The State of Hypercarries in Season 3 - Part One: The Meta
Thu 1st Aug 2013 - 5:24pm
We've reached the boiling point of Season 3, with competition in most of the leagues across the globe winding down and everyone looking forward to qualifying for the World Championship. Meanwhile, solo queue players across the globe are trying to get promoted up one more League for those lovely end of Season rewards. And most importantly, we've seen the metagame stabilize. We've gone through the League of Warmogs, the Night of a Thousand Cleavers, and the horrible BotRK Phase, to see a diverse metagame become established.
There is little worry of a build like the Metagolem dominating each game you play, and every single class of character, outside the ever non-viable Melee AD Carry, has been represented regularly in professional play. Even the most niche champions have seen themselves get called upon for the Fields of Justice; Korea has seen Heimerdinger, China has seen Fiora, and Europe has seen Malzahar. With such wide diversity in the champion pool, one can argue that the biggest reason for the massive Season 3 changes, the stagnant and slow-adapting meta-game, has been eliminated.
Hypercarries remain a popular pick as well, with Karthus, Vayne, Ryze, and Kog'Maw remaining prevalent, and a resurgence of play in a few of the others, such as Tristana and Twitch. Jax, too, waits in the wings, picked at times and showing himself to still be dangerous. However, with all these changes, a big question needs to be asked: How healthy has Season 3 been for the Hypercarry?
Let's start with defining what exactly a Hypercarry is in the terms of League of Legends. Hypercarries are those champions that scale exponentially into the late game, a great deal harder than other champions in their class. Their have the potential at six items, one hour into a match, to 1v5 the enemy team and laugh about it later. Now, the nature of League means that a Hypercarry isn't as unstoppable as in, say, Dota, where feeding Faceless Void means game over with no remake. The closest you'll get to that feeling of helplessness is an atrociously fed/farmed Jax, which while still presenting a terrifying prospect, you aren't utterly powerless against him.
The kits of LoL Hypercarries allow their players to put out ridiculous amounts of damage, whether it be by an incredible steroid, repeatable percentage-based damage, machine-gun like spell casts, or being Karthus (who is a silly champion). They also share very weak early games, as their high damage kits seldom have escapes, and such early mediocrity is an attempt to balance the late game misery that the Hypercarry might deal to the enemy team. Teams that stomp on Hypercarries early are rewarded by delaying that nightmare.
When your champion rewards you for dying correctly, you know you're on a fast track to being a Hypercarry.
Now, which champions fill the "role" of Hypercarry is always a contentious debate, but there are a few champions that I believe fill this role, and this series of articles will look to this list. The most common AP Hypercarry is certainly Karthus, who has some of the highest potential magic damage in teamfights, mostly due to this damage output not stopping when he dies and he has a guaranteed means to hit everyone on the opposing team with Requiem. Cassiopeia is another AP Hypercarry, who was quite popular in Season 2, as her single target burst with Twin Fangs and Noxious Blast, along with the absolutely sickening number of spells she can throw out with Deadly Cadence, allows her to disintegrate targets in the late game. Finally, Ryze has the machine-gun like tendencies that melt teams, all covered with a rough tanky exterior that allows him get into the fight and blow targets up.
AD Hypercarries are the most common, with the role of being the damage dealer walking hand in hand with being baby-sat in the early game. Vayne is possibly the least debated of the lot, with Silver Bolts threatening to murder targets with unmitigable true damage and Final Hour providing a massive steroid and degree of evasion in teamfights. Kog'Maw stays far in the back of the team, melting targets with the massive percentage magic damage of Bio-Arcane Barrage, and he is able to use Living Artillery to finish the job from over a screen away. Twitch rather threatens the most late game damage output of any AD Carry with the disgusting damage output that Spray and Pray can put on an entire enemy team, allowing him to hit all five members with BoTRK damage and Infinity Edge critical hits, and Expunge can easily finish the job that his Deadly Venom started. Tristana has some of the best concentrated damage through the ridiculous attack speed steroid that Rapid Fire allows, while Draw a Bead allows her to deal a massive amount of damage as well.
Finally, the grandmaster of Hypercarries is a Bruiser: Jax. Few things terrify older LoL players more than a fed Jax, and while his rework reduced the terrifying ceiling quite a bit, he's still a frightening thing to behold, and might be one of the closest things League has to the Hypercarries of other MOBAs. Grandmaster's Might and Relentless Assault provide Jax with the durability and steroid that can allow him to single-handedly destroy enemy teams. Poppy is another "potential" Hypercarry, but her legendary atrocious early game means that she is seldom seen in competitive play, and Irelia was hit so hard with the nerf-bat that she cannot remember how to be a Bruiser, let alone Hypercarry. Tryndamere is the final Bruiser Hypercarry, and its for a reason thats very similar to Karthus - massive damage potential that is combined with a guaranteed period of time to pump it out with Undying Rage.
Season 3's Impact on the Hypercarry: Meta and Champion Shift
This article's focus will be upon the changes in the champion pool and in the metagame's playstyle that have affected the Hypercarry. The following section will mention pick rates and items, but they will be covered in more depth in later sections. Finally the following section is, while by no means comprehensive, a look at the health of the Hypercarry, not the roles that are mentioned. By no means am I going to say that the abusive nerfing that Olaf took was healthy for the game or for Carry Junglers, but for Hypercarries, it was a healthy change. Similarly, the continued existence of Jayce isn't healthy for the game, but it has a marginal effect on most Hypercarries.
The Return of the Assassin
The Season 3 shift in the meta might lead to an argument that the Hypercarry has a much tougher time in Season 3's environment. This is especially true with the revitalization of the Assassin as a role, especially the popularity of the AD Assassin in the mid lane. Kha'Zix, Rengar, Zed, and Pantheon threaten to kill Hypercarries at the very beginning of the fight, and this was represented by a decline of Hypercarry play at the very beginning of Season 3, especially in the mid lane. AP Assassins like Evelynn and Fizz also threaten the back-lines, and while they are less popular, their burst potential is often even greater than their AD counterparts. Since Assassins win the game by abusing their powerful early/mid-game to isolate and snowball off enemy champions, they're a natural counter to the weak and often immobile early game Hypercarry.
Kha'Zix's popularity in the early season was mostly due to his insane poking capacity through Enhanced Void Spikes, which chipped down his opponent before he Leaps in and culls the enemy. His pick rate in the NA LCS Spring of 33% meant he was always a threat to jump behind Vayne and gib her before the game-ending teamfight. However, we've seen his popularity decline as his Void Spikes were reduced to a less insane level. That being said, he offers some of the highest potential damage to an Hypercarry at level 6.
To be perfectly honest, the Kha'Zix nerfs were warranted, even on a flavor standpoint. When I see a giant preying mantis, I expect him to jump in and slice my tender bits, not repeatedly just fire bullets at me.
However, the holder of that title would have to be Zed. In OGN's The Champions Spring he was picked or banned in 39% of all games, and he still sees significant play globally. What Zed offers is the ability to instantly eliminate one target with Death Mark's doubling his incredible damage output, and he isn't useless for the rest of the fight with strong sustained damage. Rengar is seeing a bit of a resurgence for similar reasons, as he can use Thrill of the Hunt to get close and use a nice triple Savagery to shred down the Hypercarry. However, he isn't as popular as Zed and Kha'Zix due to his inability to poke and his lack of an escape, and the Hypercarry is easily able to kite him through the relatively weak chasing skill that Bola Strike is.
Evelynn's return to prominence has been through the Jungle, but it doesn't make her any less dangerous of an Assassin pick. Rather, one might argue that her prevalence in the Jungle is more dangerous as it offers her the ability to strike down Hypercarries and other relatively squishy targets across the map. And while, as a former Evelynn main, I will still bemoan the loss of her stun out of stealth, she has shown that, when equipped with a Spirit of the Lizard Elder, she can easily eliminate targets in the early game.
Why the rebirth of the Assassin role has been bad for Hypercarries is twofold: First, the Assassins are able to easily kill or zone out a Hypercarry in the early game, which zones them from their most beloved resource -- farm. Secondly is that the presence of the Assassin forces the Hypercarry to either play conservatively in fights or rush defensive stats, both of which delay and mitigate the damage that the Hypercarry can put out. This means has been crippling for one Hypercarry in particular -- Cassiopeia. Unlike Karthus, she has very little recourse for an abusive lanemate until level 6, and if she is unable to hit the stun from Petrifying Gaze or lock them down that slow combined with Miasma, she'll die after that too.
High-Disruption and Disrupted Junglers
Coupled with the reintroduction of the Assassin into the environment is the shift back towards high-disruption Junglers, namely Zac and Jarvan IV. These high-disruption targets offer Zed and other Assassins a chance to isolate high-priority targets and kill them, without a Support even getting the chance to rescue them. Zac's two knockup abilities (Elastic Slingshot and Let's Bounce!) allow him to lock down the Hypercarry and gives the Assassin's breathing room while they perform their lethal art. Jarvan IV's Flagstaff combo and Cataclysm don't offer as much disruption as Zac, but they certainly isolate the target and prevent them from escaping from the enveloping enemy team. The ascension of Nasus has similarly been bad for the AD Hypercarry, as Wither, even with its nerf, shuts down the attack-speed dependant damage output of the Hypercarries, while more ability based or burst damage AD Carries like Graves and Draven are able to still put out damage while Withered.
Other Junglers, such as Nunu and Elise don't offer quite as much disruption, but they do have other things to offer a team running up against a Hypercarry. While Ice Blast's slow is quite a bit less than the debilitating attack speed loss of Wither (25% versus 47.5%), Nunu can keep it on the AD Hypercarry for the entirety of the fight, while Nasus will be leaving the AD Carry unslowed for between 4-6 seconds before he can throw Wither on her again. This also gives Nunu the advantage of being able to throw another slow on the Hypercarry even after they have Cleansed. Elise's introduction into the Jungle is dangerous for a different reason. Rappel allows Elise to leap right over the chaos of a teamfight to get on top of the Hypercarry and eliminate them.
That being said, there are three changes in the Jungle that Hypercarries benefited. The first of which was the brutal assault Olaf took from Morello and his nerf-bat. Olaf was one of the single most feared champions for any Hypercarry, AD or not. With the inability to be effectively kited through his use of Undertow and Ragnarok, inability to be peeled for the later reason, and him only growing stronger as you chipped away at his health, Olaf was the nightmare who kept Vayne, Kog'Maw, and Karthus players up at night. However, with the changes that were made in the 3.01 patch, we saw his Undertow become much less of a kite avoidance tool, and he lost much of his non-ulted damage as Ragnarok's passive Armor Penetration was taken away and Vicious Strike's Damage and Lifesteal were given a longer cooldown. Without fearing the Viking on the battlefield, Hypercarries are now allowed to be picked into quite a few team compositions, rather than needing to have a Thresh/Jarvan/Anivia/Trundle to make it physically impossible for Olaf to reach them.
The second change was the nerfing of Vi after her release. As I mentioned in one of my previous articles, out of the gate Vi was disgustingly powerful and she definitely needed some tweaking. However, with the nerfs she got to her damage output, teams and players stopped picking her up, which meant that Hypercarries didn't need to worry the second-best thing to Ragnorok, the uncleansable, unstoppable force that Assault and Battery is. Finally, the changes to the Jungle timings itself was a blessing for Hypercarries, as it meant that the AD Bullies of Draven/Caitlyn were not able to hit that vital level 2 and murder their opponents without recourse.
AD Bullies in the Bottom Lane and Where the Bottom Lane Has Gone
The growth in popularity of bully AD Carries like Caitlyn and Draven has also made AD Hypercarries miserable, as they are abused in lane. It bears repeating that Tristana should leave lane forty CS behind, and that is because these AD Carry bullies deny them the chance to farm as they're being forced to dodge Peacemakers, Buckshots, or Spinning Axes all day long. The AD Bullies in the bottom lane are often accompanied with heavy initiating Supports, such as Zyra, Leona, and Taric, and the aforementioned high-disruption Junglers make every bottom lane Hypercarry fear for their life for the first ten minutes of the game.
With all these factors going against AD Hypercarries, one might question why they still see play at all! It seems like it would be too much effort to get your Hypercarry into the late game, and at that point, they'll just either be vaporized by an Assassin or be neutered by Nasus. And if the professional games were played in the standard two solo lane, one jungler, one duo in bot meta, that would be true. However, one of the biggest changes in the Season 3 meta that has encouraged the Hypercarry is the constantly shifting lane meta. 2v1s against Bruisers is probably the most helpful, as it allows Vayne and Kog'Maw to bully their lane opponents early, which doesn't happen in the standard game, and lets them farm up without Draven or Caitlyn beating their faces in. It also mitigates the risk of a Jungler like Nasus or Rammus running into the lane, as the 2v2 fight gives a better chance of escape that the 3v2.
Fear begins to set in when you realize Kassadin is an awful two versus one champion.
The constantly pushing metagame of competitive LoL has also increased the frequency of free-farming lanes, where Karthus/Vayne/Kog'Maw are left alone bottom, while a 5v4 happens sieging in another lane. Giving the Vayne a free lane to farm allows her to hit that critical mass of pain that will give the enemy team convulsions. The abusive nerfing of Olaf similarly helped Hypercarries as the lack of a raging unstoppable berserker crashing through your lines means there is one less "must deal with" threat available. I realize I'm repeating this, but the importance of this nerf cannot be underestimated.
This pushing metagame has hurt the Bruiser Hypercarries though, as Jax and Tryndamere are not well suited to deal with the ranged harassment that an AD Carry in the top lane offers. If they would attempt to perform their normal anti-ranged strategy (jumping on them and beating them to death), the Support can peel for the AD and then Jax/Tryndamere will die extremely quickly. The want for each solo laner to have a strong 2v1 matchup has weakened the hold Jax had on the top lane, and has stifled Tryndamere's return to prominence.
But, in the lanes of solo queue, thats not really true. You still often see Vaynes going against Caitlyn, and normally getting an Ace in the Hole through the head in punishment for it. However, just because lane bullies abuse AD Hypercarries doesn't mean the latter are not going to be picked, because the Hypercarry offers the solo queue player something they were seldom have: control. If you can get your Hypercarry to the point where they're able to 1v5 their entire team, you're at the rare point in a solo queue game where you control your own destiny. Now, does this mean the Hypercarry role is healthy? No, but it explains why Hypercarries would be chosen in a solo queue game even with the beneficial metagame not being present.
Next week we'll take a look at one of the biggest changes in Season 3 that has supported the Hypercarry role: Item Changes.