Another look at the fall of the assassin meta in League of Legends

The changes in League of Legends patch 3.13 were directly aimed at the most popular style of play we saw in season three.

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This article was originally published on GameSpot's sister site onGamers.com, which was dedicated to esports coverage.

The meta of League of Legends is constantly in flux. The champion picks and strategy that are popular now are much different than they were just several months ago. One of the more drastic, recent meta shifts that occurred can be seen by comparing the state of Mid lane during the Season 2 World Championship and the Season 3 World Championship.

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In Season 2, Mid lane revolved mostly around farm oriented champions such as Karthus or Orianna whose job was to hit a late game power spike and have large impact in team fights. In contrast, Season 3 heavily featured assassins such as Zed and Ahri with teams valuing their ability to delete squishy targets and create immense amounts of early game pressure by roaming around the map and influencing other lanes.

When the patch notes for 3.13 hit, it was clear Riot wasn't exactly happy with the current “assassin meta” with nerfs handed down to the popular assassins Zed, Ahri, Fizz, and Kassadin. It's been hard to measure the gravity of these changes due to most professional leagues being in their off season, but it's clear some of these changes were pretty drastic.

In competitive play, Zed replaced Twisted Fate as the premier ban or first pick champion. He has been popular for a while and despite shifting some numbers around, Riot hadn't really gone through with any sort of concrete nerf until now. Despite not having his damage touched at all, Zed might very well be receiving the harshest nerf of all the assassins.

Living Shadow

Significantly increased the time it takes for the Living Shadow to reach its destination (missile travel speed reduced to 1500 from 2500)

Death Mark

Now spawns the Living Shadow at Zed's starting position rather than behind the target
Increased the time Zed remains untargetable before dashing to the target to 0.75 seconds (from 0.35)
Death Mark shadow duration increased to 6 seconds (from 4)
Increased the range at which Zed can switch places with his Death Mark shadow to 2000 (from 1100)

All of his changes focus on how his shadows work. First off, they slowed down the missile speed on his Living Shadow (W). A pretty straightforward nerf that has the biggest impact on Zed's laning. This makes it easier to dodge any of the attacks coming from the shadow as its trajectory is more telegraphed than before. The more critical nerf has to do with the shadow that is spawned when Zed uses Death Mark (R).

Instead of spawning behind the champion targeted by Death Mark, it now spawns at the initial location that Zed casts the spell. Since Death Mark does extra damage based on the damage Zed does over a three second period, ever bit counts. Since Zed's extra shadow can contribute to this by using Razor Shuriken (Q) and Shadow Slash (E), having it spawn farther away from the target makes the enemy less likely to get hit by these moves.

This makes it more appealing to throw out Living Shadow in order to recreate the two shadows on top of one champion, but this takes away one of Zed's main escape options. To alleviate this, Riot increased the time the Death Mark shadow lasts and increased the range at which it can be teleported back to, but if Zed is out of range of this he is out of luck. Time will tell if Zed is still a pick that is a high priority in competitive play, and while the changes were quite drastic, it was clear something needed to be done about Zed's strength.

Ahri's nerfs were much more straightforward as they consisted of straight number tweaks.

Essence Theft

Now heals Ahri for 2 ( 1 per champion level) ( 0.09 Ability Power) each time her passive-enhanced spells hit an enemy (previously 35% Spell Vamp)

Fox-Fire

Mana cost reduced to 50 (from 60)
Diminishing returns effect on same-target hits increased to 70% (from 50%) (best case is now 100% 30% 30%)
This reduces the same-target damage to 64/104/144/184/224 ( 0.64 Ability Power) (from 80/130/180/230/280 ( 0.8 Ability Power)
Fixed a bug that caused Fox-Fire to sometimes deal reduced damage to a target that should receive the standard damage amount

Charm

Now increases the magic damage Ahri deals to the target by 20% for 6 seconds
Mana cost changed to 85 (from 50/65/80/95/110)

Spirit Rush

Base damage reduced to 70/110/150 ( 0.3 Ability Power) (from 85/125/165 ( 0.35 Ability Power))
This reduces the max damage per target to 210/330/450 ( 0.9 Ability Power) (from 255/375/495 ( 1.05 Ability Power))

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Specifically, she lost damage on both Fox-Fire (W) and Spirit Rush (R) and she her passive has been tweaked so it now scales with level and AP instead of flat Spell Vamp. The most interesting change to her kit comes on Charm (E), which now amplifies magic damage from Ahri by 20% for six seconds.

This is very similar to the passive found on Deathfire Grasp, which is usually Ahri's first major item. When used in conjunction, the damage boost from these two abilities stack multiplicitively for a total of 44% extra damage. Since the rest of her damage has been reduced, Ahri is much more reliant on hitting Charm in order to take full potential of her damage. This makes her more of a risky pick due to the nature of being so reliant on a single skillshot, but if she gets her full combo off she can still burst down champions very quickly.

Kassadin also experienced some shifts in his power through changes to his numbers.

General

Magic Resist per level reduced to 0 (from 1.25)

Null Sphere

Base damage reduced to 80/115/150/185/220 (from 80/130/180/230/280)
Silence duration changed to 1.5/1.75/2.0/2.25/2.5 seconds (from 1/1.4/1.8/2.2/2.6)
Mana Cost reduced to 70/75/80/85/90 (from 70/80/90/100/110)

Riftwalk

Base damage increased to 80/100/120 (from 60/70/80)
Base damage per Riftwalk stack reduced to 50/55/60 (from 60/70/80)
Added 0.1 Ability Power ratio per stack
Now refunds 50% of the total mana cost when Riftwalk damages an enemy champion

Null Sphere (Q) now does less damage and the duration of the silence now scales in a more linear fashion. He also lost his scaling magic resist per level so his laning phase should be a little more difficult. Riftwalk (R) now does more damage upfront, but does less increases damage per stack. To compensate, Kassadin is actually refunded mana if his Riftwalk strikes an enemy champion.

These changes to Riftwalk make it seem like Riot wants the spell to be used in a more aggressive manner in order to do some sustained damage instead of just using it to pop in, 100 to 0 an enemy, and pop back out. This is an interesting change, but getting rid of his extra magic resist very well be the most damning change to Kassadin, who already suffered from a notoriously weak early game. Although, some would argue this change is a fair trade off for the late game power Kassadin brings to the table.

Overall, Fizz's changes were the least drastic, and actually contain a bit of a buff.

Playful / Trickster

Fixed a bug where Fizz became targetable while still descending from Playful (he now only becomes targetable after landing, just like Trickster)

Seastone Trident

Active Ability Power ratio reduced to 0.15 (from 0.35)

Lowering the AP scaling on Seastone Trident (W) certainly takes away from some of Fizz's burst, but this seems reasonable as he now has to rely on his other skills in order to take out a champion. There is also a bug fix where Fizz remains untargetable slightly longer when descending from Playful (E). It's hard to measure the effect of this change, but League of Legends often comes down to split second timing and this change may mean the difference between life and death in some situations.

There were a lot of changes to assassins in this patch. Riot doesn't seem like they want the class of champion to disappear completely, but they seem as though they want more variety in the Mid lane. It's still too early to tell whether or not these nerfs will be effective in accomplishing their goal, but based on the amateur games currently being played, assassins are still a popular pick, although poke based champions such as Nidalee are also making a resurgence. With the preseaon changes on the horizon the meta is prime to shift once again, so it will be interesting to follow the scene closely and see what develops.

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