NA LCS Summer Preview Part 3, The Elite

Yesterday (Part 2) can be found here, I’m happy to finally be able to let happiness into one of these previews. There’s no need to define what ‘elite’ is, you know it when you see it. They’ll be in order from what I perceive to the lowest placed team to the highest, so fourth to first.

4. Team Solomid: Reginald, We Have A Jungle Problem

On June 14th Team Solomid announced this,

Honestly I have no confidence in Grig’s ability to play at an LCS level. Having said that I do think this is an important move if TSM want’s to keep their roster together. My personal theory is that Grig has been promoted in order to test MikeYeung and get him to compete for a starting spot that should clearly be his. While MikeYeung does not have a lot of LCS level experience he is still one of the most talented junglers in NA. I believe he could be the missing link for this team and if he’s able to get his act together this could be the best TSM team ever assembled.

Going into the Spring Split there was an argument that on-paper this was the best TSM team. Reginald had undoubtedly won the off-season. There was a very short list of players that TSM could have brought in that would be equal to Doublelift and Reginald instead brought the best botlane in the EULCS over to TSM. It should be simple for them (and Bjergsen) to adapt to the new Meta and I don’t see them stumbling. It will be difficult for them to deal with some of the more outlandish drafts that some teams create when this kind of tectonic shift happens. TSM do take their preparation seriously so here’s hoping their analysts have prepared the team for the curve balls that will come out for the next couple of weeks.

This incarnation of TSM should be able to snag a decent playoff seed at a bare minimum. I’m not confidant that they can win at the NA LCS Summer Playoffs but this team should be able to win NA Regionals after playoffs are over. I want to see this team at worlds, they have far too much talent to stay at home.

3. 100 Thieves, How High Can We Fly Before Our Wings Melt?

100 Thieves rose to the occasion during the Spring Split. This is a team that never lost twice to any other NA LCS team. No one expected 100 Thieves to be performing so well, so quickly. I think some credit is in order for their management for creating a roster that only has 1 player with less than six years experience playing at a professional level. Pairing Cody Sun (their least experienced player) with aphromoo covers that weakness as well. The masterstroke for 100 Thieves (at least to me) has to be signing Pr0lly as the coach.

Despite their loss in the Spring Split final I don’t think that loss is entirely on them. I don’t know if any team in NA could have beaten Team Liquid in that final, Doublelift was still on fire and the rest of his team (especially Pobelter) showed up to play that day. Now 100 Thieves deserve a lot of credit for beating Clutch Gaming in the semifinals 3-2. Clutch Gaming are inferior competition but that best-of series was 100 Thieves first best-of series (of any consequence, scrims don’t count) ever. I think 100 Thieves are capable of another great regular split and I expect them to win their first playoff series again. I don’t like their chances in the Summer Split final (if they make it there) but I could see this team making waves in the NA regional after the playoffs are over.

2. Echo Fox, Don’t Let Your Dreams Be Memes

Echo Fox have got to be the ultimate momentum based team in NA LCS. If both Huni and Dardoch can get fully engaged in a game, Echo Fox can easily roll to a victory. When Dardoch or Huni get held back (or start feeding) Echo Fox tends to lose games pretty hard. This is best exemplified by their series against Team Liquid in the semifinal during the Spring Playoffs. In Echo Fox only win Dardoch had a great performance on Skarner. The issue with both Huni and Dardoch is that they rarely show consistency in a best-of series. On top of that problem Echo Fox don’t really have someone else on this roster to pick up the slack when Huni and Dardoch are having bad games.

I realize that Altec did have a good Game 2 on Caitlyn but his performance in he other four games is what reaffirms my beliefs about him. Altec is a veteran player but he’s never been anything more than an above average AD Carry. Game 2 against Team Liquid is probably his ceiling for any given game. Given the fact that Adrian is less experienced and at his best Adrian is slightly above average; Echo Fox have a very pronounced weakness in the botlane. Some of that is only because Huni and Dardoch can shine so bright but the majority of that weakness comes from Altec & Adrian.

The meta is a bit wonky right now and Echo Fox should be able to play that in their favor. It should only take a few weeks for the Meta to settle down (or stay in it’s completely bonkers current state) and after that Echo Fox can get back to business. Echo Fox may be a very one dimensional team but when that strategy works they are capable of taking a game from any team in NA LCS. I expect this team to make both the Summer Split Playoffs and NA Regionals, what happens once those events start is anyone’s guess.

1. Team Liquid, Once And Future Kings

Did you watch the Spring Playoffs? Did you see any of Doublelift’s games where he didn’t die? Team Liquid didn’t just win the NA LCS Spring Split, they crushed every single team. Through three different playoff series Team Liquid only lost one game. During the off-season when everyone else was looking at expensive imports or prospects Team Liquid went out and found three players that had already won championships and added Impact (still a former world champion) and Olleh. The Spring final finally revealed the truth to the rest of the NA LCS teams, while the regular season is not their forte, Team Liquid has no equals in a best-of-five series. Nothing any team has done during the break between splits has changed that.

Team Liquid did not have a good time at the Mid-Season Invitational but theu did manage to grow as a team. Team Liquid looked like a train wreck during their first few games at MSI and this team deserves credit for getting it together. They didn’t manage to get out of the group stage but it’s a small miracle they forced a tiebreaker at all. Team Liquid’s biggest issue did emerge from MSI though, Olleh had a number of terrible games at MSI. Team Liquid even had Joey start a game before coaxing Olleh back to his starting position. The support position is probably the only thing holding Team Liquid back from a sure victory in the Summer Playoffs. Team Liquid need to work with Olleh, he needs to overcome his confidence issues and the team needs to draft in a way that sets him up for victory.

Speaking of drafting I belive that Team Liquid are in a unique position to take advantage of the current Meta. Unlike most other LCS teams, Liquid have two carries that can always be relied upon in Doublelift and Impact. Pobelter can be trusted to hold his lane and on occasion he too can play a carry champion. Xmithie can easy play whatever his team needs. If Team Liquid really wanted to they could treat Doublelift and Impact as carries in the sense of DOTA 2. This meta encourages unorthodox drafting and Team Liquid has a number of extremely talented and experienced players. I fully expect this team not to finish at the top of the Regular Season standings but at the end of the Summer Playoffs I look forward to seeing Team Liquid hoist their second straight NA LCS trophy.

That’s all for my NA LCS Summer preview, from this point on I’ll be updating sporadically on the NA LCS and hopefully the LPL, LCK and maybe the EU LCS. The NA LCS begins on May 16th at 5pm Eastern Time.

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NA LCS Summer Preview Part 1, The Dregs

Dregs are “the remnants of a liquid left in a container” or “the most worthless parts of something”. So let’s get right into the dregs of the North America League Championship Series, Summer 2018. They’ll be in order from what I perceive to the lowest placed team to the highest, so tenth to eighth.

10. Optic Gaming, You Can’t Be Relegated When You Bought The Franchise Slot

When I think of Optic Gaming I am reminded how much I sincerely miss relegation. This team reminds me of the kind of teams that used to get promoted from the Challenger Series up to the LCS. Usually those teams struggle mightily until they either fix their issues and compete or they get relegated at the end of the split. During the Spring Split Optic basically went through the motions and finished with a 5-13. Optic do deserve credit for signing Dhokla and Big because I was not expecting this organization to make any changes at all. Frankly after their initial roster announcement I had very low expectations for Optic (as an organization) and I figured they would just do nothing until the Summer Split ended. Now the issue is whether Dhokla and Big will be a significant enough improvement over zig and LemonNation. Not that either of those players set the bar very high but it’s possible that the team had a certain dynamic that got them their wins.

The beginning of the Split should be a good time for them as every team in NA will also be figuring things out for a few weeks. It’s possible Optic get some surprise wins until everything settles down. At their best maybe this team gets out of the doldrums and makes a run at 6th place. Since this team have never played a single best-of-five series of any consequence together I’d expect them to crash out of the playoffs in spectacular fashion.

9. Flyquest, We Still Have Flame

Both the Flyquest and Optic rosters look like they were quickly assembled from spare parts. In Flyquest’s case they had much nicer parts to work with and it still baffles me that Flame is on this team. Honestly he’s the only reason I expect anything from this team. Flyquest did add Kwonkon, Santorin and Keane to their starting roster and I think Santorin is an upgrade for Flyquest.

Ultimately this team is still the Flame show. I have no faith in any other player on their starting roster (or their academy team) to carry a game to victory. I understand that it’s not always necessary for one player to carry a team but Flyquest don’t have any other strength as a team. They have found ways to grab defeat from the jaws of victory. Occasionally when Flyquest come together they will be worth watching, especially Flame. Maybe their roster comes together and they can make a run at 6th place like Optic but I’m not setting any tangible expectations for this team.

8. Golden Guardians, Formerly The Hai Penitentiary

Bad teammate jail is an expression that’s often used for players who are good but are surrounded by seemingly incompetent teammates who keep them from success. Going into the Spring Split it seemed like Hai was a resident of bad teammate jail. He had a decent run with Flyquest despite their 7th place finish in NA LCS Summer ’17. After that they defeated Dignitas in NA Regionals before falling to CLG.

This team came into the Spring Split with dismal expectations and performed exactly as many people expected. With Hai’s retirement Golden Guardians went out and signed Mickey. I’ve placed Golden Guardians above Optic and Flyquest because of the limited changed they made. Even with the communication issues Mickey might bring to the team it’s possible they keep any team synergy that was built up previously.

Part 2 Tomorrow, Playoff Teams Incoming

That’s all for Part 1 of my NA LCS Summer preview, in Part 2 I’ll be discussing the middle of the pack teams. The NA LCS begins on June 16th at 5pm Eastern Time.

Ragnarok Cometh To The Witchwood, Hearthstone Balance Changes Announced

There’s way too much to discuss here so let’s get right into it, here is the direct link to the Blizzard announcement and now we can get into each card individually;

Naga Sea Witch Will Now Cost 8 Mana, up from 5

Now I know it will come as a shock to some of you but I don’t play that much Wild Mode. I have been checking various Meta Reports about Standard and Wild Mode and most people agree that Naga Sea Witch + Giants has been a menace to Wild since players starting using those cards together. This change strikes me as one that Blizz have been contemplating for a while but they wanted to hold it for a larger balance update so as not to show Wild Mode any favoritism.

Now onto the actual nerf itself. This is what the nuclear option looks like for Hearthstone card nerfs. It’s not as severe as Warsong Commander but nothing will ever be. I sincerely hope that this change insures that Naga Sea Witch + Giants ceases to exists as a deck archetype in Wild. People who spend time playing Wild Mode haven’t stopped asking for this change since the deck became widespread. Honestly I hope this is enough, it’s difficult enough being a Wild player without this obnoxious deck ruining the fun.

Spiteful Summoner will now Cost 7 Mana, up from 6

I’m actually kind of torn on this nerf. On the one Spiteful Summoner decks are often the most frustrating decks to play against since the Witchwood was released. A typical game against a Spiteful deck involves you doing what you need to do each turn then your opponent plays Spiteful Summoner on turn 6 and gets a Tyrantus, at that point a lot of players concede. Before the Witchwood Spiteful Summoner was good but not consistent. Without the Old Gods in the pool of Minions that can summoned from a 10 Mana spell, Spiteful Summoner got significantly better (the worst possible 10 Mana minion is now an 8/8). That’s my problem with this nerf, Blizzard could have added additional 10 Mana minions with deliberately poor stats to keep Spiteful Summoner in check. That seemed to be Blizzard’s strategy around Evolve or any other minion summoning effect. Since that didn’t happen this is Blizzard’s only option.

Call To Arms will now cost 5 Mana, up from 4 Mana

I’ll be brief, this spell was doing too much. The most surprising thing about this particular nerf was these lines from Blizzard’s blog post:

We expect that players will experiment with Call to Arms at 5 mana in Odd Paladin decks, but we don’t expect this card to have much of an impact. This is because Odd Paladin can’t access 2 mana minions (meaning Call to Arms could only ever summon three 1 mana minions if played in that deck).

This nerf points to Blizzard either wanting to slow the meta down or just give other decks more room to breathe. Either way this change is in the same vein as Spiteful Summoner; too strong, too fast, too consistent.

The Crystal Core will now make minions 4/4, down from 5/5

Quest Rogue was far too good against any deck that wasn’t aggro or control decks that have fantastic board clear. This is the second nerf to the Rogue quest and this nerf is just as warranted as the first one. Honestly I think of Quest Rogue as similar to Giants + Naga Sea Witch, I won’t be sad to see this card (and deck) fall off a cliff.

Dark Pact will restore 4 health, down from 8

There’s two Warlock nerfs in this balance update, I think this one will have the least impact out of the two. Cutting down the healing in Cubelock and Control Warlock is a huge deal but I think it’s important to remember that Dark Pact is also incredibly useful to combo Carnivorous Cube and Possessed Lackey. With the same Mana cost Dark Pact can still do that job, speaking of Possessed Lackey;

Possessed Lackey will now cost 6 Mana, up from 5

This is the second nerf to Warlock and I’m 99% certain this will be the most significant nerf of this entire balance update. Just like Dark Pact I still think that Possessed Lackey can still do it’s job. The issue with this change is that Possessed Lackey will now be moving to the 6 Mana slot in any deck it’s included in. If players still want to use Possessed Lackey (because it’s effect is still awesome) it will definitely mess with the Mana curve of any netdeck list. I think this is a more significant change than simply slowing down Warlock deck’s that use card because they can no longer quickly get out a Voidlord (or Doomguard) on turn 5 (assuming you use coin). My reasoning follows that if Blizzard intends this balance update to slow the meta of The Witchwood, Warlock will benefit from this change. It may not be necessary for Warlock to have to get a Voidlord out on Turn 5.

This balance update goes live after the conclusion of the Hearthstone Championship Tour playoffs. The HCT Summer Asia-Pacific Playoffs will begin on May, 15th and can be viewed live here!