The 2021 Mid-Season Invitational is the first League of Legends esports major event to be played on Patch 11.9, and expectedly, the competitive meta has undergone some changes. Every team attending MSI had most recently competed on Patch 11.7 or 11.6, and because of this, teams were challenged to adapt to new picks in a short amount of time, resulting in some new picks that have defined the MSI meta and others that, while desirable, have yet to be seen consistently at the event.
Let's take a look at all five roles and identify two champions for each: One that has become a new pick at the front of the MSI 2021 meta, and one that should rise in popularity in the upcoming matches.
Top Lane: Lee Sin | Lucian
Lee Sin has made a return to the competitive meta as a solo laner after falling out of the jungle meta for a prolonged abscence, and while he has seen play in the mid lane, the top lane is where he shines.
Lee Sin has trade advantages in nearly every standard top lane matchup due to his Tempest/Cripple ability, which also offers him lane priority with superior push, especially when building an early Ironspike Whip. With his high mobility, Lee Sin can set up dives for his jungler as well as join a skirmish quickly in the crucial moments of the early game far quicker than many other top laners in the meta.
Lucian is the most picked mid laner at MSI 2021 thus far, and for good reason. The Purifier has a smooth power curve, almost never loses lane, and synergizes well with the dominant magic damage dealing junglers of the meta because of his physical damage spread. Despite being a mainstay of the mid lane, however, Lucian has shown flexibilty into the top lane a few times in the group stage to great success.
Royal Never Give Up top laner Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao is known for his Lucian — he was 9-0 on the pick in the 2021 League of Legends Pro League Spring Split — and so, when Unicorns of Love left the pick up against RNG, Xiaohu was quick to lock it in and wasted no time snowballing an advantage against the Gnar of Vladislav "BOSS" Fomin.
Cloud9 mid laner Luka "Perkz" Perković picked Lucian in the final match of Group C against Gillette Infinity, and early on in the laning phase, switched lanes with top laner Ibrahim "Fudge" Allami to bully INF top laner Mateo "Buggax" Alejandro Aroztegui Zamora, who was severely disadvantaged against Lucian on Gangplank. Perkz ended up proving he could play top lane as his Lucian ended up being the primary carry for C9 in the match, and Buggax finished 0/11/3.
Ultimately, Lucian has only been selected once in top lane to 22 times in the mid lane, and while Xiaohu and Perkz are players of a special breed, teams opening up to the potential flexibility of the pick may lead to some draft advantages not previously utilized.
Jungle: Morgana | Diana
AP junglers have defined the MSI 2021 meta, and at the forefront have been Rumble and Morgana. Both have great clear speed, magic damage, and can provide a gamechanging teamfight presence, albeit in very different ways.
Rumble and Morgana are the two most often picked/banned junglers at the tournament at 36 and 34 times, respectively, but Morgana's 8-3 record is superior to Rumble's 7-8. Rumble has certainly been able to take over games more singlehandedly, but oftentimes, the well-rounded utility that Morgana offers can benefit a team in a larger capacity.
Diana is another AP jungler that has received buffs before MSI, but has only been seen once since the start of the Group Stage. That one performance was on day 6, and in the hands of DWG KIA jungler Kim "Canyon" Geon-bu, Diana was shown as a very effective engage tool which not only provided strong intiation, but a fair amount of damage of her own as well. The cherry on top, of course, was her synergy with the Yasuo of DK mid laner Heo "ShowMaker" Su.
Diana certainly doesn't match the utility of Morgana, but Rumble has become a strong meta pick almost entirely due to his gamechanging Equalizer ultimate. After seeing Canyon's hard carry performance, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Diana make more appearances as a jungler in the next round of MSI.
Mid Lane: Nocturne | Yone
Nocturne has been seen in top lane and jungle on previous patches, but at MSI 2021, has been able to extend his flexibility into the mid lane due to the AP jungler meta on Patch 11.9. Nocturne's physical damage, three-way flexibility in draft, fast lane push, and semi-global Paranoia ultimate allows him to collapse on skirmishes on either side of the map with priority over his opponent more often than not.
Yone has only been played twice at MSI so far — once in a loss by fastPay Wildcats mid laner Tolga "Serin" Ölmez and again in a dominant performance by Perkz in a Cloud9 win, but the Unforgotten boasts all the strengths of the other melee physical damage dealing mid laners in the meta, and in many cases, superiority in certain aspects of the game. Look for Yone to be far more contested in the Rumble Stage now that the teams have had some time to figure out the meta.
Bot Lane: Varus | Yasuo
Varus has entered the MSI meta as a premiere bot lane champion sporting his poke-based lethality build in favor of a traditional DPS build. Varus has been played nine times, second only to Kai'Sa amongst bot laners, but has been banned a staggering 21 times, 16 more than Kai'Sa.
With a lethality-based build, Varus' strengths remain the same as previous seasons: his deep well of mana allows him to neutralize any lane dynamic by consistently poking from long range, and his Chain of Corruption ultimate is a great initiator from a safe distance as well. Varus allows teams to have reliable damage from the bot lane as the game continues without having to invest time and resources into the bot lane matchup.
Yasuo has only been played once at MSI 2021, and it was in the mid lane by ShowMaker to combo ultimates with Canyon's Diana. However, when considering the three most popular supports at the event — Nautlius, Alistar, and Thresh, respectively — all possess at least one knock up in their kits, and that Varus and Kai'Sa, the two most prominent marksmen in the meta, are skill-shot based, teams looking to throw an opponent off-balance could strike gold with Yasuo in the bot lane.
Support: Nautilus | Lulu
Nautilus has been present throughout the 2021 meta, but has taken a back seat to either superior playmakers like Thresh and Leona or purer tanks like Alistar and Rell. However, at MSI, the Titan of the Depths has seen the most play of any support with 21 games to go with 5 bans. Nautilus has formed a trifecta atop the support meta due to his versatility, durability, and playmaking potential alongside Thresh and Alistar — both with 25 games a piece as well as 18 and 9 bans, respectively.
Lulu, on the other hand, was expected to be a prominent pick at MSI 2021. The Fae Sorceress had already been seen in previous patches, and with the buffs to her preferred Mythic Item Moonstone Renewer and the continued prevalence of hypercarries in the bot lane meta, it comes as a surprise that Lulu has only been picked twice at MSI.
The meta has been more focused on the top side of the map, which has left the bot lane as the stabilizer, but for teams looking to switch things up and play around its bot lane as the sole point of focus in contrast to the madness occurring on the rest of the map in most MSI 2021 matches, look for Lulu to become a far more prominent pick in the Rumble Stage.
All images by: Riot Games