Swain’s rework has been greatly anticipated by what seems like the majority of the community, and I don’t think Riot’s let them down. The Master Tactician Noxian Grand General has a similar battle mage playstyle to his previous incarnation, but has gained plenty more tricks to influence the battlefield.
Swain’s new kit contains aspects of his old one, but looks and feels completely different. He can still regain HP and mana through parts of his kit and has a health-draining ultimate, but by and large Swain mains will have to relearn his new abilities.
Visions of Empire (W) and Death’s Hand (Q) are both brand-new abilities that give Swain far-reaching map presence and upfront damage, respectively. Meanwhile, Nevermove (E) has been reworked – it only roots one enemy, but can still potentially damage more.
Swain’s new ultimate, Demonic Ascension, feels very similar to his old one in that it drains health from his foes, but has a much stronger send-off thanks to the Demonflare explosion at the end. Great Swain players will certainly be able to get the most of it by farming up Soul Fragments in advance, then detonating the blast on as many enemies at once.
The Noxian Grand General is still a battle mage first and foremost. He needs to close the gap on enemies to get the most out of Death’s Hand and Demonic Ascension, and the collection range on his Soul Fragments doesn’t seem that far. That means the Swain will still have a tankier build than most mages, he but definitely makes up for it with his excellent health regeneration.
On top of that, Swain’s new kit is far more cerebral than his old one. In order to land Nevermove’s root or Visions of Empire, Swain will need to either predict his enemies’ movement or rely on a frontline to keep them in place. Alternatively, his telegraphed abilities can be used to chivvy enemies into suboptimal positions, giving him or his team time to annihilate them. Though he’s no longer called the Master Tactician, Swain almost feels more like a battlefield commander post-rework.
However, this doesn’t change that Swain wants to be in the middle of the enemy team. Drain-tanking is still his forte, and a good Swain will be able to steal plenty of Soul Fragments during his ult to keep himself healthy. Once charged up with souls, a well-timed Demonflare can be a teamfight-ending play.
As far as the LCS is concerned, Swain has some potential. Tanks are all the rage right now, and Swain works well both with and against them. So long as he can remain safe in lane, Swain’s powerful AoE abilities give him some serious punch in teamfights. However, Swain’s need to be up-close-and-personal makes him vulnerable to enemy damage-dealers, and a single Executioner’s Calling can make him have a bad time.
All of this means that unless seriously overtuned on release, Swain is likely to be a niche pick at best. He can survive most midlane champions and possible dominate top, but his raw damage output just isn’t high enough to warrant picking him over other mages like Azir or Zoe. Meta shifts might bring him into flavor, but that’s likely a long ways out.
Swain’s appearance is a bit disappointing. The armor is cool and all, but I miss the crotchety old man hobbling around on his cane. It gave Swain a sense of character and uniqueness that’s totally lost in his new look – currently, Swain looks like any generic Bad Guy Leader from a TV show or movie.
That aside, his story has promise. He’s been touched by demons, as evidenced by his scarlet hand and ultimate, but it doesn’t look like the experience traumatized him. Instead, it sounds like Swain simply became convinced that the only way he can save the world is by conquering it first – hence the Noxian legions. The new take on the story is significantly better than his old one, though I’ll still miss Beatrice.
One can also hope that along with Swain comes a slew of Noxian lore updates. I’d love to see where Darius and Vladimir are at in the post-Great Retcon world, but I suppose we’ll have to wait on the Grand General’s appearance first.