The War of Attrition - Sustain in the Bottom Lane
Tue 9th Apr 2013 - 3:06pm: League of Legends
Hello folks, my name is Rampant Idiocy, and this week we're going to be looking at one of the most frustrating laning situations to be in as a support: When one side has incredibly high sustainability in lane. The moment that Ashe has full health after you and your AD Carry blew your entire arsenal on her is possibly one of the most soul-crushing in League, so I hope that this will help you avoid this demoralizing event in the future.
Why don't you try that again in about twelve seconds?
First, we need to define what sustainability means. A sustainable lane is one that does not lose momentum over time, in that it continues to operate at full strength despite undergoing harassment. Champions that have high sustainability have high survivability and the ability to recoup health by breathing. They are also really, really frustrating to play against. Sustainable lane combinations in the bottom lane oftentimes have supports that grant health/mana, which compound the issue where now the champion that is sustainable isn't the source of the healing. So you're given the choice of fighting through the massive amount of health that the Carry has been granted while he beats on you, or focusing on the Support while allowing their Carry to beat on you with no recompense. Its not a nice situation for anyone involved.
So, what defines a sustainable lane in the bottom lane? It tends to have one of the supports described in the Rogues' Gallery section following this: Soraka, Sona, Taric, Nami, or Alistar. The goal of this lane isn't to kill you, but to sit in lane and just passively gain advantages, which boils the blood of any aggressive support player. However there are a few rules of general counterplay that you can follow to gain advantages against a lane that has incredibly high sustain.
If they can't heal, they are not sustaining. Any way to stop or slow the healing of the enemy is a viable way to cut down on the sustainability of the lane. Perhaps the biggest and easiest way to gain access to this healing mitigation is Summoner Ignite, which halves healing for 5 seconds while the true damage DoT is going. It isn't the only way to apply this debuff though. Varus has the same effect with Hail of Arrows, while it is unfortunately restrained to an Area of Effect, but Miss Fortune and Tristana have the same effect on their target with the activated portions of Impure Shots and Explosive Shot, respectively. And this mitigation isn't restricted to champion select as both you and your carry can pick up an item that applies these Grievious Wounds to your opponents. Your ADC can, if desperate, pick up an Executioner's Calling, a gold efficient critical strike and attack damage item that inflicts it on hit, while you can pick up the Morellonomicon, a great item in general that also provides the debuff when you hit a target under 40% health with magic damage.
Actually, these two are incredibly gold efficient items. (Note: Calling now grants 20% Critical Strike).
Stop the Healing
If you'd rather not play the game of attrition at all, you could just simply try to kill them outright with someone with incredibly strong Crowd Control. Your best bets here are Blitzcrank, Thresh, and Alistar, as they have the ability to not only stop the Support in their tracks, but bring them over for your Carry to dispatch quickly. Otherwise the plan is to burst them down as hard as possible, with Zyra, Taric, or Leona being able to provide the necessary disruption to keep them from healing themselves. This requires your ADC to pick a burst heavy champion such as Corki, Graves, or Miss Fortune.
They can't heal the damage if they've been stunned for six seconds.
Don't Let Them Poke
High sustain Supports make themselves incredibly useful in poke compositions, where they can allow their own team to continue to harass despite your teams best efforts to whittle their health down. Oftentimes they'll be with a Carry that has a great deal of poking potential such as Ezrael or Urgot. Not allowing them to poke in lane means forcing them into engagements down in the bottom lane to deplete their mana. By forcing them to use their abilities in engagements, you're preventing their future harassment. Also, by depleting the Support's mana, you're going to eventually force them back into their base. In late game, a sustainable Support will allow a poke composition to continuously press on your team, so picking a Support with a strong initiation will prevent them from whittling away your team's health.
Finally, if your goal is to force them to spend all their mana, pushing them into their turret as soon as you can is a good way to do that. By pressing them into the turret repeatedly, you force them to expend mana in last hitting and allows your Carry to perhaps gain an advantage by taking Golems or Wolves. When you're pushing, however, don't forget to ward up the River and the Brushes, as while they might not be the greatest initators, they can still punish you with a Jungle gank. The goal of this pushing is to prevent them from gaining the incremental advantages that a sustainable lane can gain, as you are continuously denying them the chance to harass.
Riot has tried to move away from high sustainability Supports because they ferment this passive gameplay where the entire bottom lane becomes a war of attrition between the players and actions take little meaning except lowering the mana in the Support's care. However, there are still some holdouts from days when sustainability reigned supreme in the bottom lane. Perhaps the most atrocious of these is Soraka. Soraka not only has access to three heals in Astral Blessing, Wish, and Summoner Heal, she also grants her allies mana through Infuse and has high mana regeneration to boot. If she decides to go towards Mikael's Crucible for even more healing, her mana regeneration increases to non-depletable levels. Paired with this, she is entirely reactive, with no strong engagement or disengagement tool, so she innately rewards passive play. So, if Soraka is your lane opponent, prepare for one of the most boring lanes that you will ever experience.
Counterplay: Luckily, Soraka has incredibly high cooldowns at low levels, so once her Blessing goes on cooldown, its the cue to abuse them as hard as you can. Grabbing Ignite on either you or your Carry is going to be a standard theme throughout these small guides, but it is incredibly important in this case, as she can heal her teammate for over 300 hit points as low as level 3. Also, her general lack of a stong engage means that we really do not need to fear a jungle gank or even free harassment, and if we have a strong engage she's not going to be able to escape it. Playing burst heavy champions and going all in once her Blessing is on cooldown is how you're going to win this lane.
Taric is a presents a much different problem than Soraka did in lane. While Soraka granted her teammate incredible durability and health, it was only for 3 seconds. Taric's Shatter aura gives him up to 30 armor and his allies 12% of Taric's armor, and Imbue, while being a smaller heal than Astral Blessing, heals both him and his Carry, and can be on a much shorter cooldown. Now, recent nerfs to Taric did make his sustainability much worse, and I am not about to weep the loss of his bottomless mana nor the flat 10 armor given to his allies at level 2. However, where Soraka was a reactive support entirely, Taric threatens with Dazzle quite a bit. And he puts out quite a bit of damage with his Dazzle/Shatter/Gemcraft/Radiance combo at level 6. Taric is survivable, has an incredibly long and hard engage, and is very hard to burst down when Shatter is up.
Counterplay: Once Dazzle is down, he loses quite a bit of threat, as he isn't about to get more free damage off on us. Do not let him autoattack minions, as it will let him get back his Imbue much quicker; force him to swallow its 20 second cooldown in its entirety. Ward the bushes, and whenever his Shatter Aura is down, focus him, as he has lost most of his protection. Make sure your jungler waits until Dazzle is down before he ganks, as it is an incredibly strong disengage tool as well.
Back to Supports whose entire goal is to slam their face onto the keyboard until their allies are healed. Sona has an incredibly low cooldown heal that heals both her and the lowest health allied champion near her in Aria of Perseverance. This also gives all her nearby allies an aura of up to 20 armor and MR that doubles on those that were healed for 3 seconds. Unlike Soraka, however, Sona also has the ability to deal quite a bit of damage, with Hymn of Valor and Power Chord being able to take chunks out of any player's health bar and has an incredibly initiation tool in Crescendo at Level 6.
Counterplay: Sona was in an incredibly powerful spot until last October when Riot made her the squishiest character in the game, and thats where most of Sona's counterplay comes from. With 410 base health at level 1, your goal needs to be to just explode her. Any early game burst, like Graves or Corki, alongside a strong CC Support such as Zyra or Taric, will allow you to punish her whenever she gets out of position. She's able to harass people quite easily due to her speed, so you need to return the favor when you are able. As she's squishy, these trades will leave her at a lower health, albeit temporarily.
Alistar is a bit different then the previous three in that his sustain isn't really isolated to their champions. Instead, he uses Triumphant Roar to sustain entire lane pushes. This makes pushing against Alistar a losing proposition, and since Roar does double healing to Alistar and he is naturally tanky, bursting him down is often a futile effort. He also is one of the most disruptive initiators in the game, with two un-Cleansable CCs and Unbreakable Will makes him immune/resistant to many abilities in the game. Alistar is a pain in lane, oftentimes able to bully the opposing team with no recompense.
Counterplay: Alistar doesn't have much in the way of an escape, so ganking him (pre-6) can be an effective way to stunt him. However, Headbutt is a good disengage tool, and can be used to knock you or your teammates in a comprimising position and Pulverize can keep you there. Harassing Alistar from range is your best bet, as he has an incredibly short range, and he doesn't do that much damage alone. He also has a real lack of a burst heal to make his Carry more survivable, so bursting down his Carry is also a viable strategy.
Nami is relatively new, and hasn't really earned herself a place in bottom lane. However, I mention her because she has the kit to be a sustainable support. Ebb and Flow has the ability to both sustain her and her Carry while harassing, and Aqua Prison and Tidal Wave are good initation tools. Along with the ability to grant her team a pretty massive movement speed buff and a repeatable slow on her Carry, Nami seems to be in a good place as a sustainable support.
Counterplay: Her real problem is that she needs to put herself atrociously out of position to actually harass with Ebb and Flow, and you can punish her for that. She's also quite squishy herself, only having 30 more health at first level than Sona, so bursting her down as soon as she tries to get in position to double up with Ebb and Flow is really easy. Also, while Aqua Prison is a pretty powerful stun, it is a rather small area of effect and quite easy to dodge, and its small range requires her to put herself in harms way. The biggest thing to watch is Tidal Wave, which has a decievingly short casting time and is a great initiating tool for a Jungle gank.
Sustain vs. Sustain
One of the more passive lanes is when you're playing a sustain Support yourself. If you've ever tried playing low-level battlegrounds in WoW where the Discipline Priest and Resto Druid look at each other with furrowed brows doing nothing to each other, you have a general idea on how this lane is going to play. This lane becomes a battle of the mana bars, which each spell used only turns into Damaged Healed at the end-of-game screen.
Your goal in this lane is to get enough concentrated burst down on your opponent before they're able to react with a heal. Each of the high-sustain Supports has this ability except Soraka, but Soraka is able to respond to alot more burst than the others. To be successful in a sustain vs. sustain lane, you're going to need to coordinate with your Carry which target you're going after and when to go in, as any lost seconds are about to be turned into healing by your opponent. Begging for the jungler to come down and make their life miserable is also an effective way to play this lane.
What you shouldn't do is constantly put your skills on cooldown to harass. Unless you're Sona, its unlikely that its actually worth the mana to hurt your opponent, and it gives them an opening to try the same without you having the disruption to stop them. Lower-echelon Tarics are notorious for this, but other Supports can be just as bad. Secondly, blowing your abilities for them to heal will oftentimes cost you more mana in exchange, as they are going to autoattack you when you come in to harass. So while they're just using their heal, you're going to have to use your ability and a heal.
Sustain lanes are aggrivating to play against, but if you mitigate their effectiveness, they oftentimes will lose the lane to you. So don't fret picking up Summoner Ignite if you're Supporting against a Soraka, and explain to your Carry that its in the lanes best interest. Just make sure you use it at the start of the battle, so you don't secure the kill. The sustain lane can be a war of attrition, but its a war you can win.