After a long history of buffs, Rylai the Crystal Maiden (aka CM) has finally become popular and the nerfs have begun. Having reached ‘peak CM’, it feels like a good time to look back and see just how we got here, why she’s so popular, and what to do to play her like the pros.
Crystal Maiden: The ‘how’
If we had to narrow down the emergence of Crystal Maiden to one thing, it would be the change to root mechanics. Making her effective against 17 heroes with mobility spells that were formerly not prevented by Frostbite took her from situational to first pick material. However, even before then she was already becoming quite strong against the rest of the hero pool with constant buffs, most notably:
6.87 Reduced Crystal Nova cooldown to 12/11/10/9. (was 15 seconds three patches prior).
6.84 Reduced Frostbite cooldown to 9/8/7/6. (was 10 seconds two patches prior).
6.82 Frostbite total damage to 150/200/250/300 (was 70/140/140/210).
For level 4 Crystal Nova and Frostbite, dividing the duration by the cooldown before and after the buffs reveals a greatly improved uptime on Crystal Nova and Frostbite from 30% to 50% each (calculations shown below). Another way to see the cooldown buffs is as a 67% increase in the uptime of Crystal Nova AND a 67% increase in the uptime of Frostbite.
Cooldown changes aside, the 6.82 Frostbite level 1 damage increase from 70 to 150 went a long way towards allowing CM to zone offlane heroes despite her slow ms and weak right click. This is right where the recent nerf hit:
7.06d * Crystal Maiden: Frostbite manacost increased from 115/125/140/150 to 140/145/150/155
Increasing the mana cost of Frostbite at level one from 115 to 140 weakened the hero in an area she probably wasn’t meant to excel in while maintaining her strengths. So far drafts at ‘The Summit 7’ have shown this to be a fair nerf, sometimes being picked in the first or second phase and at other times being ignored. The 25 mana increase can be thought of as 6.6 seconds of clarity regen, 13% of the 190 mana provided for 50 gold. In other words each cast of frostbite costs ~7 extra seconds and ~7 extra gold (a grand total of ~37 seconds and ~37 gold worth of clarity regeneration per cast). However since patch 7.06 changed the shrines to start on cooldown, the 25 mana increase is more than mitigated by the reduced regeneration available to the offlane hero being harassed.
Crystal Maiden: The ‘why’
Aside from these buffs, why has Crystal Maiden become so popular? Perhaps it has something to do with a shift in playstyle— from position 4 to position 5.
While it’s fairly common knowledge that it can be advantageous for her to pop into the jungle to get a quick level 2 before helping out in lane, people have been getting carried away and trying to play her as a full-time jungle/roam position 4 for years.
It is easy to end up quite farmed, have one’s judgment clouded by some glorious freezing fields, and then become convinced CM is ill-suited to position 5. Not that she isn’t strong with farm, it’s just that in the late game CM isn’t able to do any damage until BKBs wear off regardless of farm. While as a position 5— CM stands a cut above the rest of the options and makes for a remarkably stable and flexible pick that can be taken early in the draft.
Despite her offensive power, it seems she is too immobile to roam effectively as a position 4 without an ability to gap close. Farming alone in the jungle can leave her vulnerable and she is often too squishy to be one of the primary initiators. Instead, professional players have been drafting tanky position 4 heroes that can go in and get things started with a hard stun like Sand King, Earth Spirit, Tusk, etc.
She was the most popular position 5 hero at the Epicenter LAN, and tied for most popular with AA and Dazzle at The Summit 7 LAN despite the nerf. Here are just some of the reasons why:
- Decent ability to secure a lane by wearing an enemy down with Frostbite and some clarity potions, even though the level 1 mana cost was increased by 25, as discussed earlier.
- Can get vision on highground with Crystal Nova, allowing for more effective dewarding with sentries. At higher levels of play some of the most common observer ward placements are just outside the radius of a sentry placed on a ward cliff, but easily dewarded by a sentry placed on lowground. When it comes to playing the vision game, not being able to easily check high grounds is like playing with one hand tied behind your back.
- Well suited to playing reactionary because she can secure the lane, then farm pulls while keeping mana up to react with a TP instead of walking around with 275 base movement speed.
- CM is never in a situation where she NEEDS to leech lane experience, since she can always fall back to the jungle when she is not needed, when it’s not possible to pull, or when its not possible to help the carry. This flexibility makes her a stable pick, and in a stagnant game she can even farm for a midas and turn into a serious lategame threat.
- Since CM can always pop into the jungle for some quick gold, she is able to buy all the support items without completely halting item progression or worse having to ask for help with obs/sents (this enables your pos 4 to become a core, especially when you consider that Arcane Aura allows the pos 4 to forgo mana regen items and being able to stay on the map/ save on clarities).
- She compares favorably to other popular pos 5 options: more damage than Treant, shorter cds than Warlock, more reliable than Rubick, doesn’t require +1 to be a threat like Disruptor, harder to counter than dazzle, etc.
Crystal Maiden: The ‘what’
So now that we know how and why Crystal Maiden became so popular, heres what you need to know to play her like a pro:
- Freezing Field’s 30% move speed slow is applied regardless of the ice explosions and can enable your team to chase, which is great in those situations where just a little slow makes it possible for your team to catch up in the nick of time.
- Wand is invaluable for mana in team fights where you otherwise wouldn’t be able to cast multiple spells. Out of mana mid-fight? Hp getting dangerously low? Wand is your panic button:
- While leveling Frostbite for the insane 3-second duration 6-second cd at level 4 is great when you don’t need wave clear, consider picking up the 2nd point in Frost Nova first since it increases the slow by 50% of the level 1 values.
- Speaking of skill builds, remember not to skill level 2 Freezing Field until you have a mana item! Also remember that even though you aren’t going to be right clicking much in fights, the level 10 +60 damage talent is great for farming and dewarding.
- DEFINITELY get urn if you want to end early, it can be the difference between your team having to back after fights or taking objectives. Also, the armor is nice and the buildup is convenient, though it’s fine if someone else on the team wants to get it instead.
- If your allies already have invis you’re probably better off with Solar Crest or Eul. Solar Crest is a borderline OP item that gives you the tankability to transition into a Blink BKB build. While Eul is great for precasting in fights, buying time when you get jumped, and even though it costs a decent chunk of mana it increases your mana pool which is more than can be said of Glimmer.
- When you’re not sure what to get, you can’t go wrong with Force Staff / Blink Dagger though there is probably a slightly better choice that depends on the game at hand.
- Freezing field does slightly more damage at the very center and is roughly constant up to a radius of 485, falling off after that. (see image, note this is before magic resistance, top line is old aghs)
- If you are a pulling support you can get an extra 66-70 exp by landing the deny last hit on your pulled creep wave, if you’re lazy just make sure you deny the ranged for 30 easy experience.
- For some extra coin, stack ancients to spawn the easily killed prowler camps and small dragons, then stand around a corner about 500 range from the camp and cast Freezing Field.
- For an ideal start buy tango, 1 obs, 1 sentry, courier, 3 clarities, and a tp scroll — then use the tp to get a quick lane ward down so you can see where they place their obs for an easy deward. After that try to have your carry push every other wave so you can pull the hard camp at 0:53 as much as possible, all the while chugging clarities and spamming Frostbite on the offlaner. Eventually he runs out of regen and goes away, leaving you with a huge hard camp stack to farm.
- Watch out for an opposing support with gap close ability jumping when you come up to harass with Frostbite (think Earth Spirit/ Treant/ Bounty/ Riki/ Monkey King).
- Consider picking a different hero or jungling against offlane heroes with high base region like Nyx/ Nightstalker/ Batrider who can go even without help.
That about wraps it up peeps, drop your CM tips in the comments below!
Featured image courtesy of entroz.deviantart.com
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