The Winners and Losers of 2.21 Balance Hotfix

So, what's good now after the surprise hotfix, hitting several top-tier decks? Get the latest picture from Agigas!

Hello, Agigas here!

Yesterday, Riot dropped a huge bomb on the meta, nerfing every single one of the Tier 1 Staples in an emergency hotfix. This was a completely unexpected turn of events, and the changes went live almost immediately after the announcement. This surprise is very appreciated by the community as the meta was starting to stagnate because of over-dominant decks.

One week after the expansion release, we are now getting a new start in a completely new meta. In this article, I would like to analyze the nerfs and how impactful they are, talking about which archetypes will resist the changes, and which will fall as a result. Then, we will discuss the potential winners of this hotfix, and I’ll highlight some of the decks that I expect to perform well.

I hope this article will help you figure out where the meta is heading and what decks you want to play in Patch 2.21. Now let’s get into it!

Ezreal Kennen created by Agigas • last updated 2 years ago

With a 14% play rate and a 55% win rate in the past week, ‘dominant’ is not even a strong enough word to describe Ezreal Kennen. The deck was omnipresent on the ladder, and Poppy Swarm was the only other archetype with similar power and play rate, fitting for a ‘meta king’.

In the hotfix patch, the Kennen Ezreal got hit by two very big nerfs. The God-Willow Seedling nerf will slow down the deck, but will also make it weaker on defense, as this landmark played on a defensive turn was everything the deck needed to stall out a game. While this nerf is certainly impactful, the Kinkou Wayfinder‘s change is where the deck was hit the hardest.

With Kinkou Wayfinder not being able to tutor two Kennen‘s, the current build of the archetype doesn’t make much sense anymore. Including additional 1-cost Ionian units, such as Dancing Droplet or The Mourned, could seem like an easy fix, but that doesn’t really address the core challenge the deck is facing now.

The whole point of Ezreal Kennen was to be able to level Kennen very fast to start generating lots of Mark of the Storm‘s to defend and level Ezreal quickly. The Kennen gameplan was not only a part of the deck, it was its whole soul.

With only 1 Kennen coming out of Kinkou Wayfinder, I would expect the archetype to drastically slow down, and I don’t think Ezreal Kennen will be able to hold on to a Tier 1 Staple spot.

That said, the Kinkou Wayfinder is not a nerf to Ionia Allegiance as a concept, and later when we talk about ‘the winners’, you’ll see that I am not giving up on Kennen in this meta.

Yordle Swarm created by Agigas • last updated 2 years ago

By now Poppy has broken many records as a champion, and it is not too surprising to see her get another achievement. After the hotfix, she is now the champion to receive the closest back-to-back consecutive nerfs, as she was already nerfed less than a week ago!

With a 13% play rate and a 55% win rate, Yordle Swarm was in close contention with Ezreal Kennen, and nerfs to the archetype were expected to eventually happen.

First of all, the nerf to Poppy is quite important. Before the nerf, Poppy was an insane champion on her own, requiring very little synergies or deckbuilding costs. With this change, Poppy’s stats become underwhelming, and also, to be worth playing, she will require enough units in your deck to have less than 3 attack.

Poppy doesn’t automatically enhance every board anymore, and her spot in decks like Elusive Rally or Lux Shellfolk is a lot more questionable. I still do think that Poppy is a strong champion in the right shell, but not in every shell from now on.

In the case of Yordle Swarm, Poppy still seems to be a great champion as most of the deck’s units still have equal or less attack. But the deck also got a second nerf, and this one seems to be even more impactful.

Yordle Explorer will no longer grant health to units, which goes a long way to affect the Yordle Swarm’s ability to build up a pretty much invincible board. With this nerf, I would expect Yordle Explorer to not see play at all anymore even in the intended archetype.

This is of course a very big change to the Yordle Swarm deck, and between the loss of Yordle Explorer and Poppy getting weaker, I am not expecting the deck to stick to Tier 1.

Gangplank TF Bandle was overshadowed by Gangplank Sejuani last season. However, things are different since the expansion release, and Gangplank TF became as popular as Plunder, thanks to its 61% winrate against Ezreal Kennen.

With the nerf to Gangplank, the deck does lose a bit of raw strength. That said, the Gangplank change is in my opinion the least impactful of this hotfix’s nerfs. Gangplank will still be a very strong champion and will still be too big to easily remove. I expect the Gangplank nerf to be noticeable in some games, but not be enough to deeply hurt its archetypes.

However, there is another reason why I decided to feature Gangplank TF in the ‘losers’ category. Ezreal Kennen was a large part of why this archetype was getting popularity, and if its play rate drops as expected, it will make Gangplank TF a lot less interesting.

While the Yordle Swarm archetype was a bad matchup to Gangplank TF, I expect most of the ‘winners’ from this patch to be bad matchups for Gangplank TF. More than just a nerf, Gangplank TF gets hit by a whole new meta and I don’t expect it to stick to Tier 1.

  • Noteable mentions: Gangplank Sejuani, Yordle Burn

With Yordle Swarm, Ezreal Kennen, and Gangplank TF all getting hit pretty hard by the hotfix changes, we are left with Gangplank Sejuani and Yordle Burn as the two remaining Tier 1 Staples.

While both of them do also get affected directly by the nerfs, I do not expect them to suffer too much from those. Gangplank’s nerf is pretty small, and unlike Gangplank TF, Gangplank Sejuani does not seem to lose too much from the incoming meta changes.

Yordle Burn will likely give up on Poppy and Yordle Explorer, and instead go for a Teemo variant of the archetype, which was already performing very well even before the hotfix.

Moreover, both Gangplank Sejuani and Yordle Burn were slightly losing to Ezreal Kennen AND Yordle Swarm, so they should be happy to see those decks gone. While it will be a stretch to call those archetypes ‘winners’ of the patch, they certainly ain’t ‘losers’, and I expect them to stick to their Tier 1 Staple status.

Before the hotfix, we have already had Lee Sin as a Tier 1 Dark Horse archetype on our Tier List, and this patch seems to be pretty much a dream coming true for the deck.

Not only Zoe Lee sticks as the only untouched Tier 1 archetype, but it also strongly benefits from the meta changes. This deck had an abysmal Ezreal Kennen matchup – 27% win rate against it, but was still doing well on the overall ladder thanks to a high number of other good matchups. If we take Ezreal Kennen out of the picture, you see how good Lee Sin could be.

The two remaining Tier 1 decks, Yordle Burn and Gangplank Sejuani, are both good matchups for Zoe Lee, as the archetype showed respectively a 59% and 62% win rate against them before they even got nerfed. Moreover, I would expect Pantheon decks to be on the rise, and Zoe Lee does just as well against those.

Quite frankly, if the meta were not to change too much and just kicked out Ezreal Kennen, Zoe Lee would simply be the best deck right now. However, we all know this is not how things work, and as Lee Sin gains popularity, players will start queuing with counters to it. Moreover, I expect a significant part of the Ezreal Kennen players to turn to Ahri Kennen, which is just as bad of a matchup for Lee.

But, at least during the time when players are adapting to the meta changes, I expect Zoe Lee to perform extremely well, and to be a large factor in how the meta will shape.

Kennen Ahri created by Agigas • last updated 2 years ago

Originally, Ahri felt like the most natural pairing to Kennen, but got quickly outshined by Ezreal, who allowed you to close out games faster and easier thanks to Mark of the Storm spam.

Ahri Kennen suffered from the uprising of Ezreal Kennen’s counters, starved off of the decks to prey upon at the same time, leading to average results. However, with the nerfs the Ezreal Kennen, the meta should become a lot less hostile to the deck.

Moreover, Ahri Kennen was struggling against both Ezreal Kennen itself and Yordle Swarm, which both were omnipresent, and both got nerfed hard. Zoe Lee should be on the rise with this hotfix patch, and Ahri Kennen will be a great first-wave answer as it shows a 72% win rate against it.

While the nerf to Kinkou Wayfinder is tough on Ezreal Kennen, it is actually not nearly as bad for Ahri Kennen, which already was playing Dancing Droplet together with Kennen anyway. This will actually make Kinkou Wayfinder more consistent in the deck, and could even be considered a buff.

With the meta becoming softer to her and several dominant tough matchups going away, Ahri now has all the tools to succeed and I expect a lot of players to experiment with her archetypes in the coming days.

Darkness has not been doing great so far this season, as Rally decks were more popular than ever. The deck tends to fold to Poppy decks with a 37% win rate against Yordle Swarm, and wasn’t really doing great in the Ezreal Kennen matchup either with a 49% win rate against it.

Now that Poppy is weaker, and with Yordle Explorer out of the picture – this is a massive change for Darkness. While Rally archetypes do still exist, with for example Pantheon decks, they should represent a slimmer percentage of the meta, making Darkness a bit more interesting.

Ezreal Kennen dropping is also pretty good news – the Ahri versions are a better matchup for the deck as it shows a 61% win rate against them. More importantly, Zoe Lee is a particularly good matchup for the deck, with a 66% win rate against it – depending on how popular Lee Sin gets, Darkness could be a key archetype in the meta.

Last but not least, while the Gangplank nerf might be light overall, it is particularly impactful in the Darkness vs Gangplank Sejuani matchup and could change it from even to slightly Darkness-favored.

While I do not expect Darkness to dominate the upcoming meta by any means, I do think the deck will be in a much better spot than it was before the hotfix.

  • Noteable mentions: Pantheon Taric, Bandle Tree

I am sure the absence of Pantheon Taric in the ‘winners’ category did not go unnoticed by readers, as the deck is one of the most hyped-up archetypes after the hotfix changes. While the nerf to Ezreal Kennen is a big win for Pantheon (Pantheon Taric had a 36% win rate against it), I expect Ahri decks to be quite popular and to be nearly as bad of a matchup.

Moreover, the hit to Yordle Swarm, which Pantheon had a 59% win rate against, is a big downside that evens out the win from Ezreal Kennen’s nerf. Yordle Swarm players might start switching to Yordle Burn, which is a quite bad matchup for Pantheon with a 39% win rate against it.

The same goes for Gangplank TF, which should be less popular in favor of Gangplank Sejuani. Gangplank TF was a 65% win rate matchup for Pantheon, whereas Gangplank Sejuani is a 48% matchup.

All in all, I expect Pantheon Taric to come out pretty much in the same spot as before the hotfix patch, though I do expect it to gain some popularity at least in the first few days.

Another deck I would like to mention is Bandle Tree. While I do not think Bandle Tree will be an immediate ‘winner’ of the patch, as a lot of the archetypes left are bad matchups, it could very well be long-term winner if Lee Sin grows to power, as Bandle Tree has an amazing matchup against both Zoe Lee (62% win rate against it) and one of it biggest counter Darkness (68% win rate against it).

Closing Words

The nerfs were completely unexpected only one week after the expansion release, and Riot didn’t hold back – they were quite heavy-handed, and I expect the meta to change quite a lot in the coming week. I hope this article will help you get a headstart on what is coming, and that you will enjoy the changes!

If you have any questions, feedback, or want to discuss those balance changes, I’ll be happy to read and answer you in the comments below! 

And if you like my content, feel free to follow me on my Twitter, where I share all my articles, but also performances and best decklists! 

Thanks for reading!


LoR player with multiple tournament wins and #4 ladder peaks. Ascended Seasonal top 4. I love writing guides to share my experience with the game with the community!

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