Pierce and Rend The Competition - A Comprehensive Kalista Guide
Fri 27th Oct 2017 - 10:20am
"Kalista? I've never heard of the champion before," is what some of you might be saying and I can't blame you. Kalista went from seeing almost no play at all to being the 6th most picked ADC as of Patch 7.19 and her sudden resurgence has been making waves in more than just the bot lane. But at this point you're probably asking yourself, "How did she suddenly become so popular?" Which is a perfect segue to our first topic.
Obviously a lot had to have changed to allow Kalista to hop her way back into the meta so let's get down to business. First we'll talk about the changes to Kalista herself and to do that we're going to have to start from the very beginning. Kalista was released in the preseason of Season 5 in Patch 4.20. The reason why this information is relevant is because back when Kalista was released, Riot generally released their champions on the stronger side and nerfed them a patch or two later. Naturally they did this for Kalista as well and boy was she strong. However the playerbase took to Kalista a lot quicker than Riot expected as they were preparing to balance her around her high skill floor. Which led to her being a strong pick for most of Season 5. After quite a few patches of insane dominance with just a few small nerfs, Kalista's fall from grace began in Patch 5.13.
This particular fall from grace was quite different from the other historical "guttings" of League of Legends history because it consisted of a trinity of nerfs to the core components of her kit. The first was the attack damage scaling of her auto attacks being reduced from 100% to 90% which makes her the only ADC that didn't have 1 to 1 scaling for her auto attacks. After another couple of smaller nerfs Kalista was still playable but steadily falling further and further away from viability.
The second came in Patch 6.1 when they made her even harder to play by slightly reworking Rend. When Kalista was released if she killed one unit with her E, the cooldown and mana cost were completely refunded. The change in 6.1 made it so that if you killed one unit with Rend you would refund the cooldown but only half the mana cost. Now on paper that doesn't really sound too bad but anyone who has played Kalista a decent amount knows two very important things. The first is that Kalista uses Rend an innumerable number of times before her first base let alone throughout the entire game and the second is that Kalista's base mana pool is abysmally small. In fact, Kalista is actually tied for the lowest base mana at level 1 in the game at 232 as well as tied for lowest base mana at level 18 with 827. However, even with that huge change if you were good enough you could still find success with The Spear of Vengeance.
The final nerf came not long after the second in Patch 6.6. The reason for this nerf was probably the most validated since one of Riot's goals was to make Kalista and her Oathsworn ally works together throughout all stages of the game but with Kalista strong kiting ability and 1v1 potential you would often fine her alone in a side lane to escape her weakness of difficult teamfighting with her short auto attack range. How Riot remedied this was increasing Kalista's reliance on her Oathsworn partner. Kalista's base and scaling attack speed were reduced considerably and her W was given a new passive that granted her attack speed near her Oathsworn ally. This change forced Kalista to either group with her team or cripple them by forcing them to play the map 3v5.
But that concludes our history lesson of how Kalista got gutted, so let's fast forward all the way to this year. In Patch 7.1 Kalista finally got buffed back in to viability with a change to her Rend. The first alteration was the number of targets killed for a full refresh of her mana and cooldown was reverted back to one and the second was something brand new. Before, if Kalista's Rend was on cooldown, she stopped stacking spears in her target making trading very punishing if she messed up a Rend reset. The second change made it so that even if Kalista's Rend goes on cooldown, she would continue to stack spears in them which made her extended trades much stronger. Couple that with the relatively recent changes to Blade of the Ruined King, Kalista has a very strong early lane phase. Which brings us right into the meat of the subject, "How do I play Kalista?"
Passive: Martial Poise/Oathsworn
The most recognizable thing about Kalista's kit is easily her passive which comes in two parts. The first part is Kalista's unique Oathsworn mechanic which lets her bind to her support at the start of the game but we'll take more about it when we address the rest of her abilities. Now while her Oathsworn mechanic is pretty interesting it still takes a back seat to Kalista's second passive Martial Poise. Martial Poise is definitely the hardest part about Kalista's kit, especially if you don't already main AD Carry since you have to issue a move command directly after issuing an attack command.
One common tactic players use to bypass this is to use "player attack move click", however that does come with significant drawbacks. The first being if you have it set to attack target closest to cursor you'll only be able to just towards whatever you're attacking, which more often than not isn't a good idea for obvious reasons, and if you have it set to attack target closest to player you can't always attack an optimal target. So it really is worth learning how to do it with normal attack moving. Unfortunately I can't give any tips on making Kalista's passive easier to use other than practise your attack moving. If you do want to play Kalista, it is pivotal that you learn how to use it optimally since she feels extremely immobile and clunky without it.
On the surface, Kalista's Q ability Pierce looks like a pretty straightforward part of her kit. It's a linear skill shot that does decent damage and goes through any target it kills. However there is some pretty cool stuff you can do with it to get a leg up, especially in the laning phase. The first and most obvious one is stacking spears in a minion then using Pierce to transfer them to an enemy laner. That's all well and good but quite unreliable and easy to play around, similar to Miss Fortune's Double Up. The second thing that most players don't know is that Pierce functions as a pseudo auto attack reset. If you Q immediately after auto attacking you're essentially auto attacking without the normal wind-up associated with one. This trick is also very useful for getting an extra Martial Poise proc to chase someone down, or create some distance. Using this trick can net you a lot of extra damage in a short trade that most people won't see coming.
Another use of your Q is to wave clear with it. Granted it obviously isn't the most optimal wave clear ability in the game but preping a wave and executing multiple minions with Q can be a real time saver and something worth learning how to do. The final thing you can do with Pierce is get in a decent amount of cheeky burst in by Qing and then immediately Rending. This will net you way more kills than you expect since most people really underestimate Kalista's Pierce damage as it has an impressive base damage of 250 at Rank 5 with a 100% total AD scaling. One crucial piece of advice I can give you concerning this ability is to take a second point in it at level 4 as the base damage goes up from a measly 10 to 70.
Kalista's Rend is the second cornerstone of her kit alongside her Martial Poise. A staple tactic experienced Kalista players use is trading by rending minions and there really isn't any reason not to... if you can actually last hit with it. Messing this up not only feels awful but makes it very hard to CS as well. The reason for this being that Kalista has a very unique auto attack animation. This might just be my Gold player showing but Kalista's auto attack animation is super awkward and slow in the early levels and messing up a Rend in lane means CSing could become a lot harder for anywhere between 14 and 8 seconds.
Another really strong thing about Kalista's E is her ability to secure neutral objectives a la Jhin's fourth shot. Give Kalista a few seconds wailing on a Dragon or Baron and her Rend can easily do more damage than Smite which is always a plus in the usual Solo Queue chaos. Another little tip you can incorporate in to your Kalista games for a few extra style points is Rending while your autos and Qs are in mid-air. Other than grabbing you some slick looking kills, it lets you Rend trade a little better since you can slip in autos you otherwise couldn't have.
(W) Sentinel + (R) Fate's Call
Remember when I said I'd focus on Kalista's Oathsworn mechanic? The reason I'm lumping Kalista's W and R together is because they're the two abilities in her kit that are either completely or semi-reliant on Kalista's soulbound partner. We'll start with Kalista's W Sentinel. The active portion of the ability is quite niche but can help secure vision on neutral objectives or enemy jungle camps if you know how to aim them right and can even spot out a jungler or roaming mid laner since more often than not they'll kill it and reveal themselves even if the ghost itself doesn't spot it. The bulk of the strength of Kalista's lies in the two passives of the ability. The first is one we mentioned before which gave Kalista bonus attack speed near her Oathsworn and the second one deals percentage max health magic damage if Kalista and her partner auto attack the same target within a few seconds. However the latter part of the ability was pretty much nerfed into the ground since her release and isn't really anything to write home about anymore.
And last, but certainly not least, we have Kalista's ultimate: Fate's Call. This ability is what makes Kalista such a curious case when it comes to marksman kits. A champion whose role is centered around playing fights safe and waiting for the ideal moment to DPS was given an ability to dictate when and where a teamfight started at the drop of a hat. These two abilities are what make Kalista such a versatile AD Carry. You can play around Kalista's W damage and consistent Rend trading to whittle down the opposing laner and pair her up with an Ardent Censor support like Janna or Lulu so she can do most of the heavy lifting. Or you can take advantage of her strong all-in potential and heavy CC with her ult and match her up with all-in engage supports like Rakan and Alistar. There are every few lanes a good Kalista player will find themselves in that they'll have trouble winning. However with all these strengths Kalista does have her fair share of weaknesses which we'll get into now.
The first of Kalista's pitfalls is her early game-centric itemization. The trio of Blade of the Ruined King, Runaan's Hurricane and Berserker's Greaves grant Kalista immense early game power, but at a significant cost. After completing these first three items, it's all downhill due to Kalista's lack of critical strike scaling which eventually leads to the enemy ADC beating you out after you hit four items and beyond. So coming out of lane with a lead and being able to close out games is paramount to finding success with the champion. Kalista's second big weakness is a combination of her short auto attack range and mechanical demand of her Martial Poise passive. While Kalista does have an astronomical amount of in-combat mobility, her short ranged auto attacks still inhibit her in full-fledged 5v5 team fights which is why she flourishes in small 3v3 or 4v4 skirmishes, which you should endeavour to force with your ultimate, where she has free reign to hop on and target who she pleases.
Regarding Kalista's aforementioned lack of critical strike scaling, it begs the question, "What do you build on her then?" This is a very important question and you'll find that Kalista has a staggering amount of potential build paths. After building the above core three items, a whole world of possibilities opens up. Here are a few of my considerations depending on the state of the game.
- Bloodthirster is my personal favorite because I like the raw AD to augment my Q and E and the added survivability from the lifesteal is a real boon of you can position well and consistently get auto attacks off.
- I know it may seem contradictory but you're not really getting the Phantom Dancer for the Crit Chance or Attack Speed. The primary reason you buy the item is to get some extra survivability and kiting power against a scary diver or bruiser like Jax or Darius.
- Mercurial Schimitar is a popular option because of Kalista's short range and crippling fear of CC. More often than not, if you're teamfighting as Kalista and you're not hopping around to kite and chase you're probably dead and you can't really do that if you get Flash Maokai W'd or ulted by Sejuani. The lifesteal and AD is nice too.
- 9 times out of 10 an AD Carry will sit on a base Last Whisper and continue to build their multiplicative scaling then finally upgrading it as a fifth or sixth item. This isn't the case for Kalista though. Because Kalista needs to get an early lead and close out the game quickly, she doesn't care about multiplicative stats. Kalista needs to be able to kill everyone, including tanks, to do this, which is why it isn't uncommon to see her itemising a very early Lord Dominik's or Mortal Reminder.
- I know what you're thinking: "Why would I build Frozen Mallet on an ADC?" but hear me out first. Kalista's short range means that in a teamfight she's bound to tank some residual damage. Frozen Mallet not only makes you tanky enough to survive said damage but makes it much easier to keep enemies at arm's length to stay safe.
- Maw of Malmortius is a great pick up against magic damage heavy comps for obvious reasons but another big pro of the item on Kalista is how well she utilises the Lifegrip passive. The AD, lifesteal and spell vamp are all very good stats that Kalista can use very well.
- Guardian Angel is great choice because of its low cost and revival passive which Kalista should make decent use of since you're often in the thick of things much more often than a typical ADC.
For example, my personal optimal build would look a little something like this. The order of the first three items should always be the same with you rushing Berserker's Greaves in to Blade and then Hurricane. The other 3 can be adapted to whatever order best fits the game.
Runes are slightly more complex for Kalista than for her fellow markman counterparts. You basically have 2 options.
The page on the left is a standard ADC page that you run on almost every ADC and is the one I personally recommend since the AD makes it easier to last hit in lane. The page on the right really hams up Kalista's extended trading and in-combat maneuverability. Just remember your auto attacks will pretty much do nothing until you get your Blade of the Ruined King.
For masteries the clear cut favorite for Kalista is Fervor of Battle. Your primary damage source is your auto attacks and you itemize a lot of early Attack Speed, so you generate max stacks very easily. You can change the other minor masteries at your discretion except for taking Fury over Sorcery for obvious reasons. You can opt to take Runic Armor over Veteran Scars if you feel like you can give up the strength in lane for more synergy with your lifesteal or if you have a shielding support.
And that concludes this guide to League's very own spooky spear lady. Thanks for reading.
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