Originally posted on lolesports.com by James ''Obscurica'' Chen
The LoL Master Series, held in Taiwan, has a vampire problem: Midnight Sun Esports, despite being a rookie team, seems to have drained the skills right out of their opponents. They've been playing Vladimir in both mid and top lane, steadily sapping their opponents' strengths to advance through their circuit's rankings.
Vladimir's found use elsewhere too, particularly with Origen's Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez and others beside. MSE coach Alex "Lilballz" Sung has found it a useful way to shatter the tank lines that currently dominate the metagame.
The most important asset that Vladimir brings to a team is Hemoplague (R), a straight-up damage amplification debuff to make everybody's attacks hit just a little harder, as well as nuke targets after an additional five seconds. "It's a counterpick to Maokai and some top lanes right now," acknowledged Lilballz. Maokai's Vengeful Maelstrom (R) is effectively the opposite of Vladimir's, mitigating damage dealt to allies within its area of effect instead -- the two cancel each other out, indirectly worsening the team with Maokai for depending on it to give an edge in fights.
Vladimir's also a situational counterpick. Long before Fizz's Playful/Trickster (E) "troll pole" was frustrating attempts to lock him down with crowd control, Vladimir was doing much the same with Sanguine Pool (W). His lack of mana and self-healing Transfusions (Q) also make him incredibly hard to shake out of lane -- especially when, like xPeke recently did versus Giants Gaming, its player builds Hextech Revolver first to further boost Transfusion with spell vamp.
Lilballz prefers his mid laner Hsiao-Hsien "M1ssion" Chen to run Vladimir mid lane into Lulu as a result. "Lulu is a lane bully, but she can't really zone him out," he said. "He can just safely farm under tower." Their comparative strengths also play into the choice. Lulu's utility-oriented gameplay caps her offensive capabilities, and Vladimir doesn't share those limitations. "When he gets around level nine, Vlad will be stronger than Lulu."
But while he's hard to budge out of lane by the likes of utility mages, that doesn't mean Vladimir is a safe pick all around. Fellow Noxian mage LeBlanc is bloodlessly efficient at ruining his day -- Sanguine Pool might dodge the initial casting of Ethereal Chains (E), but it won't stop it from locking him down when it's already tagged him. Nor is he very safe against the raw damage she deals.
"When Cassiopeia and LeBlanc's open, it's not a good idea to run Vlad," explained Lilballz. "You can see that in the first game we played against Machi." In that particular game, Midnight Sun actually opted to run Vladimir top lane as an answer to Wang "BoBo" You-Lin's Maokai. It was Lulu, instead, that squared off against LeBlanc. But lane placements didn't matter so much with what LeBlanc brought to teamfights. "Even when LeBlanc's mid and we're 6,000 gold ahead, she puts pressure on Vlad in team fights."
Vladimir in the top lane isn't necessarily safe either. Head to head against Maokai -- that's ideal. Anything else, and he starts to flounder. Lilballz emphasizes caution and good jungle management when running Vladimir to break through tank lines. "Vlad has a really weak laning phase, especially facing champions like Irelia... Basically, he has a problem facing anything. You need an aggressive jungler like Rek'sai or Hecarim. But it's not a really good idea to help Vlad either, because you don't get kills."
Lilballz, at this point, wavers. "But if you don't help him, Vlad falls to pieces. The jungler needs to figure out his rotations and stuff."
The key, it seems, is to make sure that both mid and top lane Vladimirs face a relatively straightforward lane. In other words, to avoid laneswaps if at all possible, and save him for teams with predictable patterns. "[His] weakness is laneswaps. When we were playing Machi, I knew they were a newly formed team with two Koreans, so communications might not be that good. We thought they might not lane swap, so we picked Vlad."
It sounds at first that Vladimir has as many weaknesses as a classical vampire does to garlic, holy symbols and sunlight -- in Vlad's case, lane swaps, early game pressure, and assassins he can't Pool away from. Despite this, and his team's own experiences, Lilballz is adamant about keeping him in their playbooks. "If we can [run him], we will," he affirmed. "Teams have been banning all of our mid lanes, so when all mids are banned, Vlad is actually really strong right now. All of the aggressive mids, like Cassiopeia, LeBlanc, even Varus [are getting banned], which happens a lot in the Taiwan meta right now."
But he cautions to avoid Varus at all costs. "When Varus just came out [to the meta], like two weeks ago, Vlad basically died. Can't even get CS under the tower." While Vladimir isn't technically a vampire, a Piercing Arrow (Q) through the heart is still just as effective -- and Hail of Arrows (E) makes it hard to heal it off.
Will Vladimir continue to to suck the blood out of the rest of the world? Lolesports is just the place to visit to find out.