The Worlds 2019 Journal is an ongoing content series from former Clutch Gaming Head Coach, Brendan “mcscrag” McGee.
Each post will be an in-depth review of one of the North American teams’ games or series from the 2019 World Championships.
Day 4 of the worlds group stage delivered the most one-sided game so far in the tournament. SK Telecom not only displayed an enormous skill discrepancy, but also a masterful plan to counter Clutch’s style and comfort picks. I’m going to dive into this draft step by step to examine what both teams were thinking at various points along the way.
First Ban Phase
Most of these bans are entirely predictable from both teams, and mostly involve attacking their opponents’ strongest points. As many teams choose to do against Clutch, SKT devote their bans to attacking top lane. Even though Elise is a jungle ban, it serves a dual purpose in both banning one of Lira’s best champions this tournament and banning the best jungler for snowballing through top lane.
Clutch’s bans are a little more scattered, showing a reluctance to first pick Renekton. Even when they have Elise, Renekton doesn’t seem to be high on their priority list as can be seen in the previous day’s draft vs Fnatic. Clearly some of the data from scrims has lowered the priority of Renekton first pick on blue side, while still mandating a ban on blue side to prevent it from being picked on red. A strong, flexible solo lane pick like Renekton is always more powerful on red side since the red team can hold that flex until fifth pick. This forces the blue team to pick two solo lane champions that can lane versus Renekton, while also being strong blind picks themselves–a fairly constraining condition.
Lastly, the Morgana ban is a very typical ban from Clutch, setting them up for the Xayah/Rakan pickup. Many teams ignore the Morgana ban, even when they intend to play Xayah Rakan, because they feel confident enough to play against it. RNG is an example of one of these teams. The Morgana counter-pick to Rakan is mostly just a lane counter, providing a lot of early lane pressure since it’s difficult for Rakan to ever all-in. However, it gets severely out-scaled because Rakan is much more useful in the team fight phase of the game. So many teams ignore Morgana because they are confident in being able to out-scale her without losing too much bot in the lane phase.
The most common ADC to go with Morgana is Caitlyn. Caitlyn/Morgana is a very potent counter to Xayah/Rakan in the lane phase because Caitlyn pushes so hard and makes the most use of the Morgana counter by hitting the turret uncontested. However, this strategy requires a lot of help from the team since Caitlyn must get turret plates to snowball effectively. Even with Morgana she is still very vulnerable to ganks, and so requires a constant upkeep of vision in the enemy bot jungle in order to keep hitting the turret. This condition is aided by having a winning mid/jungle 2v2, allowing the mid and jungler to maintain push and find windows to walk into the enemy bot jungle to ward. The problem is that these are a lot of conditions to meet in one draft, and even if snowballed properly it’s not a great composition to team fight with. So most teams ignore the Morgana counter-pick. I believe Clutch choose not to ignore it because it’s very difficult for them to get a winning mid 2v2, even when they have the right picks. Damonte’s laning phase is one of the weakest in the tournament, and Lira’s synergy with Damonte has always been one of their biggest issues.
Moving into the first pick phase, we can see Clutch choose to pick Qiyana, one of Damonte’s most comfortable champions. Qiyana also has a very unique play style, very similar to Talon. She prefers to buy mobility boots, allowing her to sacrifice waves mid to move to and swing side lanes. Clutch have shown this is the best style of play for them since they really need their side lanes to win and carry. It’s also worth noting Qiyana is a jungle flex, leaving Clutch with some extra wiggle room in the draft.
Here’s where things start to get interesting. SKT pick Yasuo/Gragas. There are a number of things going on here. First, Gragas is a takeaway because he is the best jungler in combination with Qiyana. Gragas builds the AP jungle item, giving him an enormous amount of burst. Thus he synergizes well with bursty mid lane champions that excel at eliminating one target in any skirmish. Secondly, Yasuo/Gragas themselves are a very potent combo. Gragas has two sources of knockup which sets up Yasuo in skirmishes. Additionally, Gragas’s ult has a pretty decent range, which basically means Yasuo’s ult has a much larger range. A great example of what this combo can do can be seen in the DWG vs TL game when Canyon and Showmaker are able to delete Jensen’s Leblanc in one smooth motion. However, the most important aspect of this combo is its ability to be flexed into the bot lane. In the right hands, Yasuo Gragas bot lane is extremely powerful, though a bit risky.
At this point, Clutch think they have lucked out. SKT didn’t go for the Xayah/Rakan, even with Morgana banned. They know that Yasuo/Gragas can be botlane, but they feel confident playing X/R into it. They’re not wrong: Xayah is one of the best carries to play versus one-shot style bot lanes because of her ult. Not many ADCs can simply go immune, and with fast reflexes she can dodge any of Gragas’ attempts to get the knock-up. Rakan is also not bad because of his abundant crowd control, which can disrupt and lock down the Yasuo if he ever ults in prematurely.
SKT decide to pick Akali, a champion they’re quite confident in for the Qiyana matchup, and generally a strong blind pick for Faker and Khan if Clutch decide to flex Qiyana to jungle.
Second Ban Phase
Clutch decide to ban Ryze first. This indicates they anticipate Yasuo/Gragas going bot lane and Akali being mid. They ban Ryze because they must already intend to pick Vladimir, and Ryze top puts a lot of pressure on Vladimir in lane while being a strong scaling champion himself.
SKT choose to ban junglers. They are in an advantageous position because of the amount of flex picks they have here. They don’t need to ban top laners because they’re already comfortable with Akali mid versus just about anything, and they can still put Akali top if the matchup suits them. Therefore, no Gangplank or Aatrox ban is needed. The Taliyah ban makes sense because Taliyah excels when combined with champions who have hard C. This allows her to hit her Seismic Shove every time, providing an enormous amount of burst. Clutch already have two lanes with hard CC. Additionally, Clutch are going to need some AP damage to round out their composition because they already have an AD damage mid laner. The Skarner ban is just because it’s Lira’s best champion. Skarner is also very good versus assassins because he can save his ultimate for when Akali or Yasuo decide to enter the team fight.
The Kai’sa ban from Clutch also makes sense. If SKT put Akali top and Yasuo/Gragas mid/jungle, then Kai’sa is the next best ADC for SKT to pick. She combos well with all the engage and CC that SKT have, providing her with lots of passive stacks. Additionally, if for some reason SKT decide to put Gragas bot and Yasuo mid (possibly to get a hard jungle counter-pick) then Kai’sa is the best ADC to go with Gragas support. His Body Slam sets her up to hit her W, while providing passive stacks and burst. The Kai’sa/Gragas combo is very potent if they can find that all-in.
It’s obvious how difficult this position is for Clutch. SKT have made terrific use of flex picks on red side, leaving Clutch to ban one champion from different positions in an attempt to narrow SKT’s flexibility. It’s much easier to be on SKT’s side where they can target one position to ban and thus actually pinch that role.
Second Pick Phase
SKT are finally forced to show their bot flex by picking the jungle role on 4. Now Clutch can almost certainly expect Yasuo/Gragas to be bot lane. The only variable they have to consider now is the Akali flex between top and mid. This is still a difficult position since they essentially have to pick a champion that Huni will be comfortable in playing versus Akali top while also being a strong blind pick in the event Akali goes mid. There are not many champions left in the game that can do this. I certainly don’t think Vladimir is one of them. However, I think I can see where Clutch are coming from.
Vladimir is one of the best picks into Yasuo/Gragas mid. As long as you have strong bot and top lanes that can output pressure, Vladimir mid can essentially free farm versus Yasuo. On top of this, it’s very difficult for Yasuo/Gragas to find the engage on a Vladimir with good reaction times on his pool. This pick can essentially shut down the Yasuo/Gragas win condition. However, obviously Yasuo/Gragas are bot in this draft, so why would Clutch pick the Vladimir? The answer is that even if Vladimir isn’t in the Yasuo/Gragas lane, the strengths of Vladimir versus that combo will still show during the team fight phase of the game. Vladimir will be extremely disruptive to the SKT team fight and will be one less target they can engage on.
However, I don’t think it’s worth picking here regardless. Vladimir is such a weak champion early in the game, and even for Vladimir masters like Nuguri, there are clear counters available. Despite this, Clutch decide to pick it, trusting that their bot and mid will be able to output enough pressure to draw the enemy mid and jungle away from Huni,
Clutch now need a jungler that must do a lot of things at once. Their top lane is going to get counter-picked hard and have very little pressure. Their bot lane is going to be able to push, but will often require jungle backup to completely push in since the enemy bot has insane all-in potential. This jungler also has to be able to match a Lee Sin, one of the most powerful dueling junglers in the game. Jarvan is not a great pick because he gets countered by Lee Sin and Gragas both, and most of the SKT lanes are very mobile and unaffected by Jarvan ult. Rek’sai is probably their best bet since it’s a soft counter to Lee Sin and a powerful skirmisher early in the game. On top of this, Rek’sai has her ultimate to deal with the hard engage from SKT. If she ever gets engaged on and lives through the one-shot mechanics, she can ult and basically reset the fight allowing Clutch to turn it around.
Clutch decide to pick up the Sejuani. In a slow game, Sejuani is a good pick versus Lee Sin. She can interrupt his Q, and her passive makes her difficult for Lee Sin to one-shot with his kick + q combo. She’s also good against Gragas since she can interrupt his Body Slam with her Q, denying one of the sources of knock-up. In a typical game, Lee Sin feels like he’s on a timer to punish the Sejuani before level 6. Of course she also provides a lot of CC to lock down the slippery Akali and Yasuo in team fights. However, this will not be a slow game, as already indicated by SKT’s pick of Yasuo Gragas bot lane.
With these two picks, Clutch have basically guaranteed they will be pressured in all three lanes, as well as have a slow farming jungler that needs level 6. Not a great position to be in versus the tournament favorite.
Finally, SKT pick Aatrox as a counter to Vladimir. Many people doubted this pick when TL pulled it out versus DWG, but many were also proven wrong when Impact completely destroyed Nuguri in both lane and fights. Clearly SKT took that pick, probably scrimmed with it a few times, and confidently used it against Huni.
I next want to touch on how SKT took this favorable draft and made the absolute most out of it in the first few levels. To do that, we need to first think about how Yasuo/Gragas typically play the lane phase.
Traditionally, Yasuo/Gragas get zoned off the first 2-3 waves, because they are two melee champions versus two ranged champions. Once those first few waves finally push in and get crashed into the turret, Yasuo does his best to farm whatever creeps are left. This is also their first big all-in window. Many ADCs will be tempted to try to harass Yasuo while he is farming under the turret, however this is very dangerous because as soon as he hits level two he can dash through the remaining creeps at turret, having charged his Q and E, and all-in the ADC very easily, especially with a Flash Body Slam from Gragas. This timing can also be coordinated with the jungler, who can be available for a gank right then.
Once the wave bounces off the turret, it usually will start pushing back towards the ADC due to the faster reinforcement of its minions. Now Yasuo/Gragas want to push the wave all the way forward into the enemy turret, and use the size of the bounced wave to deny any fighting from the enemy team. You’ll often see teams have their jungler path to bot at this timing because if the enemy support or ADC get greedy and take a bad trade, they are extremely vulnerable to a dive once the wave crashes. After these first two bounces, and especially at Yasuo/Gragas level 6, you’ll usually see Yasuo do his best to freeze the wave in front of his turret since the all-in threat is very high.
However, SKT do not do this. Instead, they get right on top of the wave to start pushing first. They are aided by the fact that Cody Sun and Vulcan help Lira leash red buff. Typically Yasuo/Gragas pushing the first wave is dangerous, because they can very easily get frozen on and ganked before they have a chance to ever find an all-in. But SKT don’t care about this, in fact they want Lira to come bot because it will allow Clid to farm Lira’s top jungle for free. Things go exactly to plan, as Lira is drawn bot to gank the vulnerable Yasuo/Gragas. SKT play it well and survive, and thus Lee Sin gains a huge lead over the Sejuani.
Having seen many Yasuo/Gragas bot lane games, I can say this was very close to being a perfectly played game from Teddy and Effort. Thus, they’ve demonstrated to every team in the tournament their competence on this bot lane duo which will significantly impact the way teams prepare for them in draft. Overall excellent preparation and execution by SKT and I’m excited to see more of it later in the tournament.
Brendan “mcscrag” McGee is a synthetic organic chemist and the former Head Coach of Clutch Gaming.