The Lonely Island: A look at Top Lane Meta
In the last edition of It’s the Climb, I went over the ban phase. It’s funny how I can write something like that, and the meta can see a crazy shift since. Some of those champions aren’t very ban worthy at the moment. Season 4 has introduced some drastic changes to League. From the change to vision to the change to Bloodthirstier, Season 4 shook up what we all considered the status quo. The Top lane has seen a huge shift in meta since the beginning of the season, so let’s take a look at the state of the Top lane.
The Former Kings
Once upon a time, there was a bit of a Holy Trinity in the Top lane. You had Shyvana, Renekton, and Mundo. The kings of the Top lane. The strengths in these three champions came from their high sustain and being manaless champions. Include the fact that they were naturally tanky and you can see why they pushed other bruisers out of the way.
Renekton, the Butcher of the Sands
Renekton is the ultimate lane bully. Cull the Meek gives him great lane sustain, Slice and Dice allows him to either go aggressive or get away from ganks without a scratch, and Ruthless Predator is a great stun that deals solid damage. Because Renekton’s base damage is respectable, he can get away with staying in lane without shopping too much. This also allows Renekton to build Ravenous Hydra and then go full tank, all the while still dishing out a lot of damage. While he is a great split pusher, Renekton is also an amazing champion to have on your tank line. He can Slice and Dice into the enemy team, use Randuin’s Omen‘s active to slow them, use Ruthless Predator to stun one of the carries, and then activate Dominus to become very healthy and dish out AOE damage.
Suggested 6 Item Build: Ravenus Hydra, Randuin’s Omen, Sunfire Cape, Ninja Tabi, Banshee’s Veil, and Spirit Visage.
Shyvana, the Half-Dragon
If Renekton’s strength comes from being a lane bully, Shyvana’s strength is all about her mixed damage. Shyvana’s Burnout deals AOE magic damage as does her Flame Breath. Flame Breath is also solid for safely farming at range. Having two abilities that deal decent magic damage makes it hard to deal with Shyvana during the early parts of the laning phase. Pairing her magic damage with the fact that Twin Bite does good physical damage makes her even more obnoxious. Dragonborn, her passive, gives Shyvana scaling magic resist and armor making her a natural tank. Like, Renekton, Shyvana is a great split pusher after she gets her Blade of the Ruin King. But, also like Renekton, she is a great initiating tank. With Shyvana’s Dragon’s Descent she can easily get to the enemy team’s back line.
Suggested 6 Item Build: Blade of the Ruin King, Mercury’s Treads, Sunfire Cape, The Black Cleaver, Randuin’s Omen, and Spirit Visage.
Dr. Mundo, the Madman of Zuan
Dr. Mundo is naturally the tankiest of the three. The key to Mundo’s strength in lane comes primarily from his passive Adrenaline Rush. Adrenaline Rush allows Mundo to regain 0.3% of his maximum health each second. This gives him a high amount of sustain and an incentive to buy items that have Giant’s Belt as a component. While Mundo shares the trait of having a lot of mix damage with Shyvana, you’re not picking him for his damage output. Infected Cleaver comes with a hefty slow and a low cooldown to keep the slows coming. Burning Agony gives Mundo a good amount of tenacity while dealing AOE damage. And Masochism gives him a scary amount of damage when his health does eventually get low. One of Mundo’s strongest abilities is Sadism, his ultimate. When activated, Mundo regenerates a large percentage of his health and gets a movement speed buff for 12 seconds. As long as Mundo can safely hit level 6, he’s not leaving lane any time soon.
Suggested 6 Item Build: Randuin’s Omen, Warmog’s Armor, Sunfire Cape, Spirit Visage, Mercury’s Treads, and Liandry’s Torment.
Along Came a King Slayer
The Holy Trinity was holding strong. Sure, there were people who played the likes of Darius, Jax, Fiora, etc. But Mundo, Shyvana, and Renekton weren’t giving up the top spot to anyone. Until the Spring 2013 EU Split. Fnatic‘s sOAZ picks Trundle to go up against Gambit Gaming‘s picks of Mundo in the top lane and Shyvana in the jungle and does more than hold his own. After a successful game, everyone knew it was no longer a game of rock, paper, scissors.
Trundle, the Troll King
Trundle is a great addition to the top lane meta despite being a champion that has mana as a resource. Trundle does, however, have a decent amount of built-in sustain thanks to his passive King’s Tribute. Whenever an enemy unit near Trundle dies, he heals for a scaling percentage of his maximum health. Trundle’s edge against Shyvana, Mundo, and Renekton is the fact that his kit is built around stat stealing. Chomp deals physical damage, applies a slow, and gives Trundle increased AD while reducing the target’s AD for 8 seconds. His ultimate, Subjugate, drains HP per second(based off of a percentage of his AP) and steals armor and magic resist over the course of 4 seconds. So, while the tanks keep getting tankier, Trundle has the ability to make those stats his for an equal, if not lopsided, fight.
Of quick note, Trundle has two AD item build paths. If he needs to push against an opponent, Trundle makes great use out of Ravenous Hydra. If he just needs an item to melt his opponent and towers, Blade of the Ruin King is the more optimal choice.
Suggested 6 Item Build: Blade of the Ruin King, Spirit Visage, Randuin’s Omen, Ninja Tabi, Thornmail, and Banshee’s Veil.
The AP Challengers
During Season 3, Ryze received some changes. Originally a Top lane regular, his kit got nerfed in the form of his overall range. However, in patch 4.3 they raised his base health and gave some range back to his Q, Overload. This gave people a little more courage to try him in the Top lane again. Gragas has seen some major changes to his kit throughout Season 4. Now more of an AP bruiser, Gragas feels more at home in the Top lane raising trouble. Lulu has found her way into the Top lane as well as she makes a cheeky counter pick to Shyvana and Renekton since she can bully them safely from a distance.
Ryze, the Rogue Mage
Make no mistake, Ryze’s early laning phase is pretty weak. Ryze has no escapes, pretty terrible base AD, and is bad at CSing overall. Ryze makes up for it with his late game scaling. One of his pluses is that his passive, Arcane Mastery, helps Ryze have some pretty low cooldowns and allows him to use Overload and Spell Flux constantly. Ryze is been a solid Renekton counter thanks to Rune Prison being able to hold back Renekton’s aggressive laning. Ryze’s power scales off of his mana, so with the help of item’s like Rod of Ages and Seraph’s Embrace Ryze is a scary late game champion. His ultimate, Desperate Power, gives Ryze spell vamp and a boost to his movement speed. On top of that, his spells also deal AOE damage, making him very dangerous in team fights.
Suggested 6 Item Build: Mercury’s Treads, Seraph’s Embrace, Rod of Ages, Void Staff, Frozen Heart, and Spirit Visage.
Gragas, the Rabble Rouser
With how Gragas’ kit settled after all the changes, it’s no surprise to that he ended up in the Top lane. Happy Hour, Gragas’ passive, restores 4% of his max health when he uses an ability. He has a way to safely farm from a distance with Barrel Roll. Drunken Rage gives Gragas damage reduction for 3 seconds and his next attack within 5 seconds does bonus magic damage. Body Slam does pretty solid damage, stuns, and is a decent escape as well. His ultimate, Explosive Cask, can still pop marksmen and displace enemies during a team fight.
Suggested 6 Item Build: Sorcerer’s Shoes, Rod of Ages, Iceborn Gauntlet, Randuin’s Omen, Spirit Visage, and Rabadon’s Deathcap.
Lulu, the Fae Sorceress
Lulu has become a somewhat of a mainstay in the Top lane of late. She doesn’t offer much kill potential against the likes of Mundo, Renekton, or Shyvana. What she can do is safely farm in the lane without a lot of fear of return harassment. Glitterlance does good magic damage and applies a slow. Combine that with the speed boost from Whimsy, and Lulu can escape aggression and ganks with ease. Lulu can attempt kills with Whimsy when she polymorphs an enemy champion, which is more likely at early levels. Lulu Top tends to be a utility pick for a team, but don’t forget that she is very adept at taking down towers and split pushing.
Suggested 6 Item Build: Athene’s Unholy Grail, Lich Bane, Morellonomicon, Sorcerer’s Shoes, Void Staff, and Rabadon’s Deathcap.
The Hyper Carries
Outside of the AP champions and the Holy Trinity, there exist four champions who scale extremely well throughout the game. Jax, Nasus, Nidalee, and Irelia are all hyper carries. Their overall stats get to a point that they deal a lot of damage, become hard to kill, and the more items on them the truer the statement becomes. While Nasus only pulls bans at lower ELOs and Irelia doesn’t see them often, it is pretty safe to say it is rare to see Jax in a game. Even after nerfs to his base stats in patch 4.11, Jax is still pretty strong. Nidalee saw some much needed changes recently. No longer an AP spear chucking nightmare, Nidalee has found her way back into the Top lane as frightening all-in bruiser.
Jax. the Grandmaster at Arms
Jax is a champion that doesn’t need much introduction. Fitting the flavor of his lore, Jax is so strong he doesn’t need a weapon. With abilities like Counter Strike and Leap Strike, Jax is able to turn his aggression up or safely walk away. Thanks to Empower, Jax can turn out some insane damage. With his passive, Relentless Assault, Jax can either put the hurt on to enemy champions or take down towers with ease. Jax is one of the strongest split pushers there is and his kit allows him to do it safely. If he has a completed Blade of the Ruin King and Trinity Force, you’ll need friends to try to stop him from taking your base.
Suggested 6 Item Build: Blade of the Ruin King, Trinity Force, Randuin’s Omen, Banshee’s Veil, Mercury’s Treads, and Guardian Angel.
Irelia, the Will of the Blades
Irelia has an overall solid kit. Her Hiten Style has a passive that allows her basic attacks to restore health. When activated, Ireala’s basic attacks deal true damage for 6 seconds and Hiten Style‘s on-hit health restore is doubled during the duration. Equilibrium Strike does a decent amount of magic damage and either slows or stuns her opponent. If she has more health, it’s a slow. If she has less health, it’s a stun. Bladesurge allows her to dash to enemies and its cooldown isn’t so high that she can’t spam it. Because of Equilibrium Strike and Hiten Style‘s passive, Irelia has a great combination of sustain in lane and can be a great duelist. When she get’s her Blade of the Ruin King and Trinity Force, like Jax, she becomes pretty difficult to deal with.
Suggested 6 Item Build: Blade of the Ruin King, Trinity Force, Randuin’s Omen, Ninja Tabi, Banshee’s Veil, and Guardian Angel.
Nasus, the Curator of the Sands
Nasus is one of the few champions in the game with a scaling ability. His Siphoning Strike scales off of minion, monster, champion, and tower kills. The more stacks it has, the greater physical damage it deals. Paired with Spirit Fire and 300+ stacked Siphoning Strike can one shot carries. Now, some people may be thinking that 300 stacks is hard to hit. And this is one of the reasons why Nasus is weak early since his strength comes from his Q. But with a good cooldown reduction build, which will add to his tankienss, Nasus’s Q practically replaces his auto attack. His strongest weakness though comes in how easy it is to kite him. Unlike the other hyper carries, Nasus has no way to really stick to his enemies even with the help of Wither.
Of note, Nasus has the option of building one of two items out of Sheen. If your team needs you to be a tank and your stacking isn’t going well, Iceborn Gauntlet is best. If your team doesn’t need you to be the dedicated tank or you are really far ahead, Trinity Force is the route to go.
Suggested 6 Item Build: Trinity Force, Frozen Heart, Spirit Visage, Mercury’s Treads, Randuin’s Omen, Warmog’s Armor.
Nidalee, the Bestial Huntress
Like Gragas, Nidalee is a champion who saw a major kit rework this season. Formerly, Nidalee was an AP heavy Mid lane champion. Her ability to evaporate champions with her spears was hair pulling. Riot heeded our prayers and gave Nidalee a role adjustment. Nidalee now starts with her ultimate, Aspect of the Cougar, which allows her to transform into a cougar, changes her abilities, and makes her a melee champion. Thanks to her new Hunt mechanic, Nidalee can now mark champions in her human form and then switch to cougar form to deal massive damage. An interesting aspect of Nidalee’s new kit, is Takedown. Takedown, despite dealing magic damage, will apply life steal. This makes her now part of the split push with Trinity Force and Blade of the Ruin King club. Once Nidalee hits level 3 be very afraid of her ability to all in you once she’s marked you as Hunted.
Suggested 6 Item Build: Trinity Force, Blade of the Ruin King, Mercury’s Treads, Frozen Heart, Warmorg’s Armor, and Void Staff.
The Top lane has become a much more wide open arena as Season 4 starts to wind down. While I did spend a lot of time talking about the meta, I would like to remind everyone that Solo Queue has a lot to do with how well you know your champion pool and your match ups. Which means if you are a great Riven, Fiora, Rumble, etc player keep doing you. And as always: