Editors Note: This was originally written for TheMittani.com by Seminole Sun
Top lane is a very interesting matchup in the current meta. Sometimes you’re left on an island to take care of yourself for the first 15 minutes; other times, you get random, often inexplicable, attention from the junglers. The lane is long, and the current meta heavily favors champions with strong sustain or trading capability (generally in the form of shields). It’s a position that has evolved to favor tanky champions with strong initiates or game changing ultimates, and so often plays a vital role in team fights or, alternatively, has the added responsibility of knowing when and how far to split push.
Here are some tips to make your top lane experience a little more pleasant.
START WITH A WARD
Unless you know your jungler is going to gank top early, you need to start with a ward for any kind of safety. On top of that, you also want to consider the enemy jungler when deciding when to place it. For example, Lee Sin on red side will often start Wraiths, Red, and then gank top at level 2. That means that your ward needs to be down before 2:00 to be effective, so you can place it early on and still get the benefit of the early protection.
On the other hand, jungle Hecarim often does a full clear and always starts blue, so a red side Hecarim likely won’t gank top until 3:00 or later. If you place your ward in the first minute, you could very well have it expire before the Hecarim even shows up.
DON’T PUSH UNLESS YOU HAVE VISION
The most important lane for lane control is probably top lane. Because of the length of the lane and the relative isolation, your lane positioning will be critical in deciding how vulnerable you are. Generally, you shouldn’t push your lane unless it’s necessary and safe.
When is is useful? If you’re trying to set up a lane gank (a gank where your jungler comes into the side bush from behind you), you need to push the lane for a bit to deny vision. Also, if your opponent backs or dies, pushing the lane to deny creeps is critical.
If you’re a better pusher than your opponent, pushing them under tower to stress their last hitting can be valid, but you need to have excellent vision in the river and have a good understanding of where ganks will likely come from. For example, if their jungler is Zac, he can easily gank you without going through the river if you push to tower, and you should keep this in mind when positioning yourself.
LEARN TO FREEZE THE LANE / LEARN HOW TO BREAK FREEZES
Freezing the lane is a important skill for any player, but it takes on a critical role for top laners because of the necessity of lane positioning. Freezing the lane is when you get the creep waves to be exactly balanced at a specific, unmoving spot.
The most frequent way to do this is to body block the creep wave at the point you want it. You’ll see pros do this very often just outside of turret range. This leaves their opponent as exposed as possible while ensuring that your turret doesn’t make creep farming difficult. At that point, you want to last hit as carefully as possible and do absolute minimum damage to maximize the length of time you can keep the wave there.
One thing that people don’t understand is how creep waves work and how freezes get broken. If you are last hitting, the freeze will eventually break because your wave (plus your own damage) is doing slightly more damage then the other wave is. This is critical when trying to break a freeze. There are only two ways to do it: Either do so much damage that you remove the entire enemy wave and allow the waves to reset, or reduce your total wave damage (you plus your creeps) below your opponent’s wave.
For most champions, the second one is actually the easiest. Focus on last hitting only creeps that are about to die; sometimes people last hit on creeps that aren’t currently being targeted, which tends to push prematurely. You may even have to miss some last hits to do it, but giving up two last hits in exchange for your lane moving back to a safe position is a worthy trade. While you’re missing those last hits, you can also focus on trading hits, which can also work to your advantage.
The worst thing you can do is fire a periodic AoE spell to clear some minions. This will make the other player’s job of freezing incredibly easy and you’ll find the lane continuing to stay in a dangerous position.
RUN A FEW DIFFERENT RUNE PAGES
If you’re playing top lane as a primary position, you probably need a few rune pages. Depending on how dedicated to top lane you want to be, anywhere from 2-8 rune pages are needed to have just the right combination for any given match-up. Typically, they will look something like this:
AD Full Tank: Armor pen reds, Flat Armor yellows, Flat MR blues, Move Speed (or possibly health) quints
AP Full Tank: Magic Pen, Flat Armor, Flat MR, Move Speed (or possibly health / AP)
AD vs AP: Armor pen, Flat Health, Flat MR, Move Speed (or AD)
AD vs AD (mana): Armor pen, Flat Armor, Mana regen, Move Speed (or AD)
AD vs AD (no mana): Armor pen, Flat Armor, Scaling MR, Move Speed (or AD)
AP vs AP: Magic pen (or possibly hybrid pen), Flat Health, Flat MR, AP
AP vs AD (mana): Magic pen, Flat Armor, Mana regen, AP
AP vs AD (no mana): Magic pen, Flat Armor, AP, AP
Other combinations are possible as well. You don’t need all of them. In fact, you can probably get by just fine with the first two if you play top lane only occasionally. On the other hand, if you’re the top laner for your team, you need more variety than that will provide.
CONSIDER TP OVER IGNITE
TP on a top laner is becoming the norm. If you have good map awareness, it can even work in solo queue. The trick is to have a good idea where the wards are on the map and pay attention to what’s going on. Teleport gives you so much map presence and mobility that it can be game-breaking late game. It provides split pushing opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, and it allows a quick early-game return to lane that can save you a lost minion wave.
That’s not to say Ignite is a bad spell. If you feel like you can abuse your lane with an early kill, take ignite. But if you want to have a farm fest or think you might lose your lane, teleport is going to give your team a lot more options later in the game.
LEARN AN OFFENSIVE, DEFENSIVE, AND BALANCED BUILD
Top tends to be tankier then mid these days, but that doesn’t mean that you should lock into a full tank build all the time. Sometimes you’re going to get ahead in lane and be able to buy off-tank items and stay ahead. Other times, your jungler is full tank and you can focus on a bit more damage. You have to play this by ear, and it may change depending on who is feeding and who is getting fed in the game.
As an example, I play Yorick top with some regularity. My full defensive build looks like this:
Tear -> Randuin’s -> Aegis -> Locket -> Muramana
While my balanced build looks like this:
Tear -> Frozen Heart -> Muramana -> Spirit Visage / Warmog’s / Sunfire Cape (depending on what damage they’re doing)
And my full offense build (which I rarely go) looks like this:
Tear -> Muramana -> Trinity Force -> Guardian Angel / Sunfire Cape -> Black Cleaver
Generally, you’re going to be building the full defense or partial defense roles, but that can change easily (Malphite mid, Rammus jungle means you probably need to build to carry)
IF YOU’RE GETTING CLOBBERED, START ROAMING
Even the best players sometimes die twice in the first ten minutes. It just happens. It’s not necessarily your fault, but if you stay around and continue to get killed, then that is your fault. If you die early, and your tower is still up, start roaming mid. Pushing the mid tower down, even if you lose the top tower, is a fair trade. If you (or your jungler) are reasonably mobile, you might even be able to keep top up with the occasional lane clear.
The trick is to keep yourself relevant. If you stay in lane and continue to get bullied and denied of farm, you’re going to quickly become irrelevant to the game. But if you can make something happen elsewhere, you can gain some gold and experience and continue to be a positive impact on the team.
GET COMFORTABLE WITH A FEW CHAMPS
At a bare minimum, you need to be comfortable with 5 champs in each position. This will permit you to be ban and pick resilient. It should be the rare game where all of your champs get banned/picked, especially if you have one or two slightly oddball champs that don’t frequently get played.
When deciding your champion pool, keep in mind a few things. You want a mix of damage types. Don’t specialize in AP or AD champs; have a mix of both. One of the most awkward things that can happen to your team is for you to figure out 20 minutes into the game that your team’s Kassadin/Malphite/Amumu picks are being completely negated by their Spirit Visage and Runic Bulwark.
You also probably want to have a mix of tanky, dive, and poke champs. Singed, Kha’Zix and Jayce are good examples of each. As you’re learning this, you also want to think about counters. LoL, as a game, lacks a lot of hard counters, but you can definitely improve your laning by understanding soft counters. For example, Elise does pretty well against Malphite, but can be bullied by Riven. Keep these in mind and maybe even have a little check list for yourself as a handy reference. As your champion pool grows, your decision tree gets more and more difficult, but that’s a good problem to have because it means you have a lot of options.
For top lane, I’d recommend starting with a champion like Teemo, Malphite, Garen, Jax, Singed as a starter, and branching out from there. These aren’t the best choices, but they’re a cheap group for you to cut your teeth on and will do just fine in pre-level 30 solo queue.
DON’T FEEL COMPELLED TO TAKE SHEN OR MALPHITE
Solo queue has a large number of foibles, but the most inexplicable is the assumption that taking an “OP champ” is somehow better than taking one that you’re actually good with. I don’t ban Shen on general principle. Most people don’t know how to use himc and the level of team coordination he requires is notably absent from solo queue. Malphite is a trickier proposition, but even he suffers from a bit of coordination requirement. He’s also at his best when faced with an AD heavy team, so taking an early Malphite can encourage the other team to counter pick hard with a double AP comp.
You’re better off making smart picks from a champion pool that you’re comfortable with. Should you get good with Malphite? Absolutely. But don’t play him until you get to that point.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO LOSE CS
Early game, the caster minions are worth 16 gold. Your death is worth 300. If any action you take results in odds of dying greater than ~5%, you’re making a bad decision. Your priority for decisions should be the following:
- Don’t die
- Don’t get zoned so that you’re denied XP
- Will your damage stick? (i.e. do they lack pots and self-sustain?)
- If yes, Harass > CS
- If no, CS > Harass
And that’s it. If you can do those things, you will ensure that you are relevant in the late game and that your laning opponent cannot snowball effectively. Don’t put yourself at risk just to grab an extra couple minion kills. It’s not worth it.
BONUS TIP: LEARN TO 1V2
If you play on a regular team, you’re much more likely to end up 1v2 at some point, either because the other team lane swaps or yours does. Knowing how to 1v2 effectively is very important. The two biggest tips I can give here are to focus on not dying and not getting zoned, and to remember that trading 1v1 is bad for your team since they’ll get an assist (150 gold) and your team won’t.
WRAPPING IT ALL UP
Top lane is a lane that requires the most self-sufficiency, and can be very rewarding. Oftentimes you’re the team’s initiator and/or tank, so sound decision making is critical. You won’t win every match, but you can minimize your losses and maximize your gains by taking some of the advice above. Top lane allows for probably the largest champion pool of any role, and provides an opportunity for you to stamp your style onto the game.