Haunted Maokai, via leagueoflegends.com

Maokai Nerfs: Riot Chops Down Top Lane’s Tallest Tree

Feb 24, 2017
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Haunted Maokai, via leagueoflegends.com

The Courage of the Colossus changes in Patch 7.2 couldn’t keep a good tree down.

Maokai’s modest win rate of 52.4% suggests he’s strong, but not overpowered. There are other Tops with higher win rates, such as Rumble or Shen. These points raise an obvious question: what is Riot hoping to accomplish with their latest batch of nerfs to Maokai? In short, it seems like the goal is more competitive diversity. Maokai isn’t just the most popular tank or top laner, he’s the most played champion in professional League of Legends, boasting an insane 60% pick rate.

Most Popular Champions - Maokai - Patch 7.3
Season Seven’s 10 Most Popular Champions across: NA LCS, EU LCS, LCK, LMS, LPL. (Image via OraclesElixer.com)

The Maokai “Problem”

Maokai needs nerfs because he has few weaknesses and even excels in some categories:

• Consistent laning phase, can waddle away from ganks
• Unrivaled late game tankiness
• Reliable teamfighter with point and click-CC, AoE slow and knockback, AoE DR
• Flash-Twisted Advance is one of the strongest and most reliable combos in the game
• Base damages make him a threat against most squishy champions
• Versatile enough to win with any friendly/enemy composition

With a host of strengths to balance Maokai around, Riot has chosen to tackle Maokai’s overly comfortable laning phase.

Maokai - Super-Tank in Top Lane
Riot’s nerfs to Maokai in Patch 7.4

Balance Changes: Maokai’s Laning Nerfs

The now incremental mana cost of Arcane Smash hurts Maokai’s ability to sustain in lane. Maokai can’t spam as many Arcane Smashes as before, so he won’t proc his passive heal as often. He’s incentivized to build mana now, either in the form of early Doran’s Rings or items that build out of Glacial Shroud.

If Maokai attempts a Sunfire Cape + Spirit Visage build, he might run into mana problems. Not having enough mana to keep Vengeful Maelstrom [R] running would also be a terrible way to lose a teamfight.

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The removal of impact damage from Maokai’s saplings is at first a puzzling nerf, because it’s Maokai’s worst spell, or at least the spell he usually maxes last. Still, Sapling Toss was Maokai’s best tool to farm creep waves from a distance, i.e. when he was getting zoned by a supposed counterpick. This change definitely hurts his laning consistency. Sapling Toss’ level one base damage was fairly impressive when you also consider that it is an AOE slow and mini-ward.  This nerfs his level level one because this is the spell he usually takes level one. The best players will find ways to gain advantages against you at level one.

Mid-Season Tanks Update

This is probably the last split where Maokai–at least as we currently know him–will make an appearance. On Wednesday, Riot stated on the Community Forums that Maokai is slated for a champion update. This might not mean a full ‘rework,’ but expect considerable changes. Riot’s Beluga Whale noted that players should anticipate changes that allow Maokai to “play up both the anti-caster slant from his passive and his ability to claim and control areas with his Saplings.”

When Riot invests time in updating champions, I assume it’s because they want the champions to be viable picks. I’ll admit that I’m getting tired of seeing this champion in professional play, but if Riot can make this champion more interesting, it’ll be a blast. Those who crave champion diversity can only hope the updated version of Maokai has more specific strengths, and therefore won’t always be such a generically strong pick.

Predictions: What’s Next for Maokai?

Nerfed Maokai is just as powerful in the late-game, so don’t expect players to stop picking him. If the changes are effective, Pros will have to be more selective about the matchups they pick him into. I anticipate he will have some trouble sustaining his mana against other tank-tops who engage in long, multiple spell rotation trades. If Maokai’s pick rate goes down, these balance changes will be successful. Neutering his overly comfortable laning phase was a good place to start.

So what other champions will pro players turn to on Patch 7.4? Just look further down the list of most played tops, and there’s your answer:

Maokai is an elite tier top laner.
The 10 most popular competitive top laners. (Image via OraclesElixer.com)

Which champions do you think are going to replace Maokai’s spot in the professional League of Legends meta? Share your foolish opinions with us on Twitter.

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Joseph Schmidt
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Joseph is a devoted League of Legends player who loves discussing strategy and helping players get better at the game. When he's not gaming, Joseph can be found playing electric guitar, enjoying nature, and taking photographs.
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ayy lmao

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Nice.

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Meh.

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Whoa!

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