Spirit Stoned: The Rise of Pantheon and Wukong

I am delaying the next part of the learning junglers mini-series in order to post an article about a topic that has been cropping up in my social media networks. Wukong and Pantheon have seen a rise in play, even more than before, ever since the latest spirit line changes. They were being used off and on in pro-player matches and having sporadic use in solo queue games. Their powers were boosted thanks to the Spirit of the Elder Lizard damage buffs and the general changes to the jungle. However, the had sustain and clearing issues that some players, including pro-players, were uncomfortable with.

The latest sustain changes to the jungle items have made sustain basically trivial for most junglers in the game. Plenty of junglers whose only "true" weakness was sustain have become much stronger picks as a result. Both Wukong and Pantheon's sustain issues have been essentially made negligible and thus they can now be justified as sure-fire (instead of potentially risky) picks. However, as awesome as it is that these champions see competitive play and join the jungler pool, they present quite a problem towards jungler champion balance and perhaps solo queue health. Please note that I am not calling for the champions to be nerfed. The last paragraphs do contain potential solutions and/or balance points that will have to be made.


Pantheon

It is easier to argue about Pantheon's power levels rather than Wukong's so the firs t portion will cover him. Essentially put, no champion should be allowed to have a point and click hard stun without any weaknesses. Yes there are champions with hard crowd control but they usually have a drawback or some gimmick to them. Udyr's Bear Stance is pure melee and he has only a movement speed buff (no gap closer) to attempt to use it with. Elise's cocoon is a skillshot that can be blocked by minions and has a long cooldown. Fiddlesticks's fear has a low range and his movement speed is abysmal.

Pantheon's sustain and clearing issues were so vast that his incredible ganking was seen as a trade off. You could pick him and expect deadly, powerful ganks but you run the risk of suffering in the jungle. The first wave of jungle item changes helped him maintain his clear speed (and damage) and then the sustain buff fixed his sustain issues. His massive drawback no longer exists beyond his first clear. You are now left with a champion that has a strong gap closer, high damage, incredible ganking (especially post 6) and can be difficult to kill thanks to his passive.

Nocturne can be compared to Pantheon actually but they differ greatly in the areas that they are similar in. Nocturne has hard cc (a fear) but it has a channel time and low range. Nocturne has high damage but he is pure melee and has no gap closer aside from gliding in shadows for a movement speed buff. He has a pseudo-global ultimate that has a much shorter range than Pantheon's and it gives a much more clear warning sign. Nocturne's spell shield can block one spell if used properly while Pantheon's can refresh several times in a fight and takes no interaction from the player to activate.

If you can recall, Nocturne was considered incredibly overpowered upon release and even after a few nerfs came his way. His abilities and power did have conditions but they were made very trivial such as his fear having a longer leash and some leeway before it broke or his ultimate being much longer range and faster. He is now considered to be at a reasonable power level thanks to the fact that all the tools have conditions and weaknesses, which without they would make any jungler overpowered.

Pantheon does not have any of these checks and conditions. He is very straightforward with his abilities and damage. He is currently a much better version of Nocturne thanks to the spirit stone changes. He can build tank and still deal damage or he can snowball out of control with offensive items the same way but will be better due to his reliable abilities. He has a global ultimate as well which in itself is ridiculous for a jungler. Junglers do not have a lane and thus cannot be prepared for. He is basically a Twisted Fate that can jungle thanks to his on-demand stun and global ultimate.


Wukong

Wukong presents a different type of balance point. Admittedly I see him as less of a problem than what Pantheon could be as he still has weaknesses and a rev-up time. However, his team fighting dwarfs most other jungler's team fighting currently. He deals a great deal of damage, can potentially knock up an entire team while gaining free stats thanks to his passive and having initiation potentially with very little time to react thanks to his stealth.

Wukong has been one of my guilty jungle pleasures since he was released. He always felt average in most aspects with a glaring weakness at sustain. However, he always had that incredible initiation power that absolutely melts teams. I would use him just so I could stealth in and destroy the backline. I always acknowledged his sustain issue as what kept him from being seen as a potentially strong jungler. The first wave of jungle item changes come increase Wukong's damage tremendously while boosting his clearing speed. They did not rectify his sustain issues but his strong clearing along with the promise of a strong team fight gave him some limelight in competitive games and higher level games. But, like explained much earlier in this article, he was still seen as a risk by plenty of players. The latest sustain changes removed that risk and made him a very strong pick.

To be perfectly fair, there are plenty of junglers in the game that are far better initiators than Wukong. Malphite and Sejuani are arguably two of the best (if not the best) jungle initiators in the game. They are straight forward and near instantaneous with reasonable damage. That's the thing though! Malphite and Sejuani have moderate damage accompanying them while Wukong has much higher damage than them and potentially crippling damage thanks to what items he may build. Not only that but Wukong can screw up his ultimate and still make it work since he can reposition himself while his ultimate is activate and still get the knock up. Every other jungle initiator in the game has one chance to make sure their initiation works properly.

Wukong's ultimate works with Spirit of the Elder Lizard and Black Cleaver which leads to interesting team fight situations. He can burn everyone with his ultimate or he can obliterate their armor or he can purchase both and annihilate people. He still gets free stats from his passive so he does not have to invest too much into defensive items. If he takes defensive masteries then he just becomes ridiculously tanky for free. To put this very bluntly, Wukong has a lot of stuff going on for him and it is unfair. He is too tanky for free, his team fight initiation is too strong and it brings with it a lot of damage while being unchecked thanks to stealth vision being destroyed. He is a much better choice as an initiator/bruiser than most other junglers currently.


Nerf or Buff?

Now I am not calling for nerfs on these champions. I think the only thing that should be nerfed from Wukong should be his passive and maybe the Black Cleavers synergy with his ultimate. I do enjoy seeing the jungle roster increase but these champions have become ridiculous with the latest spirit changes. Junglers who were held back due to sustain issues are now being thrust into the jungle (except Sejuani) in order to exploit some of their ridiculous strengths that normally would not be achievable in a lane.

The spirit items gave them too much power. The Spirit of the Elder Lizard's damage boost made them deadlier and powered up their clear speed but it alone did not fix all their problems. The sustain removed their sustain issues. In combination, they enabled these junglers to melt camps, farming quickly as a result, while always being ready for combat. It would be unwise to demand a nerf on the sustain portion as it really helped other junglers who are not as crazy so this makes nerfing the Elder Lizard a much better choice. Simply weakening the butcher portion of it or the true damage will make this item more reasonable and weaken these outlier junglers.

The other route is to simply BUFF other champions or items to the point where more champions are brought to the level that Pantheon and Wukong are at. Riot is introducing more buffs to the spirit items as in they plan to remove the AoE penalty. This could potentially make junglers like Sejuani and Nautilus much stronger and make them better choices.

The point still stands though. Pantheon and Wukong currently present a point where a balance decision must be made. Pantheon overshadows too many junglers thanks to his point and click stun and play making potential while Wukong's team fighting dwarfs lots of other initiators. This was made possible thanks to the spirit item changes especially the damage and sustain buffs. Riot can choose to nerf these champions, nerf the items or buff other things to match the outliers.

Vi was not mentioned in this article as her balance issues need their own article to be fully explained and explored.



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Comments

  • #39 Addriano

    I love to have adventure like this game. Can anyone show the site or path where could I get this for my collection. Recently I played one piece game which I think interesting enough to attract the race.

  • #36 LolLolLolJake

    I like how Wukong and Pantheon are suddenly considered overpowered while Elise gets barely mentioned at all.

  • #37 StonewallRoG

    They weren't considered overpowered in this article. They were considered problematic towards balance. Elise and Vi have their own wealth of problems.

  • #38 LolLolLolJake

    Fair enough. I just think Elise is far bigger of a problem towards balance than Panth or Wukong, and I like seeing the rise of Mantheon.

  • #35 Pelikins

    Wukong does get a lot of stuff for free... it's also hard to utilize it all though.

    For instance, he has a big AS steroid, but he also has a channeled ultimate with no AS scaling.

    He has a big armor shred, but applying it before ulting means that you could give the enemy enough time to CC you and ruin your ult opportunity.

    Wukong has a really neat kit with a high skill cap. I have a hard time saying that he's problematic though... especially since Lee Sin has existed in his current for multiple seasons now and he can do nearly everything Wukong can do, but without the ramp up weakness.

    I think that the LCS would tend to agree with me on that fact too considering the pick rates...

    If you ask me, the SS changes just put certain mana users on the same tier of viability in the jungle that several non-mana users have been on since season 2.

    Last edited by Pelikins: 2/13/2014 8:36:00 AM
  • #33 gouv1

    Interesting article even though you do not mention a solution for Pantheon except "he should not be allowed to jungle". Maokai and Fiddle both have ranged guaranteed CC with very similar range and Fiddle obviously has the play making ability with his ultimate not to mention the damage part. I think the real problem with Pantheon is probably his passive which should work as a Doran's shield rather than a full block.

    Also no mention of Elise and Kha'Zix in there which feels pretty weird considering they have been pretty much picked or ban for 2 months

  • #29 Arcane_Azmadi

    Speaking of Sejuani... what the fuck IS it with Sejuani anyway? After her release she was completely underwhelming and was COMPLETELY ignored by Riot for almost 2 years. Then they FINALLY give her a major remake and she instantly shoots up to monstrously powerful because they obviously overdid it, but at least people are FINALLY playing her.

    Then Riot nerf her again -WAY too hard- and she's back to complete obscurity again. NO-ONE plays her now and since she's already had her remake (which fixed all the obvious issues people were complaining about in her original kit) no-one is even making an issue of it any more. She came onto the radar then dropped off the radar just as fast. Post-remake she was my best champion in season 3, but even I don't play her much any more (admittedly because playing her almost EVERY ranked game in season 3 got me burned out on her pretty fast).

  • #30 SolPope

    As a Sej main pre-rework, and bull headedly STILL keeping her as my main now, I feel your pain. "lol let's rework her, then nerf all her cc. Which is her whole point."

  • #31 christhereaper

    I mained her pre-rework and always found her extremely strong. The point that you could just rush a Giants Belt to increase your damage output was very nice.

    But then the Rework happened, her Q was overtuned as hell (more dmg, less cd, etc) which led to Riot nerfing her W and Ult to hell and back....

    And dont get me started on the Skarner Rework or the upcoming WW Rework (removing his W, WTF?), but on a side note, are there any champions you guys hate (except teemo), so i can main them and Riot will destroy them completely?

  • #34 Kazaanh

    I just miss her old ult . . .

  • #28 XiXiS

    I'll take a look at Wukong video since I know he's good jungler. :)

    Last edited by XiXiS: 2/12/2014 10:17:40 PM
  • #27 MrPinguinoEUW

    Well, i'm a humble silver player, but.. About Wukong, there are not only teamfights :D You have to arrive to mid game and, without laners with CC, Wukong's ganks take only damage, that can be avoidable with a good flash and warding. So i don't feel him very "OP", just because i can take WW and gank way better with ult (less CD and more CC, and it isn't avoidable).

    About Pantheon, he's better for a team that wants to win early because in fact his ganks could be deadly, but his late game doesn't scale well, as everyone knows.. If he builds only damage, he can be bursted easily after his combo; if he build tanky, he nearly does no damage.. And a mix wouldn't be that useful.

  • #23 Bloodwrath2

    I'd love to see them butcher Jungle Wukong while leaving laning Wukong intact, He still has a bunch of flaws as a top laner, but it is doable and worth it if you can pull it off. 

    However I think the damage is done, the word is out, even if his jungling gets nerfed they'll see his power as a mid laner, he's been a sleeper since Season 2 has only been buffed since his release, Wukong is just TuStrong!

    RiP buddy I'll miss you. 

  • #25 Drawmeomg

    I don't assume they're going to nerf him at all. The problem is clear: trivializing jungler sustain issues with a one item solution that just makes it irrelevant for the whole roster was not a good idea. They can stick with that (and invalidate much of what defined champs like Udyr and Warwick as junglers) and nerf the hell out of Pantheon, Wukong, and likely a few others who will come up once they're out of the way, or they can weaken that enough for it to hold jungle Pantheon and Wukong back meaningfully.

    From the looks of it, they are stepping back the sustain on jungle items, so that means they're thinking of it similarly: that there needs to be a meaningful drawback for these champs in the jungle.

  • #26 Hyp3r1on

    i can tell it will mostly dont care them 8-6 % and 4-3% is nothing due the Aoe spells wont get reduced anymore which 1st wukong jungle maxes early to have a faster clear which also whould get him even more sustain now and Pantheons which he max 2nd and also should compensate this enrf to the jungle items

    basicly ist only a nerf to the full single target jungle but jungler with AOE skils wont really care

  • #22 Askid

    I was making the point that Pantheon is essentially a better version of the Tanky Nocturne playstyle on Gamefaqs and i got ridiculed. Good to know at least one well known jungler agrees with me. The Validation, it feels goooood.

  • #20 raikaria

    You are forgetting they key differences between Nocturne and Pantheon that are in Nocturne's favor:

     

    1: Nocturne sticks to his targets a lot better. He can resist C.C with his spellsheild, and he gets a movespeed bonus that lets him outrun basically anyone with his Duskbringer.

    2: Nocturne's Semi-Global is a point target. Once it starts there is no way to escape it, al-la Maokai's Twisted Advance. Pantheon's Grand Skyfall is a ground-target. It gives more than enough time to simply walk out of the AoE [And therefor the stun that follows], or react. Pantheon can mandrop behind you, but in that case you are over-extended anyway and any jungler could just walk up behind you. The global mobilty is a great plus point, but the lack of it being targeted like Paranoia is a major downside. Also Grand Skyfall is a channel, so someone can interupt it.

    3: Pantheon falls off lategame compared to Nocturne. Nocturne beings AoE autoattacks that give him sustain, can block major spells so therefor is not able to be bursted, is hard to peel due to Duskbringer + Spellsheild, and has 2 steroids. Pantheon... walks at you and maybe bops you on the head.

    4: Pantheon's weakness is that his stun is short range. 600 range is not a lot. Compare to Maokai's Twisted Advance, which is 650, but is a snare that cannot be flashed like Pantheon's stun [As in Maokai will follow you, Pantheon will not], that can then be followed up by a knockup [Which is better than a stun]

    5: Pantheon's stun dosen't scale. At all.It stays at 1 second. Nocturne's Fear extends to 2 seconds with rank. For what it's worth, Nocturne's fear also deals 100 more damage at max rank.

    Not saying Jungle Pantheon isn't strong. I played him [And Nocturne!] before the spirit stone changes.  But saying he's a better Nocturne I do not agree with personally. Both have advantages and disadvantages.

    Also bear in mind that the sustain from the Spirit Line is being nerfed on the PBE anyway.

    Last edited by raikaria: 2/12/2014 6:24:43 PM
  • #21 OuterRaven
    Quote from raikaria »
    Also bear in mind that the sustain from the Spirit Line is being nerfed on the PBE anyway.

    Regarding this, it's only a small nerf and they're removing the cap on AOE abilities. It's a small nerf to single target junglers (which shouldn't hurt that much) and a buff to AOE junglers.

  • #24 Hyp3r1on

    the nerf shoundt hit Pantheon and wu so HArd since they still have AoE spells they can Use

    also @raikaria

    true both have thei Advantages

    but u Need to see following while Nocturne Needs to get Close and have to hit skillshots to be relevant at ganking /pre 6

    Pantheon just walks up (highest MS with Yi in the game) Point and click stuns for 1 sec (like udyr but 600 range) and deals massiv Dmg due his E skill passiv while also able to early Tower dive

    his a low skill Champion those tend to be ridicoules if buffed

    Nocturne on the other side is much stronger due his steroids he can gain and diffrent usage of his skill but we learned in the Past that low Skill Champs can be as effectiv as high skill champs and pretty much destroy a whole Team (see xin Zhao kit rework)

    but that Pantheon through th current buffs is indeed better because his early is Stronger atm and in like 80% of the games early matters the most because it decides which Team na take objectiv or which Team have to be defensiv

    and he snowballs like stupid with just 1 kill

    Last edited by Hyp3r1on: 2/12/2014 7:39:52 PM
  • #19 Noknam

    Can we just start removing every single point and click CC one by one? Starting with Vi and WW ulti?

    It feels silly to read so many conversations about counter play in league of legends only to get charge ulti'd by a Vi.

     

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