Karma's Redesign: Why it's Necessary, and What to Expect
Sun 10th Mar 2013 - 1:07pm
A few days ago, we finally got word about Karma's redesign. For what seems like forever, we have known that there would be a Karma rerelease, but Riot's staff has discussed this in only whispers and non-committal promises. It’s been difficult to find actual evidence that any progress was being made. That is, up until now.
Thanks to a recent leak about Karma’s redesign, Riot has found their timetable suddenly pushed forward. In response, Riot spokesmen Morello, Grumpy Monkey, and RiotRunaan gave concrete proof that the time invested in Karma's rework has been well worth the wait. It's time for Karma's fans (sorry, sorry, it won’t happen again) to rejoice.
But why was a rework necessary in the first place?
There have been several ability reworks already - such as Ryze, Jax, or Evelynn - and visual upgrades have been popping up all over the place, such as the recent Annie and Nidalee updates. Even Katarina, one of the League’s most prominent champions, has had her abilities replaced. Riot even threw in a slick new model to go with the changes. But nothing Riot has worked on before has been as drastic as the complete overhaul which Karma is receiving.
So, why is it that the community started viewing the initial Karma champion as a failure anyway? Reception of Karma's initial release was pretty mixed, with many excited by the prospect of a champion whose ultimate was received at level one, allowing for heavy prioritisation into whichever ability suited the player's particular situation. This initial excitement began to dwindle as players realised that as versatile a support as Karma was, every role she filled was already better executed by similar support champions. We can figure out why by taking a close look at her abilities and how they affect her performance as a support.
Karma's Kit, and where it went wrong
Because of the unique nature of Karma's ultimate Mantra, it's best to check it out before looking at the rest of her kit. Karma gets Mantra on her first level allowing her up to two charges at a time, which then recharge over 30 / 25 / 20 seconds depending on Karma's level. These charges can be spent to apply bonus effects to Karma's abilities. At first this appears to be a novel way of offering a very versatile champion who reacts well in all situations.
In reality, the charges are very constrictive, often forcing players to wait for extra charges to recharge in order to use their abilities when they need them, extremely limiting Karma's potential. Karma's lack of an ultimate increases how many points she has to put into each of her abilities in order to max them out, meaning that it also takes more levels for them to reach their full potential.
Karma's passive ability is her Inner Flame, which gives her an additional 30 / 50 / 70 / 90 / 110 / 130 ability power depending on how much health she is missing. This is a pretty powerful passive, and gives her a huge edge on other enemies when it comes down to those extended fights where even the slightest advantage can lead to those clutch kills.
In fact, prior to Karma having this passive it was on Ryze, and gave him a boost in his damage output. Unfortunately because the rest of Karma's kit is meant as supportive utility, her damage isn't the focal point of how she is used. Altogether, this has always been a strong passive, but it simply doesn't match with the current support role.
Heavenly Wave is one of Karma's main damage abilities doing 80 / 125 / 170 / 215 / 260 / 305 (+ 60% AP) in magic damage in a cone in front of Karma. When used in conjunction with her Mantra it also offers a heal for 35 / 55 / 75 / 95 / 115 / 135 + 5% (+1% per 50 AP) of an ally's missing health. This heal is actually pretty decent when used on a large group of allied champions, making it a very useful team fight heal. The main issue here is that it is difficult to have the cone reach enough of your allies during a team fight to be effective, and those opportunities where it does are very situational. With its 6 second cooldown this ability can be spammed often for its damage potential, but since the heal is based off of a 20-30 second recharge rate, it just can't be relied on as the main healing ability for her team.
As for during the laning phase, the fact that a large part of her heal is based off how much the ally is missing means her squishy ADC lane partner can’t efficiently benefit from this heal unless they're stacking health, a big no-no for carries.
Karma's signature move is her Spirit Bond, an ability which tethers to an allied or enemy unit for a movement increase or slow with a base of 10% / 12% / 14% / 16% / 18% / 20% for 5 seconds. With her Mantra ultimate active the movement speed is increased to 20% / 24% / 28% / 32% / 36% / 40%. Additionally, allied champions who walk through this tether gain additional movement speed for 3 seconds, and enemy champions who move through the tether have their speed reduced by the same amount. In the laning phase the tether offers excellent mobility for an allied champion to get out of ganks and to get last hits, as well as offering free opportunities for harassing the enemy champions.
Spirit Bond is probably most effective when chasing down enemy opponents out of position, but doesn't offer much help within a team fight. As mentioned previously, other supports offer similar movement speed buffs without the restrictions which karma's 1000 range tether has. For example, Nunu's Blood Boil offers a significant movement speed buff of 8% / 9% / 10% / 11% / 12% and also offers a much more valuable attack speed bonus of 25% / 30% / 35% / 40% / 45%. This scales much better in both the laning phase as well as into the late game, and can be chained together to give an almost permanent boost to his ADC which Karma’s Spirit Bond doesn’t offer.
There are also other ADC who have abilities which completely outscale Spirit Bond, such as Jayce's Acceleration Gate which gives all allies who go through it a 3 second 30% / 35% / 40% / 45% / 50% movement increase, without requiring special positioning like Spirit Bond does. As for Spirit Bond’s slow, Nunu’s Ice Blast has a 20% / 30% / 40% / 50% / 60% enemy slow, and can also be chained with the right investment in cooldown reduction. Karma's CC just isn’t enough to actually have a practical effect during a team fight, and trying to use her slow during the laning phase requires her to position herself directly in harms way, offering too little reward for such a gamble.
Karma's final active ability is her Soul Shield which gives an ally a 5 second shield of 80 / 120 / 160 / 200 / 240 / 280 (+ 80% AP), and when a Mantra charge is applied it also grants AoE magic damage of the same amount. This is an excellent shield for the laning phase and during team fights, but again it just doesn't offer the same advantages which other supports can. Janna's shield is just as effective at 80 / 120 / 160 / 200 / 240 (+ 90% AP) with the exact same 10 second cooldown at every level, but in addition offers an attack damage bonus of 14 / 23 / 32 / 41 / 50 on her target without worrying about rationing charges. Karma's shield just can’t compare, in either the lane phase or during the mid/late game.
Middle Lane AP Karma
On occasion Karma players have attempted to take on the mid lane, but with limited success. The theory behind it is sound; Karma has okay damage output on her abilities which scale pretty decently with AP items, and with her passive there is the opportunity to have some real damage output. This in conjunction with the sustain she receives due to her shield and heal make it easy for her to remain in lane for an extended period of time
Ganks also come easy to Karma as she can use her Spirit Bond to boost her jungler's movement to help them reach the enemy, and her shield can also be used in case a tower dive is required. However, a major flaw is how both Heavenly Wave and Soul Shield require her to be within ~300 range of the target before they can be used as an attack. This means that Karma is required to walk right up to her target in order to use her abilities, and since she can't use her shield without losing her damage output, the enemy champion is given free damage on Karma before she can finally throw up her shield. By this point the enemy will have spent all of their abilities against Karma and don’t have to worry about attacking her with her shield up, if they haven’t retreated to their turret already.
Even after karma has unloaded all of her abilities, she is then forced to back off to wait up to 30 seconds to have another charge available to go aggressive again, by which time the enemy will have more than enough time to heal themselves for the next exchange. Because Karma lacks a damage inflicting ultimate, she doesn't have an effective way to finish off low health enemies, causing her kill potential in both laning and in team fights to be virtually nullified.
What does it all mean?
Karma's play style is unique, making her a fun, interesting champion to play. Unfortunately that's as far as compliments go. While her abilities offer a couple of nice offensive tactics, they are simply not as effective as other support champions who have hard CC available, which is of course essential for support. This weakness is only exacerbated by the fact she loses an entire active ability for her Mantra, further limiting her team fight ability and placing her at a huge disadvantage. With only very minor buffs to her abilities throughout the last couple years, Karma is just too underpowered and far too situational to be viable in the current League of Legends meta.
What can we expect for the remake?
Besides a new model and most likely an updated voice track, we also know that Riot considers Karma’s fans SO two years ago. That's right, Karma's fans have been completely removed. As the developers have confirmed and the photo above illustrates, Karma now manifests energy to attack her enemies and to help her allies, and all of her kit has been remade to take advantage of this change.
Rumours are floating around, and we have some good ideas as to what her abilities might be. The essence of her abilities will still be kept, and it appears that Spirit Bond at least visually looks very similar. Though we can't tell if it will have the same effect as her previous Spirit Bond, expect something very similar, possibly with a cool new twist.
The most exciting part of what has been unveiled is Karma's tattoos and the Ionian twin dragons above her which begin to glow. Such a distinct change to her model suggests that this is her new ultimate, and may be her new Mantra ability. For those who have been waiting with baited breath for this remake to be released, well you can finally relax knowing that it won't be much longer.
Morello promises the improved Karma will be out on Public Beta Environment "pretty soon", though what exactly that means, your guess is as good as mine. As for those who don't own Karma already, be sure to pick her up soon as those who own her as a champion prior to her re-release will receive a free Traditional Karma skin. Until we finally get to see her remake released in the regular servers, let’s all try to hold our breath for just a little longer.