Midlane Matters: What makes a tournament viable AP mid?Mon 9th Jul 2012 - 7:06pm Category: League of Legends
I've followed the evolution of the mid lane for quite a while, and am here to open the book on why you see certain mid lane champions being played today (Patch 220.127.116.11) in the competitive scene. Hopefully I can bring you along from the shallow end, so you can swim on your own in the deep end.
The Current top-played roster
As of the last few tournaments, in my opinion, mid lane hasn't seen a lot in terms of diversity.
The most played AP mid champions are as follows (no specific order): Ahri, Karthus, Morgana, Vladimir, Anivia, Kennen, Ryze, Kog'Maw, Twisted Fate and Galio.
There are a few others that were played and I will probably cover over them as I expand onwards, explaining why they're chosen. This roughly dictates to about 40% of all of the AP mids are seen as good choices for competitive play, in the eyes of a professional player. Now you might not see it at first, but you can begin breaking down why these champions clearly outrank the rest of the pool. Let's get down to business.
It must be hot in here, because I really need to COOLDOWN
Cheesy introductions aside, cooldowns are an important part of an AP champion's strength. Apart from Morgana or Galio, each of the champions named above all have basic damaging abilities with relatively low downtime. Lower cooldowns on basic abilities allows the champion to be less reliant on using there ultimate as a primary source of damage.
One of the larger reasons why you don't see someone like Xerath, Gragas, or Brand on the big stage is because they're too reliant on there ult being used perfectly. If these champions' ultimates aren't used effectively, a large portion of their potential damage falls off, and when an enemy sees this, they can capitalize by playing more aggressive or trying to engage.
Basic abilities also act in the same manner, only with less of a risk ratio, in comparison to their ultimate counterparts. You have to understand that even a few seconds will make a large difference in your total damage done as a mage. A 200 damage ability on a six second cooldown is doing more damage over time than a 250 damage ability on an eight second cooldown. This is only enhanced when dealing with abilities that are skill shots. You're under more pressure to make the best out of your ability, or suffer cutting off even more of your potential damage.
With the above champion list as your reference, you should see a bit more clearly that this is true. Most of the champion's can't be punished for missing their basic abilities, and their ultimates are there to enhance their strength and they're not entirely reliant on using it perfectly.
Batman's not the only one with a UTILITY belt
But what about the champion's with slightly longer cooldowns on their ultimates, or their basic spells. Why are they still being played?
Well, the answer is that they provide enough utility to warrant having longer queue times on their abilities. Morgana, Galio and Kennen are great examples of this.
Morgana's kit provides her with the chance of catching and engaging on a target if her bind lands, a decently sized pool which also conveniently reduces magic resistance, an ally-targetted shield which provides spell immunity and absorbs a large chunk of magic damage, and an ult which provides the potential for CC, but also dispersion. Kennen has the same thing with his ultimate, it forces players to either move out of the area of effect, or be crowd controlled by it. Galio has a great armor and magic resistance shield, area of effect crowd control, and a movement speed steroid that's great for engaging.
I could go on and on about what each of the champion's named in the commonly played list and what they bring in terms of utility, but it's a redundant point. The case can be made that a lot of the remaining AP champion's do have some utility, but most of them lack multiple sources of utility, or use this utility at too close of a range to be considered at all remotely safe.
Someone like Ryze can get away with being at 625 range to use Rune Prison because he builds naturally tanky, but for a Malzahar to get his ult off, or a Viktor to get his W off – this proves a little more daunting.
Now that being said, if there's anything a lot of the underplayed champion's have that could make them tournament viable, it's that they do bring a good chunk of utility. Orianna and Swain are just two that immediately come into mind.
Utility is much more of a cloudy subject when it comes to tournament viability. It comes down to the makeup of the team you have in mind. Thus, something that you might inherently lack on your team's lineup (like hard engage) could be picked up and supplemented. There's multiple mid laners that have this ability, but some can do so more often, or can do so more safely.
SAFETY dance, anyone?
Being safe can be hard to describe because it requires a combination of many different factors. The safety I'm talking about however, is that from high range abilities. Whether you're using Morgana to clear with pool from a distance, or are spitting 2,200 range projectiles onto the opponent, these are both considered extremely safe positions to be in. With the exception of perhaps Vladimir and Ryze, who both become naturally more tanky through their kit, the top-played mid lane champion's all consist of decently long farm range or decently long engage ranges.
Kog'maw simply has to land 3-4 projectiles to force an enemy off their turret, Ahri or Morgana landing a bind can start a fight, Anivia aiming a well-placed wall too. They all do so without much punishment from the enemy, usually because they are at the tail-end of those ranges. They can't be jumped on without noticing first and are generally safe picks as they are not in the position to be caught out and killed immediately.
Even if a team member gets caught with a similar style spell, a lot of these champion's can disengage the fight to force it from ever happening. Morgana using her black shield to disperse CC, Karthus and his wall, Galio using his gust, they are just a few that can effectively stop a fight from happening, until one occurs on their conditions.
I have a dream, where one day, all of the AP champion's will become viable picks for one reason or another. Where you can pick the champion that you want to play, and not be considered a 'troll' because you enjoy playing the champion. But for that to happen, we'll have to see some of them changed slightly, to alter their gameplay for the better.
The reason you see the mid lanes being played in the competitive scene are mostly because of low cooldowns, great utility and overall safety when applying pressure to the enemy. Though there is still much left to be uncovered when it comes to digging up the facts. There are many other factors to be thought about, such as matchup strengths, and they all make up the list of traits that the top-played AP champion's have in common.
After reading this, you should be able to pick apart any champion from any lane, and focus on what they bring to the table, increasing your enjoyment and performance while playing the game.