If you follow the EU LCS, even casually, then by now you must be already aware of the new jungle sensation Andrei "Xerxe" Dragomir. To consider him the rookie of the split, this early, is definitely a bit of a big stretch, but when you think about who's going to be able to challenge him for such an exclusive award, not many other names end up coming to mind. His ingenious picks in the jungle fit almost perfectly the Unicorns of Love way of drafting, and their 4-0 start in one of the most competitive splits to date is a clear indicator of that. He's the rising star together with Fabian "Exileh" Schubert in this lineup. However, less vigilant eyes may not catch how the former is constantly enabled by a draft phase specifically conceived to make him shine.
Xerxe sure is a talented player. But is he thriving in the league solely because no one has started to exploit his weaknesses? Also, until when will UOL's pre-game shenanigans manage to keep them at the top of their group? These are questions that I'll try to answer by looking at the Unicorns' drafting throughout their first ten matches.
Red side preference and jungle priority
Even considering Ivern as a meta pick, stats don't lie, Xerxe has six games out of ten played on an off-meta champion. Two of them are on Zac, two on Rumble, and the last have been spent on the brand new Warwick against Splyce. This means that although we've seen him make the Rengar work once, as well as of course the Ivern, he either does not play stronger picks such as Kha'Zix, Rek'Sai, and Lee Sin, or it's the Unicorns of Love as a whole that are not capable of playing what's deemed to be the best compositions by the experts.
That would not be a problem if coach Fabian "Sheepy" Mallant did not draft the way he does. But given the fact that UOL have a peculiar preference for the red side, and that they put so much emphasis on giving Xerxe the champions on which he performs, no matter what, I believe that this will eventually come back to bite them. Now, willing to play on the second picking team is conceptually fine if you've got a strategy aimed to gain some advantages after the second ban wave. Though what is also universally shared nowadays, is that being on the blue side not only gives you the chance to first pick one among the most contested champions, but it also lets you ban whatever you want instead of red side's trifecta LeBlanc, Camille, and Rengar.
Xerxe, however, is not scared to play against the standard blue Kha'Zix first pick. In fact, in a post-game interview, he stated that not only Ivern and 7.2 Warwick are just as good, but that the latter may as well be a direct counter. His priority chart is nowhere near the one of other pro junglers, and although this could really play in UOL's favor, their choice of matching the jungle pick in the first rotation with something unorthodox, instead of a far more popular champion, negates the whole advantage of playing off-meta. Add that, to the clearly limited champion pool of botlane duo Samuel "Samux" Fernandez and Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov, and you end up with giving to the other side at least another power pick in the likes of Zyra or Malzahar.
Even their decisions on the fewer blue side matches are questionable. In these occasions, too, Kha'Zix is disregarded entirely which can only lead to imagine that Xerxe simply isn't comfortable on most of the meta picks. Maybe, he just needs to secure one of his favorite champions as soon as possible in order to avoid getting banned out later on.
EU isn't punishing enough
The truth of the matter is that the Unicorns of Love are already getting constantly outdrafted. You've seen it against H2K until they dared too much by leaving Rengar available, and also past Thursday against Splyce. From a meta standpoint they should be losing much more, but due to an incredible decisiveness in team fights, and thanks to cookie cutter comps, they manage to come out on top in what looks like a very calculated fashion, most of the times.
But things won't stay this easy. For starters, cross-play between group A and B is coming up next week, and even if Giants may not be the ones to take them down, G2 eSports which will come right after are certainly going to give them a run for their money. It's still early in the season, and while I'm confident that teams such as H2K are going to improve by a wide margin as their Korean botlane get more accustomed with the rest of the team, I can't see UOL doing the same. To be fair, it's exactly in the final game against H2K that they've shown that they can also play the meta game properly. However, my lack of confidence stems from the Unicorns of Love's identity as a team. One that despite the constant shuffle of players remained unchanged through the years. Crafty picks and chaotic skirmishing is enough to stay in the league, but perhaps not enough to win it all.