We've seen plenty of non-traditional strategies in pro play, and especially from Cloud9, who were the principal users of various Senna comps throughout both Spring and Summer. Fast forward to Week 7 Day 3 of the League Championship Series Summer Split, Cloud9 have locked in a brand new pair of champions, Lux and Sona.
This is a new strategy popping up a lot in high elo solo queue, which scales very well, becoming incredible mid to late game supports for the entire team. There are quite a few intricasies about that make it work, but everything - no matter how weird - has a counter. Cloud9 found that out the hard way, losing in their game against Team Liquid in the second round robin, resulting in a tie for 1st place between the two teams.
However, let's take a look at the strategy behind the Cloud9 bot duo, where does this come from, why does it work, and what does it provide the team? And what did Cloud9 do wrong with this new strategy?
Why and how does the Lux + Sona duo work?
- In Patch 10.15, the mage support item line got a large buff, making them incredibly strong, especially in the later stages of the game where they become nearly 500% gold efficient, not including the wards they provide AND the remaining 3 gold per 10 seconds passive.
- Support items come with a downside of not being able to farm minions effectively, limiting you to four minions a minute, or 20 minions per five minutes. That makes it easy to keep track of.
- Each part of the duo can farm up to 4 per minute, amounting to 8 per minute total. The "CS Standard" is 10 per minute, so they'd essentially be down only 2 CS.
- The support item gives 2 gold per 10 seconds. Each wave is 30 seconds apart, meaning they'd earn 6 gold per wave. That later increases to 3 gold per 10 seconds, making it 9 gold per wave. Adding those together makes 12 gold per wave to 18 gold per wave. 12 gold is essentially a caster, 18 gold is between a caster and a melee, averaging out to about 1 CS per wave, or two per minute, making the total about 10 CS per minute in total gold, reaching that golden standard.
- On top of the CS and passive gold income, the Spellthief's line of support items give 15 gold when hitting an enemy champion. There are 3 charges, and they refill one charge per 10 seconds. So if all charges are used efficiently, that's another 45 gold per wave, or 90 per minute EACH. That equals six casters per minute, or a bit over four melees per minute for each champion, doubling to 180 gold per minute total, well eclipsing the 10 CS per minute standard.
- Because all of this gold is split between two champions, the "AD Carry" (or Bot Laner) position will be weaker for the Sona + Lux duo compared to the enemy Bot Laner, but the two combined should be even or ahead IF THEY PLAY IT OPTIMALLY. (Each player should take three melee + one caster as their 4 CS per minute. One trades a caster for a cannon minion instead when available.)
- During the mid game, each should be sitting comfortably with some leveled up support items and Archangel's Staff for Sona, Athene's Unholy Grail for Lux. These items are crucial, as they provide the spammability for Sona, and big heals coming in for Lux. Further increasing the healing + shielding power.
- Overall, they will have an AOE Lux Shield, applied twice, amplified by items. An AOE Sona shield that also heals Sona + a low health ally. A Seriph's Embrace shield for Sona. A bunch of bonus movement speed for everyone. A long range double root. A short range AOE stun. A big heal for the first person shielded by Lux. The Summoner Heal, the Summoner Barrier, and Keystones Summon Aery and Guardian.
- Therefore, this duo requires strong teamfighting carry potential from elsewhere in the draft, they're a powerhouse, but lack a lot of damage of their own, instead buffing up their entire team in big fights.
TL;DR on their strengths: The duo scales very well, bringing huge shields to the teamfights, making it incredibly difficult to finish off their teammates. Their items have the best gold efficiency in the game, and - with good synergy and a decent early game - they become nearly impossible to kill.
How is it exploitable, how does Sona + Lux lose?
- This combo is very diveable! Neither Sona nor Lux are good at hitting minions, especially in the early levels. Sona has the 4th lowest base health in the game, and starting the support item isn't helpful. Sona and Lux take double defensive Summoner Spells (Barrier + Heal), as well as defensive Keystones (Summon Aery and Guardian), but they're still very squishy otherwise.
- Unless they don't help their Jungler with a leash, they'll likely fall behind early game and be shoved off waves. The opposing bot duo should use their advantage to stack a wave, calling for their Jungler's help to dive them early. This get's executed properly even in high elo solo queue, so in pro play, it's even more likely.
- If so, Sona and Lux's Jungler need to go bot as well, meaning the opposing Jungler could use that to their advantage and invade or go top side instead.
- Regardless of a dive or not, the Sona + Lux should not have much kill potential or lane priority until mid way through the game when they reach their items and start leveling up. That should give early Drake and bottom scuttle priority to the opposing team, who could also influence mid if they get too far ahead.
- Because of how weak they are in lane, they need strong synergy as a duo to correctly farm and poke without taking too much return damage and/or losing wave control that would set up for an easy dive. Additionally, certain engage supports and hook champions can be very problematic for the duo. Blitzcrank specifically is an extreme counter, since his ult also deletes shields.
TL;DR on their weaknesses: Though Sona scales very well, and the duo provides incredible teamfight potential, they lose out on the late game damage of a traditional AD Carry unless they have a marksman in the top lane or jungle. If the Mid Laner goes for an AP Carry, they will be heavily stacking on purely AP damage, especially if either top or jungle goes for tanky/engage. They are very comp dependent to work as intended.
Where did Cloud9 go wrong to lose the game?
While Cloud9 controlled the early game better than could be expected, they made a few crucial mistakes. First, the LCS is currently playing in Patch 10.14, before the Spellthief's buffs. In 10.14, they have considerably reduced mana regen, making it much harder to spam spells - specifically for Sona - and 5 less AP on the final transformation, a loss of 100 gold value. That specifically affects the mid game, when Sona and Lux want to be roaming with some of the stronger carries on the team.
Second, because they picked the duo on their 2nd and 3rd pick slots, Team Liquid was able to lock in Blitzcrank before the second round of bans. Again, Blitzcrank is specifically a large counter for the strategy, since not only does he provide immense kill pressure in lane if he hits a hook, but his ult destroys shields. Not only did Cloud9 bring the Sona + Lux shields to the rift, but also Sett, Shen, and the Barrier for Sona, mentioned above. Blitz can destroy all of those, negating much of Cloud9's entire comp with a well timed ultimate.
Third, Cloud9 didn't have a pure carry champion. Eric "Licorice" Ritchie locked in Shen, Robert "Blaber" Huang chose Hecarim, and Yasin "Nisqy" Dinçer chose Sett. Hecarim and Sett have strong teamfight damage, but they can't replace the likes of a 3 item AD Carry like Aphelios or Ezreal. Furthermore, both Licorice and Nisqy built extremely tanky, rather than going for more bruiser builds, limiting the damage even further.
Fourth, after winning a bunch of early to mid game teamfights and skirmishes, Cloud9 got too ahead of themselves and started fighting outside of the safety and comfort of the big Sona circle of healing and shielding. Additionally, Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in found a few very key picks with his Blitzcrank, specifically one onto Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen's Lux that allowed TL to take Baron.
Fifth, Team Liquid also locked in Mordekaiser and Trundle, who are great champions against the comp with their own ultimates. If Mordekaiser ults Sona, Cloud9 loses a bunch of their comp's strengths in all of the shields, heals, and speed boosts. If Morde ults Hecarim, who was the only true AD threat, they lose a ton of their consistent teamfight damage. If Trundle ults Shen or Sett who built extremely tanky, they lose their resistances. Shields essentially scale off resistances, making them much less useful as well, further negating the strength of the comp.
Lastly, because the two carries for Team Liquid are Ezreal and Syndra, and since Blitz, Morde, and Trundle all have pretty reliable peel and zone of control, it's difficult for C9 to get to the backline effectively. Once Hecarim and Sett use their ults to engage past the TL frontline, they no longer have the protection of the bot duo, and the comp falls apart.
TL;DR of how TL beat C9: Their comp countered most of the strengths Sona + Lux provide to the team, specifically with Morde, Trundle, and Blitzcrank ults, as well as their zone of control. Additionally, C9 lacked strong teamfight damage, especially with the way they chose their items. Also, Spellthief's hasn't been buffed on the live LCS patch, making the duo weaker at all stages of the game.
What do you think about the duo? Do you hope to see it again once LCS is on Patch 10.15? If so, who do you think is best paired with it in the other lanes?
For more LoL Esports news and content, head over to our dedicated League of Legends section!