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The Problem With Abyssal Scepter


The Abyssal Scepter used to be an extremely popular item in Season 2, particularly on mid laners. Ever since nerfs in 2012 reduced the range of its aura and lowered its magic resistance, it is rarely purchased and has become an extremely niche item. I’m Eph289, and I’m going to discuss why this item is seldom purchased, as well as walk you through the scenarios when it is good investment in-game.

The Stats

As usual, I’ll list out the raw stats of the item. The Abyssal Scepter grants 70 AP, 45 MR, and an aura that reduces the enemy’s magic resist by 20 within a 700-unit radius of your champion. It costs 2560 gold.

Here’s some interesting LoLKing data regarding usage of the Abyssal Scepter. The item sees a less than 3% pick rate in Platinum, Diamond, and Challenger solo queue, but usually has over a 55% win-rate in all three epochs. I’ll discuss that statistical oddity later.

Evaluating The Aura

It’s hard to instinctively get a feel for how good the Abyssal Scepter’s aura is. Most people instinctively understand that it lets you do more damage. But how much? Does that merit choosing the item over buying more ability power?

Let’s say that I can choose between buying the Abyssal Scepter versus buying approximately the same amount of gold in ability power (in the most efficient form). A Blasting Wand and a Needlessly Large Rod gets me reasonably close (2560 gold versus 2460). Here’s the comparison (factoring in base damage, magic resist, standard AP mid runes/masteries, and AP/AP ratios) in a very large table:

APvsAbby

All you need to know is that red cells indicate where AP wins out and blue indicates where Abyssal is more efficient. As you can see, the higher the AP ratio, the more AP wins out. Makes sense, right? In the sweet spot where most non-ultimate spells fall (200-300 base damage, 0.5 to 0.8 AP ratio), the Abyssal Scepter wins out in damage over buying straight AP.

The more astute of you will point out that a lot of the gold cost of the Abyssal Scepter is sunk into the Negatron Cloak (720 gold, 40 MR) and that comparing 2460 gold worth of AP against a 2560 gold item that sinks roughly a third of its cost into defense is spurious. Good point! Let’s do a different comparison. Let’s compare the combine cost of the Abyssal Scepter (980 gold) and what it gets you (the aura, 30 AP) and compare it against a roughly equivalent buy in AP (a Blasting Wand). Yes, I realize you gain 5 MR additionally from completing the scepter, but the 100 gold cost extra for the Abyssal Scepter over the Blasting Wand exactly offsets that value of magic resist. Neat how that works.

Here’s the new comparison (30 AP + shred aura versus 40 AP):

APvsAbby2

Note that that’s a very large amount of blue. There’s almost no red, meaning that unsurprisingly 20 MR shred and 30 AP deals more damage than 40 AP in almost all cases. This means that the aura is worth more than 10 AP (217.5 gold), and as such makes the Abyssal Scepter more than 100% gold efficient in almost all cases.

So why isn’t this used?

So this brings us back to square 1. If the Abyssal Scepter and in particular its aura are so gold-efficient, why doesn’t it see use?

In order to understand this, we need to consider the competition and consumer for the Abyssal Scepter. Who is the intended user of the item? Given that it has magic resist and shred (good for champions who aren’t building much AP or have low AP ratios), one could argue it’s useful for magic damage tanks. On the other hand, it has a fair amount of AP and the MR shred benefits mages as well. The ally-beneficial aura could also point to use by some of the emerging AP-supports such as Morgana. Then there are AP fighters such as Elise, Gragas, and Rumble.

Tanks

The first potential candidate for using the Abyssal Scepter are magic damage tanks such as Amumu, Malphite, Maokai, Nautilus, Rammus, Sejuani, and Zac. Well, that alone is strike one against the Abyssal Scepter. Note: I will discuss Galio in the midlane section.

Most of these champions are utility junglers. That’s the exact opposite of the jungle style in vogue right now. Junglers are focused around early gankers and duelists who build Spirit of the Elder Lizard, or else hard-farmers who are going to build Feral Flare. So the first hurdle for one of these champions buying the Abyssal Scepter is that they have to be picked.

Next, they need to heavily itemize other things first, namely survivability. Since 45 MR isn’t an appreciable upgrade over buying a Negatron Cloak, one does not buy the Abyssal Scepter on a tank for its defensive value. If a jungle tank is buying the Abyssal Scepter, they’re buying it for offense, and that means that they’re ahead and/or have a lot of gold to spare. This would be likely a 5th or 6th item pick-up for most of these champions. Singed can build more offense, but he has other purchases to make that benefit him more.

This explains why the Abyssal Scepter has such a high win rate on champions like Amumu or Malphite despite its low pick rate. It’s mainly being purchased by strong teamfighting champions who are very far ahead or have gone extremely lategame. It’s a luxury item for tanks who want some damage, and most of those mana-using tanks are not being picked right now, much less getting fed enough to buy luxury damage items. Moreover, there’s competition between Abyssal Scepter and Liandry’s Torment on these tanks in terms of buying primarily damage items.

I did the math on Liandry’s Torment versus the Abyssal Scepter on two spells: Amumu’s Despair (E) and Elise’s Neurotoxin (Q-Ranged).

Despair

This is for three seconds worth of Despair with no other AP or magic penetration. I calculated the values for the two items, then subtracted the difference. Purple cells/negative values indicate where Abyssal Scepter yields superior damage. Note that I calculated these values without taking into consideration that Liandry’s Torment will continue ticking after Amumu stops applying Despair and I did not consider the potential of doubling the Liandry’s burn due to crowd-control effects. There’s no need to. Liandry’s almost always wins even without those additional (tedious) calculations.

Neurotoxin

It’s even more one-sided for Neurotoxin, and again, I didn’t double the Liandry’s burn to account for a CC’d target. Without going through every single tank spell and itemization, it’s a safe bet that if you’re just want one damage item on a tank, Liandry’s Torment will serve you better.

But what about Sunfire Cape? The aura doesn’t proc Liandry’s Torment and the magic damage is boosted by the Abyssal Scepter’s shred aura. Well, I ran the numbers on that as well. Turns out that for all scenarios, Sunfire Cape’s damage is boosted by only a single digit value that usually ends up being less than a 10% damage increase.

Mages

Now we talk about midlane mages and assassins. This is where examining the competition between Abyssal Scepter and other items becomes very useful. Most midlane champions use mana and need some kind of mana itemization to keep up in lane. This is primarily handled by purchasing Athene’s Unholy Grail, which also provides 20% CDR, an important secondary stat for mages. One would think that such an item would also provide appreciable inferior offensive and defensive stats to the Abyssal Scepter as a tradeoff, but it doesn’t. Athene’s Unholy Grail provides 5 less MR and 10 less AP (along with no aura), while also providing 20% CDR and an excellent source of mana regeneration.

Another important consideration is the range. The Abyssal Scepter aura doesn’t have fantastic range (700) considering the spectrum of midlane champion abilities. Off the bat, that excludes Brand, Heimerdinger, Lux, Nidalee, Orianna, Syndra, Vel’Koz, Xerath, Ziggs, and Zyra. Note how three of the most popular mids in competitive play are excluded right there?

The problem with buying the Abyssal Scepter in mid as a first item is that it’s heavily overshadowed by Athene’s. Solving my mana needs and 20% CDR versus a bit more damage, tiny bit more MR, and an aura that is too short for most mids to use fully? Not even a hard decision. As a later buy, other options simply fulfill the defined niche better.

Thinking about the other offensive items that mages want to buy (Rabadon’s Deathcap, Void Staff), shoes, and a defensive item (Zhonya’s Hourglass, Banshee’s Veil, or Guardian Angel), that leaves basically one item slot left for the Abyssal Scepter to compete for. That slot could also be filled by Deathfire Grasp, Lich Bane, Seraph’s Embrace, or Liandry’s Torment for offensive potential. All of those items have a specific niche. DFG helps insta-gib that one guy. Lich Bane gives you DPS throughout a fight. Liandry’s is a must-buy for DOT mages. If a mage is looking for a more defensive item for that final slot, they can either buy a second defensive item. Additionally, Rylai’s Crystal Scepter, Rod of Ages, and Seraph’s Embrace also compete against the Abyssal Scepter for mixed offensive and defensive capabilities.

The item has first-buy potential on two manaless mages: Katarina and Kennen. Neither of these champions highly value CDR and place themselves right into the middle of the fight to do their damage. They can rush the Abyssal Scepter instead of Athene’s. Akali, on the other hand, usually opts for Rylai’s Scepter and Hextech Gunblade.

As a later buy, a few other mid champions could benefit from the Abyssal Scepter. Galio double-scales off the MR, gaining an additional 22 AP from the item. (Note that Galio’s Q and E far outrange the aura though). It’s a situationally reasonable buy on Karthus since Karthus doesn’t value CDR either and goes right into the middle of the fight to apply the aura to the other team. Mordekaiser is also another potential candidate, though like Karthus, he also has other important purchases to make first. Note how Galio, Mordekaiser, and Karthus aren’t exactly popular in mid right now, and the item isn’t essential on them.

Supports

As a damage/supportive/survivability item for supports, the Abyssal Scepter is not unreasonable, particularly on Annie, Galio, or Morgana. Since most supports will have already addressed CDR and mana needs elsewhere, the tradeoffs between Athene’s and Abyssal aren’t as severe are they are in mid. On the other hand, there’s a laundry list of what supports generally need to buy first:

  • Sightstone
  • Finished Gp10 item
  • Upgraded boots
  • Possibly an Aegis/Locket
  • Possibly a Frozen Heart or Randuin’s Omen
  • A bunch of Pink Wards

Keep in mind that any of these champions could also opt for Liandry’s Torment instead for damage, as Zyra does.

Other classes:

A couple other champions are worth noting. Elise can make use of the Abyssal Scepter since her damage scales very well off of magic penetration. However, most Elise builds are more focused on survivability first and use Liandry’s Torment as an offensive item. Rumble is another potential Abyssal Scepter candidate, but he has more important purchases (Rylai’s, Liandry’s, Zhonya’s) and would only situationally buy it. The Abyssal Scepter is a luxury, situational buy on both champions. While Abyssal’s MR reduction aura does synergize with Liandry’s, most champions that could buy both are using their other item slots for more important purchases. Fiddlesticks and Nunu can both use it coming out of the jungle, though it’s probably still a second-or-third item pickup at best.

Conclusion

The Abyssal Scepter might seem like a good buy, but in fact, it’s highly-situational even on champions that would seemingly make good use of it. On mages, it has too many poor tradeoffs versus Athene’s in terms of what it provides, and the range on the aura severely limits its potential. On other classes, it tends to be a luxury item bought lategame that is often overshadowed by Liandry’s Torment. The only champions it can be considered truly good on are manaless PBAOE mages who do not value CDR highly or else acquire it from other sources. Even then, it’s not necessarily a core item on any of them.

Here are three decision charts that cover in general when to buy the Abyssal Scepter. There are, of course, exceptions, so don’t take these charts as more than a broad guideline–there may be scenarios where the Abyssal Scepter is exactly what you needed even if the charts disagree. But speaking broadly, these charts show how low of a priority the item is:

AbyssalTank

AbyssalMage

AbyssalSupport

The item should probably be reworked by Riot to help fulfill a more focused design purpose. Right now, its only real distinction is as a damage-defense hybrid item for PBAOE mages (and really, that’s just Fiddlesticks, Kennen, Katarina, Nunu, and off-builds like AP Amumu /Morgana/Malphite).

Until then, unless you’re picking up a luxury damage item on a support, or you’re playing Fiddlesticks, Kennen, Katarina, or Nunu, it’s probably better to steer clear of this mediocre purple stat stick.


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Eph289

Eph289 is a Platinum-ranked mid and support on NA and has been playing and writing about League of Legends since 2010. Formerly a Reign of Gaming guest contributor, he went by 'Sudunem' for his first few Cloth5 pieces until he fully transitioned over to Cloth5. He uses his mastery of the wizard arts of math, statistics, and theorycrafting to illuminate and explain the mysteries of League of Legends.

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