June 8, 2021, 10:59 PM

Guide to Kai'Sa, pro play's most valued ADC

Guide to Kai'Sa, pro play's most valued ADC
Kai'Sa artwork courtesy of Riot Games
By Carver Fisher
Kai’Sa is arguably the most valued ADC in competitive League of Legends’ history. Her play rate through Season 11 has been ridiculously high across every region and for every bot laner. The number of players who have Kai’Sa as their most played ADC hovers around 60% across all regions, major and minor. Her pick/ban rate hasn’t gone below 70% in any region (except for the LCO at 65%), and the LPL’s pick/ban rate for Kai’Sa was 94% across the Spring Split and Playoffs.
Beyond the Spring Split, Kai’Sa went on to dominate MSI as well. Caedrel pointed out that Kai’Sa was the most played ADC champion at MSI with 66 games. The runner-up was Tristana with 33 games, and she has the advantage of flexing to mid lane. Caedrel’s MSI takeaways highlighted this statistic as well as a lot of key moments from the Icelandic tournament, but one of the biggest ones was the close rivalry between Korea and China.
RNG’s GALA, a bot laner whose premier champion is Kai’Sa, had a fantastic showing at MSI. GALA earned the title of MVP with 16 out of 27 games played with Kai’Sa and a 75% win rate on the champion. Not to mention, he played Kai’Sa every single game in the Grand Finals set against DWG KIA. This champion was a pivotal part of RNG’s victory in their nail-biter of a set. She’s very strong, and every region knows it.
This begs the question: why is Kai’Sa valued worldwide, and how are pro players taking advantage of her strengths?

An ADC only by role

The biggest way Kai’Sa stands out from any other ADC pick is the way her kit functions. Rather than doing damage from afar like most Marksman champions, Kai’Sa is all about getting up close and personal. Even her W, Kai’Sa’s only long-range ability, is partially intended to tag an enemy champion as a way to get into the fight. Her ultimate and E don’t even do immediate damage, but instead are meant to self-buff and stall fights.
Considering how many ways Kai’Sa can reposition and have staying power in teamfights, her kit feels closer to that of champions like Akali and Kha’Zix than other Marksmen.
Kai’Sa’s unique playstyle in the role is a large part of her popularity. There is no substitute for what Kai’Sa does, no alternative pick that fills her role on a team. The combination of a teamfight-y assassin playstyle and magic damage heavily weaved into her kit makes Kai’Sa consistently good.
It’s fair to argue some other top-tier ADCs like Varus and Tristana are better picks in certain situations, but Kai’Sa seems to never be a bad pick. Her versatility makes her hard to counter, and her mixed damage makes her fit into AD-heavy team compositions.
GALA isn’t the only prominent bot laner who leans heavily on Kai’Sa. During the Spring Split and going into Playoffs, DWG KIA’s Ghost almost exclusively played Kai’Sa.
Despite the fact Ghost only picked Kai’Sa in 1 out of 10 games played in the Semi and Grand Finals at MSI, the number of Kai’Sa games under Ghost’s belt dwarfs any other champion he’s played this season. It’s not even close.
When the bot laners for the two best teams in the world lean heavily on the same champion, there’s a reason for it.

Suiting up

When it comes to build path, Season 11 brought the ADC role a level of options they haven’t seen in the past. When it comes to pro play, the “correct” Kai’Sa build is a hot topic. Kraken Slayer is by far the most popular Marksman Mythic, other than lethality ADCs like Varus. Kai’Sa is no different, as Kraken Slayer is built on her a majority of pro games. For instance, out of Ghost’s 31 games on Kai’Sa, he built Kraken Slayer 26 times. In addition, three of those games where Ghost opted to build Galeforce instead were from early in the season before the nerf to Galeforce’s active all the way back on patch 11.2.
However, not all pro players cast aside Galeforce after patch 11.2. Fnatic’s Upset historically favors Galeforce, and he built Galeforce over Kraken Slayer in all 11 of his Kai’Sa matches.
Considering that Upset’s Samira games are before Samira was heavily nerfed, Kai’Sa seems to be Upset’s current go-to pick. His Galeforce-centric playstyle has been a massive boon for Fnatic through their somewhat shaky performance in Spring. It’s hard to argue against Upset being a bright spot for the troubled roster, and running Galeforce Kai’Sa has allowed Upset to run circles around the competition.
Additionally, Galeforce Kai’Sa was a key part of DetonatioN FocusMe taking a game off of C9 in MSI’s group stage. Yutapon, DFM’s veteran ADC player, used Kai’Sa’s wide array of mobility in combination with Galeforce’s active ability to give himself an edge in teamfights.
Yutapon used his full kit to get himself into the teamfight and give his team the edge. However, when Fudge tried to capitalize and burst Yutapon down, Yutapon was able to Galeforce away and keep himself in the teamfight. You can find a full breakdown of DFM’s win over C9 here.
Kraken Slayer’s base stats are a little higher than Galeforce's, but these items are nearly identical at a base level. The real difference is Kraken Slayer’s consistent DPS. The bonus true damage is a fantastic choice against tanky team compositions, and the bonus attack speed off of the Mythic passive gives a growing attack speed advantage as the game goes on.
Galeforce’s function is the polar opposite. It’s more of a utility item, with the Mythic passive augmenting movement speed and the active incentivizing killing off low-health carries and bombing the enemy backline. However, considering that Galeforce’s passive has a hefty 90-second cooldown, using this passive defensively can seriously dampen damage potential.
So, which item is the better choice? If we’re talking mathematically, Kraken Slayer does significantly more damage. However, there's more to build paths than building the most damage. Into a team with heavy CC and dive potential, Galeforce may be the best option if your team doesn’t have much peel. Sometimes it’s better to be alive with a bit less damage than dead with statistically higher damage. Can’t do damage if you’re dead, right? This is a rare case where personal preference is the deciding factor. These two items are somewhat situational, but neither choice is “incorrect.”
As far as the rest of the build path goes, it’s pretty common to see Collector second with either item. Collector pairs very well with Kai’Sa due to her assassin-like style, and the lethality combined with a potent passive. This makes Collector an easy choice for snowballing games.
Otherwise, it’s common to see pros go for an early Phantom Dancer over something like Rapid Fire Cannon or Runaan’s Hurricane. Phantom Dancer’s passive encourages extended engagements, and it’s the only one of these three crit/attack speed items with base AD in its statline.
This is an example of what a final build from a pro might look like. The core of Kraken Slayer, Collector, and Phantom Dancer seems to be the most popular. Lord Dominick’s Regards is a fantastic way to get high armor pen and percent health damage, and it’s present in pro Kai’Sa builds whether that player chooses to build the tank-busting Kraken Slayer or not.
The last slot is situational, but Guardian Angel seems to synergize pretty well with Kai’Sa’s aggressive playstyle. Other utility options like Mortal Reminder and Mercurial Scimitar can be viable, as well as going into a late Infinity Edge for the increased damage potential. It’s rare pro games go long enough for someone to hit full build, so the first 4 items above are what we see a majority of the time.

Strike fast and strike hard

With the build aside, how do pro players use Kai’Sa? Sure, her playstyle is different from any other Marksman, but what does that look like?
Much like most things in League of Legends, there are a lot of factors involved with how Kai’Sa should be played. However, there are some things pro players get away with that shouldn’t be attempted in solo queue games.
This is a great example of what not to do in normal circumstances. GALA dived DWG KIA’s backline and all-inned Ghost the moment Morgana’s Black Shield expired. He knew he was going to die for it, but GALA had enough faith in his team that he’d be able to get back on his feet from the GA passive and be able to participate. It was a really good play and gave RNG a big advantage, but this isn’t the kind of thing that most players can pull off, even at a pro level. GALA’s just that good.
However, GALA’s pentakill in the LPL Playoff Finals shows off that he doesn’t have to run headlong into the enemy backline to have an impact.
In this match against FunPlus Phoenix, a former World Champion roster, GALA showed his prowess on Kai’Sa by pulling out a teamfight that RNG didn't appear to have a chance of winning. This shows the other side of Kai’Sa’s kit; her staying power and ability to kite is near-unrivaled in the role. GALA’s percent health damage between his passive and Kraken Slayer allowed him to dismantle FPX one by one, and the rest of RNG were able to keep FPX’s carries occupied long enough for GALA to take down the entire enemy team.
Rekkles has a similar level of prowess on Kai’Sa, particularly as a player who knows how to use her kit defensively. His playstyle is entirely different from GALA’s, and he’s not overly focused on heavy aggression. He only uses mobility when a kill is guaranteed, and this calculated playstyle is what has made Rekkles one of Europe’s premier bot laners for the last few years.
Rekkles didn’t exactly carry in this clip from G2’s set against Schalke in the playoffs. But that’s ok! He cleaned up kills and found his way into the backline in a way that took advantage of a shattered and separated Schlake. All Rekkles needed to do was put himself in the best position that simultaneously kept him safe and in just close enough range to do damage to important targets.
This is what most good Kai’Sa play looks like.
GALA gets a ton of highlight-worthy plays, but he’s a rare case. RNG is an extremely aggressive team, and GALA’s playstyle on this champion has partially come about from a need for him to be able to keep up with his team. In contrast, Rekkles waits for the perfect time to strike. A player ensuring they’re not in danger is less flashy, but Rekkles tends to be more worried about keeping himself alive and winning games than he is about being the MVP. Rekkles won the award for the LEC Spring Split’s MVP either way, but he seems to end more fights than he starts whereas GALA leads the charge. They’re both strong players, but the way they view the game is very different.

Dashing into the Summer Split

With the Summer Split starting worldwide over the next week or so, we’ll get to see if Kai’Sa has the same level of influence she had throughout the Spring Split and MSI. It’s worth mentioning Kai’Sa’s Q is getting a cooldown nerf in the upcoming patch and Hail of Blades (the main rune Kai’Sa runs) got nerfed on patch 11.11. However, many other prominent ADCs run this rune. The nerf wasn’t exactly targeted at Kai’Sa. Also, Kai’Sa will still have the same cooldown on her Q once the ability’s maxed out. Riot is only nerfing the level 1 cooldown to 10 seconds from 8. In other words, Kai’Sa will be fine.
It feels like Kai’Sa’s level of prominence will largely depend on what shifts around her. If more players begin picking up Varus, then it’s possible he and Tristana will be valued over Kai’Sa depending on what teams want to draft. Ezreal also has a very real possibility of bursting into the meta. He was already good last season, his mobility and aggression give him a somewhat similar playstyle to Kai’Sa, and some buffs over the course of MSI may help him become a priority pick. There are a few other picks that seem promising going into the Summer Split, and you can read about them in our Summer Split predictions article.
All that said, it seems like Kai’Sa’s versatile kit and reverence amongst pro players will mean she’ll have a spot amongst the most picked ADCs this season. Things may fluctuate, but it’s hard to envision Kai’Sa completely falling out of the meta unless she gets nerfed into oblivion.
And if Kai’Sa doesn’t get banned out against GALA, then it’s not likely teams will value banning her in the first phase. Expect Kai’Sa to be prioritized in every region through the Summer Split.

Live / Upcoming Matches

LeagueTimeTeams
TTR
CommunityTrackLoL
Wednesday, June 16, 2021, 8:00 AM
8:00 AM
NS
DRX

1736

515

22%
78%
71%
29%
Wednesday, June 16, 2021, 11:00 AM
11:00 AM
KT
GEN

1604

2631

6%
94%
20%
80%
Thursday, June 17, 2021, 8:00 AM
8:00 AM
T1
BRO

2447

1235

88%
12%
66%
34%
Thursday, June 17, 2021, 11:00 AM
11:00 AM
DK
AF

2623

2009

88%
12%
62%
38%
Friday, June 18, 2021, 8:00 AM
8:00 AM
LSB
HLE

473

551

17%
83%
46%
54%
Friday, June 18, 2021, 11:00 AM
11:00 AM
NS
GEN

1736

2631

10%
90%
40%
60%

Live / Upcoming Matches

LeagueTimeTeams
TTR
Wednesday, June 16, 2021, 8:00 AM
8:00 AM
NS
DRX

1736

515

Wednesday, June 16, 2021, 11:00 AM
11:00 AM
KT
GEN

1604

2631

Thursday, June 17, 2021, 8:00 AM
8:00 AM
T1
BRO

2447

1235

Thursday, June 17, 2021, 11:00 AM
11:00 AM
DK
AF

2623

2009

Friday, June 18, 2021, 8:00 AM
8:00 AM
LSB
HLE

473

551

Friday, June 18, 2021, 11:00 AM
11:00 AM
NS
GEN

1736

2631

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