edit 7/12/12: Thanks to FeralPony for replying! Now we know that Xerath is actually getting something better than a revert - his ultimate is being changed so that for the Xerath player it functions the exact same as it used to, although the enemy will see the circular indicator a bit earlier than they used to. Xerath will also be keeping the buffs, which, combined with the fixed ultimate, sounds pretty good to me! So, according to FeralPony, Xerath will feel the same, be more powerful, and will be less frustrating to play against.
I haven't changed the rest of the OP, so if you'd like to read my original analysis of the situation feel free to do so:
Many threads have been created in light of the recent ninja nerf and subsequent buff to Xerath. While most of them are simply rage threads (well-justified ones, at that), in my opinion the few that attempt to analyze Xerath and his balance changes miss the mark both in terms of what Xerath was/is and what should be done about his current state of balance. So, in this thread I will offer details on what Xerath is, how he works and is played, and what should be done to "fix" him.
So you're aware, this is quite the long read, and there is a tl;dr at the bottom. While I don't expect many community members to read the entire post, it is my hope that someone from Riot, preferably someone on live design, will read this in its entirety and comment. Even better, they would work with us Xerath players to find a solution.
On with the show:
========== What is a "Xerath," anyways? ===== (note: this section uses numbers from before the recent changes)
When it comes to Xerath, just about the only thing that people seem to agree on is that he has long-ranged spells, which is definitely true - when locked down his Q has a range of 1300 and his R has an effective range of 1400. Once we agree on that point opinions start to diverge and players will label Xerath in any number of ways, ranging from "burst mage" to "siege caster" to "artillery" to something in between, perhaps. It's worth noting how vague some of those terms are, especially in the context of LoL.
Let's take a look at how Xerath's damage will be spread out during a fight. These numbers assume 500 AP and level 18 and, again, use his pre-buff/nerf stats.
Q- 535 damage after 0.75 seconds, 5s cooldown
E- 620 damage after travel time, 8s cooldown
R- 1725 damage over 1.05 seconds, 60s
These numbers mean that against a single target Xerath will deal 2880 damage over a period of about 2.5 seconds, so we'll call it 1152 DPS. It's extremely important to note here that most of that initial burst damage comes from his ultimate - 60% of that 2.5-second burst damage is from his ult.
Over the following 10 seconds, Xerath will deal an additional 1690 damage, or 169 DPS. That's about 15% of his initial two-second damage per second.
So, we can conclude that Xerath's damage takes a massive dive after he uses his initial burst. What does this mean for Xerath? It means that
Xerath is a long-range burst caster.
He deals a massive amount of damage in a very short period of time, and then will deal significantly less damage for the remainder of a fight.
========== How is Xerath played? ===== (note: this section uses numbers and gameplay from before the recent changes)
So, knowing that Xerath is not naturally tanky (let's be honest: his passive is not going to allow him to dive into a fight like Malphite or Alistar) and knowing that he is a burst caster, we can assume a few general goals about how Xerath should be played:
1.) As with other burst casters like Brand or Annie, Xerath will want to do as much damage as quickly he can. This is both to maximize DPS and minimize exposure time.
2.) As with other casters, Xerath will want to target the enemy AP and AD carries, as they are the most important targets and are the most susceptible to burst damage, which Xerath excels at.
3.) Again, as with other burst casters (actually, this applies to any champion that relies on spells with relatively long cooldowns) Xerath will have to take a back seat in fights while he waits for his cooldowns to refresh, else he risks getting killed while most vulnerable. In general he will have to carefully manage his cooldowns to make sure he isn't wasting spells.
4.) Xerath will want to actively avoid enemy champions, who will shred him if given the chance. Enemy champions will want to eliminate Xerath as quickly as possible, because if left unchecked Xerath will deal tons of damage. As a result, Xerath is likely to be focused/rushed during a teamfight.
So, how do Xerath's abilities aid these goals?
A.) Rapid burst (about 2-3 seconds). This aids all four goals simultaneously. 1: Xerath can unload all of his damage on either a single target or an entire team in a very short period of time. 2: Leaves the enemy carries very little time to heal or escape. 3: Allows his E and Q to come off cooldown more quickly. 4: Allows him to reposition or retreat very quickly after unloading his damage, greatly decreasing the chances of an enemy champion closing the gap and CCing/killing him.
B.) 1.5s single-target stun. This benefits goals 2 and 4 specifically. It can be used to lock down an enemy carry OR stop a champion that is pressuring Xerath. However, the stun requires two spells to be off cooldown (either E-Q or E-R), and both combos include a skillshot AND a channel time (0.75s and 0.35s respectively).
C.) His W (specifically, the increase in range at the cost of snaring himself, and the movespeed gained after unlocking yourself). This benefits goal 2, but can either help or hurt with regard to goals 3 and 4. 2: The increase in range allows him to target enemy carries far more easily than just about any other caster in the game. 3 and 4: He can contribute normally to a teamfight from over great distances and even barriers such as walls and other champions' abilities (anivia wall, trundle pillar, etc.). The extra distance allows him to stay safe during a fight. However, the act of snaring himself for a bare minimum of 0.5 seconds (at least 2 seconds if he uses his full burst) means that any small mistakes in positioning are amplified greatly, and enemy champions have a good window of opportunity in which to catch up to Xerath. However, upon unlocking he gains a speed boost which can then be used either to reposition (3) or escape an oncoming enemy (4).
A lot of champions in league have A and B covered, but C is obviously what makes Xerath unique. He gains significant range (and some damage) at the expense of safety. And safety for a squishy AP carry is a big, big deal. Any good player can tell you more about A and B in the context of basically any champion, so I won't go into detail on those. We're here to talk about Xerath, so let's go into more detail on his W.
Because his W both simultaneously enables and undermines his safety (remember: increasing your threat range makes you safer, standing still obviously endangers you, moving fast makes you safer) a good Xerath player will maximize the reward while minimizing the risk. This is done by locking down ONLY when you are about to use your spells and as far away as possible, immediately casting your spells as quickly as possible, and then unlocking immediately after casting the spells.
A good Xerath player who chains his spells properly can burst in approximately 2.5 seconds. So, if he chooses to lock down before casting the spells, he is only endangering himself for 2.5 seconds. Immediately after which he gains a 35% MS boost for, you guessed it, 2 seconds.
While I have been focusing more on the teamfighting aspect so far, the laning phase is a fantastic example of why properly using Xerath's W is important. If a good Xerath player wants to harass his enemy in lane, he will retreat either to the fog of war, behind his tower, or the bushes on the side of the lane. He will aim his skillshot and then quickly lock down, cast his Q, then immediately unlock and use the speed buff to either return to last hitting or escape from retaliation if an enemy player saw him lock down. Xerath should have only been locked down for approximately 0.75s to 1s and should have been approximately 1100-1300 units away from the enemy champion. In other words: Xerath was totally exposed and at risk during that second, but a good Xerath player will take the necessary steps to mitigate the downsides and take full advantage of the benefits.
To give a counter-example, some less experienced Xerath players, ones who don't yet understand how to use his W to maximize safety, might lock down in the middle of the minion wave, line up their Q, cast their Q, and THEN unlock. This process leaves him in the threat range of the enemy champion AND is time consuming because the player is aiming after locking down, rather than before. If you think no player is stupid enough to do this, well, let's just say I learned most of these things the hard way.
Again, to summarize (because this is going to come up later), a good Xerath player will always lock down for as short a time as possible. They will lock down, immediately burst, then immediately unlock and reposition. Barring player skill, Xerath's fairly quick burst allows this highly effective playstyle.
========== What now? =====
So, two notes about everything I just said.
1. As I said above (twice!), everything I just said pertains ONLY to Xerath BEFORE he was buffed/nerfed.
2. While everything I just said may sound obvious even to a non-Xerath player, a lot of the details are going to change.
Why the change, you ask? Well, we're asking Riot the same thing. Xerath recently received a significant nerf, a nerf that has not appreared in any patch notes. Riot buffed him in an attempt to compensate for it. I'm going to cover both the nerf and the buff here. I'll start with the buff, because it's going to be a short conversation.
========== The Buff =====
The buff consists of 10% extra magic penetration on his W at max rank, and +.1 to the AP ratio on his E. Let's re-calculate his damage with that extra .1, again assuming level 18 and 500 AP.
Q- 535 damage after 0.75 seconds, 5s cooldown
E- 670 damage after travel time, 8s cooldown
R- 1725 damage over 1.05 seconds, 60s
One full spell rotation burst: 2930 damage, up from 2880. That .1 added a whopping 1.73% to his total burst damage.
The next 10 seconds (which is 2Qs and 1E): 1740 damage, up from 1690. A 3% increase.
Oh, and to add insult to injury, the 10% extra pen on his W only equates to about 4% extra if you have the 10% mastery and 40% from void staff. In the interest of not drowning everyone in tons of math I won't do the calculations for the hypothetical damage gained from this, as it would be a very complicated and lengthy analysis, something worthy of its own thread.
========== The Nerf =====
So, what happened to Xerath that has Xerath players like myself so riled up?
Well, his ultimate used to have about a 0.35 second delay from when you casted it to when it dealt the damage. This short delay allowed Xerath to cast all of his spells within that magic 2 to 2.5 second window and gave him a lot of 1v1 kill potential level 6 and beyond, especially against squishy targets. However, in the Draven Patch (mid June 2012), this delay was increased significantly to somewhere around 1.25 seconds (exact number isn't available at the moment).
The old delay can be seen here. Xerath is locked down in the bottom left and casts his ult between 0:06 and 0:08. It takes a little under two seconds, and his entire burst takes around 2.5 or so seconds.
You can see the new delay for yourself here. He casts his spells between 0:19 and 0:25. His entire combo takes about 5 seconds. Based on this video it seems like each ult blast takes about 1.25 seconds, so I'll use that estimation from here on out.
So, how does this affect Xerath?
Well, first, let's talk about his role on a team. Remember how we came to the conclusion that Xerath is a burst caster? Well, Xerath's "burst" now takes upwards of 4.5 to 5 seconds, not including any time spent locking down or unlocking. I don't think any other mage in the game spends more than 2 seconds casting their spells, damage-over-time effects obviously notwithstanding, Swain, Brand, Viktor, etc. Even those three that I just named at least get the ball rolling within those two seconds - their DoTs (and, in Brand's case, the ult bounces) will continue to deal damage even if they die immediately after casting the spells. Xerath has no such luck - if Xerath dies after two seconds of casting he loses 2 or 3 of his spells, period. If he casts his E, Q, and one R in those two seconds, he loses two ult blasts worth a combined 1150 damage - a massive 39% of his burst damage. Like I said, I don't think any other caster in the game (again, barring DoTs like Anivia and Swain ults) will lose 39% of their damage if they die after two seconds.
Now let's go back to our four gameplay goals for Xerath.
1: Do as much damage as fast as possible.
2: Kill the enemy carries.
3: Play safe when you don't have your cooldowns. Manage your cooldowns to achieve maximum damage.
4: Keep yourself away from the enemies.
How does the ult nerf impact these four? You're probably saying "oh, it can't be that big of a deal!" But in reality, every single one of those four goals is affected.
1.) Your burst now takes upwards of 4.5 to 5 seconds. In those two or three extra seconds your burst now takes, the teamfight might move away from you, your target has a way higher chance of dashing or flashing away, and you have a way higher chance of getting killed or CCed before all your spells are used. Not only that, but you used to be able to cast all your spells on a target while a target was CCed, especially if the target was held in place by a Malzahar or Warwick suppression. Unfortunately for Xerath, that is no longer the case - once the suppress or CC ends, in those extra 2-3 seconds, that target is guaranteed to use some kind of movement ability or flash to get away. You just lost that extra 1150 damage, 40% of your damage wasted.
So far I've mostly been talking about teamfights, but I want to talk about #1 with regard to a 1v1 scenario, especially the laning phase after level 6. In lane, a good Xerath was nasty to fight against - he would harass you to half health, then once he hit 6 he would wait for you to come close enough then would E-R combo to stun you, then while you were stunned he would drop Q-R-R for an almost guaranteed kill. Of course, a clever enemy mid could easily bait the first R and juke it, or they could simply flash or dash away. But generally a good Xerath would be able to net a kill in much the same way that a Leblanc or Veigar or Brand or Annie can easily secure a kill at level 6.
Arguably the largest reason why this ult nerf hurts so badly, then? The enemy will now have an much more easy time dodging your ult due to the additional delay. A much, much easier time. Remember: the delay has more than tripled. Whereas before a good Xerath would always land his ultimate unless the enemy flashed or dashed away, the opposite is now true - any enemy can simply walk right out of Xerath's ultimate without burning flash or a skill, so it takes a mistake by the person dodging Xerath's ultimate for him to actually land it. In other words, the skill of the Xerath player is almost irrelevant - it all comes down to how bad the enemy is at dodging.
At decent levels of play, it is simply impossible for Xerath to land his ultimate. A good enemy will never, ever let Xerath land it. And because Xerath only gets three charges, he can't afford to miss even one. Missing all 3? Again, 60% of your damage, gone. Can you name another champion where 60% of their damage is totally reliant on the skill of the enemy?
2.) Continuing from #1, remember how your burst now takes an extra 2-3 seconds? Well, in those extra 2-3 seconds, the enemy carries have a chance to: spellvamp/lifesteal health back, use an item (zhonyas, locket of iron solari), receive healing from an ally, dash/blink/flash away. All of which could cost you a kill or the team the game. In a 1v1 scenario the enemy carry will now just dodge all your ults and then annihalate you.
In order to talk about how this affects points 3 and 4 we need to revisit Xerath's W. Remember how I said that a good Xerath player will use his W in such a way that it minimizes the risk of using it? Well, that just became infinitely more difficult.
3.) Because of the delay on his ult, Xerath is probably going to have at least one spell off cooldown for the first 10 seconds of a fight (assuming he starts with an E-Q combo and he has some CDR, especially blue buff). Before 5 seconds he gets his Q back but still isn't done with his ult at that point, before 8 seconds he gets his E back, and at around 10 seconds he gets his Q back again. What this means is that Xerath is either sitting in basically the same spot just chain casting spells for 10 seconds, which is obviously insanely risky, or is wasting a lot of possible cooldown time while he packs up and moves around. It's either he's unsafe, or he's wasting a ton of possible damage. There is no middle ground here. Even worse, his W has a 4-second cooldown at max level, so if you stay locked down for the first 8 seconds you won't be able to use it for the third Q and possibly the second E.
Previously you could burst in the two seconds, unlock, then lock again at 8 seconds for another E-Q combo. Now because of the ult delay you get to choose between snaring yourself FOR FIVE SECONDS and getting full range/damage while using your burst as fast as possible, and missing out on all kinds of damage and possibly not being able to hit the right targets in the interest of safety and proper positioning.
4.) Continuing from the above, during those 5 seconds you are CCing yourself to burst, you're basically guaranteed to get jumped on by somebody. Given how many champs take flash (hint: all of them) and how many champs have to-enemy gap closers, one of them IS going to get through to you. (either that, or the teamfight is going to move away from you during those 5 seconds. Either way you've got a huge problem, which goes back to point 3 with the cooldowns and the damage optimization issues)
So, yeah. As you can see, that ult nerf really, really hurts Xerath's ability to do his job. I could talk even more about laning and how even with a gank Xerath still can't secure a kill effectively and how not being able to use his E-R combo absolutely ruins him and such, but this post is getting out of hand. If anyone wants me to explain these things (or has any other questions, really) feel free to ask and I'll be glad to explain.
========== Riot's logic =====
I'm going to be blunt here. Whoever made the ultimate decision to change Xerath in these ways has a fundamental lack of understanding of how Xerath works and why Xerath players play him.
Hey guys, here to explain what happened with Xerath and provide some updates
First, the ultimate change was intended for a number of reasons:
1) It brings Xerath’s playstyle closer to what we originally envisioned with the character (Constant siege barrage instead of instant burst)
2) The animation was broken with the previous ultimate and we wanted to fix that
We were also aware that this was a significant nerf to Xerath and intended to buff him at the same time to compensate for it, what we did NOT intend was the animation changes going in without the buffs accompanying it.
We will be giving Xerath the intended buffs in the next patch. We messed up on this one and I apologize on behalf of the team to all the Xerath players out there.
1. Nerfing his ultimate into oblivion
2. Increasing his damage by 3%
I'm really at a loss for words here. It just doesn't make any sense.
Oh, and then, there's this:
as someone else mentioned, when we look at a champion that likely needs more than a small number adjustment, it's really important to us that we preserve the 'core' of what makes that champion enjoyable/endearing to those that actively play them...assuming that the core is a healthy fit for league of legends and its players as a whole.
========== My suggestions =====
I'm not going to pretend I know exactly what to do here. I have two suggestions, and in one case I'm 99% sure, in the other case I just have some ideas that I feel are worth throwing around.
Suggestion 1: Leaving Xerath as he was originally released: as a burst caster. In other words, revert the ult nerf and the damage buff.
To Riot: I really don't care what your intent for Xerath was or wasn't. What you released, the champion that I loved to play and even bought a skin for, is a long-ranged burst caster. Nothing can change the fact that you released Xerath as such, and nothing can change that I loved to play that Xerath. Myself, and every other Xerath player, of course.
Nobody ever complained about release Xerath, people rarely complained he was overpowered or underpowered and every time the debate came up, nobody could agree on which he was. Just leave him as he was (of course, it goes without saying that we should keep the E missle speed increase, that's a QoL buff he desperately needed).
Suggestion 2: If you really want to change Xerath into a siege caster, you're competing with something that already exists, called AP Kog'Maw. This gets hairy, because we all know from this ult-change debacle that you can't change a few numbers and call it a day. Like I said, I can't know everything, but what I do know for a fact is that Xerath requires fundamental changes, a significant rework, in order to be anything than a burst caster.
In order to figure out how we would change Xerath to meet this new criteria, we need to ask ourselves "what do Xerath players like about Xerath." Again, this is where things get hairy, because not everyone likes him for the same reason. Why do I play Xerath? Because nuking people in under 3 seconds from behind walls and from the fog of war is absolutely hilarious and is incredibly satisfying. I'm sure other people feel the same way, so by changing Xerath into a different type of mage you've already turned a lot of Xerath players off completely.
Some players might like the whole risk vs. reward of locking down, but I've got some bad news for Live Balance - the whole locking down thing is a huge part of the reason why the ult nerf hurts so bad. Xerath locks down, bursts quickly, then unlocks. That's just how he works, and it's FUN. If we want Xerath to cast his ult several times over the course of a teamfight rather than a few times up front, he needs to be constantly moving, locking down, casting, moving, locking down, etc. And there simply isn't time for that because of the channel times involved. The channel time for locking down would need to be lowered, ult time would need to be lowered, etc. The locking down time in particular would need to be lowered so much that it would be as though Xerath constantly had max range - in other words, W is now a wasted ability slot.
I'm really not sure what to do with his kit at this point. With W pretty much down for the count, and R not fitting his current playstyle, both would need to be rebuilt from the ground up. Maybe now is a chance to do something with his passive? I haven't a clue, really.
All I know is that if we want to change Xerath as a type of champion, we need to make fundamental changes rather than just gimping him and calling it a day. He would need a full rework. I am totally open to having a conversation about what it would take to turn Xerath into that kind of constant siege barrage champion, though. If anyone has any ideas post them, maybe we can think of something.
edit 7/4/12: Here's an analysis of what is by far the most popular suggestion. You'll have to scroll to the bottom of the page.
========== Further Reading =====
While this thread was mostly devoted to showing how Xerath's playstyle was annihalated and how he no longer functions effectively, I didn't really compare Xerath to other champions, especially those that might already be in Riot's intended "siege mage" role. Raftina does a good job showing that Xerath is a laughably bad siege mage in this thread. Again, this ult nerf doesn't just destroy Xerath's old playstyle of burst-mage - it also makes him arguably worse at sieging.
========== Final Thoughts =====
Riot, I'll be blunt. The ult nerf sucked all the fun out of playing Xerath. He's now unrewarding, awkward, and slow. His timing on everything is off, he has absolutely no threat at level 6, and he can't 1v1 even the intermediate AI.
How Xerath used to be played: Lock down, burst as quickly as possible, then immediately unlock and reposition. By the time your speed boost wears off the cooldowns on your Q, W, and E were all back up and ready to be used, so you could either lock down again and use a long-range stun or you could just quickly Q or E-Q and keep moving on the outskirts of the fight. It was insanely efficient and, if done correctly, maximized damage and made you almost uncatchable (assuming your team was good).
How you have to play Xerath now: Make the choice between locking down for 5 seconds and risking getting jumped on, or spread out your damage over the course of a teamfight. Either way you're wasting a ton of damage and a ton of time. And, again, Xerath's ult is laughably easy to dodge now.
My honest recommendation: revert Xerath back. He was balanced, he made sense, and he was FUN.
Riot at least tripled the delay on Xerath's ult and didn't put it in any patch notes, then gave him very minor damage buffs
Xerath is a burst caster and Riot thinks these changes will turn him into a "constant siege barrage" champion.
Riot has failed miserably at achieveing that goal, and Xerath is now a complete mess to play.
Xerath should be reverted to his previous state, otherwise he likely requires a complete rework.
Help bump this thread if you feel Xerath is no longer viable and should be reverted!
And for those of you asking about the passive rework, here's why it isn't happening.