Black by Popular Demand – Activist by Choice

It’s the End of Skarner As We Know It…and I Feel Sad

As you may or may not be aware, Riot has been reworking Skarner, for months now. As the former 3rd ranked North American Skarner main (behind JustinJoe and LastSkarnerNA), I get asked a lot what my opinions on the rework are. So here goes.

Note: Here’s my short prediction on what happens when the rework comes out: people start playing Skarner again, people realize that he’s good (as he was before the rework), and the rework is lauded as a semi-success. The problem is not that the rework changes his level of power or exposure. The problem with the rework is that it does so at expense of a lot of the uniqueness of his kit.

Oh, and here’s a link to my Skarner guide on LoLKing. http://www.lolking.net/guides/170494

It’s not updated, unfortunately, due to technical issues I’m resolving with LoLKing (my guides have become disconnected from my account).

What is Skarner?

To know why I hate the new Skarner, you have to first understand what makes Skarner one of the most unique and well-balanced champions in the game.

Defined Gameplay

Skarner has something most champions in League of Legends don’t have: clearly defined strengths and weaknesses.

If you can kite Skarner, he can’t even get onto you. But if he gets onto you, you can’t get him off of you.

If you have QSS, you can negate his most game-breaking ability.

If you burst down his shield, he’s much less useful.

If you draw him into extended fights, you run him OOM pretty quickly.

What is Skarner Not?

Skarner is not generic. Skarner is not a champion you can play like any other champion and expect to do well on. He has his own unique playstyle, builds that most champions don’t have, and rather unique abilities.

The Basics of Skarner

There are a few things Skarner does:

1 – Initiate

Skarner can start fights with his ultimate, although given its single-target nature, he should aim to use it on a priority target ADC>APC>Carry Jungler>Mage Support>Tank Support>Tank Jungler>Top

2 – Pick

Skarner is much better in skirmishes than teamfights, because there are fewer targets to CC/kite him, and his ultimate has more relative strength. If you catch anybody out of position, you can slow them permanently, allowing your team to follow-up easily

3 – Peel

Skarner’s ultimate isn’t reduced by CC Reduction, so if an assassin or bruiser jumps on a carry, you can lock them down to protect your ADC. His slow can also keep bruisers without gap-closers off of your carries.

4 – Dive

It’s extremely hard to remove Skarner from a target, due to his tankiness and perma-slow.

Summary

Skarner has a zone of control, and if you’re in it, you’re screwed, but if you’re not, you should be ok. His passive essentially snowballs him in a fight, because the more he auto attacks, the more ridiculous his kit becomes, due to his passive. The more he auto-attacks, the lower the cooldown on his slow. The more he slows, the less time he spends chasing, and the more time he spends auto-attacking, and the more time he spends auto-attacking — you get the point.

Same goes for the relationship between his passive and his shield, which makes him tankier, but also speeds him up to make chasing easier, so he can auto-attack more, and gives him more attack speed, so he can…auto-attack more.

It all makes for a beautiful feedback loop where if you do it right, you initiate, cause a kill, and then die, but if you do it perfectly, you prevent all the incoming damage, and the fewer people that are left alive, the less incoming damage, which means the more your shield keeps you going and going going.

Essentially, Skarner is an oncoming tide of giant snails. As long as you stay away, you should be fine, but if they get on you, their gluey — ok this metaphor is weird.

New Spirit Stone Items

The main weakness of Skarner other than kiting has always been mana: he goes OOM after anything. In the jungle, this has typically meant that he is good at ganking or farming, but if he spends too much time doing either, he has to go back.

This has put him in a weird situation:

  • He has good ganks, but once his ultimate is down, he doesn’t want to gank again for awhile — especially as he’s now out of mana.
  • He has good sustain from his shield, but he doesn’t want to spam it while clearing, lest he run OOM.
  • He has extra sustain from his E, but he doesn’t even want to level it while clearing, lest he run OOM faster.

This gives him a good power spike, as all of his important stats are on Q and W. This is extremely important to Skarner, as he simply cannot afford the mana costs on 3 spells at once over any period of time.

The new jungle items actually helped him in that regard. Why? Because it means he doesn’t have to choose: gank or farm? Farming no longer depletes him of mana (especially if he builds Elder Lizard), as he can sustain up quickly off of the camps. This means that — like other junglers — he can farm, stay sustained, and still be a gank threat.

On some junglers, this is less important. For example, it makes sense for Gragas or Diana to have to make that choice, given the incredible speed of their farming, and the fact that they scale more like a laner than a jungler. But Skarner is as tank/bruiser as tanks/bruisers come, and so forcing him to make a choice that few other tanks/bruisers — even Amumu has better mana than he does — have to is entirely arbitrary.

In my opinion, the new spirit stone items didn’t make Skarner better or worse. He can no longer spam ganks, because the lack of passive regen (health or mana) will leave him OOM and — possibly — low health. But he has safer play available to him, because he can farm without worrying ‘what if a fight starts and I can’t respond because I’m OOM?’

New Skarner

New Skarner has a lot of changes. He keeps the same basic abilities, but much moved around.

His slow has been moved from his — short cooldown, small AoE — Q to his — long cooldown, thin line — E. Coincidentally enough, more standard bruisers — Olaf, Mundo, Aatrox — all have a straight line slow.

His attack speed buff has been moved from his — long cooldown shield — W to his — short cooldown, small AoE — Q

To be fair, there are some good things in the change. His ultimate change allows for more consistent gameplay, and prevents the frustration of ‘but my ult landed!’

Moving the attack speed to his Q allows his gameplay to be less feast/famine, as he won’t lose  it when the shield breaks.

Lowering the shield cooldown and buffing its strength allows him to regain a bit of the power he lost to nerfs, as well.

Finally, giving him a ranged slow allows him to close onto targets.

So What’s the Problem?

The kit has to take nerfs now, because of the ranged slow. You can’t have a perma-slow because ranged slow + perma-slow is broken. You also have to up the E cooldown considerably, to actually make sure there is no perma-slow. The cooldown on E will end up being about 4.2 seconds late game, potentially dipping lower with enough stacks of Crystal Slash or more Attack Speed items, so you will a perma-slow in the late, late game.

But this means you have to build 40% CDR, or your slow will just be too inaccessible (7 second CD or longer).

How is this solved on other bruisers? Easy: they don’t have a long suppression, so their slow can be spammable. Olaf can pick his axes up to throw them again sooner, for example.

Unfortunately, this makes his ganking very feast-famine. Miss your slow? Too bad. You’re at range, so you’re not auto-attacking, so that cooldown is the full 14 seconds.

But most importantly, the biggest issue that this change creates is simple.

Before now, Skarner got everything he needed from 2 skills: Q (CC/damage) and W (tankiness/speed/attack speed for CDR). When he hit 13, then he leveled up his E. This helped immensely with his mana issues. Now, his needs are split. More damage/attack speed for CDR? Max Q. More tankiness/movement speed? Max W. More CC? Max E.

But Gentleman Gustaf, doesn’t that make sense?

To an extent, yes. But it drastically changes his kit. He loses the early-mid game strength he has for more strength in the late-game, but his late-game is so defined by initiation and hampered by kiting and QSS that his strength is sort of irrelevant.

It’s kind of the Warwick problem. Sure, his W is cool, but when is he going to use it? He’s got to spend half of the teamfight suppressing the key target and potentially taking a lot of focus.

No Skarner is going to say ‘man, I’m totally happy to give up early/mid game uniqueness and strength, so that I can now launch this ranged slow through their front line and into their back line so I can dive through their whole team onto the ADC, because the issue was never how fast the ADC was, but getting CC’d by their protectors.

Olaf has the same problem, to be sure, but Olaf can just pop his ultimate and not care about that CC.

Aatrox/Shyvana/Jarvan/Vi may have the same problem, but they have ranged initiations.

Mundo may have the same problem, but his stats are permanent: you can’t burst down a shield to deprive him of his Movement Speed or Attack Speed, and he doesn’t need to be auto-attacking

Essentially, Skarner’s kit is very synergistic in skirmishes, due to his ability to prioritize targets to maximize his passive’s value. However, that synergy is lost in late-game teamfights, and replaced with an initiation/peel role. These buffs weaken his mid-game skirmishing, while buffing his late game skirmishing, but why should we care about ‘late-game skirmishing’?

Moreover, the need to level a third skill makes his mana problems even worse.

Builds

That being said, I’ve been playing him a bit differently after the spirit stone changes:

Runes

Marks – Attack Speed
Seals – Armor
Glyphs – MR+5% CDR
Quints – MS

Masteries

5/22/3

Items

Elder Lizard – maximizes his clear speed and sustain

Frozen Fist – more slows!

Banshee’s Veil – vs heavy CC
or
Spirit Visage – otherwise

Randuin’s – GET TANKY

Other tank items.

Abilities

R>Q>W>E

Rework Build

After the rework, I’ll be doing things differently. I’m not exactly sure what that will mean.

His Q and E are both for clearing, his W and E are both for ganking

I’m torn between:

R>E>W>Q, but I’m worried that’ll hurt his clear speed too much, and hurt the synergy between his Attack Speed buff and his passive.

R>Q>W>E, but I’m worried he’ll have no non-ultimate ganking power.

R>Q>E>W, but I’m worried he’ll be so squish AND have no ganking power

At this point, I think REWQ is the winner, because 1 point in Q will be enough to spam out Elder Lizard procs when clearing, while maxing E and W will give you a good combination of slows and movement speed.

Moving Forward

So, as much as I don’t like the changes, where does this leave Skarner?

He’s going to play a lot like Olaf or Udyr, diving onto targets, and sticking to them.

He has unique advantages over each of them. Unlike Udyr, he’ll have ranged CC to help close the gap, and unlike Olaf, he’ll have hard CC to initiate with.

However, the disadvantages are much more notable. Unlike Olaf, he won’t have immunity to CC, making his blind charge into combat potentially useless in the face of kiting. And unlike Udyr, his Movement Speed buff and shield will be on a much longer cooldown when he’s not attacking to take advantage of his passive.

Precisely when Skarner needs more uses of his abilities — when he’s being kited — is when their cooldowns are longest. But given the long CD on his slow (14 seconds), he won’t actually be able to stick to a target, causing him to lose his passive, and thus have longer cooldowns. Before, he had trouble getting on people, but once he did, he was on them. Now, he’ll find it slightly easier to get onto people, but it will be much less meaningful to do so. Finally this forces him into full CDR builds. Granted, it’s not too hard to get full CDR, with 10% from runes and masteries and another 10% from your jungling item, but it could still set him behind, and prevents him from having more build variety. Currently, you can eschew CDR, knowing that you will still have the slow from your Q.

The same goes for his shield. Since he’ll find it easier to get onto targets, but harder to stick to him, his shield will be up less often, making him much squishier than he needs to be as such a melee champion. Luckily, Riot seems to have realized that, and buffed the strength of the shield and reduced the cooldown.

All around, the issue isn’t the change to Skarner’s strength. Personally, I feel that he has been perfectly viable for some time (CloudTemplar has said for some time that the wonkiness on his ult is the only thing that keeps him from picking him back up), and would be unsurprised to see players picking him up after the rework and realizing that he is indeed strong. However, his kit’s uniqueness will be much less notable.

————————————————————–

Mattias “Gentleman Gustaf” Lehman is a gaming and esports nerd who has ranked as high as Diamond 1 in solo queue and Diamond 3 in arranged 5s.

You can see his other work here:

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Categorised in: League of Legends, Theorycrafting

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