Early Sunday morning (or Sunday afternoon, depending where you are in the world), SK Telecom T1 will face Counter Logic Gaming in the 2016 League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational Grand Finals. SKT will be looking to add to its expansive trophy case with its first MSI title, while CLG hopes to continue to defy the odds and bring the first major Riot championship home to North America.
In League, especially at the pro level, where the difference in talent can be minimal, games can often be decided by which team picked the more cohesive (or even better) team composition. Success in picks and bans has been one of the things keeping Korean teams a tier above the rest for some time, but it's also one of the reasons CLG has had so much success in this tournament.
Here are some things to keep an eye on as you watch the teams pick and ban before the games:
1. Blue side/red side
It's probably a safe bet that CLG will pick blue side all series and SKT will pick red. That's what they chose in their respective semifinal victories, and it's worked out for them so far. CLG is 8-1 on blue side at MSI (2-3 on red) while SKT is 6-3 on red side (3-2 on blue).
SKT likes red side so they can have that final counter pick for Faker in the mid lane (or, if they grab Azir or Ryze for Faker earlier in the draft, they use the counter for Duke in the top lane or Wolf at support). CLG likes blue side to secure Kindred or Ryze and pick their bottom lane later in the draft. In the round robin stage, CLG's main priority was on securing Kindred, but in the semifinal round against Flash Wolves, that changed to Ryze.
2. Likely bans
These two teams played each other twice in the round robin stage, splitting the series. CLG banned Alistar, Maokai and Ryze in both games, but CLG could exchange the Ryze for something else, like Soraka (which Wolf has picked up from CLG support Aphromoo), and first pick it instead.
As for SKT, they banned Caitlyn and Soraka both times they faced CLG. The CLG bottom lane will be the likely target of bans once again, as those two, Lucian and Bard will probably be on the table. If CLG tries to position itself to first-pick Ryze, SKT may take that out, as well.
3. Power picks
The tournament meta has been so rigid in the top lane that only three champions have been played: Ekko, Maokai and Poppy. Maokai has been the highest priority throughout the tournament, being banned in most games, and both teams are 2-1 on the champion. CLG will probably ban him each game, which means we'll get a lot of Ekko vs. Poppy, barring a surprise (or another top lane ban).
CLG is 5-1 on Poppy and 3-2 on Ekko, while SKT is 5-1 on Ekko and 2-3 on Poppy. It seems likely that SKT will pick Ekko first rotation and CLG will pick Poppy second rotation most games, unless something within the series changes to reprioritize those champions.
As far as the three S-tier junglers (Kindred, Graves, Nidalee), both teams have prioritized Kindred, then Graves, then Nidalee (or something else). If Ryze is banned, Kindred would be the logical first pick for CLG most games.
Among the S-tier mid laners, it's clear both teams would rather have Ryze than Azir. CLG is 5-0 with Ryze and 4-1 with Azir, so both are working, but it's clear Huhi's more comfortable on Ryze and they've been prioritizing it higher in picks and bans. SKT is 4-0 with Ryze and 2-2 with Azir.
4. Pocket picks
While the MSI meta has kept most positions within a limited champion pool, there have been some ventures out to more interesting selections. Blank did so poorly on Nidalee that he's opened up the jungler pool to Lee Sin and Elise, winning a game apiece with a more aggressive gank-heavy style.
In the mid lane, Huhi played Aurelion Sol in the mid lane twice, and also played Lissandra and Lulu. Faker played an excellent game of Zilean in a win against CLG, and played Fizz twice against RNG in the semifinals.
But CLG AD Carry Stixxay may have the least conventional champion pool left in the tournament, at least relative to the MSI meta. While he plays Lucian and Ezreal, two of the most popular ADC picks at MSI, very well, he's not quite as comfortable on Sivir and is a terror on Caitlyn and Tristana. Caitlyn will probably be banned by SKT (although Flash Wolves elected to let him play it and won), but we may see the old Guinsoo's Rageblade Tristana one last time.
5. Ranged supports
This entire season, supports across the world have been playing tanky champions, with an emphasis on hard engage champions like Alistar and Braum. In North America, however, supports were playing ranged supports like Soraka, Karma and Bard.
Coming into MSI, the thought was CLG would have to adapt to the tanky support meta. The opposite happened. CLG, SKT and Flash Wolves all exclusively played ranged supports in the semifinal round.
But Aphromoo, as always, was one step ahead. When SwordArt picked early lane bully Karma, he responded with Sona, a pick that hadn't been seen in major competitive play in over a year and one that Aphromoo had not played since 2013. Sona outscaled Karma easily and Aphromoo landed ultimate after ultimate, giving his team reliable counter-engages and setting up winning team fights to advance to the finals.