Friday, July 4, 2014

Sona rework thoughts

Let's first talk about problems that Sona has.

Things that suck about playing Sona:
  • Mana costs are really high compared to pool/regen, and you feel like you're always OOM
  • E is kind of useless to take early so you only have 2 spells in laning (arguable whether this is really that bad or not)
  • Leveling W is EXTREMELY pointless relative to leveling Q
  • You are really really squishy
  • Auras are boring

Things that suck about playing against Sona:
  • Sustain is boring to play against
  • When she can trade, she trades really strong; when she can't, she can just sit back and sustain
  • Her CDs are short, so there's limited counterplay from a trading support perspective

Things we want to change about Sona:
  • Auras are boring. Get rid of auras to some extent.
  • Give a reason to take/scale other skills early
  • Having her be OOM all the time

Things we want to preserve about Sona:
  • Some sort of ally buff through stats (pretty fundamental to her identity)
  • Reliance on power chords (fundamental to her paradigm)
  • The "feel" of her laning (fundamental to her identity)
   
Let's look at each individual spell.

Q first. What is the current use of Q? First, it's her primary trading skill in lane. When you have 2 stacks of chord, you can AA-Q-Qchord burst someone and get a ton of damage off. That's when you want to trade. It also allows Sona to give her team bonus stats upon engaging a fight with Crescendo. Basically, you flash ult and turn Q on to maximize burst damage. We want to keep that.

Stance Activation: Sona sends out bolts of sound that deal magic damage to the two nearest enemy units within range, prioritizing champions.


This is really fun to play and play against! Keep this exactly as is.

Persistent Aura: Sona plays the Hymn of Valor, granting nearby allied champions within 1000-range bonus attack damage and ability power.

Auras are boring. All persistent auras should be made to decay over time. 1000 range is also really, really long. It basically means "everyone in the fight will have this aura." Is that ok? Yeah. Could that be changed? Yeah, if you wanted to. That said, probably it should be able to go to the entirety of the backline, since what a non-tank support does is help out the backline.

For some comparisons:

        Janna P: 800
        Taric W : 500
        Taric R : 500
        Heimerdinger P: 1000
        Jarvan IV E: 600
        Sivir R: 1000

The ones that are most similar to Sona's (in that they're passive stat buffs) are Taric and Jarvan, with 500-600 range. Somewhere between 500 and 800 sounds reasonable for Sona. Also auras should probably decay down to 0 after somewhere between 3 and 5 seconds, even if the stance is un-activated. Let's go with 3 for now.

Power Chord - Staccato: If this spell was last cast when Power Chord is ready, Power Chord deals double damage.

That's a F***ton of damage. Like seriously. This does SO MUCH DAMAGE. And you know what? It should probably stay that way. Three reasons: (1) One of the most fun things to do with Sona is to flash after a low-health opponent and clean them up in fights. And (2) A lot of people have a lot of fun playing Sona mid. Decreasing the Q-chord bonus would hurt that a lot. And (3) SONA REVOLVES AROUND CHORDS. That is the point of Sona. So don't nerf any of the chord aspects. Instead, don't buff her heal; that will help a lot with holding her trading in check

That said, it wouldn't be unreasonable to have power chords scale with the level of the spell, so if Sona is OP with all of the suggested changes, one area of wiggle room could be to decrease this at early levels.

Ok now let's look at W. The point of W is for Sona to be able to sustain in lane. This comes from a time when Soraka was really strong botlane, and it was basically accepted that supports had to have heals. It's an extremely strong spell at levels 1-5 roughly, and then it starts to fall off a bit, as the ADC starts to get more lifesteal, and you stop putting points into it. Late game, it's a good defensive aura to help keep your ADC alive and also to help your team not die to burst / especially AoE.

Stance Activation: Sona heals herself and a nearby allied champion with the lowest health percentage, granting both of them bonus armor and magic resistance for 3 seconds.

If we want to keep the Sona-thing where you don't actually target any of your primary abilities, this part basically needs to remain the same. However, there's an awkward balance thing at play here. Let's agree that a universe in which it's good for Sona to take W at levels 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 is a bad universe. Just healing your ally like that makes you a glorified Soraka. Right now, the heal gives you +15 per level, and you take points in W at 2 and 4 (and 4 only because E is so shitty to have in lane, more on that later). W needs to be buffed so that it's not quite so completely useless, but we also don't want to encourage passive Sona play. So a shield on W is actually a great idea -- but that should probably just be part of the bonus on Sona and her ally. (why? because a shield is a very ACTIVE thing, and it doesn't make sense to put an active thing on an AoE "aura".) So let's heal for the same 30+10/level, and add a shield on top of that (maybe 20+10/level? with a slightly higher AP scaling, but I'm not trying to go into numbers here). And the bonus armor and MR per level could be increased as well; the point is to make W as active a spell as possible.

Persistent Aura: Sona plays the Aria of Perseverance, granting nearby allied champions within 1000-range bonus armor and magic resistance.

Again, 1000 is probably a bit too long, should be at most 800, consistent with Janna. And then of course we're also adding a decaying element, so the entire thing will last for 3 second. Other than that it seems ok.

Power Chord - Diminuendo: If this spell was last cast when Power Chord is ready, Power Chord will also reduce the target's damage output by 20% (+ 2% per 100 AP) for 3 seconds.

Again, this could change with level of W. I'm not really sure why there's an AP scaling on this. It just seems totally random because it was considered good for Sona to scale off of AP a bit more, and no one wanted to increase her other numbers. I'd get rid of the AP scaling just because it seems pointless. If anything, the duration of this chord should scale with Sona's AP, not the magnitude of the debuff. (why is this so bad? Damage debuffs are already REALLY hard to judge the effectiveness of. Remember when W-chord was broken for years and no one noticed? REALLY, REALLY hard to judge the effectiveness of. Don't make it even harder.)

On to E! Sona's E is the hardest of her spells to balance, because it ONLY provides movespeed. There aren't many spells like that in the game. Pretty much everything gives some other benefit. However, it's not quite that simple, because of power chord. E gives the E-chord slow, and it also gives Sona the ability to cast 2 chords within just over a second of time. (cast chord, cast 1 spell, .5s CD, cast 2nd spell, .5s CD, cast 3rd spell, power chord). So it's really useful to have, but because it costs a TON of mana (65 at level 1), you generally don't take it in lane, even though the scaling on W is pathetically weak. Or if you do take it, you just sit on it and never use it. We want to reward taking E at early levels more, without making it ridiculously OP.

Stance Activation: Sona grants nearby allies increased movement speed for 1.5 seconds.

So, E is also unique in that, while Q and W both have actives that are distinctly different from their auras, E does not. Its activation is just a better version of its aura, and the aura is already going to decay after ~3s in our newly reworked Sona. So we need to come up with a "better" active than this. If we want to keep the theme of movespeed, there are basically two things we can do: movespeed buffs to allies, and movespeed debuffs to enemies. The debuff is already on her chord. So let's put something else here:

When Sona casts E, allies currently facing towards her ignore unit collision for the next two seconds! This will allow extremely free movement from her ADC in lane, and it will also allow her teammates to engage much more easily even through creeps in the lategame. It'll help junglers gank for Sona even more than E currently does. This is NOT an essential change to make, but it could help with E's uselessness early. However, also just a mana decrease could do that as well; if E was 45 + 5/lvl mana, it would definitely start being taken and used earlier, just for the faster chords in skirmishes, and mana decreases are things we want anyway. But that could be a cute thing to add to her kit.

Persistent Aura: Sona plays the Song of Celerity, granting nearby allied champions within 1000-range a flat movement speed bonus.

Straightforward. This will decay over time.

Power Chord - Tempo: If this spell was last cast when Power Chord is ready, Power Chord will also slow the target by 40% (+ 4% per 100 AP) for 2 seconds.

Same as above, this could scale with spell level. Otherwise leave it alone.

Finally, Sona could definitely benefit in champion depth with some changes to her ult, but I will leave that alone. However: Levels of Crescendo are already really strong due to the -20 CD on it. I firmly believe no additional power should be added there.

Now, let's look at the proposed changes.
Passive - Power Chord: Q Powerchord amplification down from +100% damage to +50% damage
Q - Hymn of Valor
  • Creates a 300 unit aura that lasts for 3 seconds.
  • Sona and allies touched by the aura get 40/50/60/70/80 (+0.25 AP) bonus magic damage on their next auto attack. Buff lasts 3 seconds
  • Each ally Sona tags with the aura increases the duration of the aura by 0.5 seconds
  • Cooldown increased to 10 seconds from 7 seconds
  • No longer grants persistent AP and AD aura
  • Mana cost increased by 5 at all ranks (50/55/60/65/70
Nerfing power chords isn't  conducive to the goal of keeping Sona focused around her passive, so I dislike that change. Again, I don't think 300 range isn't quite long enough for an aura; between 500 and 800 would probably be best.

So it seems that what we're doing here is moving some of the damage away from chord and to the next autoattack. So overall chord will do the same amount. I'm sort of ok with this change, because a very skilled Sona player will always land a Q and AA at the same time. I very much dislike the each ally increasing duration thing unless the range is extended a bit, in which case it's super interesting --- basically, we are saying, you can't have that long of an aura in lane, but in fights you get to keep it for a bit longer. But if it's only 300 range, then you are forced to group way too much prior to a fight initiating, which is generally not desired.

The cooldown increase issue I have gone indepth about in other places and will briefly say that it is bad because the most interesting decision-making on Sona comes when you are deciding, do I switch chords now? If I cast spells in the same order, I'll have Q chord up again, but I might want E chord. Is it worth delaying my E two seconds for Q to come back up first so that I can then cast E and get chord? We want to increase the frequency of that decision-making, and increasing her primary skill cooldown does the exact opposite.

Also, mana cost increases are the saddest thing. Sona is currently EXTREMELY sad when it comes to mana costs; it's the single most unfun thing about playing her. (Yeah, this is due to the CD increase, but you still have to spam spells you don't want sometimes in order to get a chord, so the extra cost is still there.)

Also this active-aura thing is really confusing. An aura that gives allies near it an active bonus isn't really an aura, it's....uh....yeah, not sure what to call it. The bonus-stat thing made a lot more sense, and it's not like it's unhealthy for the game that Sona gives this extra bonus stats to her team. It really, really feels like someone said "we need to not have a passive aura anymore" and so someone said "let's do this because it's sorta similar to something that made sense." I cannot imagine this spell being created a priori, and so it will just feel shitty to play with; champion reworks need to feel like it's believable that the initial vision of the champion was to have it be like that.

Also --- one other crucial thing here. The allies-touched-by-the-aura thing literally does not exist in lane. Your ADC gets touched by the "aura" and literally nothing happens as a result in terms of the cooldown.
W - Aria of Perseverance
  • Initial cast heals Sona plus the lowest health nearby ally for 25/50/75/100/125 (+ 0.25 AP) heath. This heal is increased by 1% for each 1% missing health of the target.
  • Creates a 300 unit aura that lasts for 3 seconds.
  • Sona and her allies touched by the aura get a shield that blocks 40/60/80/100/120 (+0.2 AP) damage.
  • Each ally Sona tags with the aura increases the duration of the aura by 0.5 seconds
  • Cooldown increased to 10 seconds from 7 seconds
  • No longer grants persistent MR and Armor aura
  • Mana cost increased by 5 at all ranks (65/70/75/80/85)
 The missing health thing is really unsettling with the bonus stats thing. You want to heal early because you get bonus stats; but you want to heal late so that you're missing more health? That's...really opposite. And again, that active/passive thing just doesn't make sense. At least the shield makes a bit more sense than the autoattack bonus, but once again, forcing a team to all be within 300 range of their extremely squishy support to get this bonus, doesn't feel good.

Same thing about the cooldown and mana cost.

  
E - Song of Celerity
  • Initial cast grants Sona a boost of 13%/14%/15%/16%/17% + (7.5% for every 100 AP) move speed. This decays down to the amount Sona grants to her allies.
  • Creates a 300 unit aura that lasts for 3 seconds
  • Grants allies touched by the aura 10%/11%/12%/13%/14% move speed for 1.5 seconds.
  • Each ally Sona tags with the aura increases the duration of the aura by 0.5 seconds
  • Cooldown increased to 10 seconds from 7 seconds
  • No longer grants persistent move speed aura
  • No longer grants allies % move speed on cast
 So Sona gets more MS than her allies, that seems kind of weird...she doesn't actually want to be that far ahead of her allies, unless she's flash-ulting, in which case the MS will be irrelevant. But ok, that's fine. Again, 300 is just way too small, especially for a movespeed aura. And Sona will still literally never take this before level 7, so we don't solve her scaling-order diversity issues. Well, actually she might, because the skill cooldowns are so long, and 20 seconds between power chords is insane. So you'll be forced to take a skill that you really, really, really have no use for in laning just so that you can get a chord once every 10s instead of 20s. Except that it still costs 65 mana, which is just insane.

tl;dr: The rework feels like people decided Sona needed power shifted and so came up with things that don't make sense in order to give her a more active feel, when actually she can feel a lot more active with very basic changes.

Now, I haven't played her yet, so I can't say for sure that all of the things I have pointed out as possible issues will actually be terrible. Overall, THE ONLY IRRECONCILABLE PROBLEM WITH THIS REWORK IS THE BASE SKILL COOLDOWN INCREASE. That change absolutely destroys Sona's paradigm as a high decision-making, low-mechanics champion by massively decreasing the number of real decisions Sona needs to make in a fight to, at best, just one. Instead, she will be a positioning-intensive champion, which is not a unique paradigm for a support, and we will lose one of the best paradigms for players who think critically about the game but have very low mechanical ceilings.

Finally, I want to conclude by suggesting one "radical" change to the champion that could make her extremely interesting: Tempo.

Tempo is a new counter that Sona gets. Each spell has its own Tempo counter, and Tempo counters are independent. Tempo counts from 0 to 1 and then back down to 0. If you have 0 Tempo stacks in that spell, casting it gives you 1; the next cast of that spell brings you down to 0. Consuming a Tempo stack increases the power of that spell.

This is basically a way of saying, "every-other Q that you cast will be pretty weak." That way, you are still increasing the window in which the enemy can trade favorably with Sona, because every-other Q will be weaker, but you aren't increasing the amount of time between power chords, which is once again the thing around which Sona should be revolving.

I will try to actually play PBE Sona ASAP and write a new article once I have done that, but this one is long enough as-is.

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