Sixteen teams participated in the Group Stage of the 2019 League of Legends World Championship, and in fifty total games, they all agreed on one thing: Pantheon is busted. The Unbreakable Spear was banned in 100% of Group Stage games, and in every instance, was banned by the teams on Red Side in the first ban rotation of the Draft Phase.
For a champion to be banned for the entirety of a Group Stage, in the same phase on the same side no less, plenty of factors contribute to such a uniform trend across sixteen teams from five different regions. Let's dive-in and see what makes the Unbreakable Spear so universally considered to be a massive threat after his recent rework.
Pantheon offer a ton of flexibility in the competitive landscape, and more specificially, the Draft Phase. The Unbreakable Spear has retained his superb laning from his pre-rework iteration, and with a far smoother power curve throughout the game, has far less risk to being picked early on due to a far more dimensional play pattern.
If Solo Lane flexibilty wasn't enough, Pantheon can also be played in the Jungle due to his strong early game and the damage from his Q, Comet Spear, and the invulnerability granted by his E, Aegis Assault. Before the 2019 League of Legends World Championship, Pantheon was even seeing play in the Bot Lane as a Support, primarily in duo with Syndra in the carry position for a high-burst early game blitz approach to the 2v2.
Because of the combination of flexibility and good matchups, Pantheon simply cannot be left up by Red Side because of how much it would offer the Blue Side. Not only would one of the strongest champions in the game be selected, but its viability in 3 or potentially 4 roles means that Red Side would essentially not know what composition they're facing lane by lane until its final pick. Thus, Pantheon has been benched by Red Side as one of the first three bans every single game.
If Pantheon ever made it onto the rift, his draft flexibilty would only be rivaled by what he could accomplish in game. Pantheon is never going to be a monstrous late game champion, but the severity of his horrible scaling before his rework has been toned down significantly. Pantheon still has the jump and stun from his W, Shield Vault, but his laning less oppressive and more fun to play against. Still, ignoring the rest of his kit in lane, his Q damage alone is a threat worth respecting.
Still, Pantheon's previously binary nature is a small price to pay for the punch the Spartan's kit packs now. Pantheon's new Ultimate, Grand Starfall, has less global reach than the man-drop of the Grand Skyfall, but its AOE engage provides CC and damage in a sweeping direction across an entire teamfight. Pantheon isn't just a champion that needs to get fed early to splitpush and win before thirty minutes anymore because his kit actually allows him to thrive in teamfights.
The semi-global nature of Grand Starfall also allows Pantheon to quickly answer in side lanes should a split-pushing situation arise, which is another area Pantheon excels in.
Is Madrid Sparta?
Pantheon only made it through the draft phase once in the 43 games of the 2019 Worlds Play-In, so given that the probability of seeing Pantheon on the rift has only decreased as the tournament has progressed, once could infer that trend will continue into the higher stakes matches.
However, every match of the Knockout Stage is a best-of-five series, and given the nature of Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and Finals of Worlds past, a meta within a meta tends to develop as a series progresses.
In the 2016 Worlds Semifinals between SKT Telecom T1 and ROX Tigers in New York, NY, Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyung's Miss Fortune went from a never before seen pocket-pick Support counter to Zyra to a must-ban after ROX secured two wins in a row on it. A scenario like this at Worlds 2019 might mean a ban must be freed up for a new innovation, and Pantheon may find himself back in the game in a crucial Knockout Stage moment.