If you follow my posts regularly, you'll know I stress, well, consistency. It's not enough to play a strategy that will win, but also to know why it wins, and how it gets countered, so that you can mitigate that counter when it arises. About 2 or 3 months ago, I started an experiment to test just how well people could counter strategies at a higher level. I played almost nothing but jungle Skarner. Why? Because I knew he was an underplayed champion who is 'easily countered', and I wanted to see at which point those counters would come into play. What did I find out? Well, I was quite shocked, to say the least.
When I started, I hadn't played Solo Queue consistently in months, having played pretty much solely ranked 5s with my team (which had died down) and blind pick normals with the ladyfriend. I wasn't really sure about a lot of variables; I was pretty sure my overall skill level had waned, but I didn't know by how much, and at what roles. I was pretty sure that if I was going to do best at a role, it was jugnle. At the same time, some elements of my old 5s team were reforming, and told me that if I could prove myself in the next few weeks, they needed a jungler. At the moment I was Gold 2, and they were all Diamond players.
I decided that the best strategy would be what I had already said it was; master the game with one champion, then branch out. But what champion? My 4 favorite champions have always been Cho, Skarner, Jarvan, and Nasus, and I decided that my best pick was Skarner. At the time, I had played 75 games with him, and was 44-31, with a KDA of 3.3/3.6/10.3, for a (K+A)/D of 3.78.
I played a few games in a row with him and found that nobody in Gold could handle my aggressive style of invading, as Skarner is a very strong duelist. I would take that early lead and attempt to snowball it by constantly contesting the enemy jungler's wraiths and golems, and forcing them back whenever possible, that I might hit 6 extremely early.
Click the spoiler for a more detailed description of my strategy, or find my Skarner guide at LoLKing.
Once I hit 6, I could have afforded Spirit Stone and Mobility Boots (or was working on them), and I immediately ganked a lane, preferably one with no dashes or knockbacks. I didn't particularly concern myself with kill steals; I either got the kill or I didn't. Either way, I immediately dropped back into the enemy jungle and continued to harass them.
I tried to convince my mid to let me blue (I would normally ask them to pick a manaless blue in champ select). If I had done well enough thus far, they normally agreed. If not, I tried to steal the enemy blue as consistently as possible (as dueling them in their jungle drained my mana quickly, otherwise), and if that failed, I bought Crystalline Flask, emulating jungle Nasus, or Philosopher's Stone (as I'd be getting Shurelia's anyways.
After Ancient Golem, I typically built Aegis and Locket (they had not yet been merged yet), and then Shurelia's and Glacial Shroud, followed by either Wit's End (heavy magic damage) or Frozen Fist (heavy physical damage). I did not hesitate to skip Aegis for Randuin's if they only ran 1 AP champion and I felt I could catch them easily (Anivia). I ran either 0/21/9 (typical) or 3/4/23 (low CC). I ran AS reds, Armor Yellows, MR blues, and MS Quints.
I soon found out a few things:
- Skarner's counters weren't what I had learned them to be.
When you think of Skarner's weaknesses, you think 'easily kited'. But a late game Skarner is very hard to kite, with Shurelia's, Frozen Fist, and even Twin Shadows as potential purchases, not to mention all of your Movement Speed from runes/masteries.
I soon learned that his main counter was actually early tower pushing. Junglers need to be able to assist a 1v2 or 2v1 lane early on, and with no ranged abilities, he struggled to do this.
Luckily, 2v1 lanes are less common in solo queue, so this was rarely relevant (and was immediately relevant when I played him in ranked 5s)
A secondary counter was QSS in the late game. If champions got it too early, my team would just mop them up with superior gold, and I'd ult/isolate a different champion.
Heavy CC and kiting didn't turnout to be much of a problem, and most of my games would end with the AD/AP Carry saying 'HOLY CRAP SKARNER IS SO FAST', because I'd tend to only initiate when a target was out of position, and I could pop Shurelia's/Twin Shadows and put my shield up. If nobody was out of position, I only ever initiated with flash, so being 'kiteable' was hardly relevant.
- Nobody knew how Skarner worked. I guess he hasn't been a strong pick in awhile; I think I'm the third highest rated Skarner main on the North American server, and if LoLKing can be trusted, for a decent while, I was accounting for over 25% of Skarner games in Plat+ games. I rarely saw people attempt a 2v1 lane or get a QSS to counter me.
I went 34-9 to start with Skarner, with a KDA of 5.9/3.3/11.4, for a (K+D)/A of 5.2 (while managing about 60% with my other champions, Cho top/mid, Lulu Support, and Caitlyn AD), and found myself in Platinum almost immediately. My MMR skyrocketed above my Elo, and I was playing with Diamond V players even in Plat V. I skipped Plat IV to Plat III, then skipped Plat II to Plat 1, and after going 38-16 with Skarner, with a KDA of 3.8/2.9/11.3, for a (K+D)/A of 5.3 (while managing about 55% with my other champions, the same as before), I found myself at 90 points in Plat I. At this point, I rejoined my ranked 5s team, having been matched up with our two highest Elo players in solo queue (and being higher placed than they are). Despite being only Plat I, I was the highest MMR on my all-Diamond team.
I kept thinking 'this is the game solo queue is going to learn to counter me', but those games were few and far between. Ultimately, solo queue is disorganized. Often, to counter a champion, the whole enemy team has to know how to play appropriately. More likely, 3 people will each think they know how to 'counter' a champion, and they'll argue about it until they lose. On the other hand, when you play a rare champion, people will treat your word as god's word (especially when you have a match history of almost entirely wins). Even when I was playing Diamond III and Diamond II opponents, I'd still end games with comments of 'how is Skarner so fast?' or 'I didn't even think I was out of position!'
Never underestimate the ability of solo queue players to make mistakes; it is limitless, and not constrained by skill level. Better players are more defined by better game knowledge than fewer mistakes, so take advantage of those mistakes. How do you best do that? Play things that are good, even if just in a niche, but relatively unknown. I've tried to take advantage of this in the past few months, and it has moved me up a full division, pitted me against Diamond MMR opponents for awhile, and had me performing well both on the ladder and in tournaments in arranged 5s play. Moreover, moving up in MMR pitted me against higher quality opponents, which forced me to improve even faster.
But it's not enough to play an underplayed champion: it has to be a champion with a particularly game-breaking ability. By game-breaking, I don't mean OP, I mean any ability which causes the game to function differently by its mere presence. Some clear examples are Shen (time to play passive!) and knockups (say goodnight, CC Reduction!)
Finally, I like to play champions with multiple builds available, so I can pick them, and then switch strategies on the off chance that somebody DOES know how to counter the.
For awhile, Zac fit this bill for me (my ranked team is 30-12 with him), although with his success on Cloud9, people are starting to learn to play against him. However, here is a list of other game-breaking underplayed champion I like to jungle, mid, top, AD, and Support, with descriptions of what makes them game-breaking, and their current pick-rate in Platinum.
Fiddlesticks: His ult forces you to plan your wards when pushing, or find yourself surprised. His drain makes him the most sustained taker of dragon except maybe Nasus, and he doesn't even need his ult to do so. His fear is a month long, too! He can be built 21/0/9 with Zhonya's and tanky AP items, or 9/0/21 with CDR/tankiness items. He has an 11% pick rate.
Skarner: His huge speed and the huge impact of his ult make him brutal at punishing mistakes. He can be built to be a tanky juggernaut (0/21/9 with tanky CDR items), or a faster tanky juggernaut with less CC Reduction (4/3/21 with less CDR and more tankiness or even a damage item, although I wouldn't recommend the damage item). He has a 1% pick rate.
Aatrox: That passive is severely under-planned for, allowing for great dives. Like Jarvan, he can build tanky, but he can also grab a BotRK (it synergizes even better with him) if he gets fed. He has a 6% pick rate.
Vi: She's practically an AD scaling Malphite with % health damage. She can also build tanky with the option for a BotRK if fed early. She has a 5% pick rate.
Nocturne: Wards? What wards. Built some early CDR to take advantage of his ult. He can be built tanky with the option for a BotRK if fed early, but as Meteos showed us, he can also just farm the jungle and wait to gank/counter-gank with his ult, building pure damage (he built Lizard Elder + Hydra + Last Whisper to pretty great effect, with ridiculous burst). He has a 7% pick rate.
Cho: Remember Cho? He still has stupid sustain, crazy long CC, and a huge true damage nuke. He dominates vs many AP Carries because of the sustain and silence. He can also build almost any item, between Abyssal Scepter, Frozen Fist/Heart, Randuin's, Rod of Ages, Rylai's Crystal Scepter, Wit's End, or Shurelia's + Twin Shadows, and each build leads to a different playstyle. He has a 6% pick rate.
Renekton: He's seen tons of EU play top, but mostly faded away. He beats almost erybody in lane, and the current popularity of Kennen/Ryze/Rumble is one of the few reasons he has become a rare pick. Picked with a strong early ganker, he will snowball hard, and he can build as much damage as he needs on top of his tanky build. He has a 12% pick rate.
Twitch: People still don't know how to deal with Twitch, who has one of the most ridiculous lv 2 all-ins with a strong CC support. His passive and his Expunge add so much delayed damage, and if he gets ahead in a lane, his stealth makes it almost impossible to gank him, or even stand safely in lane. On top of having a super strong early laning phase, he scales LUDICROUSLY into the late game with 3 or 4 steroids, depending on how you count his ult, and he can pull off Vayne-style stealth assassination shenanigans with impunity. In my opinion, he and Vayne are the top two ADCs at the moment, and while everybody knows to ban Vayne, nobody plays Twitch. He had a 12% pick rate until a week or so ago, and has since climbed to 18%.
Zyra: I wish I could play Zyra. She has such long-ranged harass that a well-played Zyra will zone you away forever, if you give her an edge in lane. On top of that, she has tons of AoE CC and can build Liandry's for tons of damage, unlike most other supports. She has a 12% pick rate.
Unusual Champions Stream
If you want to watch me playing unusual junglers, tune into my stream! I'll probably be playing something more unusual like Fiddles/Skarner/Cho/Aatrox (or Zac/Jarvan/Nasus, because I love them). By the time this post goes up, I won't be streaming anymore, and my schedule will be sporadic while I move, but by September 15th, I should be on a very regular schedule. As well, I play 5s every night from 6PM PST until we decide to sleep (...except not today)
Chapter 1 of a novel I'm writing: Memories
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