So you’re in top lane, you know what the lane is about, you have a rough idea of where you need to get to in order to ‘win’ the lane, and you have an idea about what sorts of champions do terribly in the lane. What’s next? Let me take you through the increasingly complex strategies you can use to dominate your lane.
First, we’ll cover knowing your champion matchups, smart warding, and coming back when you’re behind. We’ll them examine leaving your lane, taking towers, the art of denial, and building a snowball. Finally, we’ll consider the advanced strategies around proxy farming and exploiting your dominance.
KNOWING CHAMPIONS AND MATCHUPS
Let’s begin with a look at the dude giving you evil eyes from the other side of the lane, and go from there. As we start to look at and analyze different champions, matchups, and how to play against them, we need to keep in mind that no two champions are the same. All champions have different themes to them, different strong points in the game, and varying strengths in different characteristics like sustain, trading, etc. as mentioned in my last article.
One of the first steps to becoming a solid, well rounded, top laner is learning select champions that you enjoy playing, and figuring out how matchups against different top laners play out. There are several ways to learn. My favorite is literally hurling myself into the fray, learning by experimentation, and seeing for myself what works, and what doesn’t. (Do this only in Normal games, or practice games against friends; do this in ranked and you announce with trumpets that you’re a retard.)
This type of eager experimentation isn’t for everyone. Other people enjoy reading about matchups and getting a rough idea of what to expect before diving in. For these sorts of people, I can direct you to websites like LoLPro.com to find specific matchups where your champions are good, or bad (though, oftentimes not why). The guides section of LoLKing.net also isn’t too terrible anymore; many high ranking guides have rather good information with regards to matchups.
Regardless of the how, the bottom line is you need to do your best to learn matchups in top lane; you don’t want to be that Nasus who thinks he can free farm at level 1 against a Riven because he’s an ignorant shit.
WARDING: WHERE AND WHY
You hear all high level players refer to it, and guess what, I’m going to as well. Warding is one of the single most important damned things you need to learn in this game. It is ESPECIALLY important for top lane. Top may be an island lane where ganks are uncommon because there’s less incentive for them, but they do happen, and if you don’t have wards you can be instantly thrown on the fast track to losing your lane.
Any time you go back to base to buy, get at least 2 wards. I don’t care if you’re 4-0, and that 150g will prevent you from finishing a Ravenous Hydra. Buy Some Damn Wards. When you return to lane, there are a few places you can and should ward, depending on how the lane is going, and what side of the map you spawned on.
I’m going to discuss the defensive ward locations in the next section; offensive ward positions, we tackle now.
As a rule, when you’re ahead or the creep line is relatively centered, you should use the aggressive ward positions. These ward positions will give you ample time to see ganks incoming, and will enable you to haul ass and get into a safe position, making the jungler’s time less effective, if not outright wasted. This is in addition to the obvious benefit of not dying because you were blind to the incoming gank. Without wards, you will lose lanes, and lose games.
BEING SMART WHEN YOU’RE ON THE BACK FOOT
When you’re behind, it feels like shit. You feel like you’re going to be incapable of helping the game, while your opponent is going to be gloryhound making plays, dropping dueces on your team, and absolutely humiliating you with his carrying talents. This doesn’t have to happen.
The first and most important part of being able to stop a snowball, is realizing that any, and I do mean any, snowball can be stopped as long as your mental state is one that lets you do what needs to be done. When you’re playing a lane that isn’t favorable to you, you need to recognize it and adjust your tactics. Instead of boldly taking last hits and trading blows with your opponent, back off, and adopt a calculated style.
Punishing your opponent’s mistakes is no longer going to be you smashing his face in, killing him, or at least hurting him. Punishing mistakes is taking CS and experience any time your opponent mistimes abilities or autoattacks, or positions himself in such a way that he can’t stop you from farming. If your opponent is being smart and freezing the lane, forcing you to overextend just to get experience, go somewhere else. Go take wolves or golems if your jungler isn’t around to take them, go gank mid, hell, leave your lane for 2 minutes and try to force a dragon fight 5v4 with your team. Avoid your opponent’s strengths, and do everything you can to play to his weaknesses, and your own strengths.
Finally, when you’re behind, do everything within your power to avoid dying. Packs of creeps are rarely worth massive amounts of lost health, or deaths (read the snowballing section later in this article to get better ideas about how you can avoid dying).
Remember those defensive ward positions I showed in the last section? Use those ward positions to keep yourself safe; they’ll tell you if enemy junglers are preparing for a tower dive, and give you significant amounts of wiggle room. This might mean abandoning your tower (this is often the safest call, as it allows you to farm deeper on your side of the map), or letting your mid and/or jungler come to make the dive a 2v2, or 2v3 plus a tower. Always remember to play defensively and conservatively when you’re behind. Risks are your enemy as they will open doors for your opponent to come through and kick your ass.
“When in the hell should I do what?” This is an excellent, if imprecise and baffling question that people ask about top lane. Anumber of important tactics and strategies can implemented in top lane at different points in the game, in different situations, and against different types of champions to maximize your effectiveness in the lane, and in the role.
IT’S TIME FOR THE SNOWFLAKE TO SPROUT WINGS, FLY, AND CRUSH NERDS
The question of when to leave lane and transition completely out of the laning phase is arguably the most difficult question to answer because there are so many variables involved in it. To start, let’s lay down two basic principles for making the decision to leave one’s lane, and make the transition to the midgame (or in some cases, go straight into the late game).
The first principle is simply knowing your champion. What does he or she need to really make an impact on the game? If we look at a champion like Malphite, we can see a massive power spike at level 6. However, at 6 Malphite generally won’t have enough items to be mind-numbingly tanky against an enemy team, he’ll just have the damage to pose a significant threat to his lane opponent. As he approaches 10, 11, and 12, a Malphite top is generally finishing his first major item, and quite possibly working on his second if he farmed well. In addition, it’s generally towards these levels that Malphite’s in lane power begins to drop, his lane opponents will generally begin to shrug off his damage, and can start playing the game to their own rhythm. For a champion like Malphite, this marks an excellent time to transition and start forcing the game to progress to later stages.
The second principle is a question of team composition. Some team composition will force you to transition out of lane extremely quickly, others will force you to remain in lane for long periods of time. As an example, let’s look at the two following teams, and an analyse their strengths.
Team A, consists of a Jayce top, Nidalee mid, Maokai jungle, Caitlyn ADC, and a Janna support. Team B, consists of a Nasus top, Brand mid, Skarner jungle, Tristana ADC, and a Leona support. Team A, is a notable poke, and siege oriented composition that excels at taking towers, objectives, and building potent leads. Team B, is an extraordinarily powerful late game teamfighting composition that will eventually be able to simply run over Team A, should the game go for that long.
With that in mind, how should Jayce play top lane? Jayce wants to play as aggressively as he can (and as safely as he can — buy some damn wards), rush up to his core items, and immediately work to transition to the midgame where his team can poke, siege, and drop towers in order to build a lead, so they have the ability to close the game out quickly. Nasus should work to farm up as efficiently as he can, remain in lane as much as he can, and work towards becoming a powerhouse in the late game. In a situation like this, it would be extremely wise for Nasus to take something like teleport to both help him remain in lane to farm, and after Jayce has left the lane, split push and continue farming to distract, and throw wrenches into the enemy team’s plans stalling the game out.
KNOCKING YOUR OPPONENT’S TOWER TO RUBBLE
The question of when to take your opponent’s tower, much like the question of what constitutes winning top lane, often faces a decent amount of debate. While many people argue that it should be taken as soon as possible, others argue it should be taken at specific points in a game, others claim it should only be taken when you plan on exiting the laning phase. None of these viewpoints are wrong in the slightest, but they aren’t as cut and dry as they’re made out to be.
There should often be a bit of thought about when you take your opponent’s tower. These thoughts should focus around these few questions:
“Will my opponent benefit from me taking their tower?” An example of this would be a Nasus, or Irelia being able to freeze a lane, and farm it near their inner turret, a position that’s nearly impossible to force them out of, short of multiple members of your team going to gank them.
“Can I harm my opponent more by leaving their turret up?” A perfect example of this, would be leaving a tower up and relentlessly keeping minion waves shoved into it, making champions like Nunu, Singed, Mundo, or Warwick struggle to last hit under tower, missing tons of potential gold, and also potentially taking loads of harassment (perhaps even giving you opportunities to kill them, if you really keep them under pressure).
“Am I ready to transition out of the laning phase?” Taking your enemy’s tower is, in the vast majority of cases, the end of your real laning phase. When you end your laning phase, the training wheels for the game come off, and you generally need to start moving with your team and start looking for team fights, and objectives. If it’s 8 minutes in, and you’re a Lee Sin with 60 farm and a vamp scepter and a pickaxe; you’re probably not ready to go out and start team fighting, even if you did just kill your lane opponent for the second time and have an opportunity to take his tower.
Be smart about taking your tower, do your best to look at the game, and the scenario you’re in, and try to make the best decision for you and your team.
THE ART OF DENIAL AND A BRIEF LOOK AT SNOWBALLING
Snowballing, in its textbook definition, is the process of using your momentum in a lane to create a larger gap between you and your opponent and to increase your ability to impact the game while destroying theirs.
You’re 2-0, and 40 creeps above your opponent. The enemy jungler is too scared to gank you, afraid of a possible 2v1 and buff transfer, your enemy laner is sifting around, grabbing creeps, and avoiding you like a coward, you’re hot stuff aren’t you? You crushed your lane, and you get to enjoy the smug until the laning phase is over. Guess what, shit for brain, you’re screwing up. You managed to outplay your opponent and get ahead, fantastic, but your opponent is still getting creeps, and is still getting experience to level up. By allowing your opponent to get xp and cs, you’re committing one of the worst mistakes a top laner can make. You’re being complacent, and you aren’t focusing on snowballing the living bejeebus out of the most snowball oriented lane in this game. Against champions like Jax, Irelia, or Vladimir, such complacency can and will lose you games.
Most of you probably have an idea what snowballing is about, though all too often, I see people failing at the basic principles. There are three key methods to snowballing your lane. In order of power, the methods are as follows; killing your opponent, zoning them off of experience, or denying them creeps.
Before you read any further, make sure you know about a MOBA concept called zone control. If you don’t know what it is, stop reading, go watch this youtube video (spare me the complaints about the commentator’s voice once you return). If you want to improve at top lane and League of Legends, this is one of the single most important concepts you need to learn and understand. The importance of zone control, degrees of power, and projection cannot be understated.
By killing your opponent, you accomplish the following: You earn gold and experience for yourself. You deny him gold and experience based on how long he is out of lane and how many creeps die between his death and return. You open up the opportunity to shove the lane to deny him more creeps, and do a variety of things like: counterjungling his jungler, roaming and applying pressure on the map, proxying waves, or going back to cash in your current gold advantage. I need hardly explain how to kill your opponent while ahead.
Denying your opponent gold from creeps is a matter of using your zone control to keep him away from minions about to die. A good example of this would be Darius, and his Q ability. If you want to go in to get a single creep, worth 19 gold, you’re likely going to get slammed by Decimate and lose a fair amount of health (there’s always the chance he could kill you or force summoner’s spells because you entered his zone of control when he’s stronger than you). Put another way, you gain 19 gold by taking that creep, but lose ~70 gold in health potions to sustain that harassment. If you have no health potions, how many creeps will you miss because you had to recall and heal? Denying your opponent gold in this manner is the simplest way of pushing your advantage over your opponent.
Denying your opponents even harder by forcing them away from the creep line, and away from experience range is more difficult due to the awareness and knowledge required to do it effectively. The key to this type of zoning is making use of your ability to project your control. Let’s think about the Darius example again. How far away can he reliably land pulls on you using Apprehend? Does he have Flash up? Can he flash-apprehend and then kill you with that instant engage?
It’s these questions that lead to understanding and figuring out how champions can effectively project their zone, and how powerful that projection is. A Flash-Apprehending Darius is far more scary, and easy to zone with then a Lee Sinwho will try to Flash-Q you at max range, because of the difficulty involved in dodging their engages, or getting out in case they do engage on you. When you understand your champion’s ability to project power, this type of zoning becomes a simple matter of staying near the creep line to grab your opponent’s minions as they die, and running at them to force them away from the creep line by virtue of your zone and projection, as your creeps die. Keep in mind that you don’t want to zone your opponent out of experience, while also missing out on last hits!
Briefly, for those who don’t know, proxy farming is a strategy involving pushing past your opponent’s tower and farming behind it, deep in enemy territory. Dota players may know of this concept by different names like lane or creep cutting.
While it’s always been a relatively advanced concept to make use of safely, the recent changes to death bounties have made proxy farming an even more dangerous strategy. Previously, death bounties would make your champion worth progressively less gold until you were barely worth a creep kill at around 8 deaths. Death bounties now drop more gradually, making you worth killing regardless of how many deaths you have. There are a number of things you need to understand before moving to proxy farm in regards to your champion and the enemy team.
Starting with the most important, these are some of the questions you need to ask yourself before you attempt to proxy: How well do I scale versus my opponent when we both free farm? How well can my champion escape versus the type of CC and control my enemy mid, top, and jungle have (for instance, Singed is going to have a hard time escaping a Skarner due to perma-slow)? How well will my team react if I manage to pull 3 people top (dragon, towers, counter jungling)?
I can’t answer these questions in a single article, given the sheer number of combinations that can apply to these situations. You need to decide for yourself if the risk is worth taking. Above all, you need to make sure you don’t give kills away foolishly.
EXPLOITING YOUR DOMINANCE
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen players rage about winning their lane, and not just winning, but completely dominating it, but then losing the game, “because everyone else on my team lost because they’re bad”. It’s an easy pitfall for a person to fall into; it’s one that I fell into quite a bit when I was a lower level player, and had a different attitude towards this game. It’s also an absurdly toxic mindset though that will stop your development as a player faster than going face first into a brick wall.
If this is an excuse you make when you lose a game I have something thing to say to you: Get the fuck off your high horse. Your team lost because you were too busy lording over your lane opponent and basking in your own smug to use your advantage to help the rest of your team create advantages of their own. If you get a notable advantage and your team is struggling, you need to find ways use your advantage to help them, otherwise the blame for the loss lands square on your shoulders.
There are a wide variety of ways to abuse your power. For passive, low-risk ways to allow your team to catch up, you can create denial setups focused on using your power to zone enemy laners, letting your teammates free farm. You can bully and chain gank laners that are both vulnerable to ganks, and weak in the early and midgame, or you can go counterjungling if the enemy jungler is either a weak duelist, or behind. You can also react to tower dives and turn them on your opponent’s heads (if you see a jungler heading to a lane that’s completely shoved to a tower and they’re ahead, he’s probably going for a dive).
For more aggressive (and more effective) tactics, you can force teamfights at dragons by threatening, or just bum rushing the dragon. You can dive enemies under towers with your weaker teammates, you can assert your dominance and relentlessly counterjungle (make sure you have ways to escape if you get caught, whether its flashing over walls, or just being very slippery). Experiment, have fun, and help your team in the process. One of the defining characteristics of skilled and flexible top laners is how able they are to help their team when the team is struggling.
From basics to advanced, there is far more to learn then what I’ve outlined in this article. At the end of the day, remember to always focus on having fun, realize that everyone makes mistakes, and we can always learn from them if we’re aware of them and approach them with the right attitude.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by Cainun and originally appeared on TheMittani.com under his byline.)