Emily Rand's NA LCS Roundup: The Serpent's Embrace

by theScore Staff Jun 28 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

The post-mage-update Cassiopeia was somewhat of an enigma when she was released. Even those responsible for her rework seemed unsure if she'd find a happy medium between a poison control mage and a mid-range high damage dealer.

Since her rework, Cassiopeia sightings across the five major regions have been few and far between. CJ Entus’ Gwak “Bdd” Bo-seong had a stunning 12/0/7 game against the ROX Tigers in Korea and LGD Gaming’s Li “Punished” Yuanhui saw success on Cassiopeia in their victory over Snake Esports, while ahq e-Sports Club’s veteran mid Liu “Westdoor” Shuwei and Splyce’s Chres “Sencux” Laursen had unsuccessful one-off outings on the new Cassiopeia, none of which really seemed to signal a drastic shift in her viability.

It wasn't until this past week in the North American League Championship Series that Cassiopeia burst onto the competitive scene, establishing herself as a dominant laning force thanks to her Miasma (W), which poisons enemies, slowing them while dealing AP damage per second. The new Miasma has a wider area of effect range, and combined with Cassiopeia’s new mobility, it allows her to engage or disengage as she pleases. It’s also makes her much better at sieging, providing AOE terrain coverage while disrupting opponents’ ability to escape or dash away. Miasma can be used in tandem with Twin Fang (E), which gives Cassiopeia additional damage to poisoned adversaries as well as self-sustain and refunded mana if it kills an opponent.

The new Cassiopeia can be oppressive throughout the laning phase, where she was previously vulnerable to early ganks from those who wanted to stop her before she reached her monstrous late game. She's safer to play in lane and still has a massive amount of damage that scales well into the late game, making her a stronger option against the ever-popular picks Azir, Viktor, and Ryze.

“It depends on who has the best vision control, I think,” Echo Fox mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen said after taking Cassiopeia mid against Team SoloMid. “If you have really good vision control and you get the blue buff on Cassio, I think you can punish Azir a lot, because you have a bit of sustain on Cassio. Azir doesn't have that much, and then you're very mobile. I think the matchup is very good.”

Apex’s Keane

The first player to bring Cassiopeia to the NA LCS this summer was Apex Gaming’s Jang “Keane” Lae-young in Week 3. Known for his oddball champion pool since his days on Curse Academy and Gravity Gaming, Keane pulled out Cassiopeia in Apex’s second game against Cloud9.

Keane’s mere presence on a roster means we should expect flex picks — Curse Academy and later Gravity both relied on his Urgot, Jarvan IV, Hecarim and even Rumble mid to confuse opponents and obfuscate their own draft, for better or for worse. When Keane locked in Jarvan IV against C9 in Week 3, no one was sure who on Apex would be playing the champ, right up until Apex support Alex “Xpecial” Chu locked in Cassiopeia as final pick. Jeon “Ray” Ji-won — a Jarvan IV player since his LSPL days with AD Gaming — took Jarvan to the top lane, while Keane and Cassiopeia went mid. Apex Gaming won that game, and Keane took Cassiopeia to the mid lane again in Game 3 for the deciding loss.

Keane’s Cassiopeia was dismissed as yet another weird and wacky Keane pickup. The player is hardly synonymous with mid lane control, again thanks to his penchant for choosing off-meta champions. Many of his more disastrous outings have come from picking champions with low initial waveclear against the likes of meta staples like Viktor and Azir. Yet, one of Keane’s more standard fallback champions is Orianna, a zone control mage, and more recently he’s picked up Viktor.

Cassiopeia offers a smart alternative choice for Keane, enabling him to hold the mid lane with her strong laning phase and early bully potential. Keane currently has the second-highest KDA of all mid laners in 2016 NA LCS Summer (5.4) thanks to his general aptitude for not dying and some improved teamfight positioning. He also has the third-highest kill participation of NA mids, and his success is integral to the success of the team, even if he’s not highlighted as a secondary or tertiary carry.

Apex Gaming desperately needs another carry presence aside from Ray, and increased mid lane control by Keane can help the team twofold. Not only does Cassiopeia make Keane a terrifying damage threat in mid and late game teamfights, but she also holds the lane, allowing more breathing room for Lee “Shrimp” Byeong-hoon to do what he loves best: farm.

Cloud9’s Jensen

Unlike Apex’s Keane, Cloud9’s Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen is known for his resolute mid lane control, often snowballing his own 1v1 advantages in lane without jungle help. Jensen’s overwhelming presence in the mid lane has allowed William “Meteos” Hartman to pay special attention to his bottom lane, ganking for them early and often with the second-highest First Blood rate of any jungler in NA. These past few weeks, C9 have honed their shaky mid-game, making the most of their early laning advantages and visibly improving by the series.

One of the most reliable mid laners in the NA LCS — second only to fellow Dane Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg on Team SoloMid — Jensen is a large part of why C9 has been so successful this split, only dropping two series so far, to first place TSM and second-place Immortals. Apex put Keane on Cassiopeia presumably to bolster his mid lane control, while C9 picked up the Serpent’s Embrace against Team EnVyUs in both of their games this past week to augment Jensen’s already phenomenal laning and further their early map pressure. In Game 1, Meteos focused his early ganks mid rather than his usual trips to the bottom side of the map, ensuring that Jensen had a strong lead over nV Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo’s Karma. The pair showed us how well Rek’Sai's crowd control chains with Cassiopeia’s Petrifying Gaze, scoring First Blood for Jensen.

Beyond her lane control, Cassiopeia’s sustained late game damage is an excellent fit for the compositions that C9 wants to run. It means they're able to assign top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong to tankier utility champions like Shen, rather than making him a primary carry like Apex’s Ray. Jensen and AD carry Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi are without doubt C9’s primary carries, with Impact used to either split-push or provide tankiness and crowd control in teamfights. This setup also works out well for Meteos, who has spent the majority of his time on Rek’Sai, another tanky initiator, rather than becoming a high-damage carry himself. While Cassiopeia may not initially seem like a Jensen pick, she has everything he needs to crush his opponent in lane while providing C9 with the unwavering mid lane control they’ve come to expect from their star mid.

Echo Fox’s Froggen

Froggen gave league leader TSM a bit of a scare this past week, thanks in large part to Cassiopeia’s late-game teamfight damage. The mid lane matchup remained the same for all three games in their Week 4 series: Bjergsen’s Azir against Froggen’s Cassiopeia, with TSM and Bjergsen eventually winning out.

Unsurprisingly, Froggen’s initial go-to champion against control mages was Anivia, who helped him make his name as a top-tier mid laner. Since Fox's series against NRG e-Sports, Anivia has been banned against Echo Fox in 100 percent of their games. Vladmir has a similarly high ban rate, leaving Froggen searching for other answers that offer similar control and late-game teamfighting prowess. Enter Cassiopeia.

Where C9’s Jensen is known for his reliable mid lane control, Froggen embodies it. He owns the mid lane with his safe, farming style that offers few ganking opportunities and a limited window for his laning adversaries. Cassiopeia is a monster when farmed up, and farming is what Froggen does best.

Echo Fox has struggled mightily this season, but Froggen has remained a constant. In their series against TSM, Fox showed some improvement — especially when combining Froggen’s Cassiopeia and Yuri “KEITH” Jew’s Jhin. Cassiopeia’s new Miasma slows opponents, making it easier to land follow-up long-range shots from Jhin, in addition to his own built-in crowd control. Despite Fox's eventual 2-1 loss, by Day 2 Apex had determined that Froggen was just as dangerous on Cassiopeia as Anivia, and banned the Serpent's Embrace in both of their games against Fox.

Other NA Cassiopeia sightings included a surprising Game 2 win for Phoenix1 over NRG e-Sports, where she was played by Choi “Pirean” Jun-sik. Her late game damage certainly played a part in the victory, although the Phoenix1 win was more on NRG for failing to close out the game. nV’s Ninja also played Cassiopeia against Team SoloMid in a Game 2 loss.

After this past week of Summer Split, North America has played Cassiopeia the most of any major region, with a total of 10 games played, an even 50 percent winrate, and a 15.5 percent pick-ban rate. With NA mid laners like Jensen and Froggen showing off her newfound prowess at laning, teamfighting and sieging, don’t be surprised if she makes more appearances in other regions as well.

Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.