Talking About Smite + Teleport Top
Your third pick calls top and locks in Hecarim. Seems standard right? The pony has been a standard pick since Riot’s Season 5 changes. So far so good. But then it hits you. Smite and Teleport. A flurry of thoughts cross your mind – is he trolling? Is he actually going to play jungle? So I have to dodge this game? What in the world is going on?
A Dragon Rules Over Gromp
What’s going on is the newest trend to come out of professional play. The rise of Cinderhulk has thrown a few curveballs into the League of Legends metagame and professional teams have adapted around it. The usage of Smite as a top lane summoner spell is one such adaptation, pioneered by one of the craziest teams in China’s League of Legends Pro League (LPL) – Snake eSports.
It all started back in Spring. The tenth week of the Chinese LPL saw Snake face off against Gamtee. Gamtee were a promising young squad and talents such as Tale and Xiaohu had impressed many ; however, they were not prepared against what Snake decided to pull out in their series.
It seemed like a normal game. GT picked up Rek’sai, Morgana, Leblanc, Graves and Hecarim – all fairly standard and Snake’s picks of Gragas, Draven, Thresh, and Azir equally unsurprising. It was the last pick by Snake that changed the game; however; as Ella locked in Shyvana for Flandre.
Shyvana wasn’t a metagame pick at the time, so people were surprised. What made people bewildered; however, was the Smite summoner spell pick up by Flandre. We didn’t know it back then, after all it is Snake and it is China, but we were watching the birth of a new competitive metagame.
This meta was an evolution of what was already happening. With more teams looking for the 1v2 lane swaps, it became a regular occurrence for Top laners to either start a Jungle camp or go tag along with their Jungler during their first clear in a sort of buddy system. What Flandre was doing in this game was just the logical next step. Smite enabled Flandre to clear the enemy Gromp, back and return to his jungle in no time to take his own Gromp as well.
Because of this, Flandre amassed a massive gold and CS lead over his lane opponent, LetMe, which transitioned him into a tanky monster.
Snake’s two mega tank lineup was too much for Gamtee to handle and Flandre’s Shyvana was too disrupting to their backline. And it was all made possible thanks to Smite, Skirmisher’s Sabre, and Cinderhulk.
The Poor History of Tank Junglers
A consistent complaint since the end of Season 3 has been that tank junglers weren’t very good compared to those that could build Spirit of the Elder Lizard or Spirit of the Spectral Wraith. And let’s be honest, we all know Spirit of the Spectral Wraith wasn’t even that good. So, Riot’s first fix was an upgrade to Spirit of the Ancient Golem. They gave it a built in ward, a Thornmail of sorts to monsters to improve clear, and bonus 25% extra health. It was well received, but still didn’t bring tank junglers back into the meta.
When Riot scrapped all the Jungle items at the start of Season 5, they replaced them with the Jungle items and their Enchantments. The items represented a type of gameplay style and the Enchantments represented the type of jungler you were playing. If you’re playing Lee Sin you may want to go with Warrior enchantment which was made out of Brutalizer. The Jungle enchantment for tank junglers at first was Juggernaut.
Juggernaut was the spiritual successor of Spirit of the Ancient Golem. It gave +500 health, 10% CDR, and Tenacity. With being the spiritual successor of Spirit of the Ancient Golem comes the same problems. A tanky item that doesn’t really help with clear nor does it really scale well for team fights. It didn’t help tank junglers find a place to fit into the meta. So, Riot tried again.
Improved clear speed? Check. Promotes building tanky? Check. Scales well for team fights? Check. Cinderhulk has it all.
When the item was first introduced in patch 5.5 Cinderhulk appeared as a pairing with another new item; Bami’s Cinder. Bami’s Cinder gives +300 health and has the unique passive Immolate. The passive deals 5 (+1 per champion level) magic damage per second to nearby enemies. It deals 50% bonus damage to minions and monsters. When you upgrade Bami’s Cinder into the Cinderhulk Jungle enchantment, the 5 damage boosts up 16 damage (+1 per champion level) and it increases to up to 24 damage (+1.5 per champion level) over time in combat.
At release, it was easily recognized that Cinderhulk would bring back tank junglers in a big bad way. Instead of games filled with Kha’Zix, Lee Sin, Rengar, Jarvan IV, and Vi the meta was shifting to welcoming tank powerhouses like Sejuani, Gragas, and even Zac. Cinderhulk is viewed as such a good item, that players have been shifting Warrior enchantment junglers like Lee Sin and Rek’Sai to playing Cinderhulk on them.
Combine this with the fact that Maokai is regular Top lane pick, Hecarim seeing a lot of Top lane play, and Nautilus becoming a contested Support pick and you have the beginning of the Tank meta.
What Works in the Jungle has to Work Top
From about patch 5.5 to patch 5.9, Cinderhulk did two things extremely well. First, it dealt a significant amount of damage to Jungle monsters to improve clear speed for jungler’s who didn’t have very good clear to begin with. The second thing Cinderhulk did was allow tanks to have a means to pump out significant damage during team fights. Usually the role of tank is to be this front line pressure that threatens the enemy’s back line; aka their APCs and ADCs. The problem is that even though some tanks have good crowd control, they don’t do a whole lot of damage while being walls. Cinderhulk answered this problem with giving tanks a scaling AOE magic damage source. Giving champions a form of mixed damage is always a strong feature.
Now, let’s take this information and apply it to Flandre on Shyvana. Health scales well with her e Flame Breath and helps with the fact that she gets naturally tanky from her passive Dragonborn. Shyvana naturally has great wave clear from all the abilities in her kit and pairing that with the Immolate passive from Bambi’s Cinder and Cinderhulk greatly increases her threat as a split pusher. As we saw in the VOD from earlier, having Smite allowed Flandre to set behind the enemy jungler, control Scuttle Crab, and help control objectives like Baron and Dragon.
There are two other key points to why this strategy worked for Flandre and why this strategy works overall. The first being the passive granted by Gromp. When you Smite Gromp you receive the passive Gift of the Toadstool which, for 90 seconds, poisons any units (including champions) that attack you: dealing 10 + (5% of bonus health) magic damage over 3 seconds. Not only does this help with clearing the jungle and minion waves, this also makes you a threat to ADCs since they rarely build early magic resist. This passive gets frightening late game when you consider the amount of health Cinderhulk incentives you to build. In some ways, Gift of the Toadstool is a better Thornmail.
The second part of this strategy comes from building the Jungle item Skirmisher’s Sabre. Skirmisher’s Sabre does two things for you. It grants you bonus gold on all Jungle monsters that you smite and gives you the ability to cast Challenging Smite on champions. Using Challenging Smite on an enemy champion marks them for 4 seconds. Marked enemies are revealed (does not reveal stealth), take (54 + 6 × level) true damage over 3 seconds from your basic attacks and deal 20% reduced damage to you. One of the threats to any champion is being bursted by an APC or ADC in a team fight. Considering the fact that a tank is only as good as how long they can last in a team fight, this fear is even more real. Challenging Smite allows a tank to not only last longer, but deal significant damage to a carry.
Combining all of these elements should give you a good idea as to why Smite + Teleport is such a good strategy.
In a World Post Patch 5.9 and the Cinderhulk Nerfs
Because of the overall strength of Cinderhulk + Skimisher’s Sabre being used by Top laners in both solo queue and pro play, Riot responded with a nerf to Cinderhulk in patch 5.9. The major change to the item was that it lost it’s scaling damage when in combat. To make sure this wouldn’t hurt junglers, Cinderhulk now does 100% more damage to monsters. What this means is that Cinderhulk still does damage to champions without reaching crazy damage numbers, but doesn’t hurt a tank junglers’ ability to clear camps. This change takes away some of the appeal of making use of the enchantment in the Top lane. Mainly because the item no longer helped anymore than Sunfire Cape did with clearing minion waves or when in team fights.
So, if we’re in patch 5.10 and the strategy received a nerf, why am I still talking about it?
There are still many appealing aspects of the strategy, despite it’s nerfs. Remember, one of the things this strategy does is allow for strong neutral objective control. Neutral objectives are Baron, Dragon, Scuttle Crab, and Jungle camps. As we all know neutral objectives like Baron, Dragon, and Scuttle Crab greatly influence the flow of the game. In the case of Jungle camps, stealing camps from the enemy jungler sets them behind and forces them to make riskier ganks in order to still have gold. If they don’t make ganks, they are more likely to tax one of their laners which then sets the team behind.
Another thing to keep in mind is all the benefits of Skirmisher’s Sabre and it’s Challenging Smite. Giving a tank the ability to just melt through a carry while still having the same itemization of a laner is a frightening concept. And don’t forget that having smite gives access to all Jungle camp passives including the one we went over, Gift of the Toadstool.
And finally, while Cinderhulk isn’t the same insane wave clear and team fight item, there is still benefits to it. It still grants the Immolate passive, which does work on champions. It does still give +25% bonus health, which is a great feature for tanks. Sure, the item has been scaled down and is no longer a no brainer item to pick up. However, when implemented with the overall strategy as a win condition Cinderhulk on a Top laner is a still a viable strategy.
The only question left is, who do we implement this strategy with?
Three Champions Who Can Run Smite + Teleport Top
First up is Shyvana. Not only have I gone over this champion in this article, but you can also check out an overview of her in a previous article I did on Top laners in Season 4. In regards to this strategy in particular I want to touch on two additional points. One, her w Burnout allows her to stay relatively safe since it gives her a speed boost. Keep this in mind when you’re farming since you won’t have the safety of Flash. Two, her ultimate, Dragon’s Descent, is also a great gank escape. By keeping control of Scuttle Crab and maintaining vision control with your Trinket and a Vision Ward, you should be able to use it offensively more often than not in lane.
Hecarim is a champion who is already used to not running Flash. When Riot gave Hecarim a quality of life buff to his w, Spirit of Dread, Hecarim began to see a lot of play in the Top lane with Teleport + Ignite as his summoner spells of choice. Thanks to his passive, Warpath, Hecarim is able to ignore unit collision. Combine that with his e, Devastating Charge, and Hecarim is able to shrug off most ganks. Similar to Shyvana, Hecarim’s ultimate, Onslaught of Shadows, can also be used as a great escape or offensively.
A thing to keep in mind with Hecarim is the Teleport + Homeguard boot enchantment interaction. Unlike most Top laners who just use Teleport to turn a fight around or as an effective cross map gank while still in lane, Hecarim prefers to Teleport from the fountain instead. This is due to the interaction between Homeguard’s speed boost, which still counts even when you Teleport, and the second half of Hecarim’s passive. Aside from giving Hecarim the ability to ignore unit collision, Warpath also grants additional attack damage based percentage wise on his movement speed. This makes Hecarim a more proactive champion with the use of his Teleport rather than being reactive. It is always good to look for gank opportunities in lanes while timing your backs.
Last on this list is Fizz. In a sense, Fizz has been going through something like an identity crisis this season. In patch 5.2, Riot nerfed all of Fizz’s AP ratios. With this in mind, Fizz’s really good AD ratio on his q, Urchin Strike, became too hard to ignore. Thus was the birth of Jungle and AD Top Fizz. Fizz functioned in a lot of ways like Hecarim. His passive, Nimble Fighter, also ignores unit collision. On top of that, Fizz takes reduced damage from auto attacks. Also, because his kit is designed to make Fizz feel nimble with a lot of dashes and e, Playful/Trickster, Fizz is pretty good at evading ganks. AD Fizz was just as capable of running Ignite + Teleport for these reasons to give him strong skirmishing potential.
While AD Fizz had largely fallen out of favor by the time the Smite + Teleport strategy had appeared, the strategy’s appearance brought Fizz back into the mix.
Something you may have come to realize when looking at all three champions is that they all share three things in common. Each of them have natural escape tools in their kits that make them less reliant on Flash to evade ganks and to gap close into and out of fights. Secondly, each of these champions excel at split pushing. Shyvana has extremely powerful wave clear and her q, Twin Bite, works on towers. Both Hecarim and Fizz also have very strong AOE wave clear and when they finish Sheen they become very good at damaging towers. Lastly, each of these champions are really good duelists. Part of the thing that makes these champions frightening is that they have two options when caught out of position invading the enemy jungle. They can either deftly get out of harms way or take the fight to you.
By now, you should have a proper understanding of the Teleport + Smite strategy. Remember that this more of a win condition than an inherent item combination. Meaning, if you remember to implement all of its strengths you stand a very good chance of winning more games than losing. And while this is true always, realize that this strategy is very ward dependent. If you plan on hard shoving waves and invading the enemy jungle, make sure you are warding and controlling the Scuttle Crab. Otherwise, without Flash, you are prone to getting caught out more often than not.
I highly recommend running this strategy if you can secure yourself a Jungle main as your duo queue partner. With both of you on the same page, you’ll have great vision control, control over the enemy jungle, and be able to secure neutral objectives like Dragon and Baron. And as always: