Now a part of Gambit Gaming, the former members of Moscow 5 just barely made it out of the group stage at IEM Katowice this past weekend. But in the bracket matches they put on a performance that brought them back into their past fame and glory. One game in particular against Azubu Frost showcased a new strategy that Frost was not prepared for. They focused on using armor reducing champions for utility more so than for damage and were able to turn around a game that was not in their favor.
Gambit Gaming’s Armor Shred
|Very good late game (with the correct items)||Little to no magic damage|
|Extremely effective vs armor stacking||Extremely susceptible to lane swaps|
|Tons of protection for AD Carry||Very item dependent in the late game|
Renekton shines in this team comp for unexpected reasons. Usually, Renekton is picked to dominate the lane and then spread that advantage to the team by securing early objectives. However, Renekton’s role in this strategy is not necessarily to dominate his lane or even go for an early win, but instead to farm for items and levels. With Black Cleaver and some tank items, Renekton can use his enraged E and Q to shred armor in an AoE and quickly build up Black Cleaver stacks to let his teammates deal more damage.
Other possible champions: Jarvan IV, Wukong, Olaf
Similar to Renekton, Xin Zhao is also used in an uncommon way. Xin Zhao often builds a combination of damage and tank items to fulfill the tanky-DPS role he is known for. But in this team composition, he is used almost entirely for utility. His crowd control is strong with his knockup, knockback and slow, along with his passive which reduces a target’s armor by 15% and completely synergizes with Renekton’s armor shred. His ultimate also has a nice interaction with Kha’Zix. By going in on an enemy and ulting, Xin Zhao clears the area of all other enemies, allowing Kha’Zix to swoop in and deal massive damage with an isolated Q combo. In this particular game, Xin built straight tank and helped focus down targets with his passive armor shred while protecting his team with crowd control.
Other possible champions: Jarvan IV, Olaf
Kha’Zix has been very strong in tournaments because of his massive AoE damage and refreshable gap closer. He has a particularly good spot in this team composition because the armor shred provided by Renekton and Xin Zhao allows him to not need a Black Cleaver for an extra damage or defense item. With Xin Zhao and Sona locking down enemies, it is easier to focus down single targets for the reset on Kha’Zix’s leap.
Other possible champions: Talon, Zed
Probably the most slippery and versatile AD carry, Ezreal naturally fits into many team compositions. Many of his strengths are amplified with this strategy, however, such as his AoE ultimate, making it easy to deal physical damage across the entire enemy team. Ezreal’s Essence Flux can increase his the attack speed of his allies, which will help the champions with Black Cleaver get stacks faster. To boot, Ezreal’s Arcane Shift also makes it very difficult for enemies to kill him because he can kite so well and keep out of their reach. This is especially useful when he is left to fight for himself while his tanks keep the enemy carries out of reach.
Other possible champions: Caitlyn, Corki, Tristana
Like Ezreal, Sona fits into many team compositions because of her versatility. In this team composition in particular, she makes for a very good harass lane with Ezreal and her ult is able to set up the armor shred combos from Renekton and Xin Zhao. Another advantage of Sona is that she is one of the highest damage-dealing supports – enemies will be building very little magic resist against this team composition, so she will be able to contribute a fair bit of damage herself.
Other possible champions: Lulu, Zyra, Taric
What the strategy is supposed to accomplish
This strategy is not as much about playing a certain way as it is about building a certain way. In theory, all three lanes should have no problem during the laning phase with how strong the champions are on their own. In this particular game with Gambit Gaming, Renekton was a bit unlucky with the lane swap and had to roam a bit to steal creeps from other lanes in order to not fall behind. As Ezreal and Kha’Zix get money, they should be focusing on building selfishly with armor penetration and large chunks of attack damage, such as Brutalizer or Last Whisper and Bloodthirster. Meanwhile, Renekton and Xin Zhao focus on building very tanky with Renekton also getting a Black Cleaver along the way.
With this itemization, the goal is to cause as much armor reduction on the enemy team as possible while the true carries, Kha’Zix and Ezreal, use their own armor penetration and AD in order to deal damage. In fact, late game Renekton can instantly reduce the armor of the entire enemy team by about 43% (E armor reduction plus 2 Black cleaver stacks from E and Q) while a single target focused down by both Renekton and Xin Zhao will have its armor reduced by almost 59%. Then, both Ezreal and Kha’Zix will be able to ignore even more armor, leaving enemies with only a little more than 20% of their actual armor as being effective.
On top of this, Renekton’s ultimate, Kha’Zix’ passive, and a handful of spells from Ezreal and Sona all do magic damage that will be reduced by very little due to the low magic resist from the enemy team. When Gambit Gaming played this composition, the enemy Singed on Azubu Frost spent five slots building some of the strongest armor and tank items in the game but died only slightly slower than the Evelynn who built less than half as much armor.
How to counter
There are several ways to go about countering this team composition. One of them, which is what Frost tried, is to lane swap so that Renekton is forced into a 1 vs 2 lane. Renekton is very strong against many top laners but against 2 champions he has a hard time with his lack of range. In fact, Frost was able to keep Gambit down for the majority of early game because of Renekton’s lack of presence, and secured an early lead.
Another thing they did well was build early armor on their tanks. In a couple big fights, the tanks were able to withstand damage very easily because Gambit did not have enough armor penetration items yet. However, what they could have improved upon was transitioning into damage or utility items going into late game, as opposed to building more pure tank items. For example, a Rylai’s on Singed or some AP or utility on Amumu could have helped Frost not only deal more damage, but also escape from unfavorable team fights.
Once it got to late game when Gambit had all their armor penetration and reduction items, instead of stacking more armor like Sunfire Capes, Randiun’s Omens, and even Thornmail, Azubu Frost could have stacked Warmog’s as their defensive items. When a fight breaks out and half or more of your armor is instantly negated, you lose a lot of the benefits that you gained by purchasing items with high resistances, effectively wasting your gold on something you don’t get the benefits of when going against something like Gambit’s heavy armor penetration build. With Warmog’s, you always get 1000 health no matter what, increasing your effective health when all the armor shred comes into play. Yes, you will lose a little bit of gold if you get multiple Warmog’s by not being able to stack Warmog’s unique passive, but it is a lot less gold lost than building heavy armor and then having half of your armor negated.
Why this fits Gambit Gaming’s playstyle
The members of Gambit Gaming used to be known for pulling out unexpected strategies and executing them to near perfection, and this team composition was a fresh example of that. Azubu Frost was not expecting Gambit to be able to do so much damage even to their high armor tanks, and Gambit was able to turn around an early disadvantage. Additionally, Darien is known for playing a lot of Renekton and Diamondprox is known for playing Xin Zhao, even before the Season 3 item overhaul, so they are very aware of their champion’s respective strengths and weaknesses.