Annie doesn’t need mobility because this composition has enough initiation and lock down potential to keep the demon-child safe for days. Udyr’s quick jungling coupled with bear stance ensured that he’d be available any time she got in trouble, and in team fights a combination of Crescendo, Chain of Corruption, Bear Stance, and Dark Flight would make sure that no one was even moving before Tibbers hit the field.
The composition hits all the checkboxes in the list and compensates for Annie’s lack of requisite escape potential. This is when crazy picks succeed: when the team composition synergizes to compensate for the weaknesses inherent in the unconventional pick and let its advantages shine. Because of the amount of support available, Alex was able to build a substantial lead over Twisted Fate in CS using strong harassment damage and the combined crowd control of the team kept him from from getting touched when team-fights broke out. For that reason Gambit were able to secure victory thanks to the incredible damage potential of the little-sister-from-hell.
Building a strong team composition requires communication and cooperation. For that, I recommend my go-to Three Rules of Ladder. Talk to your teammates, consider what your team possesses, what you need, and what you stand to gain from an unconventional pick. Then build solidly, considering the checklist for both your team and your character, and profit!
Nothing beats a crazy pick. Bringing an added advantage to the table without cracking your armor open before you even hit the battlefield is the kind of thing that leaves opponents fighting and teammates smiling. Just remember to consider the whole picture and if your pick seems too risky or might hurt the integrity of the composition, just pick something strong and safe. After all, wouldn’t you rather make a highlight real than a fail blog? Good luck summoner and remember, always be next level.